Email Addiction and the B2B Email Marketer

Email has been called the killer app of online marketing. Sometimes I think it’s killing me.

I’m addicted to my inbox. There, I’ve said it. Checking my email starts as a 30-minute task and stretches to an hour, two hours, or longer. Then, throughout the day, I eagerly check for new messages — so often that I find it is affecting my productivity.

Granted, I get a lot of mail. But I’m wondering how many other folks are willing to step up and admit, “I am addicted to email.” Tell me, and I’ll report back next week!

The Business Tool of Choice

Every study shows email to be the Internet application most often used. Checking it is the first thing employees do in the morning when they turn on their computers, and according to eMarketer, it’s the preferred method of communication for business. According to a 1999 study, 51 percent of employees preferred email, 35 percent preferred the phone, and a mere 5 percent wanted to communicate by snail mail. Surely the email percentage has risen since then.

Bottom line: Email is no longer just a channel of communication; it has become a business-critical application.

So what does this have to do with business-to-business (B2B) email marketing? First the obvious: This online behavior is driving its success. If people didn’t predictably and routinely check for new messages, “email marketing” wouldnt have a chance.

But, as we all know, this behavior also signals the greatest challenge for B2B email marketers.

With the barrage of email messages increasing daily, it’s becoming increasingly harder to rise above the din — and to win a click-through. Just look at these numbers: IDC estimates that by the end of 2000, 10 billion emails worldwide were sent on an average day. By 2005, according to the study, this number will more than triple to 35 billion messages being sent daily.

What the Experts Say

I decided to check in with some email marketing experts to find out how people’s relationships with their inboxes are affecting their productivity and the effectiveness of B2B email marketing.

Anne Holland, publisher of MarketingSherpa, readily admits to being completely addicted. “To me it’s like Christmas. Every single day I get to open hundreds of messages.” She equally enjoys the thud that signals the arrival of her snail mail. With email, Holland says, she gets an electronic ping up to 800 times a day.

She notes that studies show women are much more likely than men to be interested in communicating by email, more likely to join email discussion lists, and far more likely to forward viral messages to colleagues and friends. Makes sense to me, and it suggests that a gender select might be worth testing for some B2B campaigns.

Jonathan Jackson, senior email analyst for eMarketer, has a different take. He estimates that he spends more than three hours a day reading and responding to his email. He regards it as productive working time. “It’s fun,” he says. “It’s an effective way to communicate” as opposed to trading phone calls.

Jackson, who is on the East Coast, also notes that he tends to get a cluster of messages at midday from the West Coast (where it’s morning) and Europe (where it’s the end of the work day). This presents an interesting “time of day” issue in addition to a “day of the week” issue for best-practice email delivery.

The endless stream of messages will affect B2B email marketing, he predicts. As inboxes become ever more crowded, business recipients will spend less time looking at prospecting messages sent through permission rental lists.

They will, however, read content they’ve signed up for and are specifically interested in. Thus e-newsletters or sponsorship ads within e-newsletters are much more likely to be effective as email marketing, Jackson says.

Jay Schwedelson, an email list broker and corporate vice president of Worldata, concurs. Numbers alone suggest that e-newsletter ads will continue to be a better vehicle for acquisition campaigns. Industry estimates, he says, are that 500 to 1,000 standalone B2B email lists are available versus 15,000 to 20,000 e-newsletter sponsorship opportunities.

In addition, he’s convinced that corporate networks will start more aggressively filtering out commercial email solicitations containing words such as “percentage,” “offer,” and “free.” Of course this poses yet another challenge to writing effective subject lines.

As for email addiction, Schwedelson calls his inbox his “lifeline.” It’s business critical, whereas checking his voice mail is not nearly so important. However, it’s not Christmas for him a hundred times a day. “I don’t enjoy checking email,” he says, “because it always means a lot more to do.”

Finally, on a personal note, if any wise reader has a cure for my email addiction (“Whoopee! A new message!”), let me know, and I will pass it on in a future column.

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