Email Is Dead, Long Live the Fax Machine

Astonishingly, people have been wondering if email marketing is dead for the past 29 years! The first ever email was sent 42 years ago in the US and the first e-marketing send took place in 1978. It went to 400 recipients and generated $13 million in sales. But by 1989, experts were predicting the death of email – as the fax machine was set to be the next big thing.

So email marketing definitely isn’t dead – and in fact its popularity has increased massively over the past decade or so, alongside the growth of smartphone use, daily deals websites such as Groupon and US trends such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday promotions. Signing up for emails has become synonymous with discounts and deals. And email marketing has become an effective way for smaller local businesses to fight back against the big online companies such as Amazon.

Sure, social media might seem to be the cooler option while mobile messaging is the most popular form of communication right now, but email continues to be a powerful marketing tool to engage with your customers. According to many trusted sources, it has the highest return of investment compared to other kinds of digital marketing. And the use of email is only growing.

The Power of Email Marketing

Currently worldwide, Gmail has 1.5 billion global active users and Yahoo has 227.8 million, while it is predicted that there will be over 4 billion active email accounts worldwide by the end of 2020. On the social media and messaging channels, Facebook has over 2.45 two billion users, Twitter 330 million, WhatsApp 1.5 billion and Snapchat 190 million.

In general, email is better at driving traffic to your websites and achieving direct conversions while social media is better for engaging with your audience and brand awareness. According to Campaign Monitor, a global email marketing service provider, a business is six times more likely to get a click-through from an email campaign compared to a tweet. And they also say that email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter.

In this example from MailMunch, they say if you have 2,000 email subscribers, 2,000 Facebook fans and 2,000 followers on Twitter, this is what happens:
• 435 people will open your email
• 120 Facebook fans will see your message
• 40 Twitter followers will see your message

Some of the reasons for this higher email engagement is that it is a more personal and active form of communication as people log into their email accounts for one reason only – to read their emails, while on social media many people just passively scroll through posts often to pass the time or out of boredom and often while doing other tasks. Social media can often be an information overload while emails can be sorted into different folders.

Will Mobile Messaging Kill Off Email?

While the evidence points to a growth in email users globally, there is a train of thought that younger people are turning away from email as a communication tool preferring instead mobile messaging such as WhapsApp, Snapchat and Facebook Messenger. But is this a bad thing for email marketing? Even if people use email less as a personal communication tool, that shouldn’t affect email marketing as people don’t reply to email marketing sends. They use Facebook or Twitter to contact businesses directly.

This interesting BBC article points out that younger people consider email to be a more formal type of communication used for work or college, while Whatsapp and Snapchat are informal, fun and intimate. So would people welcome or resent a business invading that more intimate form of communication? Bigger brands such as Adidas and Three are starting to dabble in Snapchat advertising but this format is slow to take off, perhaps businesses are wary of how little impact SMS marketing has made over time.

There is also a trust factor. According to a UK study, content sent by email, text and voice/video chat is viewed as lasting and important. In contrast, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat are seen as having a fleeting influence while Facebook is becoming less trustworthy.

The BBC article also notes the trend towards a more visual form of communication replacing text – something very popular in Snapchat and WhatsApp. But this is also something that emails can offer through gifs, images and videos or even emoticons in subject lines.

So is email marketing dead? Well so far it has survived the fax machine, text messaging, and online and social media marketing. As long as email service providers can innovate and adapt to our ever-changing habits (such as moving to app) then it should remain an important, complementary part of any company’s digital marketing strategy.