What's In Your Inbox Today?

Father’s Day weekend was a great retailing weekend by all rights.  The build-up consisted of a barrage of theme-based messaging.  This is the dads and grads season of the year, after all.  I don’t consider myself a typical “consumer."  I meet many of the persona characteristics of a typical dad, from a buying perspective. Yet I am a really hard persona to understand from a marketing perspective.   How do you engage the tech-savvy, the frequent traveler, the multiplexed consumer that has discretionary income yet comparison shops, and requires brand experiences to buy most things?   Where does the email channel fit with a growing audience that has similar traits?

As I’ve mentioned in several articles in the past, I believe there are four key use cases for why a consumer engages through email: for learning, information and education; for promotion and rewards; for notification and transactional processing; and lastly, for social connectivity and sharing.  As a marketer, I love the “Cyber Dad” or “Mobile Dad” but I struggle with the most efficient method of engaging them, much less how to optimize that experience.  It’s guesswork at best these days. I have at least five active email addresses, triage email on a mobile device, use social networking prolifically and loves to share with people when I frequent Peet’s Coffee, Whole Foods, golf courses, new cities and family trips.

The #1 challenge of marketing to this type of consumer is engagement.   Reach isn’t a problem.  Dialogue isn’t a problem, as this persona doesn’t subscribe to a dialogue with a brand. The rise of “email triage” on the mobile device has rendered a few consistent patterns that create challenges for email marketers:  higher frequency of “view, but less proclivity to direct-response purchase through email.  

This poses several challenges for the well-underfunded email channel.  First, attribution is going to skew even further to direct-response channels.  Second, it becomes harder to describe a valuable channel experience in the collective “customer story.”  Lastly, the new mobile email experience  will shift production processes in an already underfunded email production team.     Solutions like “real-time” content will help with the experience and timing, but to operationalize that process you’ll encounter the same challenges Web personalization encountered over the years.  This won’t solve your “portfolio” communication challenge. 

Assume there are more use cases for email than promotion, even if your CEO doesn’t believe so.   Assume there are concerted shifts in consumer behavior in how they manage themselves through email.  Assume the mobile device is greatly changing consumer behaviors, in both how they engage with brands and how they consume content in general.   Email is still what it was 10 years ago.  It is an iterative experience, vastly controlled by the consumer that bridges “brand experiences.” While that doesn’t apply to pure online brands like an Amazon, for most it was a PII-driven method of engaging, informing, notifying, and promoting the brand experience.

So, back to the tech-savvy dad and what’s in his inbox in the last week: 42 references to Father’s Day,  24 references to hobbies,  32 notifications, 10 community newsletters (from various sources spanning “cause marketing” to “health” related news -- of which not one was viewed through a Web interface.)   Looking at the “household” level across the other buyers in the house,  “active homemaker” persona and “young teen” persona,  the purchase intent or direct transactions can be attributed to email for this household.  Net value = 0 in terms of brand purchase value for all the retailers targeting this household.  Nest value=0 in terms of attribution to the email channel for all this hard work the 200+ emails produced.  

How do you justify the use of the channel when you project this across your most valuable segments?  Will email get only enough funding to target small, high value segments that convert by channel?  Or will organizations continue to invest in “brand engagement” through email, knowing that timing and experience are becoming briefer than they were in the past?  I think we are at a crossroads as an industry and must find methods and approaches that demonstrate where email fits in the engagement process, and how to apply it to connected Web, media and in-store experiences. 

Think the portfolio value of communicating with your customers through email.  Think the brand value of engaging with them in one of the few time-driven methods we can control in marketing.  Even with the growing trend in “email triage,” this consumer and household can recall 15 prominent brands and associate them to a buying season.  We may not recall the exact promotion, yet the value of exposure and connecting the experiences and the association to contextual buying cycles is pure value to a marketer, not typically translated through clicks and conversions one channel at a time.

Tags: email
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