Remember the story of Chicken Little?
You know, the one where the little chicken is just hanging out in the barnyard, minding his own little chicken business, and living his idyllic little chicken life.
Basking in the sun. Eating some worms. You know, happy, care-free chicken stuff. And then…
BAM! Something comes careening out of the heavens and smacks him right on his happy, little, chicken head.
It’s usually just an acorn or something inconsequential. But of course, Chicken Little thinks the whole damn sky is falling.
So what does chicken little do? He gathers aaaaalllll of his barnyard friends so they can go tell the king about the apocalypse coming to their quaint little barnyard life.
And they run around getting new animals to join their party, all the while shouting, “The sky is falling! The sky is falling! And we must tell the king!”
Now, in the tradition of having truly horrifying bedtime stories for children, Chicken Little ends with the group being tricked by the fox (known as “Foxy Loxy”) into thinking the king is in the fox’s den. And then, lights out for the whole smorgasbord of Chicken Little and his barnyard friends.
The moral of the story depends on the telling. But for most versions, it’s that gossip and hysteria can… get you killed? Nah, that it just leads to bad things.
Though, what this story reminds me of is the recurring cry from bloggers, tech wizards, and digital marketers alike: “Email marketing is dead!”
The prophecy of email’s fall has been spouted out for nearly decades now. In fact, you can find the Chicken Little esque “Email Marketing Is Dead” articles ranging all the way past 2002.
What usually sets them off is the boost in the popularity of some new marketing channels like social media.
And recently, the cry has started rearing its ugly head again, this time in response to chatbots: those friendly little AI-driven messaging functions on company websites, social media pages, and even text messages in some cases.
So the question on so many digital marketers’ minds today is, “Is the sky really falling?” Is email being usurped by chatbots? And if so, why? How?
In this article, I take a look at 5 pretty good reasons why chatbots may overthrow email as the king of digital marketing… and 4 BIG reasons why it definitely won’t.
5 Reasons Email May Be On Its Way Out
Email has long stood as the reigning king of the digital marketing domain. And it’s easy to see why…
- It provides a direct avenue to customers
- It’s becoming easier to personalize with each passing day
- It’s the bee’s knees for delivery of targeted content (i.e., blog posts, whitepapers, case studies, etc.)
But the bubbly new hotshot in town that is Sir Social of Media is quickly becoming the heir apparent—at least according to a handful of recent articles out there today.
So the question is, what makes chatbots so superior to email?
Reason #1: Chatbots & Social Media Are Both BOOMING
First and foremost, chatbot usage is expanding at an incredibly rapid pace. And so is social media, one of the main places you’ll find chatbots today.
Now, I’m sure most marketers and businesses don’t need to be told that social media use (and its effectiveness in lead generation) is growing. And by now, it’s kind of a given. But just in case you still aren’t convinced, have a look at these statistics from Hootsuite.
- 3.48 billion people now use social media. That’s an increase of 9% from last year. Put another way: 45% of the total world population are using social networks.
- 366 million new people started using social media in the past year. That’s more than a million new people joining social media every single day.
- 53% of businesses use social advertising.
- Social media ad spend in 2019 is expected to be nearly $93 billion.
- 7 million businesses use paid advertising on Facebook.
- 2 million businesses use paid advertising on Instagram.
- The number of small-to-medium-size businesses using YouTube ads has doubled in the past 2 years.
And as social media continues to become one of marketers’ most effective selling tools, so too do chatbots. Let’s look at some stats on chatbots from Salesforce to give you some perspective.
- The use of chatbots is expected to grow by 136% over the next 17 months alone.
- Nearly 1 in 4 service organizations already uses a chatbot to address customer service concerns.
- Almost 1 in 3 service organizations who don’t use chatbots now plan to incorporate them into their business in the next 17 months.
- Given the choice between filling out a form with an email response or getting answers from a chatbot, only 14% would choose filling out a form.
While the sheer size of social media and the expansion of chatbots don’t necessarily mean it’s replacing email, it does mean that fewer people are relying on reaching out to businesses using traditional methods like email for service-related questions.
Reason #2: Opt-In Isn’t A Problem
In order to send your target audience marketing messages, you need them to opt in. Getting explicit permission from your recipients to reach out to them is not just polite. It’s also illegal to ignore.
And this goes for both emails and chatbot interactions.
The thing about chatbots, though, is that this consent to receive communications is both super explicit and absolutely necessary. A little window right on your screen asks, point-blank, “Do you want to receive messages from so and so?”
Say “yes,” you get connected with a chatbot. Say “no,” and you don’t.
It doesn’t get much clearer than that.
But with email, so many people end up receiving hordes of special product launches, newsletters, and marketing campaigns every day, all with no real idea of how they got on the list in the first place.
In fact, as much as 56% of all emails sent today are unsolicited according to March 2019 estimates from Statista.
And sometimes these kinds of unsolicited emails are downright illegal to send and can come with a hefty penalty.
It’s just one issue that companies using chatbots over email just don’t have to worry about.
Reason #3: Chatbots Are Much More Responsive
A few ways in particular that chatbots reign supreme are in flexibility and responsiveness.
Given the AI component of chatbots, it’s easy to see why this marketing is so responsive: there’s no human to slow the process down!
If you ask a question that a chatbot is able to answer, they’ll get back to you almost instantaneously.
And this can be a huge selling point in this day and age. Hubspot points out that a whopping 82% of consumers rate an immediate response time as important or very important when they have a marketing or sales question.
On top of that, chatbots are built with conversation in mind. You can ask a question and get your answer, then ask new questions based on the chatbot’s response, all within seconds. It facilitates rapid-fire back and forth, just like talking to a person.
And in fact, Drift’s 2019 State of Conversational Marketing Report found that people expect nearly identical response times from face-to-face conversations and chatbots.
Reason #4: Relevance Is Dropping
This one is more of a blow to email’s credibility than a bolstering of the chatbot’s.
One of the keys to effectively using emails for your marketing purposes is to pass on engaging and relevant content that people will actually get value out of.
The more value your email offers, the more likely your audience will be to interact with its content and thus, move further down the buyer journey towards a sale.
However, email relevance isn’t exactly in great shape these days.
According to the DMA’s 2019 Consumer Email Tracker report, just over half of email marketers believe that 50% of what they’re sending out is actually relevant for their audience.
And email receivers agree too, with just 1 out 7 believing that more than half of what they receive is actually useful.
The problem, then, is that most people are actually primed to expect your email to be irrelevant. And that means in order to get through to them, you have to work quite a bit harder to show why your product or service is worth looking at.
Reason #5: SPAM Emails Are At An All-Time High
SPAM! We all loathe it.
The pandering. The scammy language. The low-brow pictures and over-the-top exclamation point usage.
Spam sucks. And every time you get tricked into opening a spam message, a tiny part of your trust in email dies.
The problem is, there’s a whole lot of spam out there.
According to Talos by Cisco (and get ready, because these stats will blow you away)…
- There are 72.2 billion legitimate emails sent per day globally (okay, not so surprising yet…).
- There are around 416 billion spam emails sent daily around the world (there it is!).
- That means just 14.8% of all emails sent are legitimate while an astounding 85.2% of emails are actually spam.
It’s no wonder why many people are skeptical of opening up an email—most of it is crap!
With chatbots on the other hand, you know exactly what you’re getting: a response from the company you’re reaching out to.
Another (and the final) point for chatbots.
4 Reasons Email Definitely, Really, Certainly Is NOT On Its Way Out
But not so fast! Chatbots do have a number of benefits to hold over the head of email. That much is true.
Even still, email is far from beat.
So the question is, will chatbots finally be the ones to plunge the sword into the heart of email and claim the digital marketing throne for good?
And here’s why.
Reason #1: Everyone Has Email & Most People Prefer It
Okay, not necessarily everyone has email. But the overwhelming majority of people out there do. In fact, an estimated 3.8 billion of us do and are expected to grow to over 4.2 billion by the end of 2022 according to Radicati.
Plus, conversion rates are actually higher through email compared to any other platform, especially social media.
- Email is shown to be 40x more effective at acquiring new customers than either Facebook or Twitter. – McKinsey.
- Email marketing has the highest conversion rate at 66%, when compared to social media marketing, direct mail, and others. – DMA
- A message is 5x more likely to be seen via an email than via Facebook message or post. – Radicati
- 72% of people prefer promotional content by email, compared to 17% who favor social media channels such as Facebook. – MarketingSherpa
On top of that, there’s also the issue of demographics. For example, chatbots can be great for Millennials who know their way around their phone and the internet (so can email btw). And in fact, around 40% of Millennials interact with chatbots every day.
But older generations are much more reticent to engage with brands on social media. Heck, only 17% of Gen Xers use primarily smartphones to access the internet according to Pew. And 55% of users over the age of 56 will only check their email on a computer first, never mobile.
The takeaway here? For the mobile-first messaging platforms like chatbots, Millennials may be a great fit. But for older generations, chatbots likely won’t get much play.
So the numbers prove it: even today, email marketing still trumps every other avenue.
Reason #2: ROI Is Still The Strongest In The Biz
While there are case studies out there of chatbots bringing in some pretty dang impressive ROIs (even as high as 400% in some cases), the fact of the matter is that email still has the best return on investment out there.
And don’t get me wrong, 400% is great! That’s basically saying that every $1 you sink into chatbots, you’re expected to get about $4 back—when you get the right program and implement it effectively, of course.
But even still, the ROI for email marketing is way way higher. Think 9.5X higher. You read that right.
According to Hubspot, when you spend $1 in email marketing, you can expect to get as much as $38 back in sales–an ROI of 3800%.
And while the other reasons for why email wins out over chatbots do matter, none of them matter as much as this—email marketing rules because it’s MUCH more cost effective. And that, after all, is exactly what every business should be looking out for.
Reason #3: Email Connects When Other Platforms Can’t
One of the best things about email is the fact that so much of our lives revolve around it.
Our jobs reach us through email. Our family members send important messages through email. The services we pay for contact us through email.
We take email seriously. It’s why 58% of us check it first thing in the morning before social media, search, news, or even our company intranet.
And when do chatbots come into your life? Only when you’re looking for them.
Chatbots can’t reach you when you’re just getting out of bed. They can’t tap you on your shoulder unexpectedly on your lunch break. And they can’t do anything for you unless you ask them to.
And that is one of the biggest reasons that email sells better than chatbots—because they can reach you any time, even when you aren’t looking to be sold to.
When done right, you can develop an interest in an audience that wasn’t even searching for a new product or service in the first place.
Because a lot of the time, people simply don’t know what they want. And as marketers, it’s your job to help them find it.
It’s like the old Henry Ford quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
With email, you can create interest. But with chatbots, all you can do is respond to it.
Reason #4: Emails Are Marketing Content–Chatbots Are Not
Last but certainly not least, emails themselves are standalone marketing assets. They can contain all the high-converting elements of a landing page…
- Compelling and personality-infused copywriting
- Eye-catching and stylish design
- Various pieces of content to engage with
- Clickable call-to-action buttons that drive recipients forward
And in that sense, an email can be thought of as a kind of advertisement for your business all on its own.
Plus (and this one’s important) it’s shareable. Recipients who find your emails especially engaging can forward it to one of their contacts, creating a sort of viral marketing chain effect.
This is particularly true when you include specific CTAs that suggest recipients share the email with their contacts. According to Hubspot, the most forwarded emails were 13X more likely than the typical email to include “Share With Your Network” CTAs.
With chatbots, however, users engage with the messaging without tapping into the full spectrum of high-converting marketing elements that a well-made email uses. It’s just a conversation.
And even when users go through an especially helpful one, it’s highly unlikely they’re going to forward a transcript of it to friends or family.
To sum up, emails are marketing assets on their own. And when done well, they are highly shareable.
Chatbots, on the other hand, are not.
So, there are quite a few ways that chatbots are better than email:
- Both they and social media are growing every day
- Opt-ins aren’t a problem
- They’re highly responsive
- Email relevance is dropping
- Spam’s at an all-time high
However, there are 4 big reasons why still email wins out:
- Everyone has it and most people prefer it
- ROI is still the strongest in the business
- Email connects when other platforms can’t
- Emails are marketing assets all on their own
When done properly, email still reigns supreme as the most effective, most engaging, and most profitable form of marketing available today.
My thoughts on the subject? Long live the king.
What do you think?
How do you see the battle of chatbots and email playing out? Which marketing channel do you prefer? And what steps have you taken to ensure your emails are getting opened, read, and engaged with?
Let me know in the comments below.
And as always, don’t forget to share on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Pinterest to help spread the word to other marketers and entrepreneurs.
Keep funnelin’, stay focused,