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Email is the original killer app-why it works for everyone

Social media is sexy and grabs all the headlines, but this year I’m all about the humble email. Some apps have staying power, while others burn bright then flare out. Meanwhile, good old email keeps plugging along as the Internet’s first “killer app,” counting Millennials and senior citizens–and everyone in between–as its users.

Email is the effective and easily overlooked tool that not only reaches most adults, but also helps professional communicators stretch limited budgets and resources by consolidating content. And while I don’t expect anyone to cut their budgets for social media campaigns, I do think we will see many communicators return to email newsletters and blasts this year rather than continuing to try to fill every new social media app with fresh videos, infographics or images.

Developing short, engaging and shareable newsletters or blasts that work for a variety of audiences can be challenging. One prism to look through when designing content is to think about your audiences in terms of generations, and then to think about how each piece you develop appeals to these broad groups.

Veterans/Traditionalists (born 1922-1943)
Our senior citizens want to be respected, appreciated and taken seriously for who and what they are, Joe Marconi wrote in his book Future Marketing. Senior discounts and early bird specials work because they like the unique recognition. And don’t call them old–many of them don’t think of themselves that way. However health care and its rising cost, disease prevention and health maintenance programs top their lists of concerns. They have email and are happy to receive information that way, but according to the 2014 The American Marketplace Demographics and Spending Patterns, less than ten percent of U.S. adults 65 and over get information from the Internet. So don’t expect them to read your blogs or watch videos online–you’ll do better using direct snail mail or working via traditional media like television (where 58 percent of this group gets their info) or newspapers (22 percent).

Baby Boomers (born 1944-1960)
Baby Boomers want to be valued and needed; and are usually characterized as idealists who see their mission as changing the world. According to Marconi, among their top concerns are social issues. Slower to embrace social media than the younger generations, Boomers are avid email users and more inclined than the previous generation to get information and news online. (Around 20 percent of U.S. adults in this age group get information and news from the Internet; 53 percent get info from television.)

Gen Xers (born 1961-1980)
Comfortable with technology, Gen Xers came of age with a reputation for being indifferent and disconnected. However, with most of this generation firmly within their family-raising years, their interest has shifted to work-life balance and planning for the future. A self-reliant bunch, they typically use email daily for work, and are accustomed to going online to check different sources for information. They do use social media and instant messaging almost as much as Gen Y. Unfortunately the study cited earlier lumps Gen X and Gen Y together, but it is still very interesting to see the shift these generations have made away from television and toward the Internet as a key source of information. Forty-five percent of adults ages 18 to 44 get their information from the Internet, while just 38.6 percent get their information from television. Robust and transparent websites, online videos and attention to opportunities for personal interactions via social media will continue to be key to reaching this generation and the one that follows.

Gen Y/Nexters/Millennials (born 1981-1998)
Gen Y are digital natives, born and raised with technology, and find it easier to filter information. They tend to be more active media consumers than their older counterparts. Their medium of choice is the Internet; and they look for “permanent newness,” relying on communications with their friends and contacts about products and companies. They are most likely of any of the generations to look for information via blogs and social media rather than traditional media. They have a strong sense of civic duty and want to make a difference in the world, so highlighting the greater benefits of a project or product can gain their attention. You’ll find them online mainly via mobile device, and accustomed to multi-tasking or switching between topics and tasks quickly, so short, shareable communications are golden.

For communication pros who need to reach a broad spectrum of adults with their messages, the latest, hottest social media trend may not be as effective as the humble email newsletter. Reaching all of your customers via newsletters or email blasts is a good way to consolidate your communications, if you take care to design your content in a way that is valuable and interesting to your audiences.