Tower of Babble: Four billion e-mail addresses and counting.

Billions of e-mail addressesDavid Baker, a global vice president at marketing technologies firm Acxiom and e-mail expert extraordinaire, wrote recently that when speaking with an employee at one of the major online database aggregators, he was informed that this company had a grand total of 4 billion e-mail addresses on file.

And of these, ~2 billion had names and addresses associated with them.

These numbers are dramatically higher than the worldwide estimate of e-mail addresses published by the Pingdom blog in its Internet 2011 in Numbers report.

Think about this for a moment. Considering that the total population of the United States is a little over 310 million, how many e-mail addresses per person are floating around out there?

Strip away the very young … plus teens and ‘tweens who don’t engage nearly so much in e-mail … and we’re left with the realization that among the core adult audience of Boomers and GenXers, there’s really no such thing as a single e-mail address that can be tied to one individual.

Even if we ourselves don’t maintain multiple e-mail accounts for different purposes, surely we know people who do. One person I know is juggling no fewer than 20 separate e-mail addresses; he claims to be keeping them all straight.

This notion of multiplicity is at cross-purposes with how marketers have traditionally viewed prospecting. We’ve been conditioned to think about an individual as being tied to one physical address and one e-mail address – in the same manner as a discrete mobile phone number or a unique social security number.

In theory, all of these are vehicles of monetization, with e-mail being particularly attractive because of the low cost associated with reaching prospects in that manner.

But in actuality, there’s a great deal of complexity:

  • Which e-mails are associated with opt-in permission?
  • Which e-mail addresses are primary (highly active) versus secondary (relatively inactive)?
  • Which e-mails are valid, but lying dormant?

Because e-mail addresses are “cheap/free,” they’re ephemeral. They aren’t “linear” in the same sense as the data on a residence, a business address or even a mobile phone number can deliver.

Mr. Baker concludes that, far from becoming easier, “the ability to engage a customer through e-mail across a portfolio of communications is becoming more costly and complex.”

With 4 billion e-mail addresses sloshing around in the digital space, there’s no doubt e-mail marketing will continue to be a major force in marketing. Even if half of them are cyber-zombies, digital Potemkin villages or what-have-you.

The challenge is in sorting it all out.

I think the e-mail specialists are going to be at this for a good long time to come.

One thought on “Tower of Babble: Four billion e-mail addresses and counting.

  1. We send over one million emails per month and have never been so accurate keeping track of our audience database. It took a six-figure investment up front and thousands of dollars per month to get to this point.

    Was it worth it? Absolutely. Our open rates have never been higher and our bounce rates have never been lower – all because we’ve invested in a relational audience database that is part of our e-marketing platform. Targeted email marketing – it works.

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