Email Marketing: A Conversation Starter

Posted by Scott Cohen On March 16, 2011 in story time I One Comment

There is a lot of talk in the email marketing space about how email marketing really is a conversation between the marketer and the subscriber/customer. I have a hard time believing that email MARKETING is a conversation, simply because conversation is not one-sided and often irrelevant.

Let’s look at a couple of definitions of the word “Conversation” for a minute:

According to, a conversation is “an informal interchange of thoughts, information, etc., by spoken words; oral communication between persons; talk; colloquy.”

Personally, I like Wikipedia’s entry a bit better:

Conversation is interactive, more-or-less spontaneous, communication between two or more conversants. Interactivity occurs because contributions to a conversation are response reactions to what has previously been said. Spontaneity occurs because a conversation must process, to some extent, and in some way, unpredictably.

Let’s take a look at some buzz words that come out of these two definitions:

  • Informal
  • Interchange
  • Talk
  • Spontaneous
  • Interactive
  • Response Reactions
  • Unpredictable

Look at those buzz words? Now think about email marketing. Is email marketing informal? Spontaneous? Unpredictable? Is there an interchange of ideas?

Not so much.

In fact, many marketers go to extra lengths to ensure that you CAN’T have a conversation through email. It’s called “No Reply.” I signed up for five email programs yesterday; four of them said, “Please don’t reply to this message as this email address is not monitored.”

Chris sent replies to 40 brands’ emails three days ago. Can you guess how many replies he received?

Zero. Conversation, indeed.

It’s time we email marketers give up the elaborate ruse of “email as a conversation” and see email for what it really is:

A conversation starter.

“What do you mean, Scott,” you’ll ask. “How is that different from a conversation?”

I’ll tell you: A conversation starter is the spark of an idea. It’s a call to action to go to Facebook, or call the company to talk about window treatments (just an example), or to begin a thought process toward the purchase of a product.

If you’re sending newsletters, do you really think you’re having a conversation with your subscribers? Or are you instead helping your subscribers start a conversation with their neighbors or friends? Or enticing them to call you?

Think about it. Should we try to be more “conversational” in our copy in our emails? Sure, but that’s called adding the “human” element.

Instead, if you view email marketing as a conversation starter, you begin to see that email can’t exist in a vacuum, but rather as a vital cog in a cross-channel communications strategy designed to get your customers talking and making decisions.


Andy Thorpe over at “Get in the Inbox” has his take on it here: “Email Marketing: Continuing the Conversation”

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