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Business Owners: Why Email Matters More than Ever

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This post is part of a series called Email Marketing Jumpstart.
How to Create an Email Marketing Plan

Email is the unsung champion of the marketing world. Marketers have found that for every $1 they spend on email, their business makes $21. That's an immense return of 2,100%. Yet the same marketers who reported this return said that email's "contribution to their businesses' bottom lines is failing to earn the recognition it deserves among senior colleagues."

The humble email is often overlooked. With that in mind, let's take a look at the reasons you should put email at the heart of your marketing strategy and why email matters more than ever in its 50-year history.

Email Is Here to Stay

Here's a quiz for you: when was the first marketing email sent out to a list? Bear in mind that the popular email marketing service AWeber was founded in 1998, while MailChimp and Infusionsoft were founded in 2001.

So when did you guess? The early '90s? 1993? The late '80s? Early '80s? Keep going.

The world's first ever marketing email was sent in 1978. Gary Thuerk, a marketing manager at Digital Equipment Corp., used ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, an early version of the Internet) to send an email to 400 recipients promoting a DEC product.

It won't be long until the 40th birthday of email marketing. And email itself is almost 50 years old.

Email has outlasted the rise and fall of a ton of online communication technologies, from IRC to chat rooms to MSN Messenger to MySpace. (Sure, most of those are still around, but they're niche services, whereas email is used by pretty much everyone with an internet connection.)

Email matters because it's a technology that's been around a long time. Like the telephone and the television, it's lasted the test of time, so it's here to stay.

When a communication channel has been around that long, it's time you used it as part of your marketing.

But that's not the only reason email matters.

Email Reaches (Almost) Everybody

Email has a huge reach. Globally, an estimated 3.7 billion people have an email account. That's over half of the world's population. And by 2016, an estimated 4.3 billion people will have an email account. Of the people in the world with an internet connection, 85% use email to communicate.

In other words, email gives you the potential to get your message out to the whole world. And it will get your message out because...

Email Is How We Communicate

You may be wondering: "Isn't social media where it's at these days?" It's a good question, but the simple answer is no. Or only to a small extent. Let's dig into the figures to see exactly how powerful email is compared to social media.

Research shows that people prefer email over any other tool for personal communications (see this chart compiled from Exact Target research). Email is preferred over text messages, social networks, and snail mail. Even more significantly, consumers prefer to receive permission-based promotions via email over any other medium.

This isn't just about what people say they prefer. It's about how we behave. Most of us spend over a quarter of our working lives reading and responding to emails. Nine in ten (91%) of us check our emails every day. On top of that, a recent study by IDC found that four in five (79%) 18-44-year-olds check their smartphones within 15 minutes of waking up. And you can probably guess what the most popular activity on smartphones is, according to the same study. You got it: checking email.

The amount of email we send also reflects the popularity of email. Email marketer Bnonn Tennant makes this point vividly:

If you imagine a full cup of rice is the number of emails sent every day, then by comparison, all the daily posts on Facebook would make a miserable 10 grains—barely enough to pick up with a chopstick. And all the tweets sent every day would be a measly 4 grains. In fact, Facebook and Twitter combined make up just 0.2% of the number of emails sent each day.

(Tennant's figures don't include spam.)

Remember earlier I said that 85% of internet users communicate via email? For social media, that figure is 62%.

What's the lesson here? Email is the best way to reach out to your customers. Whether you're building a client relationship or marketing a product, email is the way to go. And there's another reason that email is better than social media...

Email Is Future-Proof

We've taken a look at how email wins over social media in terms of how it's used by real people.

But email also wins over social media because it's platform-independent. What does this mean?

In short, this means that email is future-proof.

Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest are all great marketing tools. And it's a good idea to use these networks to build your visibility. But there's one problem. You don't own Twitter. If Twitter shuts down (or even if it becomes a social graveyard like MySpace), then all your work investing in growing your Twitter following is worthless. You can't take your Twitter followers somewhere else. You've lost them.

Email isn't like that. Once you've built an email list, you can keep using it again and again. You own the list, and no one can take it away from you. Of course, there will be some natural wastage. Some of the people on your list will change email addresses. But when that happens, you've always got the rest of your list.

When you've got your list, you're ready to start selling because...

Email Is Where We Do Business

Remember the days when everything was done by snail mail? You'd get all kinds of stuff in your mailbox, from bank statements to personal letters to promotional mail.

Email is a lot like snail mail. We use it for everything, from writing to our friends to conducting business to submitting job applications.

That's what makes email different than social media. Social networks are places we go to hang out with our friends. Most people use Facebook and Twitter for fun. They're about being social. The clue's in the name.

Email, on the other hand, is both a personal and a business space. So it makes sense that people prefer to hear from businesses through email.

Research by Merkle found that 74% of people prefer to receive business communications via email. People don't only prefer to hear from companies through email. They're also more likely to spend money because of email.

A 2012 study by Exact Target found that two thirds (66%) of people have made a purchase as a result of a marketing message they received through email. The only other communications medium on a comparative footing is Direct Mail—65% of consumers have a made a purchase as a result of direct mail.

Email smashes everything else out of the park. Only 24% of consumers have made a purchase as a result of a telephone call. On Facebook, that figure drops to 20%. For text messages, it's 16%. And for Twitter, it's 6%.

Email is where people do business, and it's where people want to do business. So get building your email list, and get selling!

Email Is Personal

Email is where we do business, but it's also a personal communications tool. That makes it excellent for establishing a relationship with your customers. As you build this relationship, your customers come to like and trust you.

What makes email so personal? When you receive an email message, it's usually written just for you. That's different than Twitter, where tweets are public, or Facebook, where posts are shared with a group of friends.

Of course, email marketing isn't the same as a personal email because you'll email a large group of people. Even so, your message can still come across as personal if you write it as though you're writing to one person.

In this sense, email marketing is similar to radio. Radio shows are broadcast to thousands or millions of listeners. Yet listeners will often feel like they know the host of a radio show personally. Radio is a mass communications tool, but it has an intimate, personal feel. The same is true of email.

Email is also personal because when customers share their email addresses with you, they're giving you access to a personal space. They're saying, "I like and trust you enough that I want to keep hearing from you." So it's important that you repay their trust and write emails that they'll appreciate receiving. We'll show you how to do that in future tutorials in this Tuts+ series.

Email Is Cost Effective

Sending an email is free, other than the time you spend writing it. Even if you factor in the cost of an email marketing service (which you should use to comply with anti-spam laws), it's still incredibly cost-effective. Some services offer free packages until you grow your list to a certain size.

In a survey of over 1,300 marketing professionals, 66% of those surveyed said email marketing delivered an "excellent" or "good" return on investment. The only channel rated as more effective was SEO (organic search).

On top of that, as mentioned in the introduction to this article, research by the UK's Direct Marketing Association found that email marketing delivers an average of $21 in returns for every $1 spent. In the same survey, 89% of marketers who responded rated email as an "important" or "very important" component in their marketing strategy.

Email Allows You to Find out What Your Customers Want

Email marketing software allows you to track how many customers open your emails and which links they click within each email. You can monitor this to find out exactly what your customers want. You'll discover what works and what doesn't in your marketing.

Tracking metrics isn't unique to email—though it is far easier to do with email than with physical communication tools such as direct mail.

Email Integrates Well with Social Media

So far, I've shown how email trumps social media. But that's not to say that you should avoid social media, only that email should be the foundation of your online marketing strategy. Social media marketing works best alongside email marketing and can even improve your email marketing. Research by GetResponse found that including social sharing buttons in your emails can boost click-through rates in your emails by 158%. That's more than double the number of click-throughs.

Are You Making the Most of Email?

If you've read this far, you should be convinced that email is one of the most powerful marketing tools around.

But what if you're missing out on the power of email marketing? If you're still working out how to use email effectively, stay tuned to the Tuts+ Business blog. In our series on email marketing, we'll show you how to:

  • Develop an email marketing plan.
  • Create a free giveaway that encourages people to sign up for your list.
  • Write subject lines that get subscribers to open your emails.
  • Decide what to write about in your emails.
  • Create an effective auto-responder sequence.
  • Use emails to close deals and make sales.

Learn more about jump starting your email marketing in our multipart, foundational series on the subject.

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