Email Marketing: It All Started 40 Years Ago

The concept of email marketing first appeared in 1978, thanks in part to Gary Thuerk, a marketing manager working at Digital Equipment Corporation, who sent the first unsolicited email with the hope of selling something, to 400 unsuspecting recipients who were using ARPANET, one of the first iterations of what we now know as the Internet. Interestingly, it was this targeted, narrow band of users (if you were online in 1978, you knew tech, and probably had the ears of those who could invest in new tech) that made Gary fire off the email in the first place: where would you find a better audience for Digital’s latest and greatest tech?  

Here is the email as it was sent, and yes – it was sent in ALL CAPS – back before ALL CAPS was a thing (just imagine it in old-school green on a blacked-out CRT display):

DIGITAL WILL BE GIVING A PRODUCT PRESENTATION OF THE NEWEST MEMBERS OF THE DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY; THE DECSYSTEM-2020, 2020T, 2060, AND 2060T. THE DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY OF COMPUTERS HAS EVOLVED FROM THE TENEX OPERATING SYSTEM AND THE DECSYSTEM-10 <PDP-10> COMPUTER ARCHITECTURE. BOTH THE DECSYSTEM-2060T AND 2020T OFFER FULL ARPANET SUPPORT UNDER THE TOPS-20 OPERATING SYSTEM.

THE DECSYSTEM-2060 IS AN UPWARD EXTENSION OF THE CURRENT DECSYSTEM 2040 AND 2050 FAMILY. THE DECSYSTEM-2020 IS A NEW LOW END MEMBER OF THE DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY AND FULLY SOFTWARE COMPATIBLE WITH ALL OF THE OTHER DECSYSTEM-20 MODELS.

WE INVITE YOU TO COME SEE THE 2020 AND HEAR ABOUT THE DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY AT THE TWO PRODUCT PRESENTATIONS WE WILL BE GIVING IN CALIFORNIA THIS MONTH. THE LOCATIONS WILL BE:

TUESDAY, MAY 9, 1978 – 2 PM

HYATT HOUSE (NEAR THE L.A. AIRPORT)

LOS ANGELES, CA

THURSDAY, MAY 11, 1978 – 2 PM

DUNFEY’S ROYAL COACH

SAN MATEO, CA

(4 MILES SOUTH OF S.F. AIRPORT AT BAYSHORE, RT 101 AND RT 92)

A 2020 WILL BE THERE FOR YOU TO VIEW. ALSO TERMINALS ON-LINE TO OTHER DECSYSTEM-20 SYSTEMS THROUGH THE ARPANET. IF YOU ARE UNABLE TO ATTEND, PLEASE FEEL FREE TO CONTACT THE NEAREST DEC OFFICE FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE EXCITING DECSYSTEM-20 FAMILY.

No dynamic fields. No HTML. No images. Just sweet, clean copy.

Despite its simplicity, it still bears all the foundational elements of an effective email, before there was such a standard.  The opening paragraph gets straight to the point: there will be a demonstration of our latest, cutting-edge computers. The value proposition is that they are ARPANET-ready, then the info on venues followed by the innocuous CTA for a closer.

Because of this email, Gary has received the ignoble crown as the “Father of Spam” – but I imagine he doesn’t let it get him down. Firstly, Gary sets the record straight in an interview with ComputerWorld, “I think of myself as the father of e-marketing. There’s a difference.”

Then there’s this:

That one email – while garnering a few negative responses that would become a part of life 40 years later (unsubscribe!) – brought in $13 million in sales for Digital – that’s over $50 million in today’s money. How upset would you be with a title someone pinned to you if you realized an average ROI of $125,000 PER EMAIL?

So while there have been egregious examples of spam, the humble market-centric email is still going strong. Here’s so rather eye-opening stats:

  • One study (PDF) put the average ROI of email marketing at 44:1 – meaning that for every $1 spent, you get $44 back. Not a bad return.
  • Business professionals overwhelmingly prefer email as their primary form of communicationby 86%.
  • A simple “welcome” email has a huge upside:  they have 320% more revenue than any other type of email.
  • Another study states that email was the most successful tool for both acquisition and retention, 81% and 80% respectively.

In other words, while social media, organic search, paid search, etc… are all areas you need to focus on, tried-and-true email marketing is still delivering results, in a very big way.  

If you’d like to talk email marketing, whether you’re just dipping your toes in the proverbial pool, or you have an existing campaign that could use some help – drop us a line, we’re listening.

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