The Long Tail of Email

Many Heads and Long Legs.

It has many heads and long legs. It’s slippery, strong and very fast. It’s already in your house, on your computer, inside your cellphone. And it’s got an extremely long tail. No, we’re not talking about a horror movie monster but a pervasive and hugely powerful marketing force that sits right in the middle of the new interactive brand ecosystem: email. Email is the lingua franca of the Internet – and the primary connector of the interactive ecosystem. Email is a vital part of the new brand mix and an important yardstick for measuring brand leverage across different sectors and channels.

  • The Medium is the Multifarious Message.
    In days of yore brands were fairly static things, communicated from the top down via one-to-many media, like television or print advertising. Marketers owned brands. Today’s brands are fluid, crafted by advocates and customers, communicated via all manner of media, from email and websites to social channels and mobile apps (and of course TV, print and billboard advertising). Customers own brands. The medium is the message, and today's brand media are multifarious.

    For today's customer and communications mix, this brand ownership begins with email. The vast majority of consumers prefer to get permission-based marketing messages via email (ExactTarget). The long-tail of email begins in the inbox but extends across social channels, online and offline media, into our hearts and minds.

  • Brand Personalizer.
    Email is the advance team of marketing, that takes brands from generic to specific, from “mass” to “me.” Email newsletters allow brands to reach a large group in person. We get to know a brand, or like a brand already, then sign up for their emails and, presto, they’re talking to us directly, and possibly sending customized emails, based on my location, shopping history or other attributes. Thus begins a personal, evolved and unique communication stream between the consumer and the brand. And, in a way, that’s exactly what a brand is: a conversation.
  • Brand Builder.
    Technology changes the very DNA of today’s brands. First technology transfers ownership from company to customers. Second, technology affords the brand and the customer a more proximate, personal relationship, albeit a digital one. Email is (or should be) a personal, one-to-one communication. It follows that the essence of today’s brands is (or should be) personal: a complex and constantly evolving conversation. Pervasive yet intimate, email brings brands into our sanctum sanctorum, our inbox.

    Email also has a “nudge effect.” Even if we don’t open an email we still register it and may still engage and transact with the brand in another channel. That’s because even an unopened email contains a brand name, URL and subject line (and often logo images and some text), making the unopened email a tiny but powerful brand beachhead in the inbox.

  • Sales Starter.
    People use coupons, check out products and services and make purchases, all because of emails they receive. Companies rank email marketing as the best channel in terms of return on investment, with 68% of companies rating the channel as ‘good’ or ‘excellent’, while 44% of email recipients say they made at least one purchase last year based on a promotional email. Better yet, companies attribute 23% of their total 2014 sales to email marketing, compared to 18% in 2013. (eConsultancy). Email is 40 times more likely to acquire new customers than Facebook and Twitter combined. (McKinsey). Not bad going.
  • Bounce Factor.
    Just about every email you get from a marketer has a “forward to a friend” link. That simple link is one of the places where brand ownership shifts: from marketer to customer. Marketers give up control but gain brand advocates, influencers and sharers – at no cost.

    Studies show that emails that originate from marketers get shared (via email) two to three times. One retailer found that for every for every email shopping cart sale, they see 3.76 other, typically non-tracked sales due to the email.

  • Social Starter.
    That bounce extends beyond email-to-email, moving in swift digital waves across social channels, video sharing, apps, mobile messages, even word-of-mouth. The best way to start social media engagement with your audience is through email. According to a Harris Interactive study, 96% of online adults are willing to share email addresses with a brand, while only 12% are willing to share social networking information. And the two aren’t mutually exclusive or cannibalistic. To the contrary, email helps social media and social media helps email.
  • Mobile Mover.
    We use our smartphones to access applications, check out Facebook… and of course to check email. Email is the lingua franca of the Internet and the bridge between Web and mobile. Marketers are starting to pay attention to mobile social platforms, mobile marketing opportunities, and, of course, mobile-friendly versions of emails.

    As mobile devices become more prevalent, the humble email gains access to a new device, new channels and apps and gains more presence, literally in the customer’s pocket. 36% of all emails are opened on a mobile device, and that number will rise over the coming years.

  • Web and App Launchpad.
    Our inboxes are repositories of information, email addresses and URLs. Emails are powerful open systems: we read an email, then we go to a Website, look up that restaurant, check out an online video, or locate a store. These open systems also function as de facto digital repositories. We save (or don’t delete) emails and go back to them to find a phone number, enter a contest or order a product.
  • The Future: The Medium is in Motion.
    Brands are changing, and the channels where customers interact with brands are themselves in constant flux. The medium is in motion.

    Like media and technology, the new brand ecosystem is evolving rapidly, shaped by innovation and demand, shifted by trends and demographics and buffeted by economic fluctuations. Email is one of the more stable elements in the brand and marketing mix, but even email is evolving, as automation, personalization and new technologies change the way we build, transmit and use emails.

    Brands -- and businesses -- move at warp speed. It’s vital that brand managers and marketers stay ahead of the curve. The brand rules of last year won’t apply next year; email, social media and other channels will continue to evolve rapidly. So brand vision means having an eye on the future and a yen for speed. Innovation means embracing the new and erasing the old. Tom Peters warns of “the perils of polishing yesterday’s apple,” and this advice applies to brands as much as it does to products, services, financials or management.

    Technology is implicated in the very notion of the brand, and that relationship will remain close even as it changes. As Sir Martin Sorrell, CEO of WPP Group says, “You can have innovation without branding, but you cannot have branding without innovation.”

    Where is branding going? Check your inbox.

  • A version of this article was published in the book, Multichannel Marketing Ecosystems: Creating Connected Customer Experiences.