When it comes to reports of death being greatly exaggerated, email marketing leaves the now unexaggeratedly late Mark Twain in the shade. Ever since I took my first faltering steps in the digital world back in ’99 doom-mongers have been predicting its imminent demise. Over the years, despite their voices becoming more numerous and more incessant, the one thing they haven’t managed to achieve is being right… quite the contrary.
Whilst I won’t go as far as to say that email marketing will never die, it currently seems to have an instinct for survival that Darwin would’ve found gratifying. Email is the old man of digital marketing and yet Jupiter Research predict it will hit $2.1bn next year, up from $1.2bn in 2007 – no mean feat in a marketing world obsessed with apps, social media and social media apps. So why is this Methuselah of marketing refusing to be pensioned off when other media of the bygone age – such as affiliates – have been struggling to make it to digital marketing plans for some time. The answer is simultaneously as simple and complex as the medium itself: email is easy to use, everyone with a machine above a ZX Spectrum can access it, it’s cheaper than chips on free-chips Friday and yet with clever use of targeting and segmentation it can deliver all the subtlety and power of a bottle of Château Latour 1982. Indeed it is my belief that email isn’t in peril at all but is poised for one of its periodic renaissances, this time courtesy of the ’email killer’, social media.
When social broke through in 2004/5 it seemed to many that email would finally meet its match. Who, the received wisdom went, would need email when messages could be written directly on walls, scrawled on forums or chirped in a 140 character tweet. Well, practically everyone as it turned out. Much as we marketers would like to think that everyone is permanently glued to their social media streams, the fact is that many users do (shock horror) have lives, jobs, real-life friends and a myriad of other distractions that keep them away from their profiles. This missing link in the social media loop is seamlessly filled by email whose notifications and calls to action help keep this digital juggernaut moving.
But such a subservient role wasn’t enough for email, and savvy marketers soon realised that email could support social in much richer ways and even be an email advocate. Brands started using content harvested from social in their emails, generating free and relevant content, and even placed email sign ups in their social spaces. And the really clever ones – the ones for whom the mantra of ‘targeting, segmentation, personalisation’ is a way of digital life and not just a platitude – started monitoring their email subscribers’ social media activity in order to serve up an even more relevant, and therefore compelling, email offering.
So, in answer to this article’s title question I’d have to say yes, if not more. With the opening of each new chapter of the web’s story, email looks destined to be written out. Yet it not only survives, it remains the hero’s indispensible (if abused!) sidekick. Well done email, and here’s to many more adventures in the future.