E-Marketing: The One Technology that the U.S. Regulates

I. A bit more on email

Last Thursday, I had the chance to teach the class about how the reemergence of e-newsletters is changing the way we consume information, but news is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the world of inbox trends. Another rabbit hole that I stumbled down in pursuit of gripping presentation content is that of inbound marketing—you know, those ads that flood your inbox, and though it wasn’t a strand that I followed to the bitter end on Thursday, we all deserve to know a bit more about the only ads that we sign up to receive.

II. It’s a numbers game

Marketing emails seem to be the half of my inbox each morning. If the tagline is particularly compelling, I may be tempted to read into some of these messages, but I tend to delete them en masse much more often. Though this certainly isn’t what marketers would prefer, they don’t mind it all that much. In fact, they expect it.


According to Mail Chimp, the average open rate for promotional emails hovers around 20% for most industries, meaning I just need to click on one in five of my emails to be an average consumer. Further, I just need to click on embedded links in 1 out of 50 emails to continue that average consumer behavior. That number inevitably gets smaller and smaller when it comes to additional desired behavior, like purchasing an advertised product or filling out a survey.



An inbound ad that was part of the lucky 20%


The tedious work that marketing departments put into each piece of these well-crafted, targeted emails goes much further than a click rate of 2% may seem to indicate, though. If emails are coming from a large company, the firm’s contact list is probably so vast that strong emails inevitably produce major return on investment. Beyond that, even mid-level customer-engagement tools, like HubSpot, enable marketers to do everything from track basic analytics to send customers personalized emails based on voluntarily-provided data.

Personalized content leads to more-engaged customers, setting email apart from the wide net cast by traditional marketing mediums, like television and waste-generating physical mail. Assuming that customized outreach isn’t so personal that it’s creepy (cough, Target’s teen maternity incident), personal touches, like addressing customers by name and curating ad content to reflect recent purchases, may play into the intimacy of the inbox phenomenon that I discussed on Thursday. In case you missed the presentation or need a reminder, countless commentators on e-newsletters articulate the notion that we think of our inboxes as personal spaces. Thus, even when we receive mail from people who we’ve never met, we maintain a psychological disposition similar to that of opening an email from a friend or colleague. If this is the case, even the emails that I quickly glance through before purging my inbox may be slowly entrenching my identification with the brand behind the notification.


III. The power is (sort of) in our hands

Speculating and reflecting on firms’ ability to subtly retrench our identification with them through personalized content and large swaths of customer data can be a bit troubling, but we aren’t simply passive consumers. 2003’s CAN-SPAM Act mandates an “Unsubscribe” button (and postal address?) on each promotional email we receive, and we use it. About 0.25% of recipients follow the unsubscribe link on each promotional email. Though this seems minuscule compared to a 20% open rate, the sheer volume of marketing materials sent out leads to an annual average 22.5% subscriber turnover.

Image result for can spam

Yes, Congress made a spam pun law.

The ability to unsubscribe is great for both consumers and marketers. On the consumer side of things, we can clear out our inboxes and get away from whatever the hell the Golden Key Society is. Marketers are able to clear their customer lists of people who aren’t genuinely interested in their products. Further, marketers are challenged to continually innovate in an effort to both convert subscribers to customers and organically grow their subscriber lists, replacing disinterested recipients with engaged customers. In fact, some e-marketers have begun to clear their mailing lists of unengaged readers in an effort to optimize their time and email presence.

It is worth noting that, though the government mandates the ability to unsubscribe from promotional emails, consumers don’t have to opt-in to begin receiving emails. Thus, because the BC bookstore has our emails on its books, it can start sending us promotions without our consent. Taken to an extreme, unsolicited promotions could feasibly flood our inboxes beyond belief, and though platforms like Gmail have increasingly advanced spam filters, the fact that anyone can legally email us should encourage us to be thoughtful when giving out our email addresses online.

Image result for inbox overload

If you give every company your email, you’re gonna have a bad time.

IV. Concluding reflections

As someone who constantly feels bombarded by needless inbox ads, I thought that I was in the minority as someone who rarely succumbs to the demands of target emails. It was a huge surprise to see how few people (in terms of percentage) actually end up on company sites, but it makes sense after considering the size of larger firms’ outreach potential. Even HubSpot, a niche marketing tool, has over 300,000 subscribers to updates on deals and products. I could only imagine how many people are on Apple’s mailing list. Beyond that, though I find myself annoyed by email pretty often, I am grateful to learn that delivering marketing materials via email helps undercut the 87,000 pieces of mail delivered by the USPS each year and that it is ultimately in my power to take advantage of the government-mandated unsubscribe button in an effort to finally make it to inbox zero—or at least an inbox that’s mostly cool newsletters.


  1. Austin Ellis · ·

    This was interesting for me to read. Having interned this summer for a PR firm, I worked on creating many invitations, newsletters, and other such direct mail marketing pieces sent via email. While most of these were targetted at high profile executives, journalists, and politicians, all of whom were company contacts, sometimes we pulled names from databases we paid for access to. It was interesting to see how emails which were being sent out broadly to database entries was highly regulated. Also, as you mention, I was amazed at the data you could pull from an email. Beyond things like opening and click-through rates, we could see when and where a person opened their email, to better target them locally. Crazy stuff, good post!

  2. fernaneq4 · ·

    I find myself unsubscribing from emails at least once a week. It’s always interesting to take a different perspective and look at the marketing tactics through an alternative lens than that of a buyer. I will admit, some of those emails get me and they get me good (actually buying the product). I find myself subscribed to sites I’ve never heard of and that ticks me off! But then I buy from these random sites or I click and I read and so on (ahem click bait @skuchma215). This post reminded me a lot of Google’s book ZMOT (Free book online: https://www.thinkwithgoogle.com/collections/zero-moment-truth.html). It’s all about clicking percentages and the “Zero Moment of Truth” a buyer decides to buy something. It even goes into Amazons One-Click patent and how important those impulsive buys actually are. I think these marketing tactics and emails are exactly what leads to these impulses. Great article!

  3. adawsisys · ·

    It was very interesting when you talked about how businesses that send spam emails don’t necessarily need you to read the email or even to open it. It is a little frightening to think that just by reading the title of an email we associate the sender with our personal “inbox space”. The next time I go to delete a spam email, I will be thinking that just by sending the email, the spammer has already won. There is really no way to avoid this type of marketing because there is no way to un see it. We encounter this in public all of the time: on billboards, TV, and the internet. The difference seems to be that a person’s inbox is considered, to a point, a personal space. In this way spamming seems much more invasive than traditional forms of advertising.

  4. Nice post. It is always helpful to remind us of the roots of social media (that haven’t entirely disappeared yet).

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