Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

50 years old but by no means dead: why email will continue to thrive

Len Shneyder, VP Industry Relations, Twilio SendGrid

The first email was sent in 1971 – half a century ago as of this year. Yet email as a technology is showing no signs of diminishing in relevance, in innovation or in ubiquity. If nothing else it has become the de facto and most basic identity granting users access to ecommerce platforms and a myriad of online and offline experiences.  You text and call, and Slack and WhatsApp, and yet with all of these advancements over the years, email still has a central  place, not only in the world of business, but also in consumers’ everyday lives.

The simple fact is that everyone still uses email, and nobody has yet come up with a technology to replace its ease of use or rival its pervasiveness to steal its crown. This is in part because way back when email was the only means of communication available, on what was then ARPANET and eventually became the Internet, there were simply no other options. Thus as services and platforms evolved, they incorporated email as not only the most basic identifier but also a convenient way to communicate, and for businesses to engage their customers. 

Email continues to play that foundational role in modern day online services and accounts. It is part of the very DNA on which the Internet has grown and thrived..

Business value and consumer preference

Despite the proliferation of different ways to get in touch with people, email is still the number one preferred channel for businesses to communicate with their customers. This is reflected on the other side too: a 2020 Twilio study showed that 83% of consumers prefer to receive communications from businesses via email, followed by text at a much lower 39%. 

Last year’s Twilio State of Customer Engagement Report also found that 97% of consumers said email was essential to daily life – and the pandemic has only solidified this. Email engagement doubled in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. To put a number on it, Twilio SendGrid sent over one trillion emails on behalf of its customers last year, compared with 731 billion in 2019. 

That kind of volume, as well as clear consumer preference for email as a channel, is unlikely to disappear overnight.

Engagement is still on the up

A recent Statista report suggested that in 2020, 306.4 billion emails were sent worldwide, and this figure is projected to rise even more to 375 billion by 2025. It’s pretty clear that email has never actually “died”, despite lots of people claiming that it has. Email is thriving and will continue to do so – our research also found that email remains the most popular communication channel globally. 

In fact, right now consumers are engaging with their emails more than ever, for online shopping, getting discounts on takeaways, browsing a daily digest of the news or subscribing to online activities and events that bring normalcy into their lives. It’s by understanding their preferences, and ensuring that you’re reaching your customers at the right time, with the right message, and on the right channel, that you can provide more personalised and compelling offers for a better customer experience. 

New tools won’t make email redundant until consumers stop finding it useful as a way of hearing from businesses – and that hasn’t happened in the past fifty years. And until the world’s businesses align on a new basic identity, an email address will remain a core component of online commerce and access. 

It’s also vital to remember that email is very open compared to some other methods of communication, and can be used largely for free. It was built in the first place as an open platform: it has very few barriers to entry, you don’t need to download a specific app, and it’s also a key function of most smart devices. 

Email marketing continues to drive relevance

There’s also a symbiotic relationship between email and marketing, which has benefited from innovations in cellular and mobile technology. When email was only accessible on a desktop or laptop it wasn’t viewed as a real-time channel for customer engagement. Now that we all carry our inbox in our pocket, our mobile devices are constantly downloading email, it’s not necessarily as fast as say an SMS, which our research has found to be preferred for immediate notifications, but it’s close. In fact, the businesses with the strongest customer engagement strategies know that email has a central place to play in the communication mix. Users have different channel needs, depending on the content, which is why email isn’t going anywhere. 

Since email exists harmoniously alongside other communication channels on your mobile device, it can be used by marketers, most of which still look at it as the basic piece of information for opening an account on an eCommerce site, or fulfilling an order, or simply being a vehicle for long-form content such as newsletters.

Today email is a part of complex multi-channel journeys that help marketers meet their customers on their preferred channel, thus better engaging them. 

Thriving well into the future with adaptability and innovation

Despite what you may think, email has and continues to undergo a renaissance and is a central tenet of the communication mix. Part of that renaissance started when smartphones became table stakes vs. a new tool. As email adapted to the new form, it became more engaging in its presentation and focused on its calls to action. But this was only the beginning – change hasn’t stopped there. 

The thing to keep in mind is that email is part of the overall internet experience and ecosystem, so it continues to be developed. Unlike starting a brand new service or channel, it is so well established that change comes a bit slower, but its growth, utility and pervasiveness are unmatched. Mature technologies such as email have proven their importance throughout the course of 2020—the pandemic has highlighted the importance of digital communications which helped us remain connected, obtain services, shop and access crucial information. We can all agree that weathering the pandemic would’ve been a far different collective experience 10 or 15 years ago when broadband and today’s internet based services weren’t as readily available. 

I’m confident that email will continue to evolve and certainly is not going to become obsolete, or be replaced, any time soon.