From an outsider’s perspective, email is thriving. It’s used by 90 percent of American adults and 49 percent of the world, and as a collective, we sent 28 percent more of it in 2016 than the year before. So, what’s the issue? It’s that this growth is hollow: those emails are coming from companies, not people.
Email is like a like a gym membership: Just because you have it doesn’t mean you use it. Consumers may have 1.8 email accounts each, but their inboxes are bloated, their interest is declining, and their attention is elsewhere. As a marketing vehicle, that makes email a bit of a clunker.
And as marketers, it’s partly our fault.
People just don’t email like they used to
Email’s engagement is declining because marketers have been riding it like they stole it. And who can really blame us? It’s been cheap, accessible, and utterly taken advantage of. Some 49 percent of marketers admit to not using data to target their emails and not surprisingly, 65 percent of all traffic is spam according to Cisco.
Things are so bad that when the security software firm Symantec reported that the global spam rate dropped to just 55 percent, people cheered.
We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that only 22 percent of consumers have confidence in emails from brands. If consumers can’t control it, they can’t trust it, and they invest their mindshare elsewhere, which is why email engagement was down by double digits in some markets last year:
- 11% decline in CTR – eMarketer
- 17% decline in click-to-open – eMarketer
- 57% of people who abandoned email addresses cited “too many messages” – Social Media Week
And perhaps worst of all, email isn’t cool. Not that coolness was ever a defining characteristic (hey, even Outlook was successful), but it will have to be if it wants to transfer over to the next generation who, at present, is dropping it like a bad habit. According to Scientific American, usage has plummeted 18 percent among 25-35-year olds, who recently surpassed baby boomers as the largest generation. Among teens, it’s down a whopping 60 percent.
So, if email is down and people aren’t communicating less (they are not), where are they going? Anywhere. Everywhere. They’re going to their individual channels of choice.
The future belongs to channels of choice
Today, communication mediums are multiplying. On top of the good old phone, email, and text, the ecosystem is crowded with mobile messaging apps, chat apps, social media sites.
Consumers want to use any or all of these just how they please. They can fly freewheeling through apps and sites from their phone and they expect brands to exhibit the same agility. And just as they’d recognize their friends anywhere, they want brands to treat them like individuals, no matter where they show up.
For some folks, that go-to channel is still email, which has its upsides. It’s so synonymous with outreach that countries pass legislation protecting it. But for a growing majority, it’s something different.
Here’s how people spend their time online:
- 5 hours each day on mobile – TechCrunch
- 2 of those hours on YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, and Twitter – MediaKix
- 65% of time on smartphones communicating – eMarketer
- Far more time messaging than emailing:
Source: App Annie
In this new world, messaging apps like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger loom especially large. Facebook Messenger alone has 1.3 billion users—17 percent of the world’s population—and is growing steadily. Over 50 percent of teens use Facebook Messenger and while brands can message them there, it’s an actual locked-down environment that consumers can control. It’s on their terms, and unlike email, it’s deliciously spam free.
In this new era, consumers want to be reached on their terms in places like these messaging apps. Marketers should expect that email, yesterday’s trusty station wagon, won’t carry them too far into the future. They’ll have to adapt and explore new channels.
So, is this the final goodbye?
Far from it. Just because email is low on gas doesn’t mean that it’s totaled. This author—and I’m not sure what this says about me—even prefers it. The point is simply that email is just one of many increasingly popular and important channels.
If we’re going to say goodbye to anything, it’s just to email as the default. Consumers have too many options and are drowning in convenience. If you’re a marketer hoping to build an audience, just don’t bet big on last year’s model. And if you do, at least test drive a few newer ones first.
Want a taste of the future? Break out of that comfort zone and get my next update on Facebook Messenger.