I recently celebrated the 40th birthday of a friend that shows no sign of slowing down (despite the advancing years) and I probably spend more time with them than my wife. This friend saves a lot of time, but sometimes bombards me with unnecessary information. A friend who I see every day at work and sometimes pops up offering vouchers, coupons and all sorts of tempting deals. This friend is often verbose, at times to-the-point, occasionally coarse and at other times tone-deaf. Can you guess who this friend is?
If you guessed email – or as it was then called, “electronic mail” – you'd be right on the money. Of course, commercial use of email hasn't been around that long. This anniversary marks the date the very first email was sent by MIT graduate, Ray Tomlinson, over a network used by the US military. The first ever email message read, "QUERTYUIOP” and didn't travel far, going from one computer to another one right next to it.
Tightly woven into the fabric of life and business
Since then, email has evolved into one of the most ubiquitous communications tools for personal and professional use. Pingdom reported that in 2010, 294 billion emails were being sent daily. The reason for its success is its sheer simplicity: the ability to send a communication in real-time to multiple people with full reporting capabilities.
Email has also evolved into a preferred marketing tool, appealing to the hearts and minds of receptive audiences. It has become an integral and essential part of the marketing mix, undergoing many changes over the years, including sophisticated designs, personalised content and user-friendly formats. By delivering email campaigns that convey the right messages, at the right time, to the right audience, email marketing can drive a reliable return on investment. It has also helped marketers move on from the ‘batch and blast’ approach.
This evolution has parallels with the public relations world, where gone are the days when PR consultants would “email blast” irrelevant press releases indiscriminately to hundreds of journalists. With the advent of highly customisable platforms like email marketing, not only can you reach the masses; but you can segment, inform, entertain and more effectively engage them.
Email maturity helps with ROI
As marketing budgets for digital channels such as social media, SEO and paid search fall, citing lack of return on investment, email marketing has actually seen growth in its investment levels. Its success, measurability and fast turnaround make it the most effective and preferred channel across campaign phases – from customer acquisition, retention, loyalty, up-sell and cross-sell, through to news, education and brand awareness.
Asked whether email would stand the test of time against social networking and other forms of digital communication, Ray Tomlinson (founder of email) commented: "I suspect possibly we’ll see a morphing of email and other, more instant methods. But there will always be a need for people to be able communicate asynchronously – that is, send messages that won’t be read or replied to immediately, and that’s what email allows you to do.” In today’s information-overloaded society this is probably more critical now than ever before.
Email marketing has come of age and as we continue to innovate, there are no limits to the possibilities. It'll be interesting to see what the next 40 years hold. Love it or hate it, email is not going anywhere and is one of the most effective forms of communications.
Illustration: Dondy Razon