Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Death of Email is Greatly Exaggerated

I am often asked whether the popularity of text messaging means that email as a marketing channel will become passe. Gartner estimates that there were 1.9 trillion text messages sent across the major networks worldwide in 2007. But make no mistake about it - these messages were pretty much all peer-to-peer. Peer-to-peer communication always occurs on a vastly larger scale than does marketer-to-customer communication. Case in point: I can guarantee you that there are a heck of a lot more telephone conversations between friends and family on a Sunday night than there are between telemarketer and sales prospect.

The smart phone market is white hot right now. Devices from Nokia, Research in Motion, Apple, HTC, Motorola, Sony-Ericsson, Palm, Samsung, and many others are in high demand. To no surprise, people are using their mobile devices to read their emails. Just as the cell phone enables me to talk to anyone, anytime, and anywhere, the smart phone enables people to read their emails anytime and anywhere. Most people read their email when they are sitting at their computers - which can only be done on certain days and at certain times of the day. Imagine when more and more become emancipated from the temporal and physical constraints on the desktop computer thanks to their smart phones. What new, different, engaging, and more enriching types of communications could email marketers have with these people?

Text messaging as a marketing channel will not supplant email. There. I said it. This is a fact founded in Old-School economics. Carriers don't see 1.9 trillion text messages flowing across their networks. Instead, they see dollar signs, euro signs, yen and peso signs. They've discovered that they have a captive audience hence an inelastic economic model. In fact, they've doubled their text messaging rates even though the number of text messages have increased. And by the way, I'm refusing to drink the mobile carriers' Kool-Aid . All-you-can-eat data plans have absolutely nothing to do with why they raised their rates.

Text messaging is still in expensive channel - both for the consumer and for the marketer. Because it's so expensive as a marketing channel, the high cost causes low adoption. Email on the other hand is cheap; it's free for the consumer and very inexpensive for the marketer. The global economy is contracting and marketers everywhere are being asked to take a hard look at their ROI. Email will continue to prove itself an extremely effective marketing channel especially in the mobile world.

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