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empty inboxAre you getting less email these days? I am. And that can't be good news for email marketers. Is email beginning to wither on the vine?

By "less," I'm not referring to work email (if only!) or messages from marketers, but less of the type of email that added a little frisson to checking the inbox: fun, flirty, and conversational messages from friends, family, and objects of affection. That stuff is now flowing in through all sorts of other digital channels, of which email constitutes a smaller and smaller part.

It's certainly not as if I hear any less from my nearest and dearest. It just isn't necessarily via email anymore. Some friends who have had my email address for years only ping me via Facebook these days (what a freaking pain - you have to go to Facebook to reply to them - yet they persist). Or they simply update their profiles when they have something to communicate. Others prefer to stay in touch via SMS or IM, and more and more Twitter's direct message function is the channel of choice for on-the-fly communications.

Hey, who doesn't dig having options? Well, perhaps it's something email marketers should begin to question.

Since the internet began gaining in popularity, email has been the #1 online activity. It still unquestionably is, but I more than suspect other channels will make serious inroads into email's efficacy. Think about it: when your inbox holds only the promise of work, electronic invoices, bank and credit card statements and advertising, doesn't it lose value? Where's the engagement? Where's the content that impels users to cuddle up and spend quality time in the channel?

Email is becoming the equivalent of snail mail. You dip into your postal box daily to collect the handful of bills and circulars that aren't yet emailized, but when's the last time you were delighted by a postcard from a friend, or a sweet billet-doux? Yeah, that's what I thought. And you're not holding your breath for the next one, are you?

Teens and young adults were the first to disengage from email. "They just don't use it at all, " marvelled agency types as long as five or six years ago. They text. They IM. And increasingly, so do the rest of us.

Smartphones are doing their part to throttle the channel, too. HTML doesn't render on a Blackberry? Delete. It's a newsletter? OK, right - but first I have to check this text.

Dont get me wrong here. Email's not going away any time soon. But what it will have to do, and soon, is adapt to new realities. The inbox is shrinking...as other forms of messaging storm the floodgates.

Rebecca Lieb

Published 20 March, 2009 by Rebecca Lieb

Rebecca Lieb oversees Econsultancy's North American operations.

Follow me on Twitter, or connect with me on Facebook.

160 more posts from this author

Comments (5)


Gary Stein

We are working on a project right now that is very focused on getting opt-ins. Traditionally, this has meant getting an email, but our new campaign is highly focused on social media and we have been tracking followers on Twitter and fans on Facebook.

Right now, we are valuing these opt-ins less (in our reporting data) than an email, but that is only because we want to be conservative in our estimate of value generated. But: these are people who have decided that they want to hear from our client again, and that sounds like an opt-in to me.

So...I think that "add as friend"/"follow"/whatever will become a dominant online direct marketing metric. We had high hopes that adding an RSS feed would do this, but that never really quite happened. This has a better chance.

over 7 years ago




I seem to rememeber people saying email would be the death of direct mail.

It wasn't. Direct Mail (Snail mail) is stronger than ever, with many online marketers now realising just how important and effective it is.

Direct mail has a tangibility and permance that instant messaging doesn't. By it's very nature IM is instant and disposable.

As for email, it is still one of the the most effective online marketing tool, so I don't see social media or IM "throttling" it any time soon.

Also, the largest growing segment of online users are "older" users and they still think the net and email are cutting edge solutions.

Also, many "social media" services are yet to make a cent of profit,  (facebook just being one.) They could still implode under a mountain of debt. If the biggest banks and financial institutions can go belly up then a simple net company with no cashflow has got to be a worry. Besides it's happened before.

But I do agree that as marketers we need to consider all the options and coordinate our marketing plans accordingly.

PS If you're going to use captcha codes can you at least use ones that people can read?

over 7 years ago


Ada Vaughan

I think it's an interesting question about email as a channel. From my perspective (in a direct and internet marketing agency) it is all about the ease of response or disposal. As we direct marketers know, engaging the recipient is key. Whether you are crafting a subject line, envelope teaser, or tweet - there must be instant relevance to the viewer and an easy way to respond.

In the absence of need or relevance, the message will be thrown away. Your only impact might be the act of disposal. So you could also think about how easy is it to discard the communication.

On a scale from easiest to most difficult disposal, I'd arrange like this:
Tweet or FB status > SMS > email > snail mail

Why is email hurting? Because marketers are trying to pack too much information in, have ineffective subject lines, and they forget how easy it is to overlook and delete.

I think econsultancy sent me 5 emails after I signed up. Even on a topic I care about, I might have read 2 of them. The others are in my backlog of "non-urgent stuff to go through." We'll see when that gets read.

over 7 years ago



Cheers for the tip James. Great and relevant post.

over 7 years ago



I think email is still the number one activity, maybe not for leasure but in the working enviornment it is and will remain strong and vibrant for years to come. I liked your post though, very detailed and well thought out.

<A HREF="http://www.clickmethrough.com">Sean C.</A>

over 7 years ago

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