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October 15, 2007

Is Email Facing Deletion?

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Last week, BusinessWeek featured an interesting pro/con debate arguing the question of whether or not email is facing deletion. Robert Scoble was there to (not surprisingly) argue that email is facing deletion and will be replaced by systems like Twitter, Pounce and Jaiku, while Scott Dorsey from ExactTarget was on hand to defend email’s honor.

So, is email facing deletion? Let’s not be ridiculous.

Anyone would agree that email is not a perfect platform. It’s somewhat cumbersome at times, important emails get trapped in the email black hole and are never heard from again, and trying to keep up with the daily onslaught of spam, newsletters, offers, and the occasional "relevant" messages can be exhausting.

But regardless of how flawed email may be today, it’s the best we’ve got. I don’t know anyone who can offer up an effective alternative to email. Robert Scoble seems to think the solution is Twitter.

People, Twitter is not the new email.

I get it. I mean, I don’t get Twitter, per se, but I get that it gives users a new and exciting way to communicate with one another and that the geeks are all excited. Even so, I don’t care how much you’re communicating or how many people you’re following, it’s still never going to be an alternative to email.

Even if we pretended that it was possible to delete email and get those billions of people relying on it every day to try something else (get my mother to switch to Twitter. I dare you), the solution would still never come in the form of a "lifestreaming" platform. I mean, as much as I support brevity and would like to stop receiving rambling emails from coworkers, sometimes 140 characters just doesn’t cut it. And it never will. [Those are called assignments, Lisa, and you have to stop just deleting them. --Susan] But I can’t be responsible for projects I never knew about, right?

Robert argues that email isn’t a good way to "share knowledge". He says that when he left Microsoft, all the information contained in his email was lost to the person who eventually took over because the account was turned off. See, now to me, that’s Robert’s fault. It’s not email’s fault that those conversations and that information was lost; it’s Robert’s fault for not passing it on. Let’s not blame email for user error. Or the lesser known user-is-too-busy-having-dinner-parties error.

If email is good for anything, it is good for holding onto, archiving and distributing information. And unlike Twitter, email is passed along in context since readers are able to look at the entire thread, not just one 140 character "tweet" about how Employee A is stuck in a meeting. Email may not give you all the information (there’s a meeting scheduled, I’m going to the meeting, I’m in the meeting, this meeting sucks, etc), but it will help you to pass on the information you need (Just got out of the meet. We discussed A, B, and C.)

As Scott points out in his response, we don’t need another application to give us the same functionality as email, we just need better ones.

And regardless of how you communicate on a personal level, email is still the platform that gives marketers the greatest value for the lowest out of pocket cost. It’s one of the strongest tools we have to connect with customers and encourage them to revisit or reengage with our site.

For example, one of Bruce Clay’s finest purchased a car recently, a bright and shiny silver Acura TL. It wasn’t more than a few days after this analyst took his car home that he received this in his inbox:


Five reasons why he should install a spoiler on his car, one reason being that it’s an instant testosterone injection. Hmm, I wonder if Acura sends out different versions of this email based on the gender of the recent car buyer? I wonder if the car in the photo would have been black instead of silver if that’s what color car had been purchased? I wonder had this analyst purchased a car with a spoiler if they would have sent him a flyer for window tinting or a better stereo system? I bet they would have because that’s the power of email marketing, being able to use things like behavioral targeting to send a more relevant message to customers.

It’s like the personalize monthly emails I get from Wrapables where they show me things I might be interested in based on stuff I’ve already bought. Where they advertise their current deals, promise me free shipping and open my eyes to products I never knew about but now suddenly can’t live without. It’s like the Travelocity emails where they keep me abreast of any kickass flight deals going from Burbank to New York City so that maybe once of these days I’ll be able to stop breaking my parents’ hearts and visit them more than once a year.

Email is not dead. In fact, it’s everywhere and being used by so, so many. Without it, you wouldn’t even be able to use those fancy lifestreaming applications to begin with. Why? Because they all require valid email addresses in order to sign up. Email is constant. It’s here to say, marketers love it and it’s not going to be "deleted" anytime soon.





One response to “Is Email Facing Deletion?”

  1. Matt Terenzio writes:

    I’d be pissed if I got sent that AD after I had just spent 30,000 with that company.



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