Looking at Email’s Place in 2022
With 2022 speeding along at a breakneck pace, I wanted to take a moment and consider the outlook for the email channel in the overall marketing mix this year. Over the course of the last two years, digital marketing, in general, took on more importance than ever before, as real-world business operations were disrupted during the pandemic. With customers less likely or entirely unable to shop in stores or take advantage of in-person, real-world businesses, the shift toward digital was logical and inevitable. That shift had already been happening for the past couple of decades, and the events of 2022 just accelerated the process for many companies. From a marketing standpoint, the same shift occurred, with companies focusing more attention and marketing spend on digital channels.
While the shift in budgets and marketing focus impacted virtually every digital marketing channel when we look back at the last two years, email stands out as one of the clear top performers. For companies of all sizes, the tried-and-true email campaign took on new importance and the channel rose to the occasion.
Email, the Digital Grandfather
Maybe a good analogy of email’s performance over the past two years is a veteran actor who was a superstar in his/her early years, but for the past couple of decades just keeps churning out rock-solid performances without getting much fanfare. Then, they take on a new role, deliver a performance for the ages, and suddenly everyone remembers how great they have always been. That could be a pretty good description of how people are looking at the email marketing channel in 2022. The spotlight is back on email marketing and the channel is showing it is more than up to the task.
Email marketing was born in 1979 and from literally that first campaign, the channel delivered an incredible return on investment, where every dollar spent on email marketing would generate an exponential ROI (the benchmark has been 38-to-1 in recent years). But, like any marketing or communication channel that exists for such a long period of time, eventually, people start taking it for granted and shift their excitement to new channels and opportunities (I’ve always thought of this as a version of bright shiny object syndrome).
So, while email (the grandfather of digital marketing in many ways) just kept performing, marketers often became enamored with new channels like display, social, video, PPC, and just about every other one you can name (MySpace! Snapchat! TikTok!). Not that those channels haven’t earned their time in the spotlight (most of them anyway), but with few exceptions, none have really rivaled email when it comes to delivering an incredible ROI. Even after 40+ years, there is reason to believe that email is really just entering its prime.
Email in the Multichannel Mix
In today’s complex media landscape, a marketing channel’s ability to stand alone is still important, but perhaps even more vital is how it works in conjunction with other channels to improve performance across the board. Email happens to be one channel that integrates incredibly well into a multichannel strategy.
As a true direct response channel, email fits like a glove with other direct channels like SMS or even more traditional offline channels like direct mail. Email delivers the ability to communicate longer, more in-depth messaging to your audience or it can be a vehicle for shorter, more impactful communications. It can also easily incorporate channels like video directly into the messaging. Email is a no-brainer to integrate with content marketing programs, and it complements general website, display, and search programs, as well. There may be no more versatile marketing channel, especially when it comes to working seamlessly with other channels. The fact that email campaign performance is highly measurable (even after Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection feature) is also a huge factor in its inclusion in a full multichannel marketing strategy,
Email Across Audience Segments
While we often read studies about how the latest generation doesn’t use email like its predecessors, as members of that generation get older that behavior inevitably changes (at least it has with every generation to date). It’s true that younger kids don’t use email as much as adults, but once people reach an age where companies would be actively marketing to them, they typically not only have an email address (probably several), but they use email frequently. Once people become active in email, it’s likely they will remain that way for the rest of their adult lives. In fact, it's difficult not to use email fairly regularly as an adult in the western world. You typically need an email address to create customer or user accounts on websites, at stores, and in software and apps.
While individuals will likely have numerous email addresses over the course of their lives and careers, they are still relatively stable, especially when compared to something like a cookie (which are going away anyway). Partly because of this stability, email addresses are an ideal first-party data point for driving audience identification and targeting and then delivering truly relevant messaging to recipients.
Email Across Verticals
While some marketing channels lend themselves to specific verticals or industries, email has always been vertical agnostic. With few exceptions, email fits into the marketing and communication strategies for just about any industry or market vertical. Business-to-consumer or business-to-business, email not only fits but performs. It is well established how important the email channel is to customer retention, as just about every company uses the channel to communicate with current customers. It is also a powerful tool for customer acquisition (particularly in the US), introducing potential customers to a company’s products and services (typically by working with email agencies, partners, or affiliates). Regardless of vertical, email is a prime vehicle for both the retention and acquisition marketing sides of a company.
The Recipient Experience
When used effectively, with strong email design, relevant content, and leveraging email best practices, the channel also delivers an excellent recipient experience. Yes, recipient inboxes are fuller than ever, but effectively crafted emails still stand out. Recipients also have the ability to easily tell email marketers to stop sending email to them. This opt-out ability has been a key facet of email marketing in the U.S. since the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003 and is also leveraged in countries around the world (with variations in the process). While other digital channels are only now coming to terms with how to offer consumers ways to opt out of targeted advertising, this is a built-in facet of email marketing. Email inboxes have also become smarter and more effective at identifying email that recipients are most likely to engage with (or give recipients the ability to identify these messages themselves) while routing other messages to different folders and inboxes (social, promotional, spam, etc.) where they aren’t as distracting. All of these automated or self-managed controls continue to make email a very user-friendly digital marketing channel.
Add in the ability to include targeted content, interactivity, high-resolution graphics, and video, email can deliver a rich and engaging experience to recipients that really can’t be matched by any other marketing channel.
The Future is Bright
Pull this all together and it’s pretty clear why email marketing continues to be a cornerstone of just about any company’s digital marketing program in 2022 and beyond. Will that change in the future? It’s certainly possible, but that long-predicted ‘death of email’ certainly isn’t on the horizon. Instead, email marketers are once again demonstrating the ability of the channel to deliver results, even in times of significant market volatility and disruption.
New marketing professionals, just entering the digital arena would be well served by focusing on the email channel in their careers, because this channel is here to stay.