Email, Social, and Mobile Marketing. Three Pillars of Digital Marketing Part One

Email, Social, and Mobile Marketing. Three Pillars of Digital Marketing Part One

The following is the Part One of a speech I just gave for the 2011 New York Ad:tech Email Track. It concerns the merging of Email and Social Media. Part Two is on the synergies between Email and Mobile and will be published in a separate blog post.

Bill McCloskey 

There is no question that for the last year the email marketing industry has been under direct attack. Over the last 12 months, email marketing professionals have been  personally targeted with very clever phishing schemes presumably to get access to large treasure trove of email address databases which they control. This was quickly followed by a series of data breaches at some of the biggest Email Service Providers and dozens of companies were forced to send alerts and notifications to their customers that their personal records might have been compromised.

Then a series of ill informed industry pundits or those with a particular agenda (most  famously Mark Zuckerberg) proclaimed that email is dead to be replaced by marketing channels such as facebook and Twitter, so all in all it has been a disastrous year for email marketing industry, as far as the public relations battle is concerned. I might add that if you think email is dead, try removing it from your marketing mix. Then you will only have to send out two more emails :one to your boss explaining the sudden loss of revenue and the other to your favorite head hunter as you look for a new job. 

The truth is somewhat different. 

According to the DMA, commercial email is expected to drive $63.1 billion in sales this year compared to $31.9 billion for social media. And while sales driven by Social Media is expected to rise dramatically over the next 5 years, reaching $81.8 billion by 2016 these sales are not coming at the expense of email which will match or exceed Social Media but at the expense of traditional media, such as direct mail. What we are witnessing is not the take over of email by social media, but social media rapidly rising to meet the growth of a much more mature but still growing advertising channel: email marketing. 

What is clear though is that Email Marketing is in a state of evolution facing challenges that it needs to address. The boundaries of email, social media, and mobile marketing are becoming so intermixed, and so blurred that tomorrows digital marketer will need to evolve into an expert in the field of “push” marketing that includes elements of all three disciplines. 

In other words: That sound you hear is the silos crashing down around us. 

And it is important, when we have these discussions, that we keep in mind the fact that there are different uses for email: 

There is email as a interpersonal communications tool, and here it is clear that the role of email is rapidly morphing. I never communicate online with my children for instance through email, it is always texts via a mobile device or through the major social media platforms, such as Facebook. And it is in this role that there is indeed a good case to be made for the decreasing importance of email especially in the younger demographic. 

But there is also email as a business communication tool and here we are dealing with a much more formal communication channel than interpersonal communications. One is not going to pitch a client via a tweet, for instance. The use of Email will remain the main channel of business communications for the forseeable future.  

And then there is email as a marketing communications tool. And in this area, email is still king. There are any number of studies and reports out there that clearly indicate that people prefer marketing communications through the email channel and the recent successful IPO of Groupon is a clear indicator of this. Email as a marketing channel still rules.

But email needs to clean up its act and expand its technical tentacles.  It needs to integrate more tightly with social and other digital marketing initiatives, data security needs a complete overhaul, Europeans face unique challenges including a lack of proper infrastructure, reporting, and feedback loops at the ISP level to say nothing of the strict regulations set up by each individual country. Tools and investment are needed to bring down the cost and man hours it takes to implement segmentation strategies and other initiatives designed to bring a more relevant and actionable message to the consumer and cut down on the vast amounts of spam that set up an adversarial relationship between ISP’s on the one hand and brands and ESP’s on the other. In order to do that we need to attract the best and brightest minds and investment dollars to this profession. 

But there is a strong need for training and  a desperate need for new and exciting ideas, creative thinking and brave strategies. 

But lets talk about the difference between social media and email for a second. First, social media is nothing new. It has been around for decades ever since the first chat room and online community was developed in the 80’s. What has changed is the aggregation of millions of people into a few social media silos which dramatically increased the efficiency of social marketing, and consequently reduced the costs to do so. In fact today’s social media landscape looks much like the monopoly  that the 3 broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) used to have in the early days of television. Today, of course, television is so splintered that hits on tv today would have been yesterday’s bombs if looking at the audience aggregation numbers alone. And while it is hard to see beyond the twin mammoths that are Twitter and Facebook, it is clear that similar fracturing will occur in the Social Media realm some time in the future making it harder and harder to reach a significant mass of people through a single channel. Let’s face it, one day Facebook will be your father’s social media channel.

And what is Social Media anyway? When the DMA says 30 Billion dollars in sales are driven by Social, what exactly does that mean? Does a targeted display ad running on Facebook count? And exactly how are those sales being driven and how are they being attributed? 

These are questions that no one seems to have a good idea about and all sales attribution data needs to be taken with a huge shaker of salt. 

Currently, one thing is clear: Social media is being adopted more by smaller businesses than larger. Small Businesses plan to spend 19% of their marketing budgets on social media while for large buisnesses it is more like 6% of budget. Of course this makes sense for companies that do not have the resources to adequately grow their email lists: utilizing a  social media strategy to initiate a mailing list growth strategy provides a better replacement than list growth through the questionable and highly problematic method of list rental and list purchase.

Email, unlike Social, is a push medium and doesn’t require the accumulation of eyeballs on a single proprietary site or the fleeting whirl of a twitter feed to reach a mass audience. A single Email sent from Apple reaches more people than the Super Bowl and the World Series combined and at a (ludicrously) fraction of the cost. 

In fact the low cost and efficiency of both Social Media and Email theoretically allows for more experimentation than high cost advertising platforms such as television would allow, experimentation that currently most companies are not taking advantage of.  And if we needed any more proof of the power (and the danger) of combing social media with email we need only look at the “apology” email from the CEO of Netflix and the subsequent pilloring it received on the sites own blog, not to mention all the other social media outlets where a pot smoking elmo graphic became instantly associated with the brand and a loss of 800,000 users was the result. 

Email, Social Media, and Mobile are the future. There is no question. These three pillars of marketing are the stool on which all future digital marketing initiatives will stand.