Haven't we been here before?
A. Research firm find teens don't use email as much anymore.
B. Pundits proclaim, "Email is dead!"
C. Cooler heads prevail.
This time, the research firm is comScore, whose new report, "The 2010 U.S. Digital Year in Review," found email usage is down 59% among 12- to 17-year-olds. Right on schedule, some drumbeaters began forecasting email's demise.
Analyzing the Data
Here is the actual section of the report on Web-based email usage:
Web-Based Email Usage Heads South
As communication platforms and devices continue to proliferate, the usage of Web-based email has begun to decline, particularly among younger segments of consumers who are increasingly shifting towards instant messaging, social media, and mobile communications.
Total web-based email usage declined 8 percent in the past year, with the most precipitous decline occurring among 12-17 year olds (down 59 percent).
Usage also declined marginally among 18-24 year olds, while more noticeable declines were seen among 25-34 year olds (down 18 percent), 35-44 year olds (down 8 percent) and 45-54 year olds (down 12 percent).
In contrast, however, usage actually gained among 55-64 year olds (up 22 percent) and among those age 65 and older (up 28 percent) most likely because of continued adoption by these age segments.
OK, let's break this analysis down:
· Teen Web-based email usage has declined 59%? I didn't realize that teens EVER used email heavily, whether marketing or personal. Teens live on their mobile devices. Even if they were frequent users of email, they, like all age groups, are shifting to mobile access of their email.
· The data focus just on Web-based email usage. Without any corresponding look at mobile and email client usage, we don't really know what is going on with these segments.
· The study offers no insight into the types of messaging: personal, transactional or marketing.
· If we compare this research to Nielsen's from last summer, we see that email access overall is actually shifting from PCs to mobile devices.
The Evidence in My Household
My elder daughter is very tech-savvy and lives on both her MacBook and Motorola Droid smartphone.
Like most teens, she rarely uses email but communicates with her friends via texting, cell phone calls, Skype, IM and, to a lesser extent, Facebook.
However, as her 16th birthday approached, she wanted to tell my wife and me about a Tiffany heart-shaped necklace that she thought would make an excellent present.
Did she link to the product on her Facebook page? Did she text her mother? Did she get me on Skype while I was out of town? She did not. Instead, she emailed us to lobby for the gift with a link to the Tiffany Web page.
Why? Because she's a smart girl, and she knows who her audience is (in this case, adults who prefer email). More importantly from a marketer's perspective, her campaign worked. She targeted her audience with a timely, relevant email. And, yes, I converted.
I put my reporter hat on and tried to glean some insight into my daughter's inbox and use of email. After enduring the usual eye-rolling and "You're stupid; go away" attitude, I uncovered the following points:
· She doesn't knowingly opt in to any emails from companies.
· She does receive emails from cosmetics sites she has ordered from, such as Sephora and Ulta. She expects confirmation/shipping emails but doesn't know why she gets their marketing emails. She rarely opens those.
· When I asked if she ever unsubscribed, she said she "didn't know how."
· She gets emails from random companies but doesn't know why. (I assume these are just spam.)
Email Use Will Evolve
When my daughter and her fellow teens get into their 20s, they certainly will use email less as a marketing channelthan older generations. Facebook and Twitter marketing messages, mobile apps and perhaps even SMS will comprise a significant percentage of the marketing messages she opts in to receive.
So, yes, I am certain generic broadcast email marketing messages will likely be relied on less for this next generation. They are also likely to be less tolerant of email, or other channels, that don't speak to them in a more personable, engaging and relevant manner.
I grew up in the era of the four-page direct-mail letter. Today's teens are used to Facebook newsfeeds and 160-character text messages.
But let's be clear: Teens aren't active in many marketing channels now. For example, my daughter:
· Does not "Like" many brands on Facebook
· Doesn't receive telemarketing calls
· Receives SMS marketing messages only from her mobile provider
· Doesn't do Twitter, which she also asserts is "for old people."
· Does receive catalogs and promotions via direct mail.
What Marketers Must Grasp
Email use will evolve as people move through different stages in their lives and as more emerging communication channels move into the mainstream.
It's up to marketers to ensure that email remains a vital and valuable communication resource in anticipation of the day today's text-reliant teens join the full-time-work, mortgage-holding world, where a baby-sitter is someone you hire, not what you do to earn spending money.
Until next time, take it up a notch.