Peak Email: Get Prepared for a New World of Customer Communications


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I had dinner last week with a long time friend and colleague who is a passionate believer in the concept of “Peak Oil” and its societal implications. With the price of oil back up nipping at the $100/bbl level, it was occasion for us to again debate the topic.

For those of you not familiar with the term, “Peak Oil” is the point in time when the maximum rate of global petroleum extraction is reached, after which the rate of production enters terminal decline (thanks to Wikipedia for that concise definition). It’s self-evident that such a point in time will come one day soon, if it hasn’t already. But for hard core Peak Oil theorists, the question isn’t about when the peak comes, but what the effect will be on our society and culture during the period of decline.

The most pessimistic thinkers believe that the post-peak decline will trigger widespread chaos, political and social instability, and a massive global upheaval. As an unprepared world faces a declining standard of living, wars will be fought over access to and allocation of diminishing supplies of black gold. Frightening stuff! Personally, I have a bit of an optimistic streak and believe that advances in science and technology will combine with an increasing global sensitivity to the need to be “green”, and the result will be a fairly soft landing from Peak Oil.

At this point you’re probably wondering why I’m writing about this in my blog about revenue growth. The answer is that this dinner conversation about Peak Oil got me thinking about a less-frightening corollary: Peak Email.

Email is a mainstay in the marketer’s toolbox, and some forecasts from a year or two back suggested that marketers in the US alone may send one trillion emails per year by 2011. Heck, marketers may be more dependent on email than they are on fossil fuel!

But beware, I guarantee you that the day of Peak Email is coming soon and, like Peak Oil, may have already arrived. The generation now in high school and college sees email as, at best, a necessary evil. Email is something that parents and schools and bosses make you do against your will. In a recent New York Times story on the topic, one 17-year-old high school senior was quoted as saying about email, “it’s so lame”. Marketers had better think twice about this before sending a trillion more lame emails this year.

Significance of “Peak Email” to Marketers

If we have indeed reached the point of Peak Email, what does that mean for marketers, who have come to rely on email in recent years as a core channel and tactic to engage audiences and eventually generate leads and sales? While the effects may not rise to global catastrophe, the terminal decline in email is sure to inject more than a measure of chaos into the world of the demand marketing professional.

Everyone in the business of creating, managing, and growing revenue (and that includes marketers and their sales counterparts), needs to wake up and make sure they have an effective plan for connecting with tomorrow’s buyer. As a first step, it is essential for marketing and sales professionals to really learn and embrace new modes of communication. This will come easily for some, and will be uncomfortable for others (think how some have flocked to the Nissan Leaf while others cling to their Chevy Suburbans).

If you haven’t already, get a Twitter account and really use it. Make it a point to use Facebook Messages on a daily basis — you too will find that you can live without a subject line in your emails. Get used to texting with ur spouse, whether u need to or not.

Only by getting truly immersed in these newer forms of digital communication can marketers learn to use them in an authentic and effective way. These new media are not just new message systems to be used place of email. They represent new and different cultures of communication. And think about how to start to adopt some of these new cultural clues in today’s customer communications. Practice transparency. Elevate brevity to an art. Ensure that every customer communication is relevant and personalized to the individual. Make a commitment to talk to buyers using the medium they prefer, not the medium you as the marketer are comfortable with.

Peak Oil and Peak Email – it’s going to be an interesting decade ahead.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Phil Fernandez
Phil is a 26-year Silicon Valley veteran and has the scars (and a couple of successful IPOs) to prove it. Prior to Marketo, he was President and COO of Epiphany, a public enterprise software company known for its visionary marketing products.


  1. Your “Peak Email” analogy provides an interesting and valid perspective on communicating with customers in this decade ahead. I couldn’t agree more that marketers and their sales counterparts should have an effective plan for connecting with tomorrow’s buyers.

    In fact, that premise is the foundation of a concept called Engagement Communications.

    Engagement Communications combines advances in communications technology such as social media, e-mail, voice mail and texting in a way that creates a personal, human touch and motivates customers to take action. These ongoing two-way dialogues with customers not only deepen customer engagement, but also create a constant feedback loop that gives companies deeper insights into their customers’ needs, and offers the opportunity to react in real time. While outgoing messages can be scaled to the hundreds and even thousands, each is delivered and experienced in a personalized manner.

    For example, many of our clients are orthodontists who utilize automated messaging to contact patients with appointment reminders, as well as helpful suggestions of ways patients can monitor and improve their oral health between office visits. The messages are delivered with patient-specific content in a natural voice that gives the patients a warm, personal feel of a live call. The orthodontists also can leverage Engagement Communications technology to distribute a series of text messages to remind their teenage patients to wear their head gear at night or provide a friendly countdown to the day when the braces come off.

    Likewise in the utilities industry, many customers are highly concerned with energy conservation. As a result, the utility engages its customers by sending email, text or phone messages reminding them to conserve energy during the hot summer months by cooking during later hours or closing blinds during the day. Because these messages are sent how and when the customers want to receive them, this approach is meaningful and effective, and improves the overall customer experience.

    These examples illustrate that while marketers can benefit from using new technologies to engage customers, there still is a place for more traditional methods of communication, based on the demographic of the customer. And whether we’ve reached “Peak Email” or not, the key to successin the decade ahead is knowing what kind of information your customers want, as well as how they prefer to receive it.
    Thank you for the post.

    Scott Zimmerman, President of


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