E-mail can still be a blast

E-mail is as relevant as ever, but not enough marketers are utilising it to engage young people.

If I had a pound for every article I've read about whether e-mail is on the way out, well - I might not be a millionaire, but I'd definitely make some well-earned money out of getting sick to death of them. E-mail might not be the sexiest communication channel available, but it certainly serves a valid purpose and continues to thrive. The continued success of e-mail marketing lies in clever behavioural targeting and monitoring; engaging your audience couldn't be easier, thanks to e-mail's ability to build up a consumer profile of what an individual is interested in, based on what e-mails they open and click through on.

E-mail engagement is not as simple as personalising an e-mail with a consumer's personal information; to build a two-way communication channel, e-mails should include social media links and a support e-mail address. The youth consumer market is a sector that reacts to engagement particularly well, as a multi-channel approach means that young people can interact with brands through a variety of platforms, depending on what outcome they want from it. For example, e-mail marketing is more likely to drive a sale than social media, which is better used for reputation and communication.

One of the mistakes that many marketers continue to make is to fail to recognise that e-mail is a valid marketing channel for these younger consumers, specifically the 16-24 age group. Most clients reserve e-mail marketing for 35- to 44-year-olds.

While it is fair to say that young consumers are unlikely to have the same degree of disposable income as their more mature counterparts, concerns that they use e-mail less as they explore "new" channels in social media are unfounded.

ExactTarget has found evidence to support this idea. Its research from earlier this year found that 55 per cent of 15- to 24-year-olds are more likely to subscribe to e-mails to get deals from brands than they are to use other social media channels, such as "liking" them on Facebook.

I believe evidence that 16- to 24-year-olds are an important target market lies within the huge takeover of the mobile market by the smartphone giants: largely Apple's iPhone and the BlackBerry. While 27 per cent of adults own a smartphone and 37 per cent of these admit to being "highly addicted" to it, 47 per cent of teenagers own one, with 60 per cent of teens admitting to being addicted, according to Ofcom data.

The ease with which e-mails can be accessed on smartphones makes it highly unlikely that the youth market will start using e-mail less. With instant push services available, consumers receiving e-mails on their phones have immediate access almost all of the time (81 per cent of smartphone users keep their phone turned on all the time). This adds up to some very powerful potential for reaching younger consumers.

But marketers have to stay on their toes. Although younger consumers are more likely to have affinity with a wider range of brands, they also tend to be less loyal to them. Send a poorly targeted e-mail to this ruthless group and you could set yourself up for a record number of "unsubscribes". Regular targeted communication and engagement is key.

Facebook advertising is targeted according to information in users' profiles. With data caching regularly used across retail sites, the products young people view online will follow them around the web, appearing as advertising on unrelated sites. Although these methods are applied to consumers of all ages, the younger generation appears to be more comfortable with this "data invasion", because they are more likely to have grown up posting information about themselves online.

Typically more embracing of technology, youth groups have a powerful ability to recognise and reject irrelevant marketing. Businesses that may get the best result from youth marketing include those in the following sectors: technology, gaming, fashion, sport, music and similar retail channels. If your company falls under this remit, then you have a much better chance of implementing a genuine engagement strategy.

Gathering as much personal and behavioural information on individuals as possible will enable you to provide a better quality of service. Surveys or competitions could be the easiest way of doing this: the youth market is more likely to have the time to complete them and also more likely to be incentivised by a prize or offer. This enables you to not only target consumers based on what content they would like to receive (what products and in what format - eg. sales only) but also how often they wish to receive mailing from you. Meet their criteria, offer exclusive content and you may well find young people less difficult to connect with than you anticipated - the trick is to keep up with them!

So we don't need any more articles debating if e-mail is on the way out.

It isn't. E-mail continues to adapt and grow with the digital marketing industry; it's up to e-mail marketers to ensure they maintain a level of behavioural targeting that will build a positive relationship with consumers. Oh, and don't forget that if you're ignoring the 16- to 24-year-olds, you could be missing out on a segment of individuals that more readily engages with brands than any other. Just make sure your targeting is relevant before you press "send".

Emily Goodyear is the PR and marketing manager at WRM Media


  • Consider what makes e-mail content engaging.
  • E-mail marketers are missing a trick by not targeting the youth sector.
  • Eighteen to 24-year-olds aren't so difficult to engage.

From Campaign's What next in engagement supplement Novemeber 2011


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