The past, present and future of email as a channel

By Jai Williams

Those of us who actually happen to be fortunate enough to have careers in the email channel, the ones of us who are passionate and enjoy being trendsetters, can appreciate what the father of email Ray Tomlinson was able to accomplish in 1971 and the tone of the 1981 Honeywell "Electronic Mail" advertisement which was set for being just that – trendsetting.

Oh, the days of old…

Email used to be about acquiring an address at any cost, to the tune of paying for addresses and lists. Back in the day, it didn’t matter what you did as long as you were able to show significant growth in your data lists. From the top down, volume was king because the train of thought was that size matters. Arguably so, if you send enough of anything…you might eventually achieve some variation of a desired outcome. But that was the point wasn’t it? Disregard the metrics and send to an even larger audience because someone with an office and title that’s preceded by a three-letter acronym said to do so.

This is how it is now…

What’s happening today though? We as marketers have “groomed” our audiences to be more intelligent and even savvier than they once were. People have come to expect more from the companies they do business with. Increasingly because of this, companies in turn are seeing the value in behavioral triggered messaging. It isn’t just undeniably expected, but has proven time and time again to be highly relevant and to yield high return.

In today’s world, consumers want what they want, when they want it – how they want it. We’re in an age where a company like Pepsi uses everything in their arsenal to reach their loyal product consumers. Launching an email campaign, follow up with giving users redemptions via a mobile app (Pepsi Loot) and then partner in the daily deal space (LivingSocial) all the while strengthening the brand’s digital footprint.

Suffice it to say, we’re not talking about the root of all evil here. But more so iterating the fact that, like it or not, the channel will always be immediately measureable and a point of entry for any account that’s created or established online via a social network or ecommerce site.

Where it’s going…

o where does that leave us? People change. Time changes and points of access and adaptability also change. With the increasing role of social/mobile, location-based content in everyday and business communications – how will email adapt to this and what form will it take in the coming years? What big things are on the horizon?

Just like many of the web bookmark or site aggregators (a la delicious), email’s future will see rise or incorporation of web-based aggregators that will enable single sign-on and a portfolio/wallet-type of email management. Developers will look to make it easy for consumers to have an online-based web tool where a user can view and update their preferences for multiple ecommerce, social and loyalty programmes – all manageable from one place.

Going beyond what mobile apps are currently used for email will be more of a focal point for the mobile app, incorporating geo-tracking and offering up mobile-optimised emails at the push of a button. Imagine a mobile email app as an aggregator that allows users of multiple loyalty programmes the ease and capability to manage, organise and share their loyalty offerings with their friends, family and networks all from the comfort of one place.

At the end of it all…

Federal Express Founder & CEO (Fred Smith) was quoted in 1978 as having said, "The information about the package is just as important as the package itself." Realising that email is one of the most intimate customer touch points that exists in the customer lifecycle and being respectful of that will help ensure that email as a package – like a fine-aged wine – will continue to get better with time. For the past 40 years, we have seen it evolve and adapt to change; the sky is the limit.

About the author and StrongMail

Jai Williams is Senior Marketing Strategist at StrongMail. As one of StrongMail’s marketing strategists, Jai brings a genuine passion for the channel, emerging technologies and trends to clients. Previously, Jai has spent time client-side with InterContinental Hotels Group where he managed global campaigns. Prior to IHG, Jai spent a considerable amount of time on the creative end, managing sites for Ashworth University, Website Pros (formerly, and Jai holds a BS degree in Computer Information Systems from DeVry University in Alpharetta, Georgia.

At StrongMail, we love email. More specifically, we love STRONG email. Email that is anticipated and desired by its recipient. Email that is integrated with other channels. Email that gets the job done. That’s the type of email we help marketers create. While Forrester Research named StrongMail as one of only six ESPs suited for enterprises alongside vendors like ExactTarget, Responsys and Cheetahmail, our solution and approach are very different (which is why enterprises and high-volume senders like us). How are we different? It has a lot to do with our approach.

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