Commentary

Kirby: Email a 'Workhorse,' Social Media to be Embraced

Looking for more from Eric Kirby's well-received keynote address Monday morning at the Summit?

Early on, he brushed aside suggestions that email marketing may be losing steam, while urging marketers to carpe diem and capitalize on social media networks.

Email has been a “workhorse” for a decade and that’s unlikely to subside, Kirby said. His endorsement comes as the industry has dealt with suggestions in 2009 that its long-held, top-tier role is fading.

“I’ve never seen a year where a company said: We’re pulling back on marketing spend, the economy’s not great, time to stop doing email,” said Kirby, a senior vice president at leading CRM agency Merkle. “The reason is the effectiveness of the channel is really resistant to those kinds of cutbacks.”

Still, with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc., Kirby spoke about the potential to move the needle. And not just with the younger set.

"We need to be thinking about our business in ways to manage across these different connection points," he said.

Companies are doing some inventive programs on Facebook that email marketers could learn from, he indicated. Outback Steakhouse, for example, offered a free Bloomin’ Onion to the first 500,000 people who became its fans on Facebook.

And its list grew by 125,000 between Nov. 16 and 24.

Demonstrating how impressive that is, Kirby asked the audience: “Anybody’s email list grow by 125,000 over the course of a week in the last couple of months. Probably not, maybe a few.”

Separately, Merkle -- Kirby's agency -- annually publishes a “View From the Inbox” multi-topic email study. And Kirby shared some early data from the 2010 version. Research is derived from a Harris Interactive survey of 3,300 U.S. adults ages 18 and older.

Younger people (ages 18 to 29) unsurprisingly are the principal users of Facebook with 71% visiting it at least once a week. But the site has resonance even among people ages 65-plus -- where 29% visit at least once a week.

“There’s a pretty good chance that your grandmother at this point is on Facebook,” Kirby said.

Also notable, almost a fifth of the AARP set has found YouTube. Some 19% of people over 65 are visiting it once a week.

Back to the debate about whether there should be an obituary for email marketing. Hard to fathom. Merkle data shows 87% of people (of all ages) say email is their preferred method of receiving communication from marketers. In second place? The phone at 6%.

Nonetheless, the study shows email is losing some juice as a way friends in the 18-to-29 demo communicate with each other. Text messaging is the preferred method at 29%, followed by the phone at 26%, social networking at 16% and email in fourth place at 14%.

Also on text messaging for 18-to-29 year-olds, of those who use SMS, 30% say they have opted-in to receive text messages from marketers. The 30% figure is the same for the 30-to-39 demo.

Those findings could be surprising since marketers have moved deliberately into the mobile space, believing it is a very personal arena.

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