The problem with the 20 best email marketers ever

You’ve seen the tweets, or maybe even the blog posts showing up in your feed. “The 20 best email marketers on this PLANET!” “35 Email Marketers you should be following on Twitter!”

Then you click on it to read it. If you’re arrogant/competitive like me, you click on it to see if you’re on the list. If you’re not on the list, you’re mentally filling up your “Email Article Cliché” bingo card with the people who ARE on it. (Is that why you clicked on this blog post/tweet? Sorry about that.) It’s almost always the same people. It’ll be about 80% men. The same men. Always. For years. It’ll have maybe 3 or 4 women. The same 3 or 4 women.

Honestly, they’re easy blog posts to write. I’ve been featured on a few of these lists. It’s flattering, but I take it with a grain of salt. Skim any email marketing hashtag for a few minutes, or pick three of these types of articles (literally any three), or most email conference speaker lists, and you can probably get an idea of who most people think of as the ~best email marketers ever~. And as a bonus – you’re sure to get a lot of shares from the people who are listed in the article, and a lot of comments if people think you omitted someone important.

The problem with all that?

They’re not necessarily the best – they’re just the most vocal. I say this as someone who is on these lists – I know what my strengths are, but I also know there are plenty of people out there doing more interesting email marketing than I am. These people are vocal because it’s their job, and they’re good at their jobs (or, if they’re me, they desperately need an audience to validate their snarky one-liners). They speak at conferences. They write blog posts. They tweet too much (hi!). They have the types of jobs where they’re encouraged and expected to do these things, whether as a professional thought leader or a business owner promoting their company. And not to say that they aren’t good at these things. They are! I’ve seen them speak. I’ve read their tweets and blog posts. I’ve met a lot of them personally, and have tons of respect for them.

All of this points to a bigger problem that I wrote about last year on another blog: gender imbalance in the email industry. Because it’s usually the same people speaking at (and organizing) conferences, and the same people writing the blog posts about them, there’s a perception that there’s a short list of good email marketers, and that it’s hard to find “new” names. There isn’t a lot of of diversity in the email industry (or at least, there isn’t a perception of a lot of diversity since it’s always the same people being presented as industry leaders). There’s actually a ridiculously long list of people in the industry who are awesome, but most of them are busy designing, writing, and coding emails and don’t have time to write blog posts or speak at conferences (or even tweet). In the past 8 months, I’ve gotten to know a lot of these email marketers through a group I’m involved in (um, more on that in a few weeks).

About a year ago, someone emailed me about a company they were starting that would rank “leaders” in certain industries based on available content about them online. They wanted feedback on if I’d use a list like this for email marketers. I skimmed through it, and didn’t see any of the “email big names” on it, and immediately dismissed it as useless. Not just because I didn’t see “big names” – I didn’t think their data was accurate/useful, as it’s only based on what people had on their LinkedIn profiles, and the “quality” of the companies where they worked. Also, they spelled my name wrong. The only names I recognized were a few people who had previously reached out to me for advice. I just tried to look up the site, and it doesn’t seem to exist now. With something like this, it would be too easy to game the system, and it would be about as useful as Klout. (Is that still a thing? Was it ever?)

What if, instead of just writing lazy articles rounding up the same best email marketers, and trying to rank them, we all dug a little deeper? When we get an awesome email from a company, try to find out who made it. Who wrote it? Who came up with the creative? Does it have a bunch of complex behind the scenes queries or code that make it work? I want to hear from them.


6 thoughts on “The problem with the 20 best email marketers ever

  1. It’s a shame that more new people aren’t featured on these lists. And, like you say, featured for something amazing they’ve accomplished in email marketing. Rather than being featured because you can’t have a list without a, b, c, and d.

    It’s true, it is very flattering to be featured. Don’t mind forgoing my space for someone else every now and then.

    • Exactly! I know I personally don’t send emails in my role, and while I have some name recognition – there are a ton of people out there doing much better email marketing than I am. I want to hear about them.

      I think Litmus does a great job at this with LitmusLive – so many new people are featured! I’ve actually decided not to submit a presentation this year, because I want to spend the whole conference learning from other people instead of stressing about my presentation. 🙂

  2. Truly appreciate this article and the recognition of the many, many people that work on unrecognized and underappreciated by their industry, because they don’t trumpet that they get the job done day in and day out. I know lots of GREAT email marketers for companies large and small that should make lots of lists, and it remains disheartening to see the same white men and couple of token (also white) women every. single. time.

  3. Good article. Some of the best email people are the quiet/introverted types. They aren’t the ones who are likely to submit to speak at a conference in front of a lot of people. I think it’s just two different worlds – the people who speak about email (and usually do it really well) and those who sit back at the office create great emails. Good ideas can come from people in both of those worlds.

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