As we are already coming to the close of the first month of the New Year, technology continues to rapidly evolve, and so does the equipment used to communicate and access information. The prevalence of fully connected desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones mean it is now possible to access email and engage with social media on the run. Social contact and the exchange of information has never been so portable, or so prominent in everyday life; so why – despite the fact that social media reflects the spirit of the age – is email still favoured as the most effective means of communication and delivers the greatest ROI for marketers? 

Email marketing

A 2012 UK survey of more than 800 digital marketers, email service providers, agencies and in-house or client-side companies, revealed that 70 per cent still regarded email as an ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ channel, when it comes to offering a great return on marketing investment, whereas only 44 per cent felt that social media marketing did the same.

In fact, email marketing is a very powerful and cost-efficient tool, which, if used effectively, delivers all of the five distinct steps in customer lifecycle marketing – reach, acquisition, conversion, retention, and loyalty. In other words, it can convert those with little or no interest in a service or product into prospects; convert prospects into customers; and then maintain positive contact with customers in such a way as to help them become repeat customers.

Social media marketing

Unsurprisingly, given the amazing exponential growth of social media users, there is a year on year increase in the extent to which companies are integrating their email and social media functions, with a particular focus on encouraging the sharing of content via email. Most companies recognise that these are complementary functions – although there are definitely gaps in knowledge among some businesses about how to gauge the extent to which email marketing is successfully generating social media contacts and activity.

Mobile marketing

Despite the popularity of smartphones – now owned by over 58% per cent of the UK population – strategies for mobile marketing are lagging behind other kinds of marketing tactics. Almost 40 per cent of companies surveyed had no strategy in place for optimising email for mobiles, and more than one quarter of agencies said the same. Almost 50 per cent of all the survey respondents had no idea how many of the emails they sent were read on mobile devices.

This seems an extraordinary statistic given the likelihood that failure to optimise websites and emails for mobile phones will inevitably lead to a loss of business. As mobile users have smaller screens they are therefore likely to spend less time reading emails and browsing websites if this is a clumsy and unsatisfactory experience.

Email marketing has the capacity to continue to deliver a positive return on marketing investment as long as businesses take account of the variety of interfaces used by customers. Email is fast and direct and it can be delivered to a customised database of people who have opted in to receive information, as well as shared via social media sites.

It has been predicted that the number of mobile internet users will overtake the number of wired internet users by 2015. On this basis, digital marketers need to ensure that mobile interfaces are optimised, easy to use and attractive to customers.

So in answer to the question where do you lay your bets the answer is still Email. Email is still king when it comes to ROI and with social sharing your email content ‘reach’ can be extended. But whatever you do ensure that your email content is also mobile friendly as smartphone recipients are spending less time reading content especially when it has not been optimised.

Econsultancy email marketing Industry Census 2012

Ofcom – The communications market 2012