Three statisticians went hunting in the woods. Before long, one of them pointed to a plump pigeon in a tree, and the three of them stopped and took aim. The first fired, missing the bird by a couple of inches to the left. Immediately afterwards the second fired, but also missed, a couple of inches to the right. The third put down his gun, exclaiming, "Great shooting lads, on average I reckon we got it!"
Averages are designed, in general, to help assess past behavior in hopes of predicting future consequences. If we were Vegas odds brokers, what type of odds would we have on the future growth of email marketing in 2015 vs. other emerging channels?
I've said for years that email is not dead. Several trends and observations that will shift how we hedge bets on the channels:
- The emergence of socially networked communities is creating new cultures among young and old (how connected you are, how you connect, how you sustain communities, how you behave in your professional career vs. personal and the intersection of the two). 51% of online consumers belong to one or more social network sites.
- Cell phone/smartphone penetration with an unprecedented adoption rate (75% of Adults). Not just the adoption rate, but the sheer amount of time spent on a cell phone is increasing twofold with the emergence of applications. The average adult sends 10 text messages a day, while a teen sends over 50.
- 74% of consumers will use a mobile app 11X before discarding it, indicating that engagement through apps and geo-location is still not as pervasive outside of episodic intervals.
- The future of loyalty will be redemption and convenience at the POS, and geo-location-based.
Consumers are homogenous by nature; we flock, we have like tendencies and we have this inner sense of community that devices and social marketing enable. Does email also enable this trait as it did in the past? Email, while still a staple in the mix, much like print, will be challenged as "in-home" becomes a synchronous method of integrating web with Interactive TV experiences (where we spend the vast majority of our time today).
Email has four great values to the consumer: notification, informational/educational, promotional and social value. I believe it will lose some of its luster as a conduit to a few of these values. With the real-time nature of devices, there will ultimately be more efficient means of notifying consumers of brand events or customer service exchanges. Email will still be convenient for service-oriented response, but the marketing value of those interactions will diminish over time.
Apps will be pervasive to the experience, and the device will be the conduit. I think this will challenge email notification as a front-end engagement tool, a sustaining element to the lifecycle and the persistence with which people answer commercial email.
While email has always been the conduit to "information," as in newsletters, all the trends indicate people are consuming content in so many other forms. So I believe email's value as the driver of traffic will diminish over time as the sources of content will be driven through apps. (News, social updates), I believe email will struggle to remain persistent the way newsletters are designed and syndicated today, causing a ripple effect in the way newsletters are monetized.
I believe from a promotional perspective we will still have viable use of email. The commercial inbox will become more interactive, and marketers will still pour their energy into this area. The challenge will be to integrate it with a mobile shopping effort where it is real-time enabled at the point of sale. We covet traffic, we love browsers, but we get paid on conversion. Email has always struggled to secure a significant portion of the budget shift to online and will continue in the future.
Lastly, email is a social vehicle from a consumer and business perspective. We leverage it in our daily lives, yet we are beginning to communicate differently in fragmented ways that are more convenient than email. Is it the viral tool of the future? NO! It never has been. As consumers shift from the inbox to the app, from the web to the mobile web, from the device to the interactive store display, from the loyalty card to the electronic currency wallet, email will become less important as a marketer's dream viral tool and more as a driver of persistence to other experiences.
Email will will still continue to grow for the next few years, but as I said before, budget will flow where attribution can be proven and the consumer experience is most visible. The emerging experiences will soon be capitalizing on the consumer's wallet, maximizing convenience that I believe will shift where conversion and transactions happen. I believe the engagement vehicle will be so interconnected it will be difficult to operate email at the pace you'll need to be relevant. The linear world of email marketing will have to shift to near real-time thinking and optimization, and carve out a new place in the engagement pecking order.