Changing Minds for Nayi Disha: Attention to Action (Part 6)


Yes, I know. The immediate reaction to email as the magical channel to build the pipe is, “Seriously? Who even uses email? It’s all so full of spam and junk. Who wants to read more email?” And yet, the reality is that email, after 50 years, is still around, attracting a lot of venture capital, driving many acquisitions – because it delivers the best RoI (40:1) to marketers. Here are some stats around email usage in India:

  • About 500 million emails are sent daily by brands (about 10% will be transactional, the rest marketing/promotional). This compares with about 1 billion SMSes.
  • An email costs 1-3 paise to send, while an SMS is about 13 paise. (A WhatsApp message, by comparison, costs 30 paise, provided the use case has been approved by WhatsApp.)
  • Emails typically have an open rate of about 5-15%, so about 25-75 million emails are opened daily

I recently did a Prashnam survey to better understand habits around messaging channels. Here is what I found from a survey of about 3,000 people across multiple Indian states:

  • 38% used WhatsApp daily
  • 24% used SMS and Facebook daily
  • 14% used Email daily

Extrapolating these numbers based on 18+ years population of 900 million, we get the following:

  • 342 million daily WhatsApp users
  • 216 million daily SMS and Facebook users
  • 126 million daily Email users

Note that these are estimates extrapolated from the Prashnam survey.

Compare this with numbers given by the government of India in February 2021 about total users (which does not necessarily mean daily users) of various social media platforms (and presumably includes those under 18 years also):

  • WhatsApp: 530 million
  • YouTube: 448 million
  • Facebook: 410 million
  • Instagram: 210 million
  • Twitter: 17.5 million

Facebook recently revealed its daily user count in India for the first-time: 234 million, out of a total base of 416 million users. As we can see, this number compares quite well with that in the Prashnam survey.

To summarise: email’s estimated daily user base is about 60% of Facebook and SMS and 35% of WhatsApp.

Now, let’s add costs. Facebook’s organic reach is very limited – one pretty has to pay to play. And thus, it’s hard to reach the same user base again and again. SMS is priced at 4-13X of email, and WhatsApp at 10-30X of email.

Finally, the clinching point: Facebook and WhatsApp are controlled by corporate entities who decide on the rules of the game, while SMS content is dictated by TRAI and the telcos.

Email is thus the most open, most cost-effective channel; it is also an identity for many. Its open rates are low at about 10%, but that is a problem that can be addressed with the right incentives – Mu, the attention currency. Email allows for rich content, unlike SMS. Email therefore is the perfect starting point for building the pipe. 14% of Indians use email daily, and that is a very good starting point. It will not suffice on its own, but as the first leg of a 2-step distribution, there is nothing better than email.  And guess what – an email client to read emails is pretty much built into every mobile in the country (even those which are not smartphones) and getting an email account costs nothing at Gmail, Yahoo or other such providers.

Published by

Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.