Hardly a week goes by when someone isn’t proclaiming that email is dead. “E-mail a thing of past for business, young” [sic] declared a headline in the Boston Globe. Young people, the article goes on to claim, no longer use email, preferring to communicate via text messages and social networks. It brings to mind the Wall Street Journal article from four years ago stating that email is a thing of the past. “Email has had a good run as king of communications,” the article states, “but its reign is over.” If a person went by the news articles, it would seem as if we should have all stopped using email ages ago. Recent events prove otherwise, and suggest that some of these predictions could well have ulterior motives.
In January, 2013, Salesforce.com CEO Marc Benioff was invited to appear on stage at the International CES, one of the largest consumer electronics shows in the world. “How are you connected with your customers, your partners, your employees,” he asked. “Email? Those days are over.” In the aforementioned Boston Globe article a couple months later, Anna Rosenman, the senior product marketing manager at Salesforce concurred with her boss: “Email is one-to-one communication, and that’s not how we need to be communicating.”
On second thought…
Then in May of 2013, Salesforce announced they were buying the email marketing provider, ExactTarget. Acquiring a company is no small task, and any responsible company is going to research their proposed acquisition thoroughly before following through with a purchase of this magnitude. These things take several months; sometimes years. While it’s possible that Mr. Benioff woke up the morning after the CES show and said, “Gee, I think I’ll acquire an email company,” and didn’t bother to tell his senior marketing manager, it seems unlikely. It’s far more probable that his and Ms. Rosenman’s talk about the death of email was a smokescreen to keep the competition off the trail. In that light, all the talk about email no longer being viable starts looking downright Machiavellian.
But Salesforce is, by no means, the only company to incorporate email marketing into their offerings. Oracle did it last December and Deutsche Post (DHL) joined the bandwagon a month after Salesforce. Suddenly it’s looking like a trend. So why all the sudden interest from these major players in email marketing systems?
It probably has something to do with the flood of recent surveys showing that email is not only alive and kicking, but thriving. According to Forrester, 25% of the adults online in the United States value email as a way to learn about products and promotions—up from 17% in 2010. Contrary to the reports that email use is waning, the Pew Research Center found that email is tied with search as the most popular online activity. A lot of press has been given to the idea of marketing via Facebook and Twitter, but according to Merkle’s 2011 View from the Inbox research study, 74% of adults still prefer email when it comes to communicating with brands.
The World Goes Mobile
Another factor in the rise of email’s effectiveness comes in the forms of tablets and smart phones. 72% of the respondents in Adobe’s 2013 Digital Publishing Report on Retail Apps & Buying Habits use their tablets to shop, and 71% of those say their decisions are influenced by company email, second only to recommendations by friends. Among smart phone users, a whopping 78% use their phones to check email, ahead of all other uses including making phones calls!
It should be no surprise, then, that Wired Online this month includes a story headlined, “Email Is Crushing Twitter, Facebook for Selling Stuff Online.” Based on data gathered by Custora, a marketing analytics company in New York, the article says that email far outpaces any of the social media when it comes to sales results. This is no small segment either. Custora’s data came from 72 million customers shopping on 86 different retailer sites—a mighty convincing sample.
The Obama Factor
It’s also probably no coincidence that this sudden rebirth of interest in email marketing software came after the 2012 presidential election. As we discussed in a previous blog post, Team Obama’s use of email was an important factor in Obama’s successful bid to retain the presidency. Obama was on Facebook and Twitter as well, but it was the email that received the most attention. More importantly, it also pulled in the most donations by a long shot—approximately $500 million.
So the next time you read somewhere that some big mucky-muck says that email is dead, give that person six months and ask again. The odds are good they’ll have a change of heart.