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Email - the stepchild digital forgot

Phil Wainewright Profile picture for user pwainewright May 23, 2013
Even the Facebook generation reads email, yet you'll be hard-pressed to hear it discussed at marketing technology events. The industry seems almost embarrassed to mention email - perhaps it's because the technology to integrate email with mobile and social is lagging behind what enterprises need.

Eighteen-year-old serial entrepreneur Andrew Brackin had some surprising advice for attendees at March's meeting of business networking group Croydon Tech City. "When you send someone an email they're much more likely to open it than click a link in a tweet or a Facebook newsfeed," said Brackin, who is currently preparing to relocate to Silicon Valley having been awarded a Thiel Fellowship, the program set up by entrepreneur Peter Thiel to encourage under-20s to drop out of university and start a business.

Brackin's rationale was simple and compelling: most people merely glance at their social media feeds, whereas they scan all of their email inboxes for action items. Send your daily offer to their Facebook newsfeed at the wrong moment and they'll miss it forever. Send it to their email inbox and it'll sit there waiting for their attention; unopened forever, perhaps, but never discarded unless they explicitly delete it.

Why then does email barely get a mention in discussions of digital marketing these days? In San Francisco earlier this month, two consecutive panel discussions on the future of marketing at the All About the Cloud conference were focused on Facebook, Twitter and web pages, with nary a mention of email. It was a similar story when, in the midst of a 2-hour long analyst briefing on its marketing offerings in London last month, I asked Paul Smith, Area VP for Salesforce Marketing Cloud, where email fitted in the picture and got a really limp answer: "Absolutely, all of this needs to be tied in with email and we're building lots of partnerships there." While it's true that the lack of an email marketing component within the Marketing Cloud is filled by partnerships, I was surprised not to get a more lively response about how those partnerships are leveraged for business impact.

It's almost as though the digital marketing industry is ignoring email because no one knows what to say about it any more. Everyone has plenty of opinions about the role of social and mobile in marketing today. Email is like the embarrassing stepchild the industry prefers to keep shut away, unsure what to do with it. Yet much of every enterprise's marketing still relies on email. As diginomica's Jon Reed pointed out this week in his critique of content marketing failure:

Email is far from dead; those readers who let you into their priority inbox are far more valuable than those who click on your Facebook link and never look back. The sophisticated frontier is opt-in email that sends your readers/prospects exactly the information they asked for, exactly when they need it. Check your inbox – I’ll bet there isn’t a single vendor doing that effectively for you right now.

Much of the explanation for the industry's silence over email comes down to shortcomings in the underlying technology. Enterprises are layering on social media and mobile media marketing tools that operate as separate silos from their email-based marketing automation technology platforms. Often there are different marketing teams running each set of campaigns, which exacerbates the silo mentality.

When marketing automation vendor Marketo, which completed its Nasdaq IPO last week, acquired social campaign management platform Crowd Factory a year ago, it found it immensely challenging to integrate the two platforms. A similar project is now coming to a close at digital marketing vendor ExactTarget after its acquisition of up-and-coming marketing automation vendor Pardot last fall. This week it integrated Pardot's technology into its own SocialPages Facebook connectors.

As Marketo's CEO Phil Fernandez told me in a conversation last fall, the individuals that make buying decisions now take this kind of integration for granted: "The degree of consumer expectation about channels hanging together has gone from 'that's amazing' to complete expectation that that's how it is." The technology, however, is still catching up to that expectation.

Disclosure: is a diginomica Premier Partner at the time of writing.

Photo credit: © Aniuszka -

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