So many things were supposed to make email obsolete: Facebook, Slack, mobile push—even RSS was once talked about as an email-killer. It turns out that pronouncing email dead is simply a common marketing ploy rather than any kind of market reality.
Email marketing’s return on investment remains stellar, returning $38 for every dollar invested in it, according to Litmus research, and market buzz is coming back around on email. For instance, The Wall Street Journal recently called email The Hot New Channel for Reaching Real People and The Guardian says that nothing will replace email “in the near future, and probably not in the far future.”
Why is email marketing so powerful? Here are our top nine reasons:
More than 90% of internet users are active email users, and more than 75% of all Americans are, according to Statista research. And there are more monthly active users of email—sometimes called “the first social network”—than there are monthly active users of Facebook by a 2-to-1 margin.
“The scale of the email marketing opportunity is enormous because the number of email users is enormous,” says Pam Lord, GVP of Customer Experience Growth & Strategy at Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting. “Brands need a solid email marketing strategy and solid messaging and design execution in order to truly capture the opportunity.”
Because of email’s nearly universal adoption, email addresses are the de facto universal unique identifier online. Having an email address is essential to creating almost any kind of online account. And the inbox is where we receive and store receipts, password resets, and other important notifications, not to mention content and promotional emails.
“Email is relied upon as a record of membership and brand activity, whether as an input into a loyalty program or as a record for online and in-store receipts,” says Jennifer Lancaster Dana, VP of Oracle Marketing Cloud and Customer Experience Consulting. “Customers retain confirmation emails and receipts and regularly reference them months after delivery.”
It’s not enough that virtually everyone has an email account. Brands have to be welcome. And they are in the inbox!
Unlike other channels that consumers reserve for communicating with friends and family members, consumers of all ages have consistently preferred to receive updates, content, and deals from brands via email over all other channels. Even after GDPR, consumers prefer email for brand communications, according to DMA research.
“Email is preferred by customers because it is manageable and they control when they engage with it, as opposed to being interrupted by advertising,” says Lancaster Dana. “Consumers can decide which brands they get emails from and whether to open and read those messages.”
In the introduction to my book, Email Marketing Rules, I argue that one of email marketing’s key strengths is that it’s controlled by many companies, not just one. I argue that “This gives it extra longevity and stability, but also keeps the cost of access low because of the competition.”
Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield has called email as “the last great unowned piece of the Internet,” and that’s highly unlikely to ever change. Unlike MySpace and Google Plus, which were turned off by the decision of a single company, no one company can shut down email or dramatically change how it operates because it’s an open standard.
While there have been major changes to email in terms of deliverability and rendering, for instance, the core of email has remained relatively unchanged. That should give all brands great comfort that their investments in email marketing will be safe long into the future.
Brands can not only include text, images, and URLs in their emails, but they have incredible control over the size, format, and position of those elements. And the growing support for kinetic and interactive email elements makes email messages even more versatile and powerful.
“We take it for granted that email gives companies so much design freedom in which to express their brand and message,” says Lauren Kimball, VP of Agency Services at Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting. “Most other channels have way more limitations.”
While an effective broadcast medium, email excels at one-to-one communication. Helped by dramatic improvements in personalization, automation, and AI at email service providers, email can deliver a unique experience to every subscriber.
“The inbox is an intimate personal space,” says Lisa Stephens, Regional Vice President of Creative Services at Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting, “and technology allows us to create custom, 1:1 dialogues with every customer.”
Twenty years ago, Research in Motion released the first BlackBerry, giving people their first experiences with mobile email. It was so addictive that the device quickly got the nickname CrackBerry. Eight years after that, Apple released the iPhone, making mobile the dominant platform for reading emails that it is today.
Thanks to mobile, subscribers can literally be anywhere reading your email—on a beach, in a store, in bed—and they can engage within seconds of receiving an email. That allows marketers to respond to subscriber behaviors in real-time.
“For both B2C and B2B brands, email can immediately nurture customers toward conversion by addressing objections, providing more information, and suggesting alternatives,” says Amy Medina, Senior Director of Expert Services for Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting.
Subscriber behavior is highly trackable, both their in-email behavior and their post-click behavior. Brands can then link that new behavior with previous ones in email and other channels to better understand the customer.
“Combined with testing, personalization, and targeting, this data goes from being merely insightful to highly actionable,” says Clint Kaiser, Senior Director of Strategic Services at Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting. “Brands can use this data to both accelerate desired actions and mitigate undesirable ones.”
While other channels excel with customer acquisition (SEM, direct, etc.), building general brand awareness (TV, radio, billboards, etc.), and fostering conversations (social, etc.), email is associated with deals, product information, and service information. That makes it unrivaled at driving short-term sales and increasing long-term loyalty.
“Email is still the most powerful channel as it is very often the start of the buying or decision-making cycle,” says Jared Polidoro, Senior Cloud Director of Oracle Maxymiser at Oracle Marketing Cloud Consulting. “It remains the best way to acquire a customer’s attention and to start the journey to conversion.”
These nine reasons make email marketing uniquely powerful, and should give brands great peace of mind about past and future investments in email marketing. Now, let’s make sure we’re leveraging each of those strengths by creating relevant, targeted, and compelling emails that are part of a long-term strategy that drives loyalty.
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Chad S. White is the Head of Research at Oracle Digital Experience Agency and the author of four editions of Email Marketing Rules and nearly 4,000 posts about digital and email marketing. A former journalist, he’s been featured in more than 100 publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and Advertising Age. Chad was named the ANA's 2018 Email Marketer Thought Leader of the Year. Follow him on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Mastodon.