Who's In Control Of Your E-mail Program?

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. How about a thousand e-mails? Is this your lens into your inbox today? Now imagine if you could control the marketing messages you receive, and they all came from your communities of sites and friends and colleagues. What would that do to the marketers?

Media fragmentation and the emergence of User-Generated Content (UGC) are two trends that are compelling marketers to leverage data and analytical techniques to reach, target, engage, cultivate and retain consumers today. However, will we be able to be that accurate in the coming years with the emergence of UGC and the sheer volume of messaging that will come from our network of friends, sites and communities? Consider these astounding statistics:

· In 1960 the average home had fewer than six TV channels. In 2004 the average was over 82.

· In 1960 there were 8,400 magazine titles. Today there are over 18,000.

· In 1960 there were 4,400 radio stations. Today there are over 13,500 radio stations and XM Satellite Radio. Plus, there are over 25,000 Internet broadcast stations.

· Over 4.4 billion Web pages are indexed by Google.

· The average consumer receives 361 e-mails per week, and maintains three separate e-mail accounts, for their different business and personal personas.

So, my question is, are we as marketers slowly losing control of the inbox? We are challenged in different ways, as consumers and as marketers, to manage this morass of communication. How much can we stand? And, how will our tolerance thresholds change with the latest trend in UGC when these same marketing messages are competing with sponsorships from friends and community advocates?

I just read a great article by Pete Blackshaw in Click-Z: ""The Third Moment of Truth." Pete encapsulated the phenomenon of this consumer-generated response to products in the following hierarchy of experience: there is the first moment of truth--what we see on the shelf; the second moment of truth--what happens when we try the product; ending with his third moment of truth-"where the product experience catalyzes an emotion, curiosity, passion, or even anger to talk about the brand." He writes, "By opening up that pipeline, we not only absorb insight and deeper consumer understanding but also nurture empowerment and advocacy." Isn't e-mail about advocacy? The popularity of e-mail grew with the sharing of jokes and ideas, which led into community threads and the development of business e-mail cultures. Here's an article on e-mail etiquette from Men's Health ("The E-mail to Don't List") that is a bit over the edge, but does drive home this point..

The Internet consumer has always been a creature of community. Now that consumers are gaining more control of the content they consume, how are we to leverage this and the syndication power of e-mail to deliver experiences that far surpass the direct response message? Will the marketing message of today be challenged by friends, families and feeds with specific references to the same brand? Most people I know are a bit frightened by the idea of losing control of their message.

We strive to achieve this right mix of timing, content and context (or relevance, as many call it), but are you building e-mail programs, content and tools that will allow your most loyal fans to syndicate your message, experiences and brand?

Pete's article rings true: Marketers need to relinquish control. Not that they had true control in the first place, but they should be prepared to open up and listen to the consumer and be an enabler. Build experiences that can be contextualized and shared ... rather than messages. While I believe e-mail has a valuable place in how we interact today, I do question if we will lose some control over our message through social networking and the deluge of bad e-mail in place today.

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