Since the Internet was first used for commercial purposes in the early 1990s, email has been the star of marketing. And just as stars across the universe go through lifecycles, so too does email. Today, the medium is heading for collapse, and nothing could be better.
Let’s all put on our Neil DeGrasse Tyson hats for a moment and explore why collapse can mean new beginnings and fascinating discoveries.
A brief introduction to astronomy: A star is basically a giant ball of hydrogen, which reacts to produce helium and other elements. Most stars eventually use up all their hydrogen and burn out. However, supermassive stars don’t simply burn out; they collapse, or go supernova. Their entire mass is squished into a tiny point known as a singularity, becoming a black hole. In the process the supernova ends up creating and spewing out a bunch of new elements — everything from iron to uranium!
Email has generated so much star power that its mass is starting to collapse in on itself. Some might think this spells the beginning of the end for email marketing, but nothing could be further from the truth. We are simply approaching the end of the beginning.
Some of email’s early stage fuel is already burned up. Remember batch and blast? It used to be that companies had one list: Subscribers. One email, sent at the same time, to everyone. It worked. It also led to high levels of throttling, bulking, missing mail, unread mail, and untouched links, much of which continues to stalk less sophisticated email marketing programs today.
Eventually, companies got smarter. Segmentation meant identifying and targeting audiences based on an array of variables, such as engagement rates, browsing histories, demographic information, purchase behavior, etc. In addition, creative customization meant subscribers didn’t have to pick through mass messages to find the parts that were relevant to them. Marketers found ways to make each recipient feel less like one of the crowd, and more like a valued subscriber. Maybe even a human being.
Even those approaches are giving way to new elements of marketing. As email continues to evolve, it is edging closer and closer to the holy grail of one-to-one communications. Singularity. In doing so, innovative solutions are being created and individual customers are coming into focus. Innovations like send time optimization, where subscribers’ engagement histories are analyzed to identify peak periods of activity and interest in reading — and responding to — email marketing messages, are using big data to bridge the gap between segmentation and true personalization. This approach is paving the way for an entirely new era of performance optimization in which consumers control their brand experiences and actively signal changing preferences to the marketers they trust and value.
And so the list management and sending practices of the 1990s and 2000s are finally running out of fuel, and out of their collapse a new discipline is taking shape. Smart marketers are turning to analytics and contextual information to ensuring that highly relevant, valued messages are delivered to the inbox, that they are truly customized for the individual, and that they arrive exactly when subscribers have time for them and want to read them.
Just as energy can not be created nor destroyed, but can only change forms, so too is the way marketers connect with customers. The email channel will continue to be a marketing star, even as it evolves and goes through cycles of change. And even as the shine of old-school email marketing wears off, new elements are taking shape, indicating something brilliant is just around the bend.
Kevin Kelleher leads marketing for Return Path Consumer Insight line of business. He helps people see how data can be used to make smarter decisions. In his spare time, Kevin enjoys running, reading and fencing.