Despite the recent Nielsen Online study that claims social networking and blogs are more popular than email, I believe email will survive, especially for commercial and transactional messages.
Social media is having an effect on email, however. It's changing our own expectations of email and how we use it to communicate.
This is the issue many marketers
are failing to address. The growth and adoption of social media doesn't mean email is dead, or that marketers have to abandon everything they've done to build a successful program and then
However, companies that don't understand or respond to this rapid and radical change in expectations will likely see their email programs decline in performance and
engagement. In short, email needs to become even more "social" in its tone, personality, conversational style and relevance. The Inbox Is Evolving
Emailers like to say that email was the first social network. This is still true, but the network is evolving, and you can see it in the inbox.
Because so much personal
communication is happening on social networks now, what's left in the inbox is commercial messages, social-network notifications, time-sensitive alerts like payment-due requests or appointment
reminders, and, of course, a bit of spam.
Every week, I have less incentive to log into my Gmail account, where I receive personal and commercial email, because so
little of it speaks to me as an individual. It's a disheartening blur of subject lines that all say basically the same things: "Free shipping!" and "25% off!"
What stands out are not the commercial messages I opted in to receive, but the ones triggered by social-networking functions, such as my Facebook and LinkedIn notifications and announcements.
Emailers Are Sitting on the Sidelines
My own "ah ha!" moment came recently on my birthday. In my personal email account, I found 33 notifications
from Facebook that friends had left birthday greetings on my Facebook page, but only two company-branded emails with birthday greetings.
Two observations: 1. Most interactions came from my social networks
. Not only did most of my birthday greetings come via Facebook and Twitter, but almost all of them were made where other people could
see them. Those public greetings prompted several well-wishers to add their own. 2. Email marketers were noticeably absent.
Email marketers did not take advantage
of my personal occasion, for which I had given them data (in this case, birth date, which I know I've provided to dozens of companies), to send email that is personally relevant and therefore,
more interesting to me.
My point is not about birthday information, but that, in general, most marketers are not using the data they collect to deliver the relevant messages that
consumers increasingly expect. Message to Marketers: Make Email More 'Social'
People will still rely on email for many functions for a long
time. Even young people who currently text, instant-message and post messages on each other's walls will likely use email when they join the workforce.
Email is the backbone of
so many social-media applications, from Facebook and MySpace to Twitter and LinkedIn and beyond, to the social-bookmarking, music- and video-shares sites and more.
than ever before, marketers must change the way they deploy email to maintain their place in the communications environment, which social media has been so instrumental in changing.
This means using the information you have on customers, whether personal data you collected from profiles and preference pages or customer data from transactions that you incorporate into your email
program, to create messages that speak to your subscribers as individuals, not a mass audience.
Making email more "shareworthy," as I described in my recent Email Insider
column "Are Your Emails 'Shareworthy'?"
is a start, but I believe you are going to
have to start rethinking many aspects of your emails, including these:
Now Is the Time to Get Management Buy-In for Change
- Subject line (does it look the same as every other marketing email, does it
incorporate personalization and stand out in the inbox?)
- Personality and tone (more personal, less sales-oriented, more like two friends talking to each other)
- Cadence (is frequency tied to a schedule or to consumer preferences, actions and events?)
- Personalization that reflects customer data or previous
- Incorporation of reviews or user content
- Incorporation of a human voice, such as people who speak for your brand in
other outlets. (Think of Scott Monty for Ford, Tony Hsieh for Zappos, etc.)
Maybe you were
able to be successful just by sending out the same old "batch and blast" emails, because the ROI was still good enough. Now, in tough economic times, many of these same companies are simply
amplifying their past actions, with greater frequency and more aggressive offers and discounts.
This approach might not work much longer, and it isn't because the email channel
is no longer a great marketing channel. It's because consumers are getting smarter and have greater expectations and other communication outlets to which "batch and blast" just
doesn't measure up.
If ever there was a time to lobby management for additional resources to take email to a more sophisticated level, it's now. More than ever, you must
begin delivering on all of the capabilities that the email channel has -- and also incorporate social elements -- or risk becoming just another irrelevant and ignored brand in the inbox.
What has your own experience been? Do you see your own use of email evolving as well? I welcome your comments below.