Why Email Became the Channel of Choice for Audience Engagement

Jeff Kupietzky, CEO of Jeeng

Over the years we’ve heard lots of debate about the viability of email. As social media steamrolled onto the scene, many people in the industry even wrote email off as “dead,” proclaiming that social would make email irrelevant, especially for younger generations.

Instead, what we’ve seen has been a steady and measurable reliance on email as a primary channel of choice for audiences, with usage and engagement up across the board. In fact, according to recent data gathered since early March 2020, even during the pandemic, the volume, click-thru rate and advertising revenue for email has surged significantly with click-thru rates up 22% and revenue up 24% across the board. Unsurprisingly, we saw huge volume growth in the “local” category, which surged over 100% as publishers catered to their audience’s need to know what was happening in their community, with news and politics both growing at only around 10%.

Meanwhile, audience engagement with email has also skyrocketed across all categories with faith-based content CTR up 50%, local up 42% and hobbies and leisure up 38%. Again, engagement with news and politics was much lower, between just 15-20%, perhaps indicative of the public’s overall exhaustion with that category of content during a year when it seemed that only bad news dominated the headlines.

So, what’s enabled email to thrive in 2020?

  • It’s trusted and familiar. Affinity for email has amplified because people preferred it as a safe harbor compared to the “fake news,” election interference and conflicting pandemic information minefield that is social media. In fact, email has emerged as one of the most trusted channels, with subscribers turning to email for information they can count on without the risk of viral hoaxes that seem to take on a life of their own, as evidenced by the uptick in local engagement.
  • Because people only subscribe to emails from publishers they trust, there’s a certain level of investment inherent in that relationship. That means subscribers are more likely to click on the content, and even click on the ads they see within the emails they receive, as evidenced by the higher engagement and revenue from email over the last year.
  • It’s timely and relevant. Because email is sent directly to subscribers’ inboxes at the time and date that publishers intend, it’s virtually guaranteed delivery. Publishers don’t have to worry about some social algorithm dictating who sees their content and when. It’s a direct relationship, so they control the distribution, and subscribers know they can count on the channel to deliver the content they want, rather than missing it in the never-ending river of social content.

These same attributes that have made email a preferred channel during 2020 will also help to keep email at the top of the list going forward. While social is fun and has the potential to allow publishers to reach large audiences, in practice, it’s not nearly as effective as email for reaching the right audience at the right time with the right content. That’s where email stands out. Here’s why:

  • It leverages first-person data. Because subscribers have signed up to receive publishers’ content, publishers can build a much more intimate relationship with their audience by tracking their interests, likes and behaviors. With social, those platforms own that data and simply pass through visitors via referral traffic, which means publishers have no way to learn more about those browse-by visitors. With email, publishers can build an extremely accurate identity graph for each individual subscriber, which is immensely powerful for customizing content. This allows publishers to own their own audience with a direct relationship. This brings us to the next email advantage…
  • It’s personalized. Based on the information gathered as logged-in subscribers engage with publishers’ emails and web pages, publishers can then use that data to curate content specific to each individual subscriber’s interests at scale. And, the more subscribers engage, the smarter the curation algorithm becomes, creating a very personalized one-to-one relationship that keeps subscribers engaged and coming back for more. Plus, email is very rarely ever shared, which means the data gathered is much more accurate to the subscriber. No social platform—and certainly not tracking cookies—enable this kind of accuracy in personalization and targeting.
  • You can leverage the email relationship across other channels. Publishers have been trying to figure out how to connect the dots across channels for years—to learn how the same follower engages on the web, on Instagram, Facebook, and through email. Using the subscribers’ email address as the unique identifier does just that because it’s ubiquitous across every channel. This allows publishers to track user interactions across every channel and even to optimize channel-specific content delivery—sending business news via email but entertainment news via push notification, for example.
  • It’s privacy compliant. In today’s environment, this may in fact be email’s biggest benefit, and it certainly contributes to the trust factor. Because subscribers have signed up to receive publishers’ content, they’ve given their consent and have control over the relationship. In other words, they can revoke it at any time, which puts the onus on publishers to deliver on expectations for relevancy and respect of privacy. This is much more transparent than, say, tracking cookies, which until recently, most users were completely unaware of their secret behavior tracking.

Even amid monumental shifts in consumer behavior and societal change, email has remained a bastion of audience engagement for going on three generations. By leveraging this familiar, trusted channel, publishers can take back control of their audience relationships and build personalized, relevant experiences for every site visitor to grow their reach and revenue.