Email Is Still The Killer App

I'm so bored with the "email is dead" meme that I'm not even going to reference the article recently seen in a national newspaper that trotted out this old story yet again. 


I think it's exciting to consider the ways in which email is still the killer app.  Obviously when you work for a company that focuses on email you have a vested interest in the idea that email is not dead.  But I think both research and common sense back me up.  Here are four reasons to stay bullish on email:

Kids do use email. It seems like every few days or so someone releases a study showing that anyone under 25 is only using for the Internet for social networking and gaming.  But there is plenty of data to the contrary, including the Pew study showing that email and search are the top Internet activities across all age groups. 



Social networks run on email. Every social network requires an email address to set up a profile.  Why?  Because email is vital to the running of the network.  It's how they send members information and it's also how they grow.  Friends emailing friends not on the network to encourage them to join is a big part of how new social networks gain traction.  As a result, social networks are among the largest senders of legitimate mail.  It's unlikely that this will always be the case.  But I think email will continue to be the lifeblood of social networks for the  intermediate future.

Some messages are better suited to email. In my view, this would include messages to temporary, medium-sized groups (i.e., you want to send a message to just three people working on one part of a project with you).  This kind of work is easier to do in email.  In fact, much of business is still run on email for a reason: it's still a great way to convey information both quickly and thoroughly.

Email is more secure than the current alternatives. Right now, alternative messaging platforms are difficult to secure to the level of email.  If you need to send a business message to people outside your company in industries where legislation like HIPPA or Sarbanes-Oxley is a consideration, then you need email.   Many companies in highly regulated industries still don't allow the relatively dowdy instant messaging platform, even though it can be secured.  For example, Ameriprise Financial does not allow its network of financial planners to use any IM platform -- even to communicate with friends and family -- because of security and regulatory issues.  Many industries will change at a much slower pace than the technology that surrounds them.

So what does the future look like?  I'm focused on two big trends that I think will dominate the thinking of anyone who cares about all forms of electronic messaging.

The first is the move toward a newly balanced communication diet.  I do think people will move away from email for certain types of messages and toward Twitter, IM and social networks instead.  Of course this has been happening already, we just don't always notice.  Think about blogs.  How many of us send email messages to a large group of friends and family to tell them about our fabulous vacation?  We don't have to.  We have a blog that they are all subscribed to.

The second, and to me more interesting change, is going to be on the technology side.  You are going to see applications -- both within existing services and as part of new offerings -- that merge email and social network messaging into the same interface in a new way.  Great examples of this are Yahoo's recent changes and the Mozilla Raindrop project.

And what does this mean for marketers?  Simple.  They need to keep doing what really works when it comes to connecting with customers: creating awesome experiences.  The platform on which these experiences happen will change.  But a tweet about a new product that the recipient doesn't need is going to be just as uninteresting as the same message sent by email.  By staying focused on creating value for subscribers, marketers will come out on top, even when the ground underneath them continues to shift.

7 comments about "Email Is Still The Killer App".
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  1. Liz Lynch from Demandware, November 4, 2009 at 10:37 a.m.

    George, a great column. I don't think e-mail will die because it allows companies (and individuals) to have 1 to 1 conversations that social media just doesn't.

    Plus, e-mail is measurable. You can tell who clicked or who purchased from your e-mail and use that information to refine your program and make it more relevant to each individual who receives your messages.

    Social media certainly has a place, and it's a great tool for building buzz and awareness and getting consumers engaged with your brand. Companies should harness that awareness by driving people to sign up for e-mail from the company's Facebook page, etc. for an integrated strategy.

  2. Jason Klein from Selligent, November 4, 2009 at 12:13 p.m.

    Thanks for clearly communicating why email is far from the brink. In the world of email marketing, the relevancy enabled by 1to1 messaging is the holy grail. While social media certainly has its place, email provides the kind of direct communication that will allow you to foster rewarding and lucrative relationships with your customers.

    In this way, email marketing has a leg-up on social media. However, that's not to say that you can't leverage social media to expand your email marketing universe. Use social media for what it's good for - reaching new markets. Then, after you've made contact with your target market, use email to nurture the relationship.

    Used together, email and social media can help you build your business responsibly, with the right kind of customer.

  3. Nelson Yuen from Stereotypical Mid Sized Services Corp., November 4, 2009 at 12:41 p.m.

    Commenting Liz.

    Everything is measurable. It's not a unique characteristic if email.

    I don't want to say e-mail is dead, but I think the reason why we all get hung up on the issue is because of the way people see e-mail.

    I clicked the link for the PEW studies btw. I interpret the article much differently...

    As for e-mail. Let's ask "what is e-mail?"

    Define that first, and then I think you'll be able to have a better debate over the issue.

    In my opinion, e-mail isn't dead, but it HAS to be the least effective marketing channel out of search and social media - for OBVIOUS reasons.

    I don't understand where the value is in E-mail. There is a place for it IN marketing. But there is a disconnect with distinguishing email as a medium for connecting with consumers VS calling it for what it is, just a channel to cast a proverbial "net" of messages. It's an app like you said. And like every app, you opt into and out of it.

    It's still a fundamentally intrusive form of marketing. E-mail marketers are the first ones to cite that a "subscription" is an invitation for marketing messages. But I mean, come on... when have WE e-mail marketers (yes I've been in the behavioral targeting and dynamic copy space as well) ever FAIRLY asked a user "Hey would you like to be emailed marketing messages? BTW we'll send you some coupons too." We get our BULK of subscribers through coercion. "Hey look, we're giving away this but you have to give us your email first." Or "hey you're only eligible for this through e-mail subscription." We send them messages that interrupt a buying cycle NOT assist them. There is a fundamental paradigm shift in the mentality of consumers, they will receive messages when they are ACTIVELY engaged in the buying cycle; never before. And they will listen when they feel like it, not before. I'd love to see the statistics on unopened emails or un-subscriptions VS subscriptions.

    I don't think email is dead. I just don't think it is AS important as search and social media.

    In a marketing campaign, assuming we're tying our traditional media spends with online marketing -

    we use search to engage the user in the middle and end of the buying cycle after a consumer has expressed a receptiveness to a message - we reinforce that message by giving it credibility and a brand through social media. It's a passive connection that influences consumer sentiment over the long term - which inadvertently negates e-mail btw. E-mail is just a channel that reinforces both. E-mail is NOT a marketing medium, it is just a channel that reinforces one facet of an overall message. It's just one part of a conversation, it is not the conversation itself.

    Search is a solicitation for a marketing message. Social media is a progressive conversation. Email is just an alternative way to send a message - albeit subscription or not, I'm not opening my spam box.

    Humbly written... btw if you couldn't feel my sincere empathy behind the screen.

  4. Nelson Yuen from Stereotypical Mid Sized Services Corp., November 4, 2009 at 12:45 p.m.

    ... do marketers really believe that email is a 1 to 1 message with consumers???

    I'm so confused. Would any of you care to elaborate on that position?

  5. Kurt Johansen from Johansen International, November 4, 2009 at 4:48 p.m.

    Wow, some intriguing views here and ones which should be commented on. First for me, email IS a marketing channel (Nelson),
    Let me explain...
    Email is still the most cost effective and affordable means for a small business to get there products and services 'marketed'.

    Email Marketing is about the 1. The List; 2. The Relationship and 3. The Offer.

    Let's look at this more specifically.

    If a Cafe collected email addresses they could let their patrons quickly and economically know that ANY coffee purchased today comes with a slice of delicious home made apple pie but today only.

    If a video store had the email addresses of their clients they could let them know that all 'NEW' releases are $1 hire but tonight only.

    If you need to fill a restaurant on a quiet night then a fabulous offer could be sent to email clients.

    Email definitely has a place.

    I have filled restaurants for clients, sold PVC Piping ($39,000 in 3 days) for a client who hasn't sold any more than $500 ever in his previous marketing efforts using all channels.

    We just had over a 200% increase in bookings for a business breakfast for a client and they are 'pumped' by the result.

    Email needs to be used wisely. The stats I always read seem to refer to large corporations and massive businesses.

    Email used effectively is about contacting your mates, your friends and writing to them on a one-to-one basis.

    So for me it is THE BEST media for small business. And in Australia around 67% of people are employed by a small business.

    Email done correctly makes sense but make it personal. The email should be written as if it is going to one person, written in the first person, including the person's first name and this way it will be welcomed as a message from a friend in their in-boxes.

    Simple rule in sales. People BUY from friends.

    Whilst some people may deplore email it could be because the message has not be written directly to them and the message probably contains nothing more than a message about the company sending it.

    This is NOT the way to use email.

    If you would like to get the "7 Killer Tips To Get Your Emails Read" you can go to my website and get my free 34 page book.

    In it you will learn the steps which are making my clients and myself 'friends and buyers' in this wonderful world of email marketing.

    If you are a large corporation you should be asking your marketing team what are we doing to become close to our customers. Why would someone but from an email which is not sent personally to them but part of a massive mail out.

    If you are in small business refuse to accept the notion email marketing is dead. It is alive and vibrant and the most cost effective way to get you message to your clients.

    When you send out emails be their friend.

    Kurt Johansen
    Australia's Email Marketing Guru.

  6. Liz Lynch from Demandware, November 4, 2009 at 5:58 p.m.

    Hi Nelson,
    I do think e-mail really can be a tool for 1 to 1 marketing, but it's something that is more advanced than the "batch and blast" mentality that unfortunately still happens quite often.
    The technology exists such that a marketer can 100%personalize an e-mail message to an individual subscriber, while keeping the overall call to action the same using dynamic content and information about the subscriber, such as geographic area, past purchase history, preferences, or web behavioral data.
    We have clients that have been very successful integrating data like favorite team and geographic location, or products browsed on a web site, so it is possible!

  7. Allen Maccannell from SenderOK, November 5, 2009 at 5:01 a.m.

    None of the above 6 comments discussed George's 2 predictions for the future. Besides Mozilla's Raindrop, there is GoogleWave, xobni + SenderOK all transforming Email client into social networking platforms.

    Recall that, up to the present, social networks have all been found at a URL on the web. You have to type in or But social networks that do not get user profiles away from just their web URL and into the Email header pane will die and die quickly in 2010.

    In other words, Email is the *future* as the very platform that social networks will have to operate ON, not away from.

    Think about. An Email sender writes to you. You have a plug-in (SenderOK or Raindrop or xobni) that instantly recognizes who the sender is, what they look like, where they've been, whom they've worked for (LinkedIn profile). You can respond to them, if you want, via the social networks presented to you and not by hitting reply...but don't forget that you are operating off an Email client which is the first program you started in the morning as your portal to the world.

    Social network execs need to be beating down the doors of Email client makers and those of us making the Email client plug-ins, because the Email client is only going to become more important as the place we all turn to first in the morning. MySpace is the only major social network that hasn't answered any of my Emails detailing how they can save themselves from becoming a ghost-town URL somewhere in the vast desert badlands of the web.

    Texting (SMS) is the only threat I see to Email.

    Having said the above, I believe that a lot of non-responders on an Email marketing list should not continue to receive Emails when it might be better to find and follow them on Twitter + Facebook, etc and, if and when they follow back, they will get a lot of great information from you more at a time of their choosing (with Twitter, you have only about a 4% chance that any particular follower will see any particular tweet but he or she should see at least 1 out of every 25 tweets you make).

    Also, with Twitter, Facebook, etc you can grab their interest with relevant industry news links and comments that you would *never* send individually by Email because it wouldn't be important enough to do so all the time and it would be quite intrusive.

    Heck, one of my tweets from last night was a recipe for making chocolate Rice Krispy treats that I was forwarding (retweeting) as a tweet I saw randomly from someone else I saw in my timeline.

    Nobody is going to get an Email from SenderOK explaining how to make chocolate Rice Krispy treats but there may be 1 or 2 of our potential clients who actually will make them, serve them on Thanksgiving and remember where they got the recipe from.

    Nobody unfollowed (unsubscribed) after that tweet. ;-)

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