Resources Hub » Blog » ROI Showdown: Email Marketing vs. Content Marketing

You want to promote your company’s brand and services online, but you’re unsure which of the many available methods to use. Search engine marketing? Pay-per-click advertising? Social media marketing? 

You have limited time and resources to build your customer base and sales, and that means you need to make the right choice for the quickest return on investment (ROI). Two potentially effective options are email marketing and content marketing. When used correctly and in conjunction with one another, these two channels can supercharge your digital marketing efforts.

Email marketing vs. content marketing

An email campaign is a classic “push” marketing technique: directly contacting existing customers to generate repeat sales. Content marketing is a “pull” technique—attracting new customers to increase first-time sales.

How does each of these methods work? What are their advantages and disadvantages? How can you combine the two to deliver unmatched ROI? We’ll go over all the basics below so you can incorporate them both into your digital marketing strategy.

The basics of email marketing

Examples of email marketing include a digital coupon with a product discount code, a chance to pre-order a not-yet-released product, or even a free item to celebrate a customer’s birthday. In each case, because there’s an existing relationship—a customer has signed up to receive these messages—you’re trying to convert someone who is already aware of what you have to offer.

You always want to be expanding your customer base (here are some tips for growing your email list), but email marketing has the added benefits of helping you generate repeat business. For example, 61% of small businesses report current customers generate more than half their revenue. In addition, the cost to attract new customers can be up to five times as great as keeping existing ones.

It’s important to note, however, what email marketing isn’t: a way to “cold contact” potential customers. While you may be tempted to buy or rent an email list to quickly expand your customer base, this is a shortcut which can come with heavy costs. There’s a word for unsolicited sales emails, spam, and violating the CAN-SPAM Act can put you at risk for serious fines.

Instead, reach out to subscribers with valuable content that is relevant to their needs and interests. In this way, email marketing and content marketing can work hand-in-hand to educate and engage subscribers—and ultimately convert them to customers.

Reaching your audience with email marketing

All customers are not created the same. For maximum ROI from your email marketing efforts, you’ll need to segment your lists based on different factors. Basic ways of doing this include:

  • Location: It’s critical to know where your customers are. It doesn’t do any good to offer a coupon for an in-store sale if they live out of state. Plus, you don’t want to offer services in an area which you don’t yet serve.
  • Age: Talking to a millennial is different than a baby boomer. List segmentation allows you to employ the concept of “kairos,” which means using language appropriate to your audience.
  • Past purchases: Based on previous purchases, you can make targeted offers to generate additional sales in that area. For example, if someone is buying fertilizer, that’s a lawn and garden purchase you can build on. On the other hand, if a customer recently bought flower seeds and gardening tools, there’s less of a chance for a response to a kitchen appliance offer.
  • Purchase frequency: For infrequent customers, targeted emails offer the opportunity to make them more regular customers. For frequent buyers, offering a coupon discount for their loyalty can generate additional sales.
  • In-store vs. online customers: Much like where your customers are located, it’s critical to break out your email offers based on these customer types. You’ll be squandering a potential sale by pitching an in-store coupon to someone who only orders online, and the same is true for offering a customer–who only does brick-and-mortar shopping–a coupon for your website.

No matter what, don’t give in to the temptation to send an email blast to everyone in your email list database! Sure, it’s easy and quick to do, but that’s not where you’ll generate the results you need. According to a report from the Digital Marketing Association, 77% of email ROI was generated by targeted campaigns.

Measuring email marketing ROI

There are a variety of key performance indicators (KPIs) you can use to track an email campaign’s performance. Baseline metrics you’ll want to examine closely include:

  • Bounce rate: This is the measure of how many emails were undeliverable. This can be due to factors such as an invalid email address or an inbox being full. You want your bounce rate to be under 5%.
  • Open rate: The open percentage is key as it is an indicator of the subject line’s effectiveness. This is even more important if you’re doing A/B testing with different subject lines.
  • Click-through/conversion rate: Opening emails is one thing, but how many recipients responded to your call to action (CTA) to buy a product or service is even more important.
  • Share rate: Finally, if your content/offer is compelling, recipients will demonstrate this by forwarding or sharing the email with others.

Don’t focus solely on one or two metrics because that will give you too narrow of a performance picture. Instead, look at a wider range of KPIs to understand what’s working well and what needs improvement.

The basics of content marketing

As opposed to directly pushing out offers to existing customers, content marketing works to expand your customer base.

This approach, however, is not built around targeted offers like an email campaign. Instead, it’s about organically attracting customers based on the value of the information you’re making readily available online.

For example, if you’re selling running shoes, you might utilize an email campaign which offers existing customers a discount on their next purchase. With content marketing, however, you want to establish yourself as a knowledge leader about running shoes.

Instead of talking solely about your own products, you’d strive to be the go-to source of overall information about running shoes: how they’re made, what differentiates the various types, or even how to train for a race.

This is where email marketing and content marketing can become widely divergent: while email marketing makes highly relevant and personalized pitches, content marketing delivers best practices and answers the readers’ questions before they are ready to buy.

After all, when you’re doing research on the internet, nothing is more off-putting than what appears to be objective information which quickly turns into a sales pitch. Then again, once you find a good source of information, you’re likely to go there again.

Content marketing buyer personas

Effective content marketing is built around appealing to defined buyer personas: the types of customers who will buy from you.

While email marketing has the advantage of dealing with specific existing customers who have a history with your company, creating buyer personas to direct your content toward will provide greater ROI.

Much like segmented email lists, buyer personas are broken out into different categories:

  • Location: If you have a brick-and-mortar store selling running shoes in Central Texas, write about races in that area or safety tips for training in the brutally hot summers. That’s because your typical buyer persona is not going to be that concerned with racing or training in extreme winter conditions.
  • Price: How much is your buyer persona typically going to spend? If you’re selling upscale products and services, don’t focus on low-end products in your content and vice versa.
  • Customer needs: Yes, you want to increase sales, but what is it your customers want? That is, instead of having an answer–your product–in search of the right question to ask about it, begin with your customers’ needs.
  • Purchase influencers: What are those other factors which influence purchasing? Identify additional characteristics which help define your ideal customer–education, income, gender, age—as well as how this customer wants to receive digital content.

Measuring content marketing ROI

Calculating content marketing ROI can seem less tangible than email marketing because you don’t have a direct metric such as the ratio of emails sent to products purchased. That doesn’t mean, though, you’re operating in the dark. Common KPI metrics include:

  • Page loads: How many times has your page been seen? No matter how great the content, if no one’s looking at it, you have zero ROI.
  • Visitors: Beyond page loads, how many visitors does a page have? How long do they stay there? How did they find your page? How many are new visitors versus repeat ones?
  • Shares: If your content does have value, visitors will share it with their own social networks.
  • Comments: If your content is engaging, visitors will want to add their thoughts to what you’ve said. And when they do, make sure you respond to them!
  • Clicks: In terms of lead generation and sales, the visitor clicks from a content marketing page to other information about your company’s products and services will indicate if this content is producing tangible results.

Wrap up

Comparing the ROI of email marketing and content marketing is ultimately like comparing apples to oranges. The key thing to understand is the strategy behind both these marketing techniques so you know when—and why!—to use them and how to measure their effectiveness. When the two are combined, you have the potential to increase your ROI even more. Give it a try and let us know what has worked for your business!

Want to combine the power of email and content marketing? Check out our guide to 50 must-have content ideas for email newsletters.

Instant branded emails
Instant branded emails

With our template builder, you can make branded emails and then send them. It’s that easy.

Learn More

Case Study

How 1440 Media used email marketing to gain 1M+ subscribers and a 55%+ open rate.
Learn how
The email platform for agencies

The email platform for agencies

We started out helping agencies with email, so let us help you.

Learn more
This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
Press CMD+D to Bookmark this page

Get started with Campaign Monitor today.

With our powerful yet easy-to-use tools, it's never been easier to make an impact with email marketing.

Try it for free