Can Email Survive Mobile?

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At first, I was prepared to disagree entirely with Christine Dunn’s post from last week, “Email Is Still the Best Way to Share Content among Consumers and Businesses.” I've since relaxed my stance, but I still don’t believe it’s the “best” way, although I’ll concede it’s still important and valuable in many instances. But things are starting to change.

Just because email may be the “most-used method” today doesn't mean it’s the best. Why is that distinction important? Because it continues to provide a false sense of security, especially for traditional marketers who are still overly reliant on tools they’ve always used. Yes, email is still the original killer app, but can it survive fundamental changes in how we interact with our surroundings and each other in mobile ecosystems? I’m not so sure.

I strongly agree with Christine that encouraging “smaller, more intimate groups of colleagues, friends and family” to share content is an important goal for all marketers. But I’m not sure if email is really the ultimate tool for doing this, it just happens to be the most familiar to many. The StumbleUpon study Christine mentions (overview here from AdAge) suggests that its users, a younger demographic, “want a direct line of communications,” but the fact that email is one of the ways information is shared doesn’t prove that it’s the best. Maybe it’s just the easiest from the SU interface. I’d need to see more data.

When I think of “direct line of communications,” however, I think texting. I’d wager that more people 34 and younger are communicating via text than email, at least outside of work. And even people older than 34 are growing increasingly more comfortable with texting. It is more immediate and fluid, something that can also be said of popular mobile apps used today for discovering and sharing content such as Instagram.

The discovery-sharing paradigm is much more complex – and potentially powerful – than standard approaches to outbound marketing. That’s another reason I was so eager to disagree with Christine. In fact, her reference to the BtoB marketing study finding that “email marketing is still considered the ‘workhorse’ of the marketing industry because it’s inexpensive and effective” really set me off because the bar for what’s “effective” in email marketing is often quite low.

The BtoB study offers unsurprising stats about how marketers plan to send more content through email, but that still doesn’t prove its value. The report summary teases the notion that marketers can no longer ignore email/social media integration, but I think strategic mobile integration is even more important; and not just mobile versions of online networks, but new methods to experience content that tap either new technology or new approaches  to advance the discovery-sharing paradigm.

No, email isn’t going anywhere soon. But let’s not get carried away with its perceived value, especially considering the source (marketers comfortable with it). I don’t have the answers, but I do think that as we spend more time in a mobile ecosystem, email, at least as it exists today, may not be such a workhorse any more. At least that’s a possible sea change we should all be watching more closely today.