Is Email’s Future Really in Doubt?
The headline appears to be a little alarmist but there are articles written all the time that appear to be trying to bury e-mail as a communication tool for now and the future. In most cases I can’t tell if this is intentional or not but oftentimes it looks like e-mail gets painted as something for those who are older, less tech savvy and, dare I say, uncool.
Here is a demographic breakdown (courtesy of comScore by way of NY Times Bits blog) of year over year web based e-maill usage rates for e-mail by demographic segment. On the surface, one could say that e-mail is definitely on the decline.
In a recent article from the New York Times the picture of how the younger set views e-mail is summed up in this assessment.
The problem with e-mail, young people say, is that it involves a boringly long process of signing into an account, typing out a subject line and then sending a message that might not be received or answered for hours. And sign-offs like “sincerely” — seriously?
Lena Jenny, 17, a high school senior in Cupertino, Calif., said texting was so quick that “I sometimes have an answer before I even shut my phone.” E-mail, she added, is “so lame.”
On some levels, I get that. I myself am not a big text user and actually probably use instant messaging as my communication tool of choice if an e-mail or phone call is not involved. Of course, I grew up in the generation that saw e-mail as the ‘newest, coolest and fastest’ way to communicate when held up to things like snail mail and faxes.
My concern here is not that young people don’t use e-mail but rather this assumption that e-mail will ride off into the sunset as the older generations pass away. It’s pretty dangerous to be even considering this. Why? Because while these young people may not like e-mail they will still need to understand it and have the skills to manage it when they get to the ‘grown-up’ part of life with a, gulp, job.
If personal use of e-mail drops off then that will impact marketers who are trying to reach people in their spare time away from the office. E-mail in the business environment will remain essential because of the digital paper trail it leaves and the ability to manage archives of conversations and ideas vs. text and instant messaging. Who is really at risk are the Yahoos and HotMails of the world.
The numbers testify to the trend. The number of total unique visitors in the United States to major e-mail sites like Yahoo and Hotmail is now in steady decline, according to the research company comScore. Such visits peaked in November 2009 and have since slid 6 percent; visits among 12- to 17-year-olds fell around 18 percent. (The only big gainer in the category has been Gmail, up 10 percent from a year ago.)
Here is an instance that makes this scenario very clear as to the disconnect between the way that the younger set communicates vs. the way they will have to communicate when they age out of the OMG, RU and other abbreviated forms of communication that they consider is normal communication.
Adam Horowitz, 23, who works as a technology consultant for a major accounting firm in New York, spends all day on e-mail at his office. When he leaves it behind, he picks up his phone and communicates with friends almost entirely via texts.
Yet he sometimes feels caught between the two, as when he texts with his younger brothers, ages 12 and 19, who tend to send even shorter, faster messages.
“When they text me, it comes across in broken English. I have no idea what they’re saying,” said Mr. Horowitz. “I may not text in full sentences, but at least there’s punctuation to get my point across.”
“I guess I’m old school.”
Old school? At 23? What does that make the rest of us? Octogenarian school?
As marketers this difference between the young vs. the older and personal vs. business use of e-mail will shape how we try to reach particular market segments. It’s not easy to figure out is it? My question is not so much as to whether e-mail will or will not survive but rather where will it survive? Will e-mail marketing to personal e-mail addresses become a T-Rex? Will e-mail marketing providers like Constant Contact, iContact and others see a shift in their business as less and less people turn to e-mail for personal use?
What does your marketing sense say about the future of e-mail as a communication device and a marketing tool? RU buying into the ‘death of e-mail’ talk? Where is this all headed, IYHO (In Your Humble Opinion)?