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By Randy ReiserAmongst marketing professionals, it is a well-known fact that products and services generally follow a life cycle, from market introduction to saturation and decline. History has taught us that online products and services are just as susceptible to this sequence as their offline counterparts. Thus, as technologies continue to develop and methods for communicating online evolve, it would seem natural for certain ones to fall out of favor and become less attractive platforms on which to advertise. Lately, much ado had been made about social media’s meteoric rise in popularity and its superiority to email as an advertising platform. Is all the buzz about nothing, or, is email really a dead medium? According to a study released by Morgan Stanley Research in April 2010, the answer would seem to be “not yet". Their findings indicated that while both platforms remain popular, the number of social media users surpassed that of email in July 2009, and that the disparity between the two bases has only grown since that point. Furthermore, they claimed that the global minutes spent per month on social networks had eclipsed that of email nearly two years earlier, in November of 2007. This data would seem to indicate that the target markets for many advertisers have begun to shift locations, and that they should in turn rethink their targeting strategies. What’s not made clear in the study, however, is whether the number of global users cited is based on unique users, or is simply a cumulative count of all the social media accounts that have been opened across Facebook, Twitter, et al. Without that knowledge, it would be impossible for one to make a judgment about whether either metric is actionable or even accurate. As a result of such widespread ambiguity, most decision makers defer to the bottom line in making decisions regarding their advertising mix. Many executives are of the mind that social media is solely for high schoolers, and don’t accept it as a viable revenue stream. It is hard for them to grasp social media’s importance, and almost completely dismiss terms such as “social media ROI" because, after all, we don’t earn any money from a “like". Alternatively, a 2011 survey conducted by Econsultancy reported that “the vast majority of responding companies (72%) [rated] email as excellent or good for return on investment", and they seem to be right. DMA reported in October 2009 that in the same year, each dollar spent on email marketing returned $43.62. You would be hard pressed to find a decision maker in any industry that would argue with an arithmetic return exceeding 4000%!
Finally, the email market is still growing. A study published by the Radicati Group in 2010 put the number of worldwide active email accounts at 2.9 billion at the time, and predicted the number would grow to over 3.8 billion in 2014. We also have more access to email than ever before thanks to the prevalence of smartphones, which allow us check email constantly. Furthermore, if one is willing to be a bit loose with their definition of “email", it isn’t much of a stretch to consider text messaging micro-email (a thought which was derived from spending too much time considering the merits of Twitter’s “micro-blog" label). These days, they essentially accomplish the same things, can be delivered to multiple recipients, and have the ability to transfer file attachments. It’s really getting a bit difficult to see the difference between the two.
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