The Long Tail of Email: How Email Defines, Builds and Leverages Brands

Many Heads and Long Legs

It has many heads and long legs. It’s slippery, strong and very fast. It’s already in your house, on your computer, inside your cellphone. And it’s got an extremely long tail. No, we’re not talking about a horror movie monster but a pervasive and hugely powerful marketing force that sits right in the middle of the new interactive brand ecosystem: email.

> Brand Personalizer

Email is the advance team of marketing, which takes brands from generic to specific — from “mass” to “me.” Email newsletters allow brands to reach a large group individually, personalize content and create a unique communication stream between the consumer and the brand. And, in a way, that’s exactly what a brand is: a conversation.

> Brand Builder

Pervasive yet intimate, email brings brands into our sanctum sanctorum, our inbox. Emails also have a “nudge effect.” Even if we don’t open an email we still register it and may still engage and transact with the brand in another channel. That’s because even an unopened email contains a brand name, URL and subject line (and often logo images and some text), making the unopened email a tiny but powerful brand beachhead in the inbox.

> Real Time Yardstick

Unlike print or TV advertising, email is both personal and measurable. Many emails include conversion tracking so that marketers can see even more than that: they can follow a user from email open to shopping cart checkout.

And the results? For every $1 invested, email marketing’s ROI is $44 (Experian). A recent study of business executives found that email was the highest performing advertising channel (Datran Media), and a 2014 study found that revenue from email increased 28% in one year (Adestra).

> Sales Starter

People use coupons, check out products and services and make purchases, all because of emails they receive. Email is 40 times more likely to acquire new customers than Facebook and Twitter combined. (McKinsey). Companies attribute 23% of their total 2014 sales to email marketing, compared to 18% in 2013. (eConsultancy).

> Bounce Machine

Just about every email you get from a marketer has a “forward to a friend” link. That simple link is one of the places where brand ownership shifts: from marketer to customer. Marketers give up control but gain brand advocates, influencers and sharers – at no cost.

Studies show that emails that originate from marketers get shared (via email) two to three times. One retailer found that for every for every email shopping cart sale, they see 3.76 other, typically non-tracked sales due to the email.

> Social Starter

That bounce extends beyond email-to-email, moving in swift digital waves across social channels, video sharing, apps, mobile messages, even word-of-mouth. The best way to start social media engagement with your audience is through email. According to a Harris Interactive study, 96% of online adults are willing to share email addresses with a brand, while only 12% are willing to share social networking information. And the two aren’t mutually exclusive or cannibalistic. To the contrary, email helps social media and social media helps email.

> Web and App Launchpad

Our inboxes are repositories of information, email addresses and URLs. Emails are powerful open systems: we read an email, then we go to a Website, look up that restaurant, check out an online video, or locate a store. These open systems also function as de facto digital repositories. We save (or don’t delete) emails and go back to them to find a phone number, enter a contest or order a product.

> Search Enhancer

Email provides the results for a great many online searches. With the increasingly ubiquitous web archive of email newsletters, automated-then-Tweeted composite newsletters, not to mention RSS feeds and social sharing, a lot of email content ends up being indexed and searchable. That means email content is a frequent result in keyword query results on search engines. And, like other elements of the new brand mix, it’s a two-way street. Email informs search results while smart marketers use search analytics, blog comments and user feedback to build emails that resonate with and engage audiences and, in turn, inform the brand DNA.

This dual searchability and longevity of email points to an intertwining of personal and private, email and web — a big online mix-up. It’s a mashup of information and channel, authorship and chronology and, nestled in there, brands and marketing.

> Mobile Mover

We use our smartphones to access applications, check out Facebook or launch WhatsApp… and of course to check email. Email is the lingua franca of the Internet and the bridge between Web and mobile. Half of all emails are opened on a mobile device, and that number will continue to rise over the coming years.


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A version of this article was published in the book, Multichannel Marketing Ecosystems: Creating Connected Customer Experiences