Is email dead?

Dead Rose Email is dead. Well, at least according to Mark Zuckerberg it is anyway. Whilst these comments were made last year at the launch of Facebook’s new messaging service, so will obviously need to be taken in this context, is there actually any merit in them? Is the death knell ringing for email and the email marketing discipline?

Let’s start with the numbers. There are 3.1 billion email addresses, which is expected to grow to 4.1 billion in 2015 [Radicati Group, May 2011]; 95% of people check their email accounts at least once a day [eCircle, The European Social Media and Email Marketing Study]; 75% of consumers use email to receive social network notifications. A snapshot these figures maybe, but they certainly don’t show a medium that is on the verge of dying.

It’s strange that as one technology emerges, it always assumed that it has to be at the expense of another; in this case it’s the turn of email. But why do social media and email have to be mutually exclusive? The same case was, and is still, being put forward for the death of direct mail ever since email marketing emerged. Indeed, history has proven that time and time again, it is the integrated use of all of these tools that enables brands to communicate more effectively with their consumers across many different touch points.

Just as social media has many unique virtues, so too has email. The inherent problem in questioning whether email has a future in the face of social media is that you are comparing two entirely different mediums. In doing so you immediately frame the argument about what characteristics email doesn’t have, rather than what it does. Indeed, it’s the discipline’s differences that will ensure email has a future.

This is immediately apparent when you examine the results of our own European social media and email marketing study, in which we talked to over 5,000 consumers and 600 key marketing decision makers from businesses across Europe. Email marketing is still the predominant form of online communication, with two-thirds of UK companies using the medium in comparison with 46% that use social media. However it’s the reasons given for not implementing social media that are the most telling; the number one reason being was that it is not targeted enough, followed by concerns around social media’s inability to prove its impact – arguably email’s two biggest strengths.

It is email’s unique ability to be able to set up automated communication with individual consumers, sending them relevant and targeted content that sets it apart from other channels, which can only offer blanket messages. Likewise for marketers, the ability to intricately track metrics and deliver an accurate ROI for this channel means that consistent approaches can be planned. However, I have no doubt that the measurability and targeting of social media activity will improve considerably in the future, just as I have no doubts that email, as a channel, will evolve to incorporate new, exciting functionality.

Social media simply adds an additional string to the marketer’s bow – amplifying messages and generating exciting new content. With the proliferation and convergence of channels it has never been more important for brands to plan, measure and evaluate their entire online marketing strategies. Marketers need to ensure they have an in-depth understanding of their target audience – how they consume their media and how they want to engage with brands – and align their strategies accordingly. Only then will the anticipated returns from both social media and email be truly realised.

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By Simon Bowker