Readers of Email Insider relish the vision of relevant communications with the fundamental belief that the consumer is waiting for the email to arrive and is expressly interested in the communication. While all the trends suggest there is a shift in the how consumers triage their email on a personal and professional level, email marketers still have the challenge of creating instances, albeit brief, that build value in the brand and buying experience. While we'll forever have challenges with the right message and the right context to send it, we are now facing more pressure focused on the inbox itself, the types of messages consumers will consume regularly and the impact on direct response that drives many of our channel goals.
First of all: the Inbox. We can argue all day about what the inbox is. To me, it's the place where we consume messaging, whether email, text messaging, social networking communications; it's a repository that operates very similarly in all environments. I believe we think too arbitrarily about how messages are delivered into the inbox, rather than the context of how they're received.
The real problem is, consolidation of email is too easy and inboxes are becoming confusing. Many of us have a universal email client that can support feeds from all our email addresses, to be reviewed on many different devices (wired or wireless), and soon the ISPs will all feature universal messaging centers that support all feeds. With filtering changes that will impact how email is filtered in the inbox based on how consumers respond, open and assign value to an email, marketers will need to be more diverse in their messaging strategy. You won't be able to game the inbox! You will have to redefine the inbox, apply multichannel coordination to messaging strategy, and be very rigorous in optimization, which so few do well today.
While I don't want to belabor the concept of the "message," I think we all get it. We must remember that the message must match the medium. If you buy into the premise that messaging will be integrated, this will put stress on organizations to find the functional value of types of messages and apply those to lifecycle paths. While I agree consumers love the theory of self-management of brand engagements, the critical mass don't do it well and will always be challenged to keep this active.
We, as marketers, must make smart decisions about the shifting consumer, the points of influence where a brand can really add value and take chances on these brand connections. If you can't establish this first line of trust and value, you'll never achieve that perfect viral storm we are striving to evolve in direct response.
I try to think of the message as a container that must be in a form the consumer understands easily, must have value, be universally recognized, and packaged in a way that's portable. This all stems from "value."
The final element of this story stems from the shift in direct response. While I still believe email has direct response value, it will be a challenge to stay afloat with today's conversion and response numbers as consumers shift patterns, doing the same things we've done in the past. It will be more challenging to apply proper attribution to the channel for a direct marketer, where email is often in a land of its own. New challenges to marketers include the fact that consumers are shifting how they consume, how they buy, how they shop, how they make buying decisions, and who influences buying decision - along with the emergence of "out of home" device-centric personal management and extended connected digital communities.
While it seems daunting to match consumer to channel and the shifts happening, these are all much-needed changes for consumers and marketer. We have so much more visibility into connected consumers, dynamics of communities, how they form around brands and for causes, and we'll soon begin to pattern behavioral elements that help us understand how to be great brand stewards that balance value and convenience with consumer privacy. This is what gets me up in the morning, thinking about the possibilities!