It's Time For Email's Identity To Match Its Definition

Email has been around for some time.  It’s a mature digital channel that appears to have a clear identity, yet I’m ready to challenge what we believe it to be. Email as defined by the Webster Dictionary is “a system for sending messages from one computer to another computer.”

Essentially, the definition declares email as a direct communication medium between computers. Why, then, do we only consider email as the messages we receive in an inbox?  Shouldn’t all digital direct messaging channels be considered an email or a subtype of email? (And don't get me started on Webster hyphenating "e-mail." That's a topic that deserves its own post.)

Why Call Email’s Image Into Question?

Today’s marketing organization is still very much silo-ed by channels, with teams or individuals managing each one: display, paid search, SEO, website, mobile, email, social, etc.  Even when teams are built around customer segments or brands, the fragmentation is usually still pervasive, despite the best efforts of companies to be nimble and innovative.



This fragmented approach has led to confusion as new means of sending digital-direct messages to consumers have emerged.  For example, who would be responsible for messages to connected devices like a car’s computer and GPS screen? This is a perfect receiving place for a message from the manufacturer about service reminders or other alerts.  What about other innovations happening with the Internet of Things, or even direct messages like SMS or push notifications?  By Webster's definition, wouldn’t all of these examples be called email?  

In one sense, they are tied to email. As ESPs have transformed into multichannel marketing platforms, they have made fully orchestrated customer journeys possible.  These systems are syncing up with first-party data as an email marketer manages to create 1:1 permission-based communications.  Additionally, relationships with multichannel marketing platforms are almost always owned in companies by the email marketing manager.

What Channels Should be Considered an Email or Subtype of Email?

Email marketing managers should be making the case internally to change the perception of what an email is, so they can  manage all of the following:
-- Emails in the traditional sense: batch, automated and triggered.
-- SMS notifications.
-- Push notifications when direct to a consumer and not a one-size-fits-all app message. (The mobile app manager should handle generic messages as part of an app strategy.)
-- Any new means of sending a direct message that emerges from the IOT and connected devices:
----  Fitness trackers
----  Appliances
----  Cars
----  Pet GPS trackers
----  Smart homes

As email marketers, we need to think about email as something more than a message received in an inbox. Only then can we be best positioned to handle the innovations taking place in our industry.  It’s time for the email channel to meld with complementary channels, and for experienced email marketers to manage it within their organizations.

By applying the direct-marketing expertise of email marketers to emerging and synergistic channels, brands can quickly capitalize on the chance to outperform the silo-ed efforts of the competition.  What falls under the purview of the email marketer will inevitably change. The question is how quickly organizations will formalize this new reality.

Am I the only one who thinks email marketing should be more than email? Let me know in the comments.

7 comments about "It's Time For Email's Identity To Match Its Definition".
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  1. Chad White from Litmus, May 7, 2015 at 1:11 p.m.

    Email marketers are experts at direct marketing, so it makes total sense to give them more control over other direct channels like SMS and push messaging. But I don't know that I would generalize the term "email" and divorce it from its unique platform and channel considerations.

  2. April Mullen from SparkPost, May 7, 2015 at 1:50 p.m.

    It's not divorcing email from its platform and channel considerations.  I'm simply challenging the industry to expand the definition.  Just as we would differentiate a triggered API email from batch campaigns, I think we can do the same while also being more inclusive of what defines an email. 

  3. Eric Raymond from KBM Group, May 7, 2015 at 1:54 p.m.

    The dynamic nature of email is still too daunting for many large marketers, whom still love the idea of huge customer segments and one way pushes of brand or product offers. It ignores the power of the medium.

    Commercial email ought to encourage engagement with the recipient, yet when you click on an email to respond, in 9 out of 10 cases you get a message stating that the email account is not monitored.

    You dare send me 5-7 emails a week with free shipping and 25% discounted offers, and yet you don't want me to hit the "reply" message on the email....and wait until AFTER I compose it and send it before you tell me it went into a black hole ? If I forced my family to call me or visit my website every time I sent an email to them, I would drive my family crazy.

    I get it. Really....I do.

    It's not about me. It's about you.

  4. April Mullen from SparkPost, May 7, 2015 at 1:55 p.m.

    What I meant my last sentence to read is that I think we can do the same by including other channels, while also being more inclusive of what defines an email. 

    In a nutshell, we already have different strategies and technological considerations for different email types.  Why not include more of the newer channels into the email definiton and simply have different strategies, just as we always have for different email types?

  5. April Mullen from SparkPost, May 7, 2015 at 1:58 p.m.

    @Eric, any client I've ever worked with that has a "do not reply" at the footer of emails has heard me preach about all the reasons why that isn't a good idea.  Why limit the ways a customer can have a two-way dialog with your brand?  

    I totally hear your point and I agree 100%. 

  6. Karen Talavera from Synchronicity Marketing, May 20, 2015 at 2:44 p.m.

    April I agree with you. The types of messages and notifications you described are all electronic, so they fit the moniker of "email" (electronic "mail"). Plus it pays for companies to have cohesive messaging strategies, platforms and plans that are inclusive vs. exclusive of certain digital channels. Maybe the word "email" is a symantics issue for people, or connotes the existence of a specific "mailbox", and if so perhaps it should evolve into "emessage" (or something similar) which has a broader context. Whether we declare it so or not, seems the world is moving that way!

  7. April Mullen from SparkPost, May 21, 2015 at 2:30 p.m.

    @Karen, yes, the world seems to be moving in that way indeed. Will be interesting to see if the industry terminology changes.  I hope so!

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