March 11, 2021

Why Email Remains One of the Most Important Marketing Tools as It Celebrates Its 50th Year – But Needs to Change

Ricardas Montvila, Senior Director, Global Strategy at Mapp, reflects on the history of email marketing, and why it is more important than ever today.

Email celebrates its 50th birthday. It is also one of the oldest and most robust digital marketing tools; and one which is still highly effective.

It was only a small step for Ray Tomlinson, who sent the first electronic messages between two computers in 1971. But it would end up as a big communication leap forward, especially after the invention of the World Wide Web: communication got faster, cheaper, and way more copious.

Despite claims by some, including none other than Mark Zuckerberg, that “email is dead”, according to market research from Radicati Group, the number of global email users will rise to more than four billion in 2021. This means that around half of the world’s population uses email. Clearly, marketers should be focused on this vast amount of communication.

Why emails sit at the very core of digital marketing

Email is still a highly effective marketing tool. Legend has it that the first email marketing campaign was sent in 1978. Email sits at the very core of digital marketing: get that right and there’s a high likelihood that you’ll get the rest right.

At the same time, as brands in 2021 continue to focus on digital marketing as a means of selling their products during lockdown, email continues to evolve. Interactive email, for example, is setting new standards in dynamic content based on new industry standards such as Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) for emails. 

By enhancing the standard email with personalised and interactive elements, AMP enables exciting customer experiences without changing channels. On top of that, AMP allows users to buy products, add items to wish lists or provide feedback on interactive surveys from within any email. 

With such innovations, email marketing remains a hugely effective marketing tool for these times. Here are eight more things marketers may be excited to learn:

1. Email is the #1 communication channel

Email is the preferred communication channel for most users who shop online. For every order a consumer starts, they receive various status emails: the order confirmation, the invoice, the shipping confirmation, and the delivery status. The vast majority of consumers are also asked by email afterwards to give an assessment of service quality, product satisfaction, and are informed about complementary offers. 

2. Emails are cost-effective

Marketing by email is cost-effective and does not require a large start-up budget; a platform with a few basic functions suffices. Most companies start with professional email marketing activities, and then gradually add other communication channels such as mobile push or SMS.

Marketing with email is therefore not only low-cost per unit, but also requires fewer resources for each individual campaign. Due to its established status, it is one of the most cost-effective methods for generating leads and sales. Costing only a few pennies per email, targeted campaigns can easily be launched for a few thousand customers and prospects.

3. Emails are inherently first-party

As third-party cookies die out, brands are now looking for ways to get a more accurate understanding of their existing customers, and to build direct relationships with prospects and customers. Email is by far the most accurate and transparent way to facilitate those customer interactions.

4. Emails are a crowd puller – also in terms of ROI

Email is an all-rounder. Whether it’s about customer retention, new customer acquisition, sales, cross- and up-selling or winning back inactive contacts, the relationship between budget and effectiveness is unique here. According to the British Data & Marketing Association (DMA), every $1 invested in email marketing generates an average return on investment of $54. It is the most cost-effective marketing channel. Accordingly, open and click rates and consumer engagement remain high. 

5. Email communication is data-driven – and open to other channels

Seventy-eight per cent of marketers say that email is important to their overall company success (Litmus). Successful emails are based on data. Almost all companies use email marketing to continuously contact their customers and prospects. Email marketing measures can fully exploit their potential, as long as the approach is individualised and designed for the various interests. The prerequisite for such one-to-one personalisation is that the measures are captured in a technologically robust way. At the same time, emails can be easily and effectively combined with other types of digital marketing such as push notifications or social media marketing.

6. Emails are door openers for sales

Marketers can track email usage just as they already do with their website. The data and insights generated in this way can then be used for success reporting as well as for the optimisation of AI-based algorithms and targeted automation measures.

Everything that’s of interest to the marketer can be tracked. Whether the email is opened, and if so, when, where, and with what device? The only prerequisite: current GDPR measures must be adhered to. Since GDPR came into force, the email as a means of communication has been strengthened and its quality has increased.

7. Emails achieve high attention rates

Open rates of more than 20 per cent, and click rates of several percent account for the success of emails. Hardly any other marketing discipline achieves such performance in the long-run. By signing up for an email, consumers show their interest in a brand or a product. When sending emails, it is important that the core message can already be read in the subject line. The reader can delete the email without opening it, but knows from the subject or from the preview of the email what content it has in store. Even without looking at the content, the reader can see the subject line and decide on the basis of this information whether to delete the email or not. In this way, an email basically never goes unseen.

8. Emails are mobile

Since smartphones and tablets have replaced the PC as the main device, emails are mainly read on-the-go. The email, which originally started as a text-only message, is evolving with the new technologies and it’s now mobile first. For this reason, there is no way around optimising emails and campaign emails for mobile devices – and making them fit for shopping on-the-go. Optimised mobile measures are based on responsive template designs. The focus here is on a flawless and clear presentation on mobile displays as well as ease-of-use.

9. Emails are interactive

Email technologies are being updated over time and I believe that this will allow email to remain relevant for the next decade. With Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP), Google, and several other technology companies and publishers, a new standard to enable instant-loading mobile websites has been created. AMP enables the creation of dynamic and interactive content. More than ever before, brands can use it to provide personalisation to generate regular customer interactions. Consumers today expect content that is tailored to their individual interests and preferences. This is why personalised and interactive emails generate up to six times higher transaction rates.


Given the new shifts in purchasing activities brought on over the past year, the relevance of email continues unabated. With the advent of new social networks or other new marketing disciplines, its demise has been predicted, but to no avail. It evolved and is still around. 

The email has proven to be innovative and has a firm place as a marketing tool in the minds of those responsible for marketing as well as the users who use the channel intensively every day. But marketers should take on board its cutting edge innovations in order to fully leverage its potential. 

A potential that a myriad of digital marketing platforms used by digital marketers rely on. I am talking about the ones that put email marketing at their core. The leading platforms of today often began as email marketing platforms. That’s because it was on those platforms that customer insight and analytics were born, capabilities that are now essential to marketers.

Written by

Ricardas Montvila,
VP, Global Strategy at Mapp Digital