2011, The Year of Email: The Halftime Report

While anyone in the digital space has likely had a fast and furious year to date, email marketers are feeling particularly smart and savvy, having hung around in the seemingly moribund industry during some dark days. Many marketers shifted to search and social (not to mention, real estate, banking, and other areas that were more appealing in the early 2000s) when email and digital were left for dead. Believe me, I know, as I started my company in 2002 when people acted like I was starting a leper colony, not an email marketing agency.

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This year to date, email has been bubbling over with attention, money, and new businesses (actually, an entire new category) centered around delivering emails to an opt-in list of interested consumers. The halfway mark presents an opportunity to see what has happened in the email world to date in 2011.

  • Email software as a service (SaaS) company, Responsys went public (and at least two other ESPs are rumored to be prepping their S1s) and is currently valued at over $750 million. Not bad for a company that’s primary business is providing the platform for companies to send emails.
  • Daily deals has created a 1999 boom-like category that previously existed offline (coupon aggregators like Valpak), but in its online form has created monstrous valuations and frothy entries to the market (I’m sorry, but I can’t help but think of Pets.com when I hear Petsimply.com is a daily deal offering for pets). Check out this infographic for an overview of the market and remember, despite the hype and talk of apps and multi-channel success, these companies depend on email marketing.
  • Data security issues have threatened the email industry (and, of course, many others, which either shows email is lucky or the security issues are truly an epidemic, or both), but email shows it is resilient enough to not let it be a fatal blow. The fact that consumers can get over potential security issues speaks to the value they are getting in their inbox.
  • Spam continues to decline. While numbers like these can often be suspect, email is still a real issue and a thorn in any permission marketer’s side, but the average Internet user has become more sophisticated and now expects spam to be part of the online experience and one they can live with as long as those great offers from their favorite brands keep coming their way.
  • Social and mobile have reconfirmed email is the de facto glue of any Internet experience. It doesn’t matter if Facebook is your go-to site or you spend most of your web time on a smartphone, email is undoubtedly playing a role in these activities.
  • Email programs are actually getting smarter and better. The Relevancy Group reported untargeted email programs increase costs by as much as 3.6 times those of targeted programs. If lowered costs don’t get you moving away from pure broadcast messages, how about your customers want localized, personalized, and customized email content and offers? Does your program deliver on this premise, as 2011 has certainly seen email get local and customized with subscribers as the beneficiary?
  • Acquisitions, healthy ones at that (not $0.05 on the $1 ones), have crossed over into the email world, which has been noticeably quiet on the mergers and acquisitions front for the better half of the last decade. For example, WhatCounts (formerly Mansell Group) has seemingly come out of nowhere to become a major player by gobbling up email firms (see the articleon this week’s acquisition of Blue Sky Factory). I asked its founder and president, Allen Nance, why he was so confident in the email space, and he told me:

    “We continue to be extremely positive on the email marketing industry specifically because the ROI is proven and repeatable. Ultimately marketers gravitate towards winning channels and email is a winner. We view email as still very early in its evolution and feel confident that it is primed for innovation.”

Let’s not pull out the bubbly yet, but email deserves to put a nice bottle on ice and reflect back and look forward to ensure its continued success. What are some other 2011 email accomplishments and challenges worth noting?