Will Millennials Kill Email Marketing?

The biggest myth around about Millennials is that they don’t use email. Fact is, the average young person checks email more often than most older people.

But that doesn’t mean Millennials are reading your email. Rather, there’s a good chance that your email is getting deleted unread, prompting an unsubscribe, or worst of all, marked as spam.

Smarter online marketers are connecting with the Millennial generation by email just fine. Here’s how.

In this 18-minute episode Robert Bruce and I discuss:

  • How to be in two places at once
  • The key to email success with millennials
  • Email Marketing 101 (in case you miss the link below)
  • Do consistent email delivery times make a difference
  • The absolute necessity of mobile-friendliness
  • Why the “logged-in experience” is the answer

The Show Notes

Will Millennials Kill Email Marketing?

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How to Be in Two Places at Once

Brian Clark: Robert, you realize as this show goes live, you’re probably standing on a magnificent stage in Denver, Colorado. Dan Pink just left, and you’re introducing Scott Brinker. Yet, here we are in your ear.

Robert Bruce: Don’t you want to know how I’ve accomplished this amazing feat?

Brian Clark: Well, I know how.

Robert Bruce: How? No, it is extraordinary. It’s an extraordinary thing, Brian. We’re in Denver, and we’re also in your ear.

Brian Clark: On the air.

Robert Bruce: On the air.

Brian Clark: It’s the magic of on-demand content. Who knows when we recorded this?

Robert Bruce: You think there’s some appointment viewing going on?

Brian Clark: Appointment viewing?

Robert Bruce: Listening, rather?

Brian Clark: I don’t know. I do know that as soon as it hits the feed, there are listeners, but usually the big chunk of people come when we send out an email. The conference will be long over by that time.

Robert Bruce: Yeah. Speaking of appointment viewing, listening, and things like that, you sent me an article this morning, and it has to do with one of my favorite people groups, which is our dear Millennials, and their email habits.

The Key to Email Success with Millennials

Brian Clark: Yeah, absolutely. I saw I think Ann Handley, another one of our conference speakers — this is all getting quite congruent — but she Tweeted this. It’s a Marketing Profs article, and the title is Your Email Marketing Campaign Isn’t Attracting Millennials (for Good Reasons).

Now, I click over, hoping that this isn’t one of those silly pieces about how Millennials don’t use email. Thankfully, that is not even addressed, because that’s ridiculous. Millennials do use email, and they are power users, actually, of email compared to older generations. I think our habits as online people, publishers, and marketers, are more similar to Millennials than, say, some of our peers. Does that make sense?

Robert Bruce: Yeah.

Brian Clark: We’re constantly plugged in, and of course, we’ve been talking about lately how that’s probably not even a good idea for us. Anyway, so I Retweeted this article, and it got a lot of interest, but like clockwork, someone responded with, “They don’t use email.”

But it’s not true. They do use email. They’re checking their email constantly throughout the day. Here’s an interesting, fascinating statistic: 38 percent of all Millennials are freelancers. Is that amazing or what? Are you telling me that these people are doing business as freelancers of whatever stripe over WhatsApp, or text messages?

Robert Bruce: Right.

Brian Clark: No. Email is the medium of business, which I offer is the reason why it remains and will remain the primary sales channel for online. Because that’s where people go to do business.

Why the “Logged-in Experience” Is the Answer

Robert Bruce: Yeah. That’s not just some abstract philosophy. Think about it. What is the one thing you need to sign up for WhatsApp? Certainly, there’s some different login options now. Sometimes, you’ll run into something where it’s only by Twitter or Facebook login, but the vast majority of services and products and business services that we use, you need an email to log in. Those services, those hot social services, all are run on email.

By the way, for those who think that Millennials are lost down the rabbit hole of the app economy forever and email marketing is irrelevant, just remember that email, on the phone, is an app.

Brian Clark: Email’s always been a software application.

Robert Bruce: Right.

Brian Clark: On the phone, you’re right. It is an app. You can use whatever one is standard with your iPhone or your Android, or there are other email apps out there. Yes, it is an app, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not using email messaging. Because again, to interact with the world to any degree, but especially in a business sense, you have to use email.

The difference, or at least different from perhaps other generations for the most part, is that Millennials are constantly checking email as part of their daily life workflow. It’s more of a mash-up than a segregation between life and work. I think you and I probably resemble that, again, just because of the type of business that we’re in.

The Absolute Necessity of Mobile-Friendliness

Brian Clark: One of the primary reasons that’s pointed out in this article that people are not being affected by email marketing among other things, is that they’re not mobile responsive. We’ve talked about this before — that Google had to swing the big bat of “Your rankings are going to drop in mobile if you don’t become mobile-friendly.” Again, what is the actual point? The point is user-friendly so that people can actually consume your content and your messages. The fact that you had to be threatened with a ranking penalty doesn’t make any sense. The problem is that people can’t interact with your content in their preferred way.

Email Marketing 101

Brian Clark: According to the article, the Millennials are constantly on their phone. They’re constantly plugged in looking for relevant messages to them — not to you — to them: Marketing 101. Yet there are a lot of people that are still doing the spam-and-jam thing. They’re buying email lists. They’re sending unsolicited messages.

One thing that the article talked about that I don’t know is as crucial as they’re making it — and you kind of alluded to it — is consistent delivery, always showing up at the same time or scheduling an appointment.

Do Consistent Email Delivery Times Make a Difference?

Robert Bruce: Yeah.

Brian Clark: How do you feel about that?

Robert Bruce: I may be too old for this because now, all this talk of appointment viewing and the reality of the world we live in with Netflix and Amazon and iTunes and being able to watch what I want when I want, maybe just kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I have no evidence of this.

Rachel Burger, who wrote this article, is saying — back to your point, 38 percent of Millennials are freelancers — but of those working regular hours, 89 percent check their email long after the workday has ended. They’re practicing what she calls ‘work-life blending,’ mixing play and work, so they become almost indistinguishable.

She makes a connection there that Millennials would prefer to have their emails delivered, that they have signed up for, consistently at a specific time. I don’t know about this. Consistently, obviously, is huge in anything you’re doing, but the specific time thing … I guess I could see it, so I’m not going to rage against it.

Brian Clark: I know we aim for it. Of course, sometimes messages come when they come because that’s what needs to be communicated at that time. As far as content, for example, with the Further newsletter, I’ve never missed a Monday. I aim for around 10:00 a.m. Mountain time. But, for example, the last issue was a little bit later than that just because I’m abnormally busy right now in the run-up to the event and a lot of other stuff that we’ve got going on. I haven’t received any complaints if there is a window of time. I would imagine if I just totally missed a week or showed up on another day, people might start to wonder. I’m not convinced, necessarily, if I think that’s a good sign.

This is really going to get to the heart of the matter. If your content, your email, whatever the case may be, is anticipated, that is a damn good thing. It’s when something keeps showing up and it never gets read and finally they’re like, “Uh, I’ve got to get off this list.” It happens. You’re never going to connect 100 percent with people, but by and large, you know if your unsubscribe rate, your open rates, et cetera are healthy or not. That’s the key. What are you sending to people, Millennials or not, but especially, I think, Millennials? It’s interesting reading this article because I feel like it could be speaking about me.

We are digital natives of the first generation, even though we are older people now. Millennials are digital natives by birth, and that’s the difference. I don’t feel alien or very different from a Millennial in my online practices. It’s the same thing. If I’m seeing messages that I consider to be spam, or just not useful to me, yeah, I’m unsubscribing. That’s how it works. We people who have spent a lot of time online are very savvy about avoiding or routing around the damage of the Internet, which has been referred to in terms of censorship, but it’s also in terms of spam. We know how to avoid it.

Going back to the theme that we’ve had about creating an experience, specifically a registration and access, logged-in experience, which lends itself to all these great personalization techniques that Millennials also appreciate. People appreciate a more targeted one-on-one, feeling type message, right? Isn’t that just human nature, Robert?

Robert Bruce: Yeah, and this goes to one of the core issues of business and life in general. It’s Ms. Burger’s number three. Don’t assume you know someone, right? When we make assumptions about somebody’s life or somebody’s story, we are prone to make grave errors, both in business and in life.

Brian Clark: Has there been a more stereotyped generation than the Millennials since Generation X was stereotyped?

Robert Bruce: Right, ‘slacker.’

Why Millennials and Gen X Aren’t So Different

Brian Clark: We were stereotyped. It happens to every generation, but I think more than anyone, the Millennials have been unfairly characterized in a stereotypical fashion. You’re right –that is the death of audience. That is the death of business, when you think someone is, some very shallow transparent stereotype, instead of a richly nuanced human being. We have generational characteristics. I argued that the Millennials are more like Gen X than people would like to admit — or is that the right word? I don’t know. All I know is that we went through a recession, and we were all upset and angry, and that’s where grunge came from. Then the Millennials have a recession that makes ours look like a day at the beach.

They should be the ones who are angry. I admire them because they’re optimistic to a degree, but they’re savvy, too. You know what I’m saying? They’re not going to put up with your BS, but they’re not necessarily raging angry about everything either. I think serving any generation, but especially the Millennial generation, well is just truly understanding who you’re trying to talk to and providing real value and experience. Whether it’s an educational, “Here let me teach you this and I’m going to need you to register for it and you’re going to come back here into this training area,” which is becoming ubiquitous with these larger learning programs.

“I’m going to deliver you something that you value, that you look forward to. I’ll do my damnedest to be consistent and show up on the same day and time or whatever the case may be.” I think if they’re anticipating hearing from me, or the organization as it would be, I think that’s the win.

Robert Bruce: Yeah, right.

Brian Clark: If someone is looking forward to getting your email and you’re a few minutes late, I don’t think they’re going to get mad at you, but I think when you show up randomly with a message that isn’t anticipated or desired, that’s when you get marked as spam because it’s just easier.

Robert Bruce: The newsletters that I want to get, trust me — I always read them. It doesn’t matter what time, what place. But I think this is a good point: consistency, scheduled time, and specifically within the context of talking to Millennials. You’re right. If it’s something that I want, I’m going to read it, no question.

Brian Clark: Yeah, and that’s the secret. I don’t know how many times lately I’ve said it: “It’s simple, maybe just not easy.” It is simple. Everyone wants to take shortcuts, or they just want to send as many unsolicited spam messages as possible and hope something sticks.

Robert Bruce: It’s all about relevance.

Brian Clark: Yeah, and it’s interesting, because I talk to a lot of people that are in more traditional business sectors, and they don’t understand. They understand the concept of, if you have a bunch of people that you can reach by email, that’s a good promotional tool, but what they don’t get is actually how valuable that audience is and how much you should be focused on delivering value to get the sign-up in the first place. Being consistent with value is more important than being consistent on time. Isn’t that really what we’re both saying here? You’ve got to nurture that list. You’ve got to earn the right to send that offer.

Robert Bruce: No, it’s real simple. You’re right. It is simple, but it’s not easy. You’re sending really great education or entertainment, or whatever your thing is, to people that want to receive it. You know what? That can be a long, fruitful relationship for both sides, but then as you mentioned before, when the unsubscribes do come, you look at that as feedback, really.

Unsubscribes are a great thing because it tells you something, sometimes. You’ve got to look at the context of why and how and who. Don’t fear the unsubscribe because that person has decided at this point in time to take off. Well, they weren’t going to do any kind of business with you anyway, so it’s a good thing.

Brian Clark: Unsubscribes are a natural part of the process. What you look for is an alarming rate of people marking you as spam instead of scrolling down and hitting ‘unsubscribe.’

You may say that people just don’t care and they’ll just mark it as spam to get rid of it faster. But I’ve found that when a complaint happens, I’m always shocked. Like “Really? Come on now. That was a pure content email.” But it’s so rare that you don’t even think about it. That was just a person taking a shortcut. If you saw a lot of that behavior, that’s feedback you need to pay attention to, but unsubscribes in the normal course, as long as you’re not losing half your audience every time you mail, it should be a tiny percentage. But the bigger your list gets, the bigger that number is. It’s okay. It’s normal.

Let me leave you with this. Think about what kind of experience — educational, motivational, what have you — can you offer that is above and beyond just “Sign-up for my newsletter.” Even something like Further would benefit from me creating a front-end experience, a goal, a challenge of some sort that, “Oh, and also you will continue to receive this great content weekly.”

That’s the way to do it, and that’s the next step. If I make it through this conference alive, I may have some time this summer to do some projects, and we do have some stuff coming? Right.

Robert Bruce: Yeah we do. Let’s do this. Go to NewRainmaker.FM. Sign up for the email list there. You won’t miss a thing in terms of what’s coming.

Brian Clark: All right everyone, thanks for tuning in, and if you did happen to make it to Denver, you’re not listening to this right now.

Robert Bruce: You better not be.

Brian Clark: I will be talking to you in another context.