I was speaking with a reporter recently and was asked the obligatory, “Why is email dying?” question. I don’t think he really thought that was the case, but that he just wanted to see how I would respond. I gave him a five-minute rant on why email is alive and well -- and then told him the two marketing channels that are on my deathwatch list:
Smartphones will kill SMS. Driven by the iPhone and Android-powered phones, smartphone adoption is exploding. My family and I just renewed our cellphone contracts over the weekend and I was surprised by the shrinking selection of non-smartphones. The market is clearly speaking.
Smartphones enable several channels that compete with SMS, including email and social media like Facebook and Twitter. While the social channels will compete with SMS for personal communications, email will compete with SMS for commercial communications.
In consumer survey after survey, email is overwhelmingly identified as the preferred channel for commercial communications. Considering all the limitations of SMS in terms of cost, regulations and functionality, email is positioned well to inherit most of the commercial SMS alert volume once smartphone adoption reaches the tipping point, which may only be two or three years away.
The mobile Web will kill mobile apps. Mobile apps exist because the mobile Web stinks. Speeds are slow and browsers have been inconsistent. Mobile apps are the intermediary that makes the mobile Web tolerable compared to what we’re used to on our desktops and laptops.
But it’s stinking less and less every day. 4G service is speeding up the Web, as is new technology such as Amazon’s cloud-accelerated Web browser, Silk, which works with Amazon’s servers to speed up page load times significantly.
There are also financial incentives to make the mobile Web great, thanks to Apple’s stranglehold on the market. Seeking to avoid the 30% cut that Apple takes from content sold through iTunes and the App Store, several brands are circumventing that marketplace by using the Web. For instance, the Financial Times created an HTML5-based mobile application that can be used by any browser, Wal-Mart’s Vudu service can stream video using the iPad’s web browser, and Amazon announced the Kindle Cloud Reader, which lets users read e-books via a Web browser. Other brands are sure to follow these leaders and explore Web-based options as well.
With network speeds increasing and mobile Web browsers improving, it’s only a matter of time before the mobile Web is simply the Web that we already know and love -- just as mobile email is well on its way to working just like the email we enjoy on our laptops.
Together these two changes will mean big things for the email channel. Poor mobile landing page experiences and subpar ecommerce functionality has hurt mobile email as a path to online sales. But the next few years will see those impediments fall away, leaving only the positives that the mobile channel brings to email, including quicker response times and greater in-store opportunities.
Mobile is a huge disruptive force, but ultimately the changes will be very much in email’s favor.