Are the days of email as a successful marketing channel waning?
The statistics argue no: About two-thirds of content marketers told CMI they use email newsletters or other email to distribute their content in 2023. About the same number said the same for 2022.
But 2023 kicked off with dramatic comments from a CEO who claimed he’s turned to social media to reach Gen Z (and even millennial) employees who don’t read email.
If CEOs can’t reach their employees by email (admittedly, that’s a big if), what hope do marketers have to reach an audience that doesn’t have the incentive of a paycheck on the line?
We asked the content and marketing leaders, practitioners, and experts speaking at Content Marketing World this September whether 2024 will be the year email falls from its status as the channel marketers just can’t quit and what (if anything) would take its place.
Here’s what they told us.
Hell, no, we won’t let email marketing go
A big chunk of the answers can be summed up in a simple phrase: Email isn’t going anywhere. The reasons why, though, add interesting nuance, directions, and caveats to consider as you plan the future of your email efforts.
You’re in control
The best part about email is it provides a direct connection to the audience. On the other platforms, someone else controls the algorithm that dictates what a person sees. I don’t foresee anything topping email anytime soon. – Ruth Carter, evil genius, Geek Law Firm
Owned channels are more important than ever in light of what’s going on at Twitter and TikTok. I believe our email lists are and will continue to be a meaningful resource for us. – Hayden Goethe, senior content marketing strategist, WEX
No one can stop it
When it comes to content marketing, email continues to reign as the true king of the hill, and there’s one simple reason behind its enduring supremacy: No one can shut it down.
Email stands as a fully distributed and decentralized communication mechanism that remains impervious to the control of any single company. This unparalleled resilience allows it to remain highly effective in directly reaching people, with minimal interference from the AI systems employed by others.
Unlike social media, where various AI models often hinder our ability to reliably connect with our audiences, or search engines and search engine marketing that face similar limitations, email stands apart. Even in the realm of paid advertising, AI algorithms can still pose obstacles.
However, email is one of the few channels where AI cannot impede our progress. As a result, it will continue to hold its throne as the reigning king of the hill for the foreseeable future. – Christopher Penn, chief data scientist, TrustInsights.ai
Email marketing works
Marketers depend on this channel for good reasons, not the least of which are it’s owned, it generates a response, and it doesn’t yet have a close competitor.
According to HubSpot’s Ultimate List of Email Marketing Stats for 2023, 77% of marketers have seen an increase in email engagement over the last 12 months, email marketing revenue is estimated to reach almost $11 billion by the end of 2023, and 99% of email users check their inbox every day, with some checking 20 times a day.
In fact, one of my financial clients just told us that a two-email campaign we did for them generated $2.5 million in deposits. That makes the channel pretty hard to quit, at least for now. – Nancy Harhut, chief creative officer, HBT Marketing
You can’t beat the performance
Email will continue to be a favorite channel for marketers in 2024. Highly personalized, relevant, and authentic email content will continue to be tough to unseat in terms of performance. Like it or not, it is still a top channel for consumer preference in taking care of business. – Tiffany Grinstead, vice president, Nationwide
Social instability raises email marketing importance
Email isn’t going anywhere. It’s going to continue being a primary broadcast channel for owned content. If anything, I could see it being even more important with the fall of social channels like Twitter. – Karen Hopper, senior director, performance marketing, Bully Pulpit Interactive
As fragmentation continues and platforms extract more dollars per thousand, email remains the most cost-effective way to get in front of people who have volunteered to hear from you. – Adam Pierno, managing director of brand strategy, Arizona State University
Email will always win. Customers invited you into their inboxes. Don’t mess it up. Social media platforms and usage will come and go. Email unsubscribes will happen, so it’s up to us to make sure we don’t give our subscribers a reason to do that. – Cathy McPhillips, chief growth officer, Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute
People appreciate content curation
Email’s death has been predicted countless times – during the rise of social media, communication channels like Slack or Discord, and numerous other ways we’ve supposedly pulled away from that as a channel.
But email plays a practical role in our lives. It’s a mainstay for taking care of a lot of our day-to-day business, whether it’s paying bills, signing up for a new service, sharing big files, getting confirmation of an order you just completed, or a myriad of other needs. I don’t know if there is anything out there that meets these purposes or anything on the horizon that will.
Moreover, as communication channels fragment, the need for the curation of information has increased substantially. There’s a reason that platforms like Substack are growing, and newsletters like Morning Brew have become powerhouses. People get overwhelmed by too much information.
Getting useful, curated content in their inbox is less intimidating. I see this in my numbers. Even with Apple Mail no longer reporting, when it comes to newsletter stats, the open rates on the emails I send are either going up or staying steady. – Inbar Yagur, director, content and product marketing, Lusha
It’s almost too easy
Email is too cheap to die. Great email content takes time and effort, but OK emails are almost trivial to create. Any marketer with a decent email list can get a message out to their audience essentially for free. As long as that is true, email will stick around. – Jesse Harris, digital marketing coordinator, ACD/Labs
Email won’t go, but handle it with care and experiment with other channels
While most of the presenters agree email will reign in the short term, several mentioned ways budgets and priorities might split to make room for other options to connect.
Don’t overdo it
Email is here to stay. It’ll be up to marketers to stop over-using email. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen brands be “trigger-happy” with emails.
If you send, send, send without a sound strategy and without vigorously analyzing the performance data, you’re risking losing people who don’t want five-plus emails a week from you. Ask yourself: Is this (BOGO) (sale extended) (newsletter) worth losing a valuable subscriber over? Is this necessary to send?
As long as emails are done right, they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, with all of the changes being made to paid media, cookies, and permissions, I think email is about to become even more important than ever – when it’s personalized, valuable, and not executed like spam. – Jennifer Harmon, content strategist and creator, Convince & Convert
Keep improving relevance and interactivity
Email has been declared dead almost since its inception. But it’s still alive and kicking, and it will remain that way until humans stop reading. Even trending communications platforms like Slack, Notion, Asana, etc., all still rely on email. Don’t get me wrong, there are still email haters out there, but this tool has become a key staple in our lives that will never go away.
However, email marketing can be better. It can be more personal, more relevant, and more interactive. The technology needs to advance and leverage (you guessed it) AI to enhance its capabilities.
Until it does (or even when it does), why quit a channel that can yield one of the highest tangible ROI if done right? Make that make sense. – Karen McFarlane, chief marketing officer, LetterShop x KMC
With Google removing third-party cookies in 2024, email will have a resurgence.
Plus, the social networks are all going down the subscriber route. We have an increase in podcasting, Patreon/Substack-type platforms. Niche content will win the battle for attention.
Please don’t quit email. But yes, reconsider your strategy. – Joanne Sweeney, CEO, Public Sector Marketing Institute
Use your voice
I don’t think that email “falls.” How marketers engage in conversations using email will change dramatically. In terms of a communication channel, emails will reign, but the content delivered and the voice and characteristics of email will need to evolve based on the next generation of users/purchasers. So that is what needs to change – not the “use” of emails – but how emails are “used” … to communicate the message. – Colleen Smith, senior vice president global marketing, Avid Technology Inc
Use it for the right reasons
Email will never die, but how we use it must change. It is no longer a primary channel. Instead, it is an amplifier to reinforce, remind, and record.
Gen Z rarely uses email (as the mom of a 15-year-old son, I know). But for the foreseeable future, it will remain the primary channel for e-receipts, reservation confirmations, document exchange (with links), and passive-aggressive internal communication. – Kristyn Wilson, executive vice president of digital PR and communication, Adept
Put your audience in control
AI-powered virtual assistants are definitely reducing the need for some emails, but nothing has risen that stands to truly unseat email. For instance, more large brands are now reporting that instant messaging apps like Slack or Microsoft Teams are a deterrent to productivity.
On the flip side, email offers a less interruptive, more manageable channel for professional communication. And it’s easy to test and track best practices, plus it allows users to interact with it on their own schedule.
While email fatigue may be real, savvy companies will not just allow it but also help customers to set their preferences so they truly get emails that only add value to the experience. Until another channel arises that can be cleanly ignored as easily as it can be accessed, email will remain a staple for all marketers. – Matt Harrington, creative director, Pace Communications
LinkedIn, Slack, and Discord are on the rise
Tried-and-true email remains an efficient way for B2B channel marketers to push out tailored messages, and while there was some email abuse (and backlash) in the COVID-19 days, things have settled out, and email is back to playing that steady role.
That said, some of the email’s budget share may be replaced by LinkedIn articles/newsletters, podcasts, and live gatherings. I also see more organizations building up private communities on platforms such as Slack and Discord. – Wendy Covey, co-founder and CEO, TREW Marketing
You can have your email and your social, too
Email with your own list definitely isn’t getting easier. It may be replaced by email from social platforms. A LinkedIn newsletter is a super powerful tool for content promotion for B2B marketers.
Comments on blogs are all but dead. But comments on LinkedIn articles are huge.
Email list growth is very difficult. But LinkedIn newsletter list growth is pretty quick.
Using an email service provider and managing deliverability is tricky. But LinkedIn does all that for you.
It’s not an either/or question. You can promote the same content by sending to your list and sending it as a LinkedIn newsletter. But the social platform’s performance may be much higher than your own list after you work at it for a while. – Andy Crestodina, co-founder and CMO, Orbit Media Studios
Email marketing better watch its back
Still, the idea that Gen Z doesn’t check email checks out for some prognosticators. How you (and marketers as a whole) respond to their resistance will determine whether email lasts beyond the next generation.
Give them that dopamine hit
More and more data studies are saying Gen Z would like you to take your email campaigns and shove them where the sun don’t shine, so I’d say its days in its current state might be numbered as Gen Z becomes the dominant demographic.
That said, if marketers look at how they communicate in emails (like, can we stop making them boring and make them relatable?), email might find itself rising from the ashes. A great example is the company Native – their emails make me feel like a long-lost friend was checking in on me. – Carmen Collins, head of social marketing, Intuit QuickBooks
Hybrid work demands better options
Email is like our favorite jacket from high school – it was great when we bought it, and got better with time. Now it’s worn out and a bit shabby, but we just can’t part with it.
With so many other communication options and tools that offer more than what email ever could, the world is moving towards more asynchronous communications where email isn’t the primary or even secondary means of communication.
A 2021 Statista survey found that 66% of business leaders are revamping workspaces to support long-term hybrid teams. With face-to-face communication becoming a rarity, these tools not only help organize and streamline communication but also provide a better environment for collaboration. And fear not, email lovers, you can still include it in your communications wardrobe. – Cathy McKnight, chief problem solver, TCA
Real-time communication may win out
True, personal connections will continue to prevail. With the barrier to general content creation lowering, people will crave live conversations, real-time access to true subject matter experts, and sharing of novel thoughts and opinions – things that can’t be generated easily. I was in a virtual conference recently with the most active real-time sidebar chat I’ve ever seen. – Morgan Norris, senior brand and content manager, TREW Marketing
More direct channels will win (eventually)
With the increasing amount of spam and even the growth of quality email content being delivered, the landscape is getting more difficult all the time. Still, email is still the preferred method of communication (overwhelmingly) for most consumers because it’s still the most personalized, persistent, and searchable.
Email will remain a key channel for marketers for the next few years, but direct messages (DMs), text messages, and community engagement channels (Slack, Discord, Circle, etc.) will begin to replace many of the messages that are currently clogging our inboxes. – Brian Piper, director of content strategy and assessment, University of Rochester
What are your email marketing plans?
The consensus of these experts: Email still rules, but its future depends on things we can control (relevance, personalization, restraint) and things we may be able to influence but can’t fully control (audience preferences).
How will you apply that knowledge to your content and marketing strategy? Will you carry on, refining your existing approach?
Or will you make a dramatic shift? Ellen Lichtenstein, senior content specialist at AgentSync suggests: “I think the carrier pigeon will make a comeback. I know I’d pay full attention if a brand delivered a custom message by pigeon.”
Comment below, by email, or send a carrier pigeon – I’d love to hear from you.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute