What is the one tool that every marketer recommends and uses no matter their specialty?

It’s email.

If you teach facebook, podcasting, youtube videos, blogging, twitter, pinterest, linkedin, or media buys, PPC, joint ventures  – whatever the front end traffic tool, everyone states that capturing your visitor on to an email list is the smartest option.

Why? Because the list gives you a mechanism to stay in touch with your reader when you want to.

It also helps to prequalify a person as more than a casual visitor. They become a “prospect” when they opt-in to your newsletter requesting something and are willing to give you a little bit of attention in return.

But wait! – Why can’t you do that with all those other marketing tools?

Media FragmentingIsn’t facebook or a blog or a youtube channel enough? Why do we need to add email to the equation?

It’s because of how people consume email. It’s a “push” mechanism, which means the content is pushed to the person.

Most of the other tools are “pull” based marketing mechanisms. That means a reader has to make the choice first to go to the place where you content is and find it. It’s not pushed on to them, it’s pulled by them.

Take this article you are reading now for example. You might have come to my blog today because you decided to go to your RSS reader of choice, or your bookmarks in your browser to catch up with the latest blogs in your industry.

Maybe someone you follow or are friends with tweeted or shared this article on facebook. It then appeared on your updates wall or feed when you were paying attention to these social tools during the day.

Or the more likely reason, I sent you an email via my newsletter, which at some point in the past you subscribed to. My newsletter linked to this article, you clicked it and came here to read it.

My statistics show that 80% of the people who reads this article will come from my email newsletter.

Many marketers will report back similar data. Email drives more traffic than any other tool they have, even if they use all those other tools in the first place to attract people on to their newsletter.

Why Is Email So Responsive?

Email is effective because it is still the internet service we pay attention to the most.

When email first came into our lives we loved it. That little “ding” noise when a new message arrived was exciting because just the act of receiving a message was exciting.

Of course after a few years spam and the sheer volume of messages we received made email something that wasn’t quite as exciting as it used to be.

Still, it matters.

Why? Because our friends, family and lovers email us.

We get messages relating to personal things in our lives that are most important. Emails tell us we have made money, or we have a message on an online dating site saying someone likes us, or we were outbid on an item at ebay we desperately want.

We get emails telling us that our home loan was approved, that a band we like is playing a show in our hometown, that the latest smartphone is going to be released next week, or that a new movie based on the book series we just finished reading is being made.

These things are important to us, hence email remains important.

Is Email Dying?

You might argue that email is not as necessary anymore and is being superseded by other tools.

From a marketing perspective you can send traffic directly from facebook or adwords or from retargeted banners on other sites straight to your offer and skip email altogether.

Sometimes these tools do enough relationship building for you and they reach enough people that you profit.

However, in nearly every situation I come across, if something is working without email, it will work even better with it.

Sure you can buy traffic on LinkedIn’s PPC platform and send that traffic straight to your resume writing service and ask them to buy and make some sales.

Chances are though, if you send them first to an optin offer to provide a series of free videos and then stay in touch via email, long term you will make much more money.

There are many reasons why this is, but at the heart of it, the same justification I mentioned earlier is responsible – people pay attention to their email.

The only question that matters as an email marketer if we are worried about this medium going away, is when will people stop paying attention to email?

That’s a tough question to answer, but the trends that hurt email have been there for a long time and continue to show up.

The first one we covered already – just too many emails coming at you makes every message less valuable.

Other developments like google’s recent change to gmail adding tabs where messages are automatically filtered away from the inbox is another example that will hurt open rates.

However the biggest potential threat is something coming along that is just better than email. Surprisingly, nothing has show up yet or we’d all be using it, but there are certainly tools today that we use now that email used to handle for us.

And most of them are on the mobile platform…

Fragmentation Of Attention

What we need to look at is how people spend their time, or more specifically – how they spend their attention.

Take a look at your own day online.

How much time is devoted to your email vs facebook or youtube or other social platforms or music or all the other things you can do online?

Here’s an even better question – what gets your attention immediately and why?

How about a text message on your phone?

Or what about a push notification from an app on your phone, which might be an email notification but could also be facebook, or twitter, or a real estate app, or a game, or instagram, or snapchat, or countless other apps.

What’s interesting is these are also “push” tools – they are even called push notifications. You have to say yes to have them pushed to you, but once you do they grab your attention just as rapidly as a text message does.

In many ways these mobile push notifications are even better than email was in the glory days because you take your smartphone with you. That’s one thing you could never do in the PC era.

Since internet access is dominated by smartphones today, what is pushed to your phone is potentially the biggest threat to email, or perhaps the biggest opportunity to diversify into.

Although email still works, what might be the smartest question to ask right now as a marketer, is what do you have available on the mobile platform that will make a phone emit that “ding” noise and grab instant attention just the way email used to?

If your answer is only email, it is time to start diversifying.

That might mean developing an app of your own, or publishing a magazine in the newsstand as I wrote about before, or making sure you are on top of social media so your notices on facebook and twitter show up on people’s phones.

Whatever the case, email is still the dominant platform and works just as well on mobile as it ever has. However, what we may be seeing more and more of is the fragmentation of attention away from email for certain activities.

Email used to handle everything, but now you go to the AirBNB app for notices about your accommodation, the OkCupid App for dating, Facebook for your social life, text messages for your closest friends and family, flipboard for your news, and so on and on.

As I recently read in the book “Killing Fairfax” on my Kindle, the one constant with media and publishing is fragmentation.

It appears that might just be the same with email.

Email will still be around in the years to come, but we won’t use it for nearly as many things. Instead our attention will be distributed across a variety of niche tools that handle each specific aspect of our life better.

As a marketer, I suggest you make sure you don’t have all your eggs in one basket as the fragmentation continues, or like the newspaper industry, you might find yourself with a much smaller audience as time goes by.