Reports of the Death of Email Are Greatly Exaggerated

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By Jose Cebrian, VP and GM for Email and Mobile Messaging at Merkle

Email is not dead. Its purported death seems to be a recurring theme over the years, usually based on some new innovation of the time, such as Facebook’s roll-out of member email or the rise of the millennial consumer, who some claim doesn’t use email. There is always some revolutionary channel that is assassinating email. It’s true that email tactics do not receive the lion’s share of spend relative to display or search; and it may not be as sexy as social. But my view is that email is still very much alive.

In fact, I would argue that email is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. Not only is it an exciting channel that has tremendous stand-alone properties, it also is central to fulfilling on the “omni-channel” marketing promise.

Email address penetration is huge

According to eMarketer, over 90% of US internet users have an email address. Additionally, a Q4 2014 Merkle study found that email is the preferred channel (over 82%) for receiving messaging from brands across all age groups.

Email is an active channel

When you get down to it, channels like search, display, and social are generally passive – they wait for someone to come before you can get a message to them. Email is active – you create a message, send it, and nearly immediately (within 24 hours) get most of your response. Email is also fast to produce and send as well as generally inexpensive from an incremental investment perspective.  This is a great combination of features that other channels can’t claim.  

Email is a craft combined with technical innovations

Email has been constrained for so long. It’s still true that you can’t use common web technologies like JavaScript to make emails more interesting. Also, email has intermediaries like internet service providers (ISP) and filtering technologies that limit your targeting to those who engage or are likely to engage with your company via email. This adds complexity, requiring the marketer to apply an extra level of segmentation that is specific to activity in a particular channel.

However, companies like Movable Ink, Persado, Live Clicker, and Audience Point have helped us break through the natural channel limitations and brought us into a world where we can:

  • Leverage environmental data such as location and weather at the time of targeting or open to change our message
  • Send emails at a time when an individual is most likely to open the email
  • Leverage real-time first-party data such as balances, last customer service interactions, and so on to tailor a message in real time.

In addition, the coding of email continues to evolve. We can now mix what the companies above provide with advanced coding techniques to deliver emails to customers that act on real-time data and interaction. Many members of the industry continue to push the limits on the coding, the adjacent technology, and the use of more data in email marketing. Not only does this disprove the myth that email is dead, it indicates exciting times ahead.

Email address is the core internet identity and the foundation of marketing clouds

As we look beyond email as a channel, we need to consider two trends. The first is that most marketing clouds have a former email service provider (ESP) at their core. Secondly, extension beyond email in a multi-channel, digital strategy requires email address at some point, because email address can be turned into cookies and device IDs through onboarding technologies. Together, these two trends create one of very few ways to enact a true multi-channel experience at the individual level with a coordinated offer. Without email address and email as a channel, it doesn’t work. You’re simply targeting at a segment level.

None of this is to say that email alone is the best channel.  It is a channel that should be leveraged for its strengths while acknowledging its weaknesses. Despite the demise of email being called for many years now, my view is that the industry and channel are healthy and growing. Demographic shifts may change how email fits into the marketing mix over time, but it is unlikely to go away.