The Truth About Email Marketing's Future

In a 2011 Email Insider, (“Teens: OMG. Email is for Old People”), I predicted, "Email use will evolve as people move through different stages in their lives and as more emerging communication channels move into the mainstream."

I still believe email will not die anytime soon. However, some uses might fade as user demographics change and as marketers and consumers adopt other channels, especially mobile apps.

'Email' is Not the Same As 'Email Marketing'

Email for friends-and-family communication is going the way of fax messaging. It's not dead, but it's no longer the "go-to" channel.

Observers usually say young people are giving email the big middle finger. However, I rarely rely on email for personal communication, and I'm old enough to remember watching JFK's funeral on live TV.

I use my smartphone to text or send direct messages on Facebook and Twitter, giving me a real-time conversation when I can't or don't want to talk. I will, however, forward a commercial email or news story to my wife or college-age daughter.

In this context, email is declining slowly. But, like the fax machine, it won't die; it will just evolve to a niche use.

One caveat as I survey the 30,000+ email messages in my work inbox: Email will remain the most popular medium for work-related communication for a long time.

Does 'Email Marketing' Have a Different Future?

When you analyze commercial email according to its uses, you can see where it could face competition.

Before I delve into that, let me explain a key concept in email marketing's future: the "addressable audience."

Regardless of a competing channel's popularity, marketers must be able to deliver a comparable or replacement message to an individual. This is where many channels fall short.

Brand marketers, let me ask you some questions:

  • For what percentage of your customer database do you have permission-based email addresses?
  • For what percentage do you have mobile phone numbers and permission to text? How many Twitter handles do you have, and how many follow you? What percentage of your database has liked your Facebook page?
  • If you have a mobile app, what percentage of your database has downloaded it and authorized push notifications?

For these alternative channels to gain messaging mindshare, they must achieve mass adoption, allowing marketers to reach customers and prospects at a comparable rate and cost as email.

Mobile Apps + Push Notifications: Email's Most Likely Competitor?

I'm bullish on mobile apps and push notifications for their potential ability to replace some email marketing messages.

It probably will happen with app-centric brands whose primary relationship is through the app, not the email address. That said, one client, a leading mobile app, continues to increase its email volume dramatically every year.  

Here are three predictions:

1. Newsletters: Content-focused newsletters will remain popular and relevant, especially for B2B companies and publishers. B2B marketers can distribute multiple articles within a single newsletter, and publishers can monetize these emails through ads and sponsorships.

2. Broadcast/promotional messages: Most consumers will prefer email for messages that include several offers or kinds of content. Will mobile app users want their smartphones to ping them all day long whenever a message arrives and then have to click again to view it? For non-timely messages, I doubt it.

3. Transactional/triggered messages: These are email's primary challengers, especially push notifications for bulletin-style messages such as flight delays, flash sales, breaking news headlines and order confirmations linked to in-app landing pages.

This transition won't happen overnight, because mobile apps must overcome several barriers to reach email's universal utility: Customers have to find, download and open them (only about 25% of mobile apps get used more than once), then agree to accept notifications and be willing to receive potentially dozens of them daily on their smartphones.

What do you think? Could any existing channel replace messages that are email's domain today? Do you agree with my assertion that mobile apps may hold the greatest promise? Let me know in the comments.

Until next time, take it up a notch!

Tags: email
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3 comments about "The Truth About Email Marketing's Future".
  1. Peter Rosenwald from Consult Partners , December 5, 2013 at 1:44 p.m.
    Yes. Email usage will change as will every form of communication. But die? I doubt it. Sooner rather than later, marketers will focus more intently on the metrics of each step in their funnel from initial attraction to sale and continuity of purchase. What will determine which media will get the lion's share of the promotional spend will be which generate the greatest return on the marketing investment, not just at the top of the funnel but at the bottom, the accountable cost per sale or customer. Instead of all the blah, blah, blah about what the future holds, we need to pay very close attention to the numbers, segment our efforts towards those media that produce the highest ROMI, the return on the total marketing investment. The real truth about email marketing's future will be written on our spreadsheets.
  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , December 5, 2013 at 2:28 p.m.
    When I email you, the message is for you, no one else. Period. As bad as Google is and the rest, f-beast and twits are worse. If the message is that important, someone will email me or call me. Even when I was out on the streets with constant closings, every call was returned when I returned to the office. Rarely did I call from the road and I was always one of the top or top 2 producers. (On the other hand, if production e.g., needed something at night or weekends for which they needed me to do, I ran into the office. That was not even a regular issue.) I am not a doctor. Not everything is an emergency.
  3. Melissa Young from TRTech , May 30, 2014 at 2:03 a.m.
    I don't think e-mail marketing will be dead after years! In fact, it will come out with new trends. The way by which consumers and brands are communicating is changing always. So email marketing may also change its style, we will hope for a better coming. Let us hope that it will come out with a smarter automation, hyper-targeting and smart visual contents. Now there are companies out there which are providing good email marketing services. Troi mailing service at Toronto, Ontario is the one which I know.