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Isn’t email supposed to be dead?

Isn’t email hanging on by a thread, shambling toward the boneyard, ready to breathe its last?

If it is, then someone forgot to tell its 3.8 billion worldwide users last year. In fact, by the end of 2020, we expect to see almost 255 million email users in the U.S. alone.

So one place email certainly isn’t headed? Extinction.

Email is as old as time

For those that grew up in the Internet era, email has remained a constant, reliable, familiar form of communication. It was one of the first things people adopted once dial-up Internet became widespread.

Persevering through the rise of different messenger apps, from AIM to Facebook Messenger to WhatsApp (and others too numerous to mention), social media channels like Twitter and Instagram, and even good old SMS, email has stubbornly held its ground. And even gained ground, when you examine the facts.

Part of this success is owed to how email has already been such an integral part of modern communication. For anyone who grew up using email, moving to an entirely new platform presents a daunting – and seemingly unnecessary – challenge. It’s much easier to have both your Messenger app and your Gmail account cooking simultaneously, used for separate purposes.

This reluctance to move away from email, in turn, forces the next generation coming along to use it if they hope to keep lines of communication open with…well, everybody else.

Similarly, email has the prospect of a long life in front of it because it’s not run or owned by a single entity. Unlike Facebook Messenger, for instance, there’s no single email service provider that has a complete monopoly on the channel. The fact that there’s competition among a variety of providers drives both email’s entrenchment and innovation.

More than alive – It’s evolving

While it most certainly is not declining in popularity, email is evolving. As just one example of email technology’s forward march, the arrival of artificial intelligence and machine learning are taking it to new levels.

AI is helping to plan and automate marketing campaigns. The IoT (Internet of Things) leads to more data being collected, which means more app-generated and transactional email.

On yet another level, the rise of voice search technology has a significant impact on email, particularly for marketers’ content and copywriting. The fact that emails can now be read aloud to a recipient means the copy needs to work in both written and verbal form – an intimidating consideration when it comes to making puns!

As email develops and becomes more sophisticated, recipients also will shift their standards about what is acceptable and what isn’t. Gone are the days when spam was something people simply shrugged off – irrelevant email is now flagged immediately, whether by the inbox owner or the increasingly smart spam filters deployed by ISPs and corporations. As their expectations of personalisation increase, the window of relevancy may narrow and be in constant flux.

And as people flex these new boundaries about what’s acceptable, email marketing keeps up by becoming more targeted and relevant. ‘Spray and pray’ campaigns? A thing of the past. 34 per cent of consumers mark some email messages as spam, but 76 per cent of subscribers make purchases based on email marketing – which depends, of course, on that marketing having personal pertinence.

Successful email marketers aren’t squandering budgets targeting the wrong audiences anymore, but are putting metrics and analytics to work as never before. The movement beyond even predictive analytics to prescriptive analytics, where intelligent machines advise human marketers on the best decision to make, is one example. The evolution of email marketing toward greater accuracy and relevance is a win-win for both recipients and marketers.

It’s true, social media may have seemed like a threat to email back in the day. There’s always panic about the Next Big Thing, but email is a cornerstone of contemporary communication – it isn’t going anywhere.

As time passed, both email and social channels settled into their respective roles. The most glaring proof? The fact many social media platforms require an email address to sign up.

Social and email work hand-in-hand in countless instances. LinkedIn may be a great way to inquire about a job opening, but any potential employer is most likely to conduct further communication through email. Can we imagine a jobseeker who doesn’t have an email address in this day and age?

Another way in which email has cemented its place? By becoming a centralised storage centre. While LinkedIn may be the professional counterpart to Facebook, email has remained untouched as it houses personal to professional communication in one private place. There’s a purely personal aspect to email that derives from the fact that it’s not shared with the world; the digital equivalent of a trunkful of letters in the attic.

Another unique aspect of email is the level of control it offers. That unsubscribe button can be your best friend, so most email marketing campaigns now allow you to pick exactly what frequency or type of communication you want to engage in. Daily, weekly, monthly – it’s all in your hands. Taking it a step further, as with Gmail’s ‘Promotions’ and ‘Updates’ tabs, means your inbox is becoming an automated organiser, helping you keep track of connections and interests and promotions more easily and efficiently.

With newer collaboration tools such as Slack entering the market, one may wonder if email will become less crucial. However, as Techcrunch noted a few years ago, these tools tend to rely on email instead of diminishing it. Notifications get sent through email because platform designers know that’s the best bet for ensuring participants don’t miss anything important.

An interactive future

Since email clearly isn’t going anywhere, what’s going to take it to the next level?

Interactive emails are on the rise, where the recipient can interact with the brand directly within their inbox. Google, for instance, is now supporting AMP for Email, in the hopes of making emails look and respond like portable Web pages.

By keeping the interaction within the email, marketers avoid the frustration and time of loading landing pages. The emails are already customised to their targets, making it a more pleasingly personalised experience for the end user.

Has it been worth the effort? According to research, just adding videos to your emails can boost clicks by up to 300 per cent, while interactive content increases CTOR by a whopping 73 per cent.

Amie Durr, VP of Product Management at SparkpostImage source: Shutterstock/kpatyhka

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