For those of you who were around during the birth of the Internet revolution, the expression “You’ve Got Mail” will likely be burned into your consciousness forever. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s AOL was synonymous with the Web and AOL Mail gave millions of Americans their first exposure to the concept of email. But in 2011 the Millennial generation – many of whom were barely at High School during the early days of the Web – are beginning to shun email. And this has important implications for any business looking to target this group.
It seems hard to imagine that email could be under fire. For many of us it seems like the perfect form of communication. It’s fast and immediate, cheap and enjoys huge penetration throughout the world. In fact for many it seems that email is going a long way to replacing the telephone, or at least voicemail. Who wants to have to sit through a rambling 5 minute voice message when you can just send a quick note in email.
But for Millennials the lure of email isn’t quite so strong. In fact in their eyes it verges on being lame. Just last year research was published that indicated Millennials – especially in the younger segment – were beginning to abandon email in droves, spawning a flurry of articles like this one from The New York Times.
So why the Millennial hate for email? Well on one front, it’s seen as old school and – dare-I-say-it – a little clunky. For a generation that is defined by instant gratification SMS and social media has become the communication medium of choice. In an era which has been defined by 140 character Tweets Millennials want to communicate quickly and seamlessly with people who are already part of their social networks.
And social is key. Social networking is something that is deeply ingrained within Millennials and a considerable amount of their online time is spent within social experiences. Email somewhat falls outside of social networks and exists within its own silo, which has further provoked Millennials to move away from it.
There’s also something about email that feels – well – rather formal. Many early email adopters crafted notes in the same way as they’d compose a hand-written letter. With the recipent’s name at the top of the email, followed by several paragraphs of structured text and then signed by the sender.
This type of structured formality does not sit well with Millennials. Casual, real-time, un-structured communication is what’s important for this group and sometimes just 2-3 words via a text message will suffice.
From a business perspective, any campaign targeting Millennials overlooks social messaging and SMS at its peril. And while email still has a role to play – especially for older Millennials – the trend is that it’s rapidly becoming less relevant in their lives.