Marketers are concerned about the future of e-mail—and with good reason. According to the recently released 2010 U.S. Digital Year in Review from comScore, total Web e-mail usage declined 8 percent in 2010.
This may not seem like cause for alarm. But breaking the numbers down by age, Web e-mail usage declined 10 percent among those 35 to 54 and 18 percent among Americans 25 to 34. What’s upsetting marketers the most, though, is that Web use among teens dropped 59 percent. Since young people are early adopters, they’re often seen by marketers as a “canary in the coal mine” predicting marketing methods’ rise or—in this case—fall.
And yes—if you go solely by the 59 percent statistic, the future of e-mail doesn’t look good. But it’s too soon to write off e-mail altogether. E-mail isn’t going away, but it is evolving.
At the Direct Market Association’s Email Evolution 2011 expo and conference recently, marketers in attendance addressed the concerns about e-mail and talked about what they see as its future. BtoBOnline reported on what was said, which is of interest to every small business that uses e-mail marketing (and I hope that includes you).
One reason for the decline of e-mail, of course, is the rise of social media. One entrepreneur who spoke at the Email Evolution event was wine retailer Gary Vaynerchuk, who has been extremely successful with social media. Vaynerchuk cautioned that e-mail tends to be too sales-focused, while the more “human” and personal approach of social media is more effective today.
How should e-mail change to keep up? If social media is eating e-mail’s lunch, then e-mail had better start getting social. Here are some of the trends attendees at the Email Evolution conference heard about:
Analytics and behavioral targeting will continue to become more automated and precise. As a result, e-mail marketers will be able to use triggered e-mail campaigns to greater effect. For instance, if a user is searching online for products from your company, a triggered campaign could send e-mails within the next day highlighting similar products to those in the search. No hard sell…just useful information provided when and where the user wants it.
Internet service providers are making e-mail more similar to webpages. Among the Web-like features that providers are creating include:
- Videos that automatically play within e-mails. Wider use of HTML5 coding as opposed to Flash will make video work right in an inbox without the recipient having to visit a corresponding website. One less step to take, one click closer to buying?
- Offers based on location or time of day. Real-time content enables e-mails to refresh automatically each time the recipient opens them; if geolocation is used, the content can refresh specific to the location of the user at the time the e-mail is opened.
- One feature still in development: expiring e-mails that contain a time-sensitive message or offer, then self-delete from the recipient's inbox after the offer expires. Clearly, this is something busy recipients will appreciate – no more keeping an e-mail in your in-box “in case” you want to use the offer, then having to get rid of it later.
- Social media interaction directly inside the e-mail. Again, this means one less step to take in sharing content or links with others. The fewer steps, the better for today’s buyers.
Will e-mail marketing disappear? Unless you market solely to teens, I don’t think you have to worry about e-mail going the way of the dinosaur anytime soon. But you do need to be aware of changing marketing trends and make sure your business keeps pace. Start planning now for ways to update how you market with e-mail. Think about adding new (more social) marketing tactics to your mix. Above all, market to customers the way they want to be reached. Whether you use e-mail, Facebook or old-fashioned postcards, in the end, keeping the customer’s wishes in mind is really what it’s all about.