Email marketing will never die, so we may as well make it smarter

By Erin Griffith , written on January 8, 2013

From The News Desk

Email, an eternal point of macro-angst for pretty much everyone everywhere, is a source of joy for precisely one slice of the economy: the marketers.

No matter how much we whine about email on all the social media outlets that have failed to replace it, the truth is we still like being marketed to via emails. It seems insane, but it's true -- why else would email still be the most effective form of online marketing, even beating out search?

Keep in mind that, in general, we seem to be slow in adapting to new forms of marketing. Catalogs and flyers still dominated the social networks this holiday season, for example, influencing 22 percent of online purchases and 21 percent of offline purchases, a Baynote study reports. Facebook only influenced 15 percent of online purchases and 12 percent of offline purchases with Twitter and Pinterest coming in even lower.

And even though we spend more time online and on our phones than we do watching television, digital advertising shows no signs of eclipsing TV advertising in terms of ad dollars spent anytime soon. So perhaps it's no surprise that the most old-fashioned form of online marketing, the good old email, works best.

Vivek Sharma is a New York entrepreneur that noticed, amid a sea of attempts to kill email for good, there was a real business to be built in improving the way marketers reach their constituents. Thus, the idea of a "live" email and Sharma's company, Movable Ink. Launched in January 2011, the company built tools that pull live content into emails, tools that include social data in emails such as how many of your friends have opened the same offer, and tools that allow emails to detect things like local weather and instant success rates.

The company applied the idea of agile software development -- doing away with long development cycles and simply pushing code and updates live every day -- to email. "Marketing programs used to have to plan six weeks in advance… an email would be part of a two to three month cycle to put together, send and collect results," Sharma says. Now, if more people respond to a certain message, the marketer can update all the unopened emails in the same blast and so they reflect the most effective message.

It's magic! …for an email. And it's the direction all marketing campaigns are going. I can't count the number of times I've heard speeches from ad gurus, wizards, and ninjas on their plans to "kill the campaign." Digital media, and particularly social media and the content marketing, is an always-on job. The idea of the six-month campaign with a hard start and stop just doesn't translate.

Movable Ink spent most of the last two years heads-down, staffing up on sales people and focusing on client acquisition. Sharma says he initially wanted to avoid building a sales team. "The sexy thing to do is start a fast company," he says. "People come to website and put down a credit card and its easy to use." But he quickly discovered that that only works when you have a product in an existing category. With a new product like live email, clients needed education on the value of the product. So he worked out a sales pitch, hired four sales people, and they hit the pavement.

It worked: the company has grown 219 percent in bookings quarter-to-quarter, going from from 37 million emails at the end of 2011 to more than 1.4 billion in 2012, adding 60 large enterprise clients including American Eagle Outfitters, Disney, Express, Finish Line, and General Motors.

Backed by $2.8 million in venture capital from Contour Venture Partners, Metamorphic Ventures, ff Venture Capital, Kima Ventures, Joshua Baer, Bob Pittman, Andy Russell, Alan Laifer and Tom Chiu and with 18 employees, the company has a path for profitability, Sharma says. He's weighing between that and raising more capital for what he calls a "much bigger opportunity" around live email.

[Image courtesy Mike Rohde]