Is Email Marketing Dead?

Build Your Audience Monetize Your List
8 min read

In 2002, one year before beauty brand Mary Kay hit the one million person salesforce mark, Carrie Wilkerson was publishing newsletters exclusively for the leadership team of the growing direct sales brand. And while email existed at the time, these weren’t your modern newsletters sent out with the click of a button. Her newsletters were meant for print as a direct mailer. You know, snail mail.

Seeing an opportunity amongst the leadership elite within the Mary Kay sales teams, Carrie and her small team at UnitNews (a company that has since been sold and is still operational) supported these hard hustling women to produce the very document that held the team together. Newsletters were, and still are, the backbone of Mary Kay and many other direct sales businesses. Leadership teams praise their down-line for their hard work and earnings, new products are announced, and sales tips are promoted.

While Carrie’s team used email to send the final product over to the client, that year many of those newsletters were printed, stamped, and mailed out. At the same time, email companies such as Hotmail and Yahoo were growing and responding to the changing needs of their customers. The email marketing industry had been around for a while (Constant Contact setup shop in 1996) but it was in the early 2000’s that “email marketing” became a household phrase and the newsletter world began to pivot.

Carrie Wilkerson watched the changes around her as closely as every other business owner. By 2010, it was reported that 48% of online marketers were using triggered email. The paper newsletter was being phased out by quicker more cost effective methods. That’s where email came in.

But isn’t email dead?

In the early days of email marketing (when everyone had AOL accounts and “You’ve Got Mail” was a blockbuster hit), opting in to an email list was as straight-forward as dropping your name and email address on a piece of paper or checking a box asking to get emails sent to you. We all wanted more email. It was fun, a novelty. After all, we still got real letters in our mailboxes like Wilkerson’s Mary Kay newsletters.

Since then, on blogs, podcasts, YouTube channels, and in chat rooms, the debate seems to be neverending about the longevity of email. Googling the phrase “Is email dead?” returns over 400 million results with the top return being Inc.’s assumption that email will be dead by 2020 and the second is the domain To say that the status of email on a whole is a divided issue is no understatement.

Social Matters

One of the reasons people tout out the idea that email is dead (or at the very least doesn’t matter as much anymore) is the rise of social media. So let’s take a tour through that brief history, shall we?

MySpace – A requirement for many back in 2006 that most laugh about today. Apparently it’s still active in the music scene. RIP, MySpace.

Facebook – Well, you’ve seen Social Network, right? We all know the “started in a college dorm room” background of the billion dollar business we know today. But all of those billions (with a B) have come at a cost. Organic reach to your Page followers is way down, ad costs are up, and new features designed to keep you connected to your audience are rolled out to celebrities and mega-accounts only at first.

Twitter – The old standby and what many consider to be the most consistent – in that very little has changed. Just recently Twitter announced changes around their 140-character limit but not much has shifted there. Except, of course, the cost of ads and the frequency of bots and spammers. If you like those kinds of things.

Pinterest – This virtual pin board has turned hobby blogs into overnight success stories, only to have those same popular images shared by someone pretending to be the source creator. Or carefully crafted copy attached to the images deleted when being re-pinned. Or feeds clogged up by professional Pinners who are paid to pin things their growing (robot-run) audience might want to see.

Instagram – It was a sad day in April 2016 when bloggers who spent a year or more growing a following of 10k, 200k, 500k, etc. were pushed into an algorithm and quietly pushed to buy ad space to maintain their reach.

Snapchat, TikTok, etc. etc. – It’s too early to tell. Business owners are investing (time and money) into these platforms but can they know that it will pay off in the long run?

As you can see, the sordid history between businesses and social media paints a sad story. One that Pat Flynn tells regularly:

One of the biggest mistakes I made as a blogger and business owner was not starting an email list right from the start.

Relying solely on social media to build your business is like relying on the Titanic to get you to solid ground. It might happen, but you’ll need a life raft at some point. Better to take an alternate means to transportation all together.

Here’s Pat again to stir those waters a bit more:

You can always take your list “with you” wherever you go. For example, if the Smart Passive Income blog died for whatever reason I would still be able to directly contact a great percentage of my followers. Without my list, I’d have to start again from scratch and it could take years to get back to where I was.

Do you want to start over again from scratch?

How Solid Is Your Foundation?

To swim away from the water metaphors (sorry, I had to) and into something else more, well, solid, let’s look at the foundation of your home.

When your home was constructed, had the contractors worried about what color the exterior would be or where you’d put your couch or if you liked to keep your kitchen countertops clear, they wouldn’t have been focused on the actual foundation. Before you can decide on backsplash tiles, you have to have the floor and walls and roof to move into.

Your blog is no different and your email list is the foundation for a solid business. Social media, fun and shiny as it might be, is the decor for your digital home.

Email is not dead

Want to make money in your business? (That’s a rhetorical question.) Email is how you do it. In fact, in 2015 email saw a 60.7% increase in spending and, on average, email marketing saw a $12.41 return on email marketing versus an $0.80 return on a Facebook share. Need the visual aid? SocialTimes shared this infographic:

Email vs. Social Media Marketing Which is Better Infographic SocialTimes



In short, email isn’t going anywhere.

But I love my InstaSnapBookTwitPins!

Me too, pal. Me too. And we’re not saying to eschew it and dive into an “email marketing or bust” strategy either. But well informed business owners are smart business owners. So now it’s time to make a well informed decision. While social media platforms are powerful ways to connect and chat with your audience, building your email list is essential to long term growth and strategy.

What did Pat do with his email list once he (finally) started it?

I use my email list like I use social media – a medium to further connect with my readers, followers and subscribers. A place to interact (gasp!) and inform – not a place to promote and sell.

Because of this methodology:

  • My open rates are through the roof since my subscribers know I’m not just trying to sell something.
  • People trust me and my brand more.
  • I have subscribers who are more than happy to spread the word about my newsletter and help grow my list.
  • I have some subscribers who want to pay me for products I haven’t even created yet.

I also use my list as a way to give away awesome, unique content, and occasionally I’ll drive traffic back to my site, which is where any promotions or recommendations for products I’ve used take place. It’s all non-aggressive, non-direct and totally soft sell. For example, I may link to blog posts that relate to the content in the emails that people receive, and within those blog posts I may describe a product or two that I use.

Take it from Pat: use your email list like you use social media. Nurture relationships, ask questions, share your own knowledge. If he can do it, you can too.

It’s commonly said that “the money is in the list”. Want to make money? It’s time to put the selfies down and start emailing your subscribers today.

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Val Geisler

Val is a yogi, mom, military wife, and avid podcast fan. She is ridiculously obsessed with sharing and creating content that actually makes a difference in the world, connecting with her fellow bloggers, and doing more with less effort. Val is based on Columbus, Ohio (O-H!) and can often be found oversharing on Instagram at @lovevalgeisler.

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