The (Broken) Law Of Averages

“The average American has one breast and one testicle,
but you don’t meet many people who fit that description.”

— Unknown

Averages can be tricky. Although mathematically accurate, they sometimes do more to hide the truth than reveal it.

Which is why I cringe a little each time I read or hear someone make a blanket statement about, “the value of email marketing.” As if one interpretation can sum up something that is applied in so many different ways by so many different people and companies.

Email marketing covers everything from legitimate direct marketing; to shipping confirmations with imbedded upsell offers in them; to high (and low) quality electronic newsletters; to SPAM, and everything in-between. And yet to read the business press, you’d think it was discussing something completely homogenous.

Pick a year for the “correct answer:”

1998: “Email marketing is a waste of money because not enough people have email accounts”.

2000: “Email marketing is the best marketing tool ever invented because the variable cost is practically zero.”

2002: “Email marketing is a waste of money because everybody is overloaded with too much email.”

On average, each of these statements may have been true on the whole, across the business world, at any given time. Which is fine if you’re a member of the business press or an industry analyst whose job it is to make general observations about the state of the universe.

The funny thing is, I don’t meet many business people who do work “in general.” Quite the opposite. As business owners and managers, we lead very specific lives. We work in a specific industry, at a specific time, for a specific company, with a specific group of customers and prospects, selling a specific collection of products and services.

In this real world environment, blanket statements about the effectiveness of email marketing are about as useful to you as is a 6 month weather forecast for North America. Technically accurate perhaps, but of little practical value in helping decide whether or not to bring an umbrella to work tomorrow in Chicago.

Bottom Line: At the end of the day, all that matters is what works for you and your company, now. You need to define what success is, and you need to build online (and offline) marketing programs that meet your needs. Whether the rest of the world thinks it’s a good idea or a bad idea doesn’t really matter.

So read the press, watch the news programs, listen to the analysts all you like. Just don’t let them (or me) tell you what works best for your business. I’m guessing that you’re anything but average.

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