A couple of years ago, we put into writing what we’d been thinking internally here at Epiphanies, Inc. for some time:
The case we made started with a parallel to the decline of railroads in America…
The [railroad] barons thought they were in the railroad industry. Turned out, they were in the transportation industry, and cars ran them off the rails.
It’s the same idea with email. We’re not talking about an email industry. We’re talking about the communications industry. Specifically for businesses, we’re talking about the permission-based marketing industry. And though email may be alive today, in reality it’s a dead man walking and doesn’t know it yet.
Cut to two years later…
It’s 9/14/2012, at the Agents of Change Conference in Portland, Maine. Billed as being about “search, social, and mobile” (which it was, and it was spectacular!), the content of the sessions eventually caused one attendee to tweet this:
Judi had a point. In the keynote from Human Business Works’ Chris Brogan: “Email marketing isn’t dead, bad email marketing is.”
In the mobile presentation, Flyte New Media’s Rich Brooks advised the audience to make sure their emails were either formatted for mobile, or had a large and easily thumb-clickable link to view the email as a webpage.
During How to Build a Thriving Audience of Readers and Customers with Social Triggers, Derek Halpern compared the response rate percentage of his email list to his Twitter followers (email won flat out), told attendees to get rid of the laundry list of social media icons on their sites, and illustrated the placement of multiple email opt-in boxes, with building subscribers as the goal of your blogging activity and creation of “constructive controversy.”
Even Amy Porterfield, who says that discovering Facebook “was a total love affair,” talked in her presentation not only about boosting your Facebook numbers, but about using Facebook to – you guessed it – grow your email list, in her case through the promotion of her webinars. (Check out her latest webinar on Facebook – it’s bound to be fabulous.)
So, let’s revisit…is email really (and still) a dead man walking?
Derek’s take is that everyone looks at all their email, even if they just decide to delete it without opening it. But can you tell me, or anyone else, whose emails you deleted in the last week? For the hyper efficient, do you have inbox rules that forward marketing emails into folders, emails that ultimately get deleted without being read? Or just marked as junk and blocked, squirreled away or otherwise ignored?
Meanwhile, Amy notes that only 16% of your Facebook Likers even see your posts on average, unless you’re goosing those numbers with Promoted Posts or you’re a savvy engagement creator. And that 16% average is probably, organically, lower than we all think, because the News Feed renders 50 items at a time. If yours is #49 down the long scroll, what are the chances it’s been seen? Honestly?
I think we’re all asking the wrong question.
This whole socialnomic/Web X.0/digital revolution/paradigm change thing has shifted the balance of power to the consumer, and away from the producer. If consumers – specifically, YOUR consumers – still want to receive emails, then send emails. And keep an eye on the people who aren’t your target audience now, but will be in 1, 3, and 5 years. Are they all about email? (The New York Times, citing a comScore study back in 2010, says they won’t be.) If not, don’t wait until it’s too late to get your channels in order. Build strategies to boost ALL your channel audiences, separately and cross-promotionally.
Chris Brogan earnestly asked the audience to write down the answer to this question: “What do you want?”
When it comes to your marketing, write down the answer to this question: What does your audience want?
If it’s email, then so be it. Email’s not dead yet. It’s the prime connector for millions of professionals, and when done well, delivers enviable results.
But things are changing really fast. A few years from now, we’ll look back at the ways we used to communicate and find them laughable, even prehistoric. Or, as the bit from Monty Python and the Holy Grail which inspired this post suggests, email marketing is at the mercy of societal forces beyond its control. You won’t have to do it forever. Probably just a few years more.