Inbox Rising: Email Emerges as the Dominant Digital Communication Channel

“60% of marketing execs plan to increase spend on Email Marketing in 2012, 55% on Social Media.”

“Email is more relevant today than ever before as consumption continues to grow on more platforms.”

Yes, we’re moving to an integrated digital world (well, some of us are), but guess what? Email has emerged as a more dominant channel than many of us even realized. More mobile, more social, and cooler forward-thinking avenues to talk to our customers and prospects are emerging every day, yet email’s role was not fully cemented as the key platform to bridge the disparate worlds together.

In my opening, I reference two studies (StrongMail’s 2012 Marketing Trends Survey and a quote from Return Path‘s “Mobile, Webmail, Desktops: Where Are We Viewing Email Now?” respectively) that illustrate just how email is not only transforming but deeply entrenching itself as the number one way to reach people in the online world.

So where and how is email moving the needle for digital marketers? Let’s look at the big seven areas where email can support my claim as the digital marketing heavyweight to beat in 2012.

Acquisition. I won’t get into the whole list-renting world, but email still works for acquisition. Thirty-two percent of marketing executives say it’s among their most important email initiative. Search, display, mobile, social, and offline media can drive sales but also leads in the form of email subscribers. Email can then extend that media buy and reach while efficiently monetizing them as well.

Awareness. Email as a branding channel? What? I have many clients that view just reaching their millions of subscribers in the inbox on an ongoing basis as a win. Notice I didn’t mention opens, clicks, or conversions. Just an email being noticed (maybe in the from line or a killer subject line that does its job and lets the subscriber move on). Surely, many of my readers here experienced this on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. An email doesn’t have to be clicked upon (or counted as an open) to work.

Retention. Not only is it cheaper to retain customers than acquire new ones, but email provides us with the best method of doing so. Just about anyone engaging in email marketing is doing this, perhaps without even knowing it. In fact, 88 percent of B2C firms currently use email marketing and another 10 percent are planning to use it before December 2011, according to Forrester’s “How US Marketers Use Email.” That means retention email marketing is likely near ubiquitous.

Revenue. We know this is the main reason we’re all getting bombarded over the holidays: email sells stuff! My ClickZ writing colleague Jeanne Jennings addressed this in regards to revenue per email. However you may track revenue, email is likely contributing to your bottom line in some shape or fashion.

Loyalty. I have several restaurant clients that truly view their email program as a loyalty program (without the annoying punch cards). Email drives frequency, strengthens ties to your brand, and should increase the lifetime value of any customer. That’s also why the downside is so strong when it comes to abusing your subscribers. Loyalty can erode with too many valueless emails.

Location based. Being able to know where your customers are is cool, especially when they’re at your location and you can reward them or cross-promote something (for example, leveraging Twitter on Foursquare to drive email subscriptions). Reading an email while you’re on the hunt is even more powerful from a sales perspective. Adapting email campaigns to smartphones and tablets will no doubt correlate to your ability to convert these subscribers on the fly.

Social. This has been discussed more in the past two years than any other email topic, I would guess. Of course, incredibly important, I’ll refer you to an article I wrote called “Integrating E-mail and Social Marketing: Do’s and Don’ts.” If this doesn’t do it, ask any social media manager how they’ve built or plan to build a community on any social platform. You’ll then get email’s key tie to social, but there’s plenty more to come. Stay tuned for that in 2012.

Happy Holidays and may your year-end be a great one.

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