What are Emerging and Declining Engagement Channels? Are They Different in Emerging Markets?

I’m continuing re-posting and elaborating on my AMA from Growthhackers.com.

The question this time was from Sean Ellis, founder and CEO of Growthhackers.com: Given that you have experience across multiple channels (email, mobile, personalization…) I’m curious what you think are the most important emerging and declining channel opportunities these days. For example, would you rather focus on a business where you see substantial growth opportunities in mobile distribution or email distribution (assuming it’s something people want and ultimately end up loving). Any context on why that channel would be appreciated.


I think it’s highly dependent on the company you’re starting. Email is still a great channel for many companies but what I’ve seen with previous companies I worked with and with those I’m working with now, the era of the generic deal email or the un-targeted newsletter is certainly coming to an end (or is over).

This happened for a number of reasons, but main ones I think of are:

  • More and more people consume email on their mobile device, and like anything on mobile, the attention span is short, meaning they are only going to read emails that are relevant for them (http://marketingland.com/34-percent-email-opens-now-happen-pc-83277, http://marketingland.com/majority-emails-opened-apple-devices-android-users-pay-attention-115945)
  • The promotions tab on gmail definitely mattered when it came to removing things from your core inbox, and when you combine that with the trend to read email on mobile, I think you have a situation where people feel ok providing you with their email address knowing that most of the promotional emails will be filtered intelligently keeping their inbox clean. This means they can selectively seek out the promotional emails they care about, consume them, and ignore the rest. It also means there’s a lower chance of stumbling on something that seems interesting in the moment.

If you’re going to keep using email, the content needs to become more relevant and personalized for the user and less generic.

We spent a lot of time on this at One Kings Lane. A big focus for our team was making our daily newsletter highly personalized by ordering the sales tiles based on product interest to also leveraging that data to show the right subject line to the right user and we saw some great gains.

We also did this with our targeted emails and notifications. Essentially, using user actions and events to trigger critical messages was a great way to drive the actions we cared about in the product and move the user towards making their first purchase, a repeat purchase, or some other critical event for the business.

Emerging Markets vs the United States

One thing we do see in emerging markets vs the United States/developed markets is that email read and open rates can be quite a bit lower. Therefore, the market you are focusing on will be an incredibly important factor in the success of your email channel.

For example, many markets in Sub-Saharan Africa, I’ve seen open rates of less than 2% for emails that you’d regularly get an open rate of 10-15% in the US.

It’s easy to forget that for many, the smartphone is one of their first (if not their first) connected device so learned behaviors we take for granted aren’t necessarily ingrained in the population.

For that reason, I do see the trend continuing to move towards mobile with a lot of personalized elements over time, especially in international markets.

If you can take advantage of the inherent channels on mobile like notifications and combine those with notifications that are relevant to the user, there’s a strong chance that’s going to be the dominant channel as we move forward. For many, it is the dominant channel now.

It also makes it incredibly important that you keep users opted into your notifications or get them to opt in. I highly recommend putting users through a double opt-in on iOS, but that’s not always as relevant in emerging markets where Android share might dwarf iOS.


As personalization goes, I strongly believe it needs to be an element of whatever channel you pick.

  • For email, personalization should be a core driver for both regular emails to determine the content to show a user. Over time, you start to pick key user moments or events that will drive critical emails to move the user to take an important action such as finishing onboarding, purchasing, friending, following, etc
  • Same goes for push, with the big difference being that mass push notifications seem to have a higher propensity to backfire since they aren’t as easily ignored as email may be. Therefore, I think being even more highly targeted with push notifications is critical. And either building or leveraging a service that can send the notification at the ideal time of day for the user is another really important element.


To answer your question with examples, here are two:

  • If I were a US based E-commerce company doing a monthly box concept (Trunk Club, Ipsy, MM LaFleur, etc), email still feels highly relevant. It’s a great channel to drive users back to site to finish their initial checkout, to remind them that they have another box coming, to give feedback on what they received, etc. Your users are also highly likely to engage with the emails because the content is likely to be relevant for them and there’s a lot of opportunity to target users at different lifestages of the process. I think mobile is likely critical here as well, but I’d imagine response rates from email could still be easily higher than what you see on mobile push at least in the near term
  • If I were starting a grocery delivery company in India, I would likely put much more emphasis on mobile, push notifications, and other app notifications. For many, the mobile device will be their primary (if not only) way of interacting with your service, meaning that push and other mobile notifications will be critical drivers for your business. It may also be worth looking into mobile web notifications through Chrome for businesses that aren’t likely to justify a full app install, but where they could still need the ability to push a user to take a specific action.

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