The inbox of the future is a consumer’s dream -- and also a marketer’s. In some ways it won’t be so different: Email marketers will still need to focus on creating a positive user experience, getting permission, demonstrating relevance, and delivering value. But there are also specific, technical innovations -- some already in use -- that promise to revolutionize the inbox and make consumers fall in love with email all over again. Every one of these represents opportunities -- and some threats. As with all innovations, there will be winners and losers. Knowledge is power: Start thinking now about how you can leverage these five aspects of the inbox of the future to be a winner.
First, the inbox of the future will be automated. It will sort and prioritize messages and allow for more intuitive ways to work in email. The good news here is that these innovations will keep consumers in their inboxes and encourage new habits, like shopping from their shopping folders. But you’ll need a far deeper understanding of where, when, and how your subscribers interact with your email to keep your messages from getting filed away and ignored.
Second, the messages of the future will be at least a little more interactive and customized. Some early indicators of the interactive inbox come from: Movable Ink (makes email more dynamic), Rapportive (displays social data for your contacts), Google Voice via Google Talk (allows you to make phone calls from Gmail), LiveClicker (video in emails) and TripIt (builds and manages your travel itinerary from email forwards). Ideally, your customers will be able to shop in email, watch videos, and comment on social sites. They won’t have leave email to get required information or interact with the web. Dynamically geo-targeting will let you can push out emails to subscribers when they are in specific places (your store, your competitor’s store). The catch here is that email in general will need to be safer before this can take hold. It will be, but not right away.
Early attempts to have more interactive email messages at Hotmail, Yahoo and through “private” approaches like Goodmail and various plug-in-driven approaches haven’t worked. However, the benefits to users, mailbox providers, and email client and OS providers are large enough that I think we’ll see a few attempts to really deliver on this. I expect the first really interesting attempts to be in the mobile space. The good news for marketers is that the interactive inbox creates new ways to convert offers directly from email, but doing it well means investing in learning new strategies and tactics.
Third, the inbox of the future will be uncluttered. Even with inbox automation, mailbox providers will still be inundated, and unless marketers find a way to send less mail, ISPs will be forced to make more delivery decisions. Specifically I expect them to treat different classes of mail differently. This includes reducing the “clutter” of marketing mail, for example, by placing marketing messages in folders, summarizing messages, and “clipping” coupons and offers. These choices make big differences for marketers; messages that are placed in Gmail’s Priority Inbox have 2x the read rate of messages that don’t. These “treatments” aren’t necessarily bad: There are already some very interesting integrations of email with mobile wallet applications, like Apple’s passbook, which may actually make email coupons more interesting to consumers.
Fourth, the inbox of the future will be safer. Mailbox providers are already working with consumer brands to eliminate phishing and malware. DMARC is taking hold, authentication now matters, and trustmarks are on the horizon for certain classes of mail. This is all good news for marketers, but it also means that there’s no excuse for failing to protect your brand.
Last, the inbox of the future will be mobile. In fact it already is: 37% of email is opened on mobile devices. It won’t be long before that figure is 50%, or 80%. Your customers are checking email earlier, later, more frequently, and that’s great news. The bad news is that you need to know more than ever about them to market intelligently: What device are they using? When? Where? Marketers that know this are already gaining a competitive edge.
We’re seeing a resurgence of email innovation that’s already changing consumer behavior and expectations. As the future of the inbox develops, marketers that adapt using data, analysis, and customer insight will survive and win