Why Email is Dying: GDPR, Generational Change & Psychology

Written by Simon Jack (guest contributor)

Here’s a fun stat: Email usage has actually been growing by around 4% a year since 2013. So, why did we title this article ‘Email is Dying’? Well, here at Mastermindset, we like to predict the future. Let’s take a look at some of the big spanners in the works for email...

The GDPR thingy

Uh-oh.

GDPR stands for ‘General Data Protection Regulation’. To marketers, it may as well stand for ‘God Damn, Plummeting Revenues’.

The quick and dirty summary is that companies will now need to be able to prove that everyone on their email list has actively opted in, by their own free will, not simply added to the newsletter just because the company was able to capture their email address.

What this means in reality is that unless the email message is going to be sorely missed, people are not going to bother to opt in again. It’s human nature. We only go out of our way if we really,  really want something. Even the most loyal of customers are going to procrastinate, and how long does their memory really last?

This is where the marketers are bricking it.

Many people are going to see this as an opportunity to clean up their inboxes and start again without the usual barrage of unwanted offers and updates. They may even enjoy reliving the strange older times and not want to go back to inbox madness.

Some might see GDPR as a big nail in the coffin for email. It’s on the lips of marketers and company bosses everywhere and people are genuinely worried. But there’s a much bigger force that’s killing off email, which is...

Generational Change

For those of us who remember the beginning of email, we rejoiced when it meant no more paper, no more stamps or waiting period. Time practically sped up!

Then we abused the hell out of it.

Now, email has become stuck in some strange limbo. Is it for formal communications or is it for quick ‘to and fro’ chats?

Email’s letter heritage and ingrained behaviours had us conforming to the appropriate letter structure: the ‘dear so and so’ and the polite sign-off. At some point, ‘yours sincerely’ became a much more hip and modern ‘kind regards’.  But this is a strange way of having a quick conversation. I once knew a guy who got around this by abbreviating ‘kind regards’ to simply ‘KR’. He must have been thinking, “Genius! I nailed a professional yet laid back vibe!”

Whilst some may be stuck in email limbo, others have divided and conquered a new approach. Take Slack for example. With a $5.3 billion marcap, they completely understand the need for people to communicate and collaborate as they would in real life. It’s quick, it’s simple and all conversations about inbox sizes have been made redundant. Those who are adopting instant messaging for communications are beginning to search for reasons why they would actually need to send email at all.

Now, thinking about the new generations that are growing up with this trend; yes, they know what email is, but it’s not part of their world. They’ve been brought up on an electronic diet of instant messaging. Even text messages are now old school. Looking ahead to future generations… why would they go back to use what they see as an antiquated technology? You might just as well try convincing them to start faxing people!

So what to do about it...

We’re currently living in a big mixed bag of generations. The newbies are going to want to do things different to the oldies. With new technology, old ways don’t last. At the same time, ripping off the band aid and telling people to just get on with it is not the answer. To embrace this type of change, we need some positive psychology.

Step 1: Get a Reality Check

Even though we may love our email, we must face facts that new generations are bringing about new social trends, technology and all kinds of other stuff we don’t quite understand. We’ll need to get on board or get left behind.

Step 2: Enable Best Practice Internally

Moving to a new method of communication internally allows everyone to feel part of the contribution. The psychological difference of a collaborative communication system as opposed to email, is that it’s one place for everyone to keep abreast of what the company is doing, to check into different groups and understand and contribute where applicable.

To enable this change, you need a set of rules and also to have some internal sponsors, which is nothing more than some of your best people showing how to make some moves.

Step 3: Provide Alternative Options for Customers

Although email newsletters may currently seem like THE way of communicating with existing customers, this will not always be the case. There’s a real opportunity to start introducing instant messaging approaches into your customer interactions. It’s just how people communicate nowadays. We’re already seeing applications such as Facebook Messenger for customer communications replacing the automated emails. People will feel like an individual, not a number.

Step 4: Celebrate Successes

Take note of the outcomes and benefits and shout about them. If people don’t connect the dots to why they’ve been asked to change, they will find reasons to rebel and slip back into old habits. Fully embracing a collaborative messaging system will reduce emails, increase awareness of others’ work and improve skill sharing. Basically, it will make work a more productive place.

Summing Up

You heard it here first. The psychological death of email has been foretold. Now’s the time to predict the future of your communications and where to begin injecting some positive change.