Like vs. Opt-in: Why E-mail Wins

About a decade ago I started evangelizing e-mail marketing as a new, super-powerful marketing tool for organizations that sell tickets or memberships. It was tough slogging at the beginning, but what ultimately turned the tide was the evidence that when a patron opted-in to your mailing list they were giving you explicit permission for you to market to them. And when patrons give you their permission to market to them, open rates and response rates go up and so does your ROI.

Year after year the power of the opt-in has proven true, and every new technology that has come along to displace e-mail marketing (podcasts, RSS, Facebook messages, etc.) hasn’t done so. Recently, David Hallerman, eMarketer principal analyst and author of the new report, The Lessons of Email: Using Digital Touchpoints for Customer Loyalty,” states:

Email marketing has been around for a long time, so it might not have the same sizzle as newer, hotter marketing channels. But don’t confuse lack of flash with lack of effectiveness. Consumers are more open to email messaging than most other digital marketing, and it still gets results.

And on top of this, nearly half of all consumers consider ads in e-mail in a positive light, nearly twice that of ads on Facebook:

So let’s turn to Facebook, currently reigning supreme as the “it” medium for marketers. What troubles me is that the driving goal for many arts marketers seems to have shifted away from “Join our mailing list” to “Like us on Facebook.” I see the latter phrase in print ads and on television and I think it’s a mistake.

Sure, I’m all for social media. But the equation in social media is radically different from that of e-mail. Liking a Facebook page is not the same as an explicit opt-in to receiving marketing messages. In fact, as we wrote in our recent book, approaching social media this way and making your Facebook page sound like a billboard advertisement is precisely the wrong communication approach. Yes, you can get the word out about your events on Facebook and it should be part of your overall marketing mix, but an ROI-focused sales campaign within Facebook won’t produce anywhere near the results that e-mail does.

Now, let’s go a bit deeper and discover why people “opt-in” to e-mail lists: discounts.

And, not surprisingly, this turns out to be the number one reason why people “like” a brand or organization on Facebook:

At this point, it’s fair to say that most cultural organizations have conditioned their cost-conscious patrons that they should wait for discounts, and delivering them with e-mail is highly effective. Our own research backs up this fact: in our 2010 study, 66% of arts patrons we surveyed said that e-mail marketing was the “most effective” means of letting them know about last minute ticket discounts.

This results in a simple syllogism. If e-mail delivers the best marketing results and e-mail recipients want discounts, then when you’re offering discounts, e-mail marketing should be your medium of choice. I know this post is going to make me seem old-fashioned. In the world of social media, I’m still harping on e-mail. And given the number of questions I get in live seminars about Pinterest, I risk coming off as pretty old school. But don’t let today’s fashion deter you. Data, research, and ROI should guide your thinking.

Yes, please do all the social media you have time for. But when you need quantifiable results in a jiffy, go back and redouble your efforts in e-mail marketing. Here’s an ad I saw on a train recently that ties this all together.


Here’s a major brand marketer which clearly recognizes the value of an e-mail sign-up. Rather than motivating a “like” on Facebook, they’re literally paying people to sign up for their e-mail list in the form of a discount which could be worth about $100. So keep building your e-mail list because it’s the strongest digital relationship you can have with your patrons today.

Learn More about PatronManager, the powerful CRM platform that helps you sell more tickets, raise more money, and cultivate stronger bonds with your audience, all in one database.