Email: Downgraded As An Engagement Tool?
If email were a stock, would you short it? For many that live outside the email space, there seems to be a growing sentiment that email is diminishing in value as an asynchronous engagement vehicle. While the projection for email growth is still climbing, the nature of the business is changing in many respects. The response proxies are declining, the performance proxies are being challenged (conversion declining) and it’s never reached the scale of media in terms of reach and frequency without negative fanfare.
Email appending is still polarizing as a “responsible” way to reach customers that you engage through other channels. Email deliverability is a really fickle business today, with all the fraud and litter that crowds the inbox. With that said, it’s still seen as a critical layer of every customer engagement, it will continue in the future and it’s mainstream in the eyes of most generations that are “online.” Shorting this stock might be a bit premature, in my opinion.
Yet is it really effective? As they say, if you don’t have the answer to the question, ask a different question. I think we’re at that point of maturation in this space that we have to ask another question: “Is there a real value exchange with the consumer through email?” I believe email has four functional values to the consumer:
- Informational value (newsletters, publications, general information tied to interests and connectivity).
- Promotional value (extensibility to offers and brand connections where there is some reward tied to the communication).
- Social value (today it’s more than viral, it’s about relevance of the “share” function -- and there are many tools to enable this today, which is why email “viral” never lived up to its press).
- Notification value (this has been somewhat minimized with SMS and other site notifications, but as long as we are driving commerce with customer online, there will be notification systems that will be leveraged.)
The problem with this, in today’s time is that the use cases have changed.
Content generation, creation, curation is less about the brand today. It’s become so easy to search, create, publish and syndicate information as a consumer that fewer people rely on email as their sole source if content. Does this minimize the value of email newsletters? No, but the value is changing, and timing in many respects takes priority over content. It used to be about sharing an article from a newsletter. It used to be the question was “is email designed to link you to the site?” or “is email expected to be the container of the information?” Today email has notification value.
Timing is changing our use case. Time-shifting has evolved with the device. No longer can we consider content as static or timing static. Our publishing standards will have to shift to simplified real-time, vs. batch personalization. Our notion of timing will be content on demand vs. push logic. Email will follow the ad media optimization and multimodal consumption rather than the traditional personalization view of direct response marketers of the past. It will combine contextual, behavioral, response, location, device and an interaction index that will support personalization on-demand.
The notion of what drove the sale has never been a great science, nor has it really benefited the email channel. I believe attribution will be defined by a weighted interaction index that will allow us to understand and project channel bias, layers and recency of interactions. I believe the index will have “network” and “reach” values that help isolate how customers are connected in what context and the values of these connections. Many define that as influencers. I think it extends past the concept of an influencer and has a much more granular value: connecter, advocate, influencer, evangelist... each have a commercial value, and the use cases for how they engage with email changes by brand/type and timing. It won’t be fixed view.