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Where will you market when email is dead?

The death of email is upon us. We’re all to blame. But mass marketing people foremost. We don’t know when it is going to happen and even how will we know it is dead. Besides these issues, more important question is what will we do once we accept email’s departure! In this post, I attempt to answer all of these questions and give some insight why it has come to this.

Background

Email was one of the first generation Internet services. Created by computer scientists, it was blissfully unaware of the future that awaited it. Given the start, it’s a miracle it has survived as long as it has. And I need to admit, for its considerable age, it is not doing that bad. It’s just inevitably aging and left to compete in an uninteresting and not newsworthy category.

While innovative media startups such as Facebook, WeChat, WhatsApp, and Slack have been responsible for “marginalizing” it has enjoyed support from the previous generation Internet behemoths, Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google.

Google, in particular, has worked hard to keep email alive and useful. In fact, they are probably the only big company that has done much to make email more useful, breathing several extra years into it. Currently, Gmail has over 1 billion monthly active users and Google G Suite (former Apps) several million paying customers, so they’re doing business with the dying soul very well.

But it won’t save the email. In the following, I will present the evidence in favor and against the demise of email.

Arguments in favor – I’m afraid you’re dying

There are several reasons to believe that email is in a permanent state of depression. Editor of Inc.com, John Brandon points out two worrisome signs for email’s future:

  1. Corporations don’t want to reply to your emails. Brandon mentions Uber as an example of a company which doesn’t have email support at all. A major Finnish company also tried to get rid of email, but due to the legislation was forced to maintain it. However, nowadays they forward all emails to processing over voice service.
  2. You don’t need email. The fact that services and platforms such as WeChat have replaced the need to use emails for communication is a strong signal of that for the better part; email can be substituted. Facebook Messenger platform has also tried to do its best to create a new channel for dialogues of consumers and companies (although that has not really worked out too well). Many organizations have experienced similar epiphany when they’ve started using direct messaging solutions such as Slack. The usual outcome also felt here at SC5 offices, is a radical reduction of company internal emails.

I will add one more problematic sign to the list

  1. Email can be dangerous to your computer. Last year there was a surge of new malicious emails at large. This mass threat is paralleled by targeted attacks collecting personal information, known as spear phishing.

In 2016, the share of dangerous email attachments grew radically.

Picture: Development of spam volumes during 2015-2016, Source: KP Internet Trends

For those looking for cold facts, there are some statistics that also support the diagnosis. Particularly the younger age groups (people under 25) spend very little time with email, under 15% of the time used in other messaging apps.

Another way to look to at the situation are email open rates. A leading email marketing provider Mailchimp, used by over 15 million people globally, releases annual email statistics across domains. They take into account campaigns sent to at least 1,000 subscribers. A comparison of 2015 and 2016 reveals that there is practically no change in open or click through rates between the two years. In some domains, numbers have shifted by decimals, but generally, the effectiveness of email in this regard did not change.

Open rate (%) 21,7 %
Clickthrough rate (%) 2,6 %
Soft Bounce 0,6 %
Hard Bounce 0,5 %
Abuse 0,0 %
Unsubcription rate 0,3 %

 

And then we have the user experience of email which remains awkward. Every time I receive “User has exceeded their quota” or “The response from the remote server was: 552 5.3.4 message size limit exceeded at MAIL FROM” I feel like an urgent need to punch somebody. Nothing should work this way. This is not the way a 21st computing system communicates with users! My personal frustration apart, it is clear that by numbers, email still goes strong no matter how low the quantity.

Arguments against

On the other hand, there are reasons to believe that email is far from dying, rather transforming in quality and even growing in quantity. Take some convincing numbers from Adobe 2016 Survey of North American and Europea (FR, UK, DE) workers:

Time spent checking email increased 17 percent Year-over-Year (YoY) and people expect email will remain the preferred way of communicating at work in five years. Email in the workplace is becoming less formal and briefer, with expectations of quick responses increasing. Nearly 70 percent check email while watching TV and 45 percent while in the bathroom.

In a related blog post, Kristin Naragon of Adobe calls email the dominant alpha channels that dominate not only communications but our whole life, intruding and interrupting most activities of our everyday life.

The amount of email send is also steadily increasing, as well as the number of email accounts (correlated with the number of people using email). For instance, Gmail revealed in 2016 that their active user pool had grown to over one billion, doubling over a period of four years.

What should one think of this mixed evidence? Can email sustain, or grow, meanwhile new channels flourish? If we compare the situation to the overall screen time use statistics, there is the fact that the amount of time spent with devices can only grow so much. At some point, we just run out of time. While digital marketing people still currently praise the effectiveness of targeted email over any other channel of digital contact, we need to start thinking about the future.

Future after email

I talked with two Finnish marketing professionals and authors about how they view the future of email communications from a company perspective. I was also interested where would the marketing move from your email inbox.

Laura Pääkkönen, aspiring author of a Finnish Social selling book personally hopes to get rid of emails sooner than later. Although she admits that some segments still respond favorably to email marketing, her belief is that first and second hand contacting in social networks will in near future become much more important for reaching both B2B and B2C customers.

Laura will release her book on Social Selling in Fall 2017. Photo: Johanna Kinnari (Laura Pääkkönen)

However, the future visibility of marketing messages will not come for free and easy. The social media platforms know how to price their services, currently, the most cost-effective way is to have company employees to become ambassadors of their employer brand and spread the message in the network.

Currently LinkedIn and Twitter work the best for B2B, Facebook for consumers,” Laura Pääkkönen says. “Social selling means that the informed customers are reached in the natural habitat in which they genuinely discuss and explore options for their needs.”

How should companies strategically embrace this opportunity? Ph.D., Marketing Manager of Innolink Laura Ahonen calls for a long-term commitment to building customer relations across channels.

It is essential that the messages company is sending are coherent, accurate, and meaningful. The messages must be well-planned regardless of the channel. Taking time into learning about how each and every channel at your disposal works is a must to make omnichannel connection work“ Ahonen says.

She’s very focused on the use of data to guide marketing efforts. Like her namesake, she’s also fond of social media and a believer of content marketing in guiding communications.

Together both marketing professionals voice their perspective that contact will be more personal and content in these exchanges likewise more tailored.

The confusing contemporary communications

For a consumer, things don’t look very clear. Finding your way in the current age of digital communications is not easy. Adults living the digital dream age are increasingly lost in an omnichannel labyrinth. Instead of couple email inboxes, you have literally tens of different incoming message streams each encapsulated within a specific platform. I think this is fundamentally different from email era in which several messaging streams could be funneled together in a single flow. Although the Hillary Clinton email scandal proved that this was probably even too easy…

But what we’re left with is a post-email world that incredibly fragmented. If I tell someone to ping me at @lassial where do you think they’ll do that? On Instagram, Twitter or Slack?

And my own communications. Almost every day I struggle to remember if some thread of conversion was carried in which channel, or recently in which Slack (they are also a victim of freemium, in my mind). Since Yammer and now Facebook’s Workplace

Much depends on email. It’s a wonder that it’s still alive. There are so many so badly managed email services that it just breaks my heart. Right now it seems that much of the future lies within social media channels. But they have serious issues of coverage in addition to fragmentation. For instance in Finland, there are some 2M active Facebook users, 1M LinkedIn users and under half a million Twitter users. The numbers don’t add up if you’re trying to reach everyone.

As my mother said, have you ever tried calling them?

So there is still more waiting before we can rightfully call email dead. In the meantime, progressive digital communicators will have to carefully figure out which digital media can fit their purpose.

More reading:

http://www.smartinsights.com/email-marketing/email-communications-strategy/statistics-sources-for-email-marketing/

https://techcrunch.com/2016/06/28/you-cant-kill-email/

https://hbr.org/2013/06/e-mail-not-dead-evolving

https://venturebeat.com/2016/04/02/email-took-an-almighty-beating-this-week-but-its-far-from-dead/

 

SC5 professionals can help you to navigate the world of omnichannel customer relations particularly when it comes to creating customer journey with digital touchpoints. Let’s get in touch!

Text: Lassi A. Liikkanen, Data-Driven Design Specialist at SC5, @lassial

Visuals: Laura Rantonen, SC5