The end of email marketing is nigh

Or at the very least it needs to adapt or it’s going to die.

Given that an open rate of 20% is considered an industry high (more data from MailChimp, in case you were in any doubt), 80% of the emailed population don’t get around to open these sterling email missives. Now let’s be conservative and say half of them have either switched email, gone on vacation, departed their mortal soul or not reported back the open rate for some technical reason, that still leaves around 40% of all those emailed who consider the message spam.

In the past, that has been a hit the email marketer has been willing to take, given that this was primarily a numbers game and only a small percentage of responses was needed to declare victory on a campaign.

(image courtesy of Google)

However that small percentage is very likely to shrink given a couple of recently announced features. Both Google’s Priority Inbox and Facebook’s updated messaging system prioritize the display of mail from friends and respected sources. This could have a significant impact on bulk mailings: rather than these messages appearing as part of the stream of messages that makes up an inbox, these messages could be considered unwanted and get buried. In effect, this will slash the open rates from email marketing campaigns. Given that the Gmail and Facebook systems are used largely by consumers, you can expect to see a hit on B2C campaigns first.

Now is this only a B2C issue? I suspect not. Most companies acknowledge that email puts a considerable dent into productivity of their workforce. As corporate email vendors start offering companies the ability to make email communications more efficient, expect to see the performance of traditional B2B email marketing campaigns tank.

Earning respect

‘Respect’ is a key buzzword in all of this. Email marketers will have to have more respect for their constituents’ inboxes. They will have to engage through other channels (like social media) to earn the respect of the target audience so their brand hits the priority list.

They will also need to ensure their messages are more relevant. Marketing analytics tools (a subset of the emerging business analytics sector) can be used to look at past data on the behavior of the target audience to pinpoint those most likely to open an email and respond. For instance, a mailing can just be sent to those individuals who have clicked on a related link in a past campaign.

These same tools allow for more customer-centric marketing practices such as creating content using messages that marketers know have proven to have the strongest resonance. Relevance breeds respect and if you can become that ‘respected source’ to your target audience, you stand a much better chance of having continued success with email marketing campaigns in the future.

So, pardon my apocalyptic hyperbole, but be aware that recent developments in the email industry have the potential to shake down the marketing industry in 2011 and beyond.