Has email marketing reached its peak or is it still viable?

19Jan09

In the mid-to-early ‘90s, email emerged as the “killer” marketing app of its day. Email “blasts” became a great way to reach potential customers without the expense of mailing. By 1995 the number of email advertisements sent out was more than the number sent out by “snail” mail (regular post). But not all email marketers were conscientious. Spam filters proliferated to protect people from unsolicited email, and might have killed email marketing had marketers not adapted and the second phase of email marketing started…

email_stamp

Opt-in lists. With customers “opting in” or requesting email information from marketers, a new era of security-verified email services came into play.   It was soon followed by “life cycle” marketing, in which customers are contacted based on their stage in the relationship with the business and history of purchases or requests for information.

Web 2.0. That brings us to the era of Web 2.0. With more and more people interacting via social networking sites, Twitter and other “non email” services, has the era of email marketing come to an end?

Many people, particularly those under 25, have moved on from email. Their communication channels are much more immediate. Email is how they communicate with their grandparents.

Many of us have greatly curtailed the amount of email we will tolerate. We’ve opted out of lists, stopped reading newsletters, strengthened our spam filter settings (and deleted folder contents without viewing them first), and in general, become victims of information overload. Some of us may have moved on to more immediate forms of communication – blogs, social networking sites, Twitter, and the like.

What’s next?

In his book, Crossing the Chasm, author Geoffrey Moore defines the stages of technology adoption. (Mike Lee does a good job of summarizing Crossing the Chasm on his blog.)

Technology Adoption Life Cycle

Technology Adoption Life Cycle

Certainly email adoption is further along than social media optimization (SMO) adoption. Most us probably think of email marketing as part of an integrated solution to be used alongside many other components.  Yet, where does that leave email marketing on the Technology Adoption Life Cycle?

Using Moore’s scale, email adoption is probably ranking somewhere around “Late Majority” or “Laggards.”  Certainly not the target audience for many in the technology or B2B marketing business.

It’s fair to conclude we have moved on from the Batch Blast to the Life Cycle-based marketing approach with email. But should email, in its own right, still be a contender in our marketing mix?

Tell me don’t sell me

Email will continue to exist as a viable, cheap method of communicating with customers. But the key to integrating it into the marketing mix will be to think of email as a way to communicate with existing customers, not as a means to gain new ones. Email becomes more valuable as a customer life cycle management and conversion tool, rather than an acquisitions tool. Once a customer has registered on your web site, commented on your blog, or started following you on Twitter, communicating via email with the right offer, at the right time, provides a powerful marketing experience.

As the target continues to move, integrating email into a complete marketing package that includes traditional media, Web 1.0 (web sites, display advertising, SEO) and even some Web 2.0 becomes even more essential. The suppliers who do the best job of integration will probably survive, while the others will likely be heading the way of the floppy drive before long.

What are your thoughts? Where do you think email marketing is on the Adoption Life Cycle? How should it be used in tomorrow’s marketing mix?

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12 Responses to “Has email marketing reached its peak or is it still viable?”

  1. Email marketing is definitely evolving and still continues to be an integral part of internet marketing efforts by most serious companies. I agree that it is more about staying connected than it is about gaining new customers, although there are many marketing tactics to build lists and eventually turn sales and profits. I think it will continue to play a major supporting role in Internet marketing for many years to come.

  2. Hey, nice tips. Perhaps I’ll buy a glass of beer to that person from that chat who told me to visit your site 🙂

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