Is email marketing dead? Not according to Econsultancy’s recently published Buyer’s Guide, which predicts the market will have grown by an estimated 15% this year, to a total value of £336 million. 

But there are many who still believe social media will devour email’s slice of the pie, including Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandburg. However, as the industry is approaching maturity, naturally the sector is changing according to developing user needs and increasingly sophisticated technology. The evidence indicates that email marketing is far from dead… 

Email. Good old email. It’s been around since the inception of the web, and it’s popular with consumers and marketers alike. Why? Because it’s reliable, inherently measurable, and provides demonstrable return on investment.

But there are some who claim the reign of email is over. Like the Wall Street Journal, for example, where in 2009 it was reported that “services like Twitter and Facebook and countless others [are] vying for a piece of the new world.”

While it’s true that the storming popularity of social media continues to accelerate, there’s no indication that social media is replacing, or killing off email communication. In fact, email is very much alive and kicking…

There’s life beyond 140 characters.

Social media sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, are an additional channel in the overall media mix for consumers. Consumers now have a wider range of channels available to them, but there is little evidence to suggest they are tweeting instead of emailing, or that social media is replacing email. Twitter is effective for certain types of communication, as is email. Updating a status, for example, doesn’t leave much room for expressing a point of view or promoting the details of a campaign. It’s also worth noting that social media channels cannot function without an email address.

Familiarity is key.

Consumers like email because they are familiar with the channel, and have been using it to communicate since the birth of the internet. It’s also easy to use, which makes it popular among consumers of all ages and demographics.

Typical online consumer behaviour further illustrates the familiarity of email. The confirmation email reassures the consumer that the transaction has gone through, that it’s secure, and that they have a point of reference at each step along the customer journey.

It’s about a multichannel approach. 

Effective marketing is no longer about pitting one channel against one another, but rather about how different channels can work in conjunction with another. It’s been widely acknowledged that email and social media complement each other. In fact, email can function as a seeding tool to get users on to social networks in the first place.

Simon Bowker, Manager Director of eCircle UK said:

“The rise of social media has been phenomenal and consequently there has been no shortage of discussion about how this will affect email marketing. Unsurprisingly some are saying email will suffer as brands jump on the social media band wagon.

“However, there is an overwhelming amount of research which suggests that the two can support each other and email marketing is still a highly effective tool. It’s not about abandoning one method for another but about using the best element of each to deliver higher ROI.”

Email is effective for building long-term customer relationships.

More broadly speaking, the role of email within the organisation is shifting to become more strategic. While social media is an important component of the marketing mix, email is a highly regarded tool for retention marketing, and building long-term customer relationships. Michael Weston of Lyris said:

“The recession of the last couple of years has compounded a trend that savvy marketers have understood for a long time: that online channels can no longer rely on growth from newbies only to expand their businesses. We have to get better at developing an ongoing relationship with (especially our most engaged) customers. This means you need to combine the ability to listen to what those customers are saying back to you with the means of sending them messages.”

As email is increasingly employed for retention marketing, the ability to integrate email with other types of data is becoming more important. Integration with CRM systems, web analytics software and social media data is useful for facilitating advanced segmentation and targeting techniques.

The ability to create a single view of the customer across multiple touch points enables email marketers to create highly personalised interactions with their customers, and will be a key area of growth going forward.

Email’s not dead… but consumer expectations are changing.

It’s important to recognise that while social media isn’t killing off email, the role of email marketing is changing. While social media may dominate for sharing content and socialising with friends and colleagues, most consumers still prefer to receive marketing communications via email.

According to the Econsultancy report, How We Shop in 2010: Habits and Motivations of Consumers, email marketing is still the channel of choice for receiving correspondence and offers from companies. According to the research, 61% of consumers prefer receiving offers via email, so although customers are more receptive to social media sites, abandoning email marketing altogether is a risky strategy.

Consumers now typically send and receive a higher volume of emails, so relevance and personalisation is becoming increasingly important as consumer inboxes are flooded with email marketing communications. Consumers may be experiencing email fatigue, so marketers need to deploy best practice and advanced email techniques to engage their audience and maximise response rates.

Despite the challenges faced by email marketers, the sector has remained robust, even throughout a difficult economic climate. Although all marketing disciplines felt the impact of the recession in the form of reduced budgets and resources, email has been relatively shielded from the full impact of the economic crisis, because marketers are increasingly focused on channels that are cost-effective and which deliver tangible return on investment.

There is more information and detailed market trends in our Email Marketing Platforms Buyer’s Guide 2010, which contains 25 profiles of the leading players in the market.

Photo credit: Adapted from Leo Reynolds on Flickr