In 2010, an average of 294 billion e-mails were sent globally EVERY DAY. Of that number around 90% of them were SPAM emails. How can a marketing medium, where 90% of its activity is classed as worthless, possibly survive in this world of social media and brand engagement?

Well, the CEO of Facebook doesn’t think it will. In a conference speech last year, she confidently predicted that e-mail ‘was going away’ and that even now people were spending more time on social networks than e-mail.

To further this argument, average e-mail open rates have been steadily declining since 2007 and now stand at around 11%.

In all fairness Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg was manipulating her figures a little bit, and was predominantly referring to the teen market, but she still caused quite a storm amongst email marketers. The point she was making is that amongst teenagers, social networks, IM and texting is a far more prevalent way for them to communicate than e-mail. However, what she did not expand on, is that teenage communication behaviour does not necessarily translate into adult behaviour. I cannot imagine today’s teenager asking their boss for a pay rise on Twitter when they are 25 years old and in gainful employment!

But even with these caveats there is more SPAM, people are using email less and open rates are declining, so is e-mail marketing really on the way out?

E-mail marketing is dead, long live e-mail marketing

In reality e-mail marketing is just changing. E-mail marketers have to work smarter, not harder to combat the distractions of today’s modern social media and spam filled world.

The days of ‘e-mail blasts’ (one generic email to an entire database) are over. They have been replaced by personalised, targeted, relevant and triggered emails that engage users on a level never before seen.

An e-mail database should be well segmented (by age, gender, what they have bought, etc) so that smaller, more targeted content can be sent to them. An e-mail should contain some personalisation, even if it just says ‘Dear <name>’ at the top. E-mail campaigns should be more reactive. If a particular trade/industry/global event happens that can be tied in with a brand, then that brand should send a triggered email.

If a customer buys a television from a site, they could get an e-mail selling TV stands and HDMI cables.

Transactional e-mails are a much underused method of e-mail marketing. Newsletter sign up confirmations, shopping receipts and delivery notifications are all examples of transactional emails that have a much higher open rate than normal emails. So brands shouldn’t waste this opportunity to put marketing in all of their transactional emails.

If brands are engaged in social media, they shouldn’t just put the icons on their newsletters, they could include some content. E-mail marketing and social media can work very well hand in hand. For example newsletter sign up could be encouraged on Twitter or Facebook by sharing snippets of interesting articles on whitepapers from the brand website.

Finally with all of the above, testing is the key. Split testing in particular. Test different subject lines, from addresses, content and send times.

Traditional e-mail marketing has been an interruption based tool. It has been very much a ‘Stop and look at me’ form of marketing. The future of e-mail marketing, and indeed most marketing, will be a more subtle and engaging way of integrating into your consumer’s life.

Ultimately, e-mail marketing’s strength relies on the marketers who use it. The greatest threat to the continued prevalence of e-mail marketing does not come from the new generation of Facebook and Twitter users, but from poorly thought out and executed e-mail campaigns that do not take advantage of the mediums possibilities.

Steve McGrath

Steve McGrath


Steve McGrath is the Managing Director of Big Dot Media.