Addicted to Email

In the ’60s and ’70s, when television was relatively new, studies reporting that Americans watched more than five hours a day had sociologists and educators railing against its hypnotic effect on the populace. Where is the same hue and cry today about email?

A study released today by Adobe finds that the average white collar worker spends 6.3 hours of his or her workday checking emails. And—bosses take note—it’s not just work-related email they’re reading. Nine out of 10 admit to checking personal email at work and 18% say that they check their inboxes constantly. For marketers, that means that Gmail presents a 24/7 connection to consumers via emails that TV could never provide to the 30-second TV spot.

“Regardless of all the other channels that have arisen, like social and mobile, email in its various forms still inundates our culture,” says Patrick Tripp, senior product manager for Adobe Campaign. “Millennials, especially, are using email in all kinds of interesting ways.”

Nearly nine out of 10 millennials check emails on their smartphones and, as a result, are more likely than other age groups to check work emails outside of the office. Seven percent scan emails on smartwatches—a small number but one that bodes well for the future considering that sales of the Apple Watch have been disappointing. Seventy percent of millennials check emails while still in bed, compared to 52% of the population as a whole.

Perhaps most amazingly, people think their day-sapping inbox addictions are perfectly normal. Seven in 10 thought they checked email “as often as they should,” while only 24% saw themselves as having a problem by checking “way too much.” Yet most weren’t as accepting of their friends’ habits: 69% said it bothered them when people checked their emails while conversing with them.

“There’s this pervasive fear of missing out,” Tripp observes.

Some other notable findings from Adobe’s survey of 400-plus professionals:

  • 58% say email is their preferred method of communicating with brands
  • 70% check in while watching TV or movies
  • 50% stay connected while on vacation

All this spells happy days for email marketers, since 47% of people surveyed say they expect their use of email for work to increase in the next two years—19% substantially so. There is a caveat for batch-and-blasters, however. Four out of 10 people said they’d like to see fewer repetitive emails from brands and a third opined that email offers should be less annoying and intrusive.

“Studies show that email as a marketing channel returns $39 for every dollar spent, so it’s going to continue to be the workhorse of marketing,” Tripp says. “But the most successful marketing emails will be the ones that are less about sell and more about providing contextual information.”

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