Email is the digital workhorse of the marketing industry – and it looks like it’s going to stay that way
Ever since Ray Tomlinson sent the first email using the Arpanet (the precursor to the internet) back in 1971, the demise of email has been predicted .
Some 52 years later, however, email is still with us and every day over 347 billion are sent .
By the end of 2024, this is expected to have increased to over 361 billion.
While email as a communications tool has evolved in incremental stages down through the years, it still remains a pretty basic, bog-standard platform that hasn’t attracted the same levels of innovation or indeed funding as other parts of the digital ecosystem.
Nor does it appear to be a favourite communication tool of the generation that has grown up using apps like Snap, Messenger or WhatsApp. Then there is the perpetual problem with spam which, according to some industry estimates, could account for as much as half of all email traffic.
But email does what it says on the tin and, whether we like it or not, it is not going to go away any time soon.
For the marketing, advertising and media industries, email is still a powerful, but often overlooked, way of engaging one-on-one with existing and potential customers and readers.
In the media world, for example, paid and free subscription-based newsletters, are very much a key product offering from many publishers. Not only do they provide a compelling and often refreshing alternative to doomscrolling and wading knee-deep in the cesspools that have become social media feeds, the recipient or the reader is very much in charge. Not Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg or some Russian troll farm. If you don’t like the newsletter, or you feel it is clogging up your inbox, unsubscribing is easy.
For the marketing community, meanwhile, email remains a key tool in their armoury and there’s no shortage of research that demonstrates its power and the return on investment it generates. But its role is often misunderstood.
One of the paradoxes of the digital age for marketers, however, is that while there have never been so many channels to target consumers, it has never been so difficult to reach them on a meaningful one-on-one basis. The sheer scale of fragmentation in the digital marketing landscape has meant that joining up all the dots has become very difficult for marketers.
In the absence of anything replacing it any time soon, email will continue to be the workhorse of the marketing world, says Brendan Almack, managing director of the Dublin-based agency Wolfgang Digital.
“Email marketing allows brands to have a direct relationship with existing and potential customers but it also de-risks them from an over-reliance on renting their audiences from big tech platforms like Google or Meta,” he says.
With the imminent demise of third party-cookies looming large on the digital horizon, Almack adds that companies should not underestimate the important role email marketing can play in customer acquisition and developing a first-party data strategy that gives them greater control.
Using email solely on its own, however, might not be the best route as it tends to work better in tandem with other channels like social media. This can help “nurture a prospective customer from a lead right through to becoming a loyal returning customer”.
For those still doubting email’s ability to deliver, Almack says the proof is in the pudding.
“We've carried out a number of benchmark reports over the years and email consistently outperforms. There is a strong correlation between brands that get a higher than average proportion of email traffic to their website and overall revenue growth.”
Email is dead. Long live email.
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