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History of Email Marketing: Everything You Need to Know

  • 28 July 2017
  • Nathan Kay

It was only 42 years ago that Ray Tomlinson sent the very first email. Yes, not long ago at all! The basic email form hasn’t changed much since then, but the evolution of email marketing has developed at a rapid pace and has become one of the most cost-effective forms of direct marketing today.

The Birth of Email Marketing

Gary Thuerk is a name etched in the minds of many marketing executives around the world. Thuerk worked as the marketing manager for Digital Equipment Corp. and was given the task of promoting the new VAX T-series in 1978. He was the first to send an email in the marketing context. Despite emails not being particularly widespread during that time, he managed to find 400 new customers using email marketing. He generated a whopping $13 million in computer sales, the equivalent of $78.8 million today.

It’s as Easy as 123

According to DMN, an average business email user will send 33 emails and receive 123 messages-a-day. The Radicati Group conducted a report which states the imbalance between sent mail and received mail highlights the influence of email marketing. Email marketing is one of the most cost-effective forms of marketing available. It’s been estimated that for every $1 spent, the return equates to $38.

The 90s

Email marketing really took off around the 1990 mark. British scientist Tim Berners-Lee set the ball rolling once he created html, http and the first web pages at CERN. The organization later published a paper called “The New World Wide Web Project” – obviously, the birth of the internet!

Everybody knows what the internet provides – a global network of information at your fingertips. A marketers’ dream! When emails came along they helped support the internet and gave marketing executives two direct routes to the consumer.

Hotmail Opened the Floodgates

1996 was the year everything changed. Hotmail became the first free email service and the world’s population signed up in droves. Marketing executives were rubbing their hands together with glee at the potential that lay before them. More than 20 million American email users were easy to reach and potential targets. Organizations around the globe began their email onslaught by sending ads through emails about cars, loans, medicine, diets, electronics, you name it. People became bombarded!

Junk Mail Emerged

According to Tower data, junk mail soon became widespread and somewhat of a problem. Web hosting company Xoom highlighted the issue with a well-known marketing campaign to combat spam, by sending out spam! The company sent an email to 6 million users to advertise their “Email Robot anti-spam filtering tool”.

“You hate junk mail, and therefore we’re sending you junk mail, telling you to get our free product so you can stop it,” Laurent Massa, Xoom founder, said. The campaign became extremely successful and is still cited by experts today.

Consumers became disheartened by the amount of junk mail they were receiving, unable to distinguish worthwhile emails from spam. Therefore, organizations realigned their emailing marketing strategies by avoiding spam triggers. Consumers were also able to select the types of emails they receive as spam.

Personalize Or Scrap

Marketing agencies have now refined the emails they send, by improving the content and ensuring there is a connection with the consumer. By making sure content is engaging, entertaining, factual and to the point kept consumers interested. It took time to weed out the bad seeds, but consumers have more confidence in email marketing now than they did ten years ago.

Data Laws were Changed

Governments passed data protection laws to protect the consumer. The UK was the first to implement these changes with the Data Protection Act. The legislation called for an express or opt-in consent requirement for all direct marketing communications.

In 2003, the CAN-SPAM ACT was signed by President George W. Bush in the US. It required the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to enforce the three basic types of compliance: unsubscribe, content and sending behavior compliance. Both acts have been cited as the savior of email marketing.

The Future of Marketing

Email marketing is now more powerful than ever before. Consumers trust the emails they receive, and click-through rates are high. According to Campaign Monitor, email marketing has been the top marketing tool for the past ten years in a row. Figures show that 86% of companies rank email marketing as “excellent” or “good” based on the return on investment ratio. Email marketing has survived and will continue to thrive due to its ability to adapt and evolve to the environment around it!

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