Ben and Jerry’s Abandon Email, and their Fans


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The news that Ben & Jerry’s ice cream will stop sending email to their 1.3M customers is, frankly, remarkable.

What were they thinking? Are they nuts?

Their plan, announced in an email to their subscribers last week, said that they will be discontinuing email—in favor of social media. While there has been some idle speculation about whether social media will replace email, this is frankly nonsense. They are complementary channels, and understanding how to use the two together in a mutually supportive way is the key.

There are three fundamental problems with Ben and Jerry’s decision:

1. Customers choose the channels, not brands

Ben and Jerry’s subscribers opted in to their email program. They chose email as their preferred method of communication to receive news and promotions about the brand. We know from multiple studies that the number one reason for ‘friending a brand’ is to receive special deals and promotions. The same holds true for email.

ExactTarget recently published some interesting new research titled Subscribers, Fans and Followers on how consumers choose to interact with brands. When looking for promotions:

“76% of consumers will initially seek deals and promotions on a brand’s website, and from there, 62% will sign up to receive email, while 54% will use a search engine. 17% of consumers will also include Facebook as part of their quest for ongoing deals, and 3% will search for deals on Twitter.”

Cutting off their fans from their chosen communication channel is only part of the story: customers expect to be able to subscribe to email communications.

2. Social media isn’t a replacement for email

Ben and Jerry’s may have more than 1.3 million Facebook fans, but it doesn’t mean that there’s no role for email in their marketing mix.

Email is direct and proactive, and when used well, can be personal and directly relevant. The way many brands use social media is as an impersonal broadcast that relies on fans visiting their Facebook pages. Email reaches out and can reactivate fans’ interest in a brand in a way that a social network can’t. Of course, social networks also engage fans in a way that email can’t. The two are highly complementary, and neither is a replacement for the other.

3. Just because it’s hard to measure doesn’t mean it doesn’t work

Unlike ecommerce sites, where email is the number one tool of choice for driving high quality traffic to an ecommerce website, Ben and Jerry’s don’t sell on line—the ice cream would melt. So while the quality of traffic you drive to your website may be directly correlated to your conversion rate on an ecommerce website, a conversion for Ben and Jerry’s is an in-store purchase. While you can certainly measure the use of promotion codes and vouchers in-store, it’s hard to gauge the footfall impact from an email campaign.

While Ben and Jerry’s may have financial motivation for dropping their email newsletter, perhaps they should have been focusing on how to make their newsletter altogether more relevant  and tightly integrated with the social media programs, rather than killing it altogether. In time, it is likely that this decision will be reversed—email is too important a channel to ignore.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Charles Nicholls
Charles Nicholls is a social commerce expert and board advisor to several e-commerce startups. He founded SeeWhy, a real-time personalization and machine learning platform, which was sold to SAP. Serving as SVP of product, he built SAP Upscale Commerce, an e-commerce platform for direct-to-consumer brands and the mid-market. Today, Charles serves as chief strategy officer for SimplicityDX, a commerce experience company. He has worked on strategy and projects for leading ecommerce companies worldwide, including Amazon, eBay, Google and many others.


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