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  • NETMEDIA International

[Tribune] 50 years of email: 5 important changes in a marketing channel that is now widely used

This article was originally published by Fabienne Touchard, Regional Marketing Manager at Validity.

While the @ sign was introduced in 1971 with the creation of the ARPANET network, how email has evolved to become the most commonly used communication channel for brands. A quick look at the events and trends that have led to its success.

During this crisis period, 90% of marketers said they use email to share content. This channel no longer has to prove its top position among the communication channels available today. Indeed, the power of communication has become vital to the success of any business and its importance has grown over the years, now reaching 4 billion users worldwide and recording 306 billion communications per day, of which almost half are produced in the business context (124 billion).

On the subject of its fiftieth anniversary this year, here are the five major trends to take note of when it comes to email contributions.

Greater flexibility and nimbleness in communication within and between companies. Email has totally changed the way companies communicate. Engineers working in the 60s and 70s on the ARPANET, the forerunner of the Internet, already had the ability to leave notes on their studies in email boxes. But it was in 1971 that Ray Tomlinson came up with a more direct form of communication by sending messages from one user to another. He then created email, thus ushering in a new era in communication. As mentioned earlier, of the 300 billion emails that currently flow every day, nearly half are work-related (124 billion), which means that an employee receives an average of 120 emails per day.

The potential to reach a large audience instantly. In 1978, marketing expert Gary Thuerk had a brilliant idea as new computers were introduced. Instead of going through the slow and costly process of printing invitations, mailing them and confirming receipt by phone, he decided to enter 39 email addresses and did the first mass mailing. At the time, the ARPANET belonged only to the U.S. Department of Defense, so a senior Pentagon official accused Thuerk of a " blatant violation of the use of the network, which should only be used for U.S. government business." Despite these incidents and other mishaps, the campaign generated $13 million in revenue for Thuerk's company. It is now possible to send emails to more than 400 contacts without a hitch, allowing companies to communicate directly with their customers.

Practical measures to assess the effectiveness of each campaign. Email became popular in the 1990s. In the first half of this decade, it was mainly used by universities, public administrations or for corporate communications. Its rise took place in the second half of the 90s. The advent of HTML led to the launch of the first free web-based email service in 1996, which was in the hands of Hotmail. This shift was so significant that the company's name was even chosen with HTML in mind (HoTMaiL). Since then, many companies offer such services, but the real revolution took place in 2004, with the launch of Gmail. This platform then became the leader of the email market, constantly and quickly responding to users' needs. First, it offered a large storage capacity and powerful filters to fight against spam, then it adapted its content to different media, introduced search in messages and allowed the development of interactive applications such as AMP (Accelerated Mobile Page). This new way of communicating with consumers has also allowed for accurate measurement of the success of marketing campaigns.

A better understanding of the subscriber's needs. As email became more accessible to the public, companies began to use it mindlessly, to the point of saturating recipients. So in the late 1990s, various governments and companies took steps to prevent this from happening. Data quality and spam complaints became important factors in determining the reputation of a sender and identifying the value of knowing the needs of recipients in order to send them relevant content. At the same time, technology has made it possible to better understand consumers and thus send the first behavioral email in 2001. Since then, data on consumer preferences is used in the design of any email marketing campaign, and thus pushes companies to work more and more to better know their subscribers and avoid that their message is filtered as spam.

Message personalization. As technology has evolved, email has integrated new features to communicate with a target audience. Until the late 1990s, these messages were written in plain text. The advent of HTML introduced the ability to use different fonts, colors, images, formats, and thus amaze the recipient with a unique format. Today, technologies such as AMP allow marketers to deliver new web experiences directly to their customers' inboxes by incorporating interactive elements such as dynamic displays, confirmations, shopping links, etc. With this type of technology, brands can exploit the potential of augmented reality, for example by recreating traditional in-store physical experiences through try-before-you-buy services (as Ray-Ban or the cosmetics brand MAC have already done).

Throughout these five decades, email has become an essential ally for companies. It has helped improve internal and external communication and has enabled direct dialogue with consumers. The development of technology has also provided email with tools to better understand the recipients, to analyze their behaviors and preferences and finally to strengthen the link with them. It is for all these reasons, and for the resulting relevance, that email is today the preferred marketing communication channel. So much so that, in a situation as exceptional as the current pandemic, all companies have turned to email to maintain the dialogue with their audience. It is yet to be seen how the next fifty years will impact this channel as the Tech edition of USA Today recently announced that "we will be paying for email in 2021".

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