Five Questions To Consider Before Taking A New Technology Plunge

Email marketing is at its most effective when it engages the recipient, rather than conducting a one-way conversation. Savvy email marketers rely on a firm understanding of who their customers are and what products and services appeal to them in order to spark this sort of communication-and the right technology doesn't hurt either. As a result, new customer-centric tools and technologies that integrate with email are pushing the envelope in bold new directions at a rapid pace.


One such technology is Google Wave, which was slated for limited release today and could be widely available before the end of 2009. To some email marketers, Wave represents a technology that could dramatically change the face of email marketing for better or worse.

 Wave's combination of email, instant messaging and social media capabilities within a single platform looks to bring a welcome bit of synergy to the millions of users who communicate online each day. By making email the centerpiece/launching pad of "Waves" (i.e. conversations), Wave could open the door for email marketers to initiate a dialogue about their company with subscribers in a real-time atmosphere. Naturally, it is this level of engagement that has piqued so many email marketers' interest.



But is your audience ready and/or willing to "ride a Wave" with you? As with any new technology, a segment of marketers will rush to count themselves among the early adopters, but it is important not to forget the careful planning and care it took to get your email program where it is today. There is risk involved any time a new and/or unfamiliar element is introduced to your subscribers.

As video content became widely used in email marketing messages, many marketers mistakenly tried to embed video players on emails the same way they would on their web pages. While that approach resulted in most of their subscribers not being able to see the video player, those that did may or may not have found the content of any value. Poor production values and ill-conceived concepts were just two of the pitfalls waiting for marketers who were more concerned about capitalizing on the popularity of video as a medium than the reception it might receive from their email recipients.

Marketers know their audience and products better than anyone, and it should go without saying that what works for one company may not work for another. Here are five questions to consider before taking the plunge with any new email marketing technology:

1.     "Is our audience ready for it?" Think about your customers and their willingness or lack thereof to engage with your brand in new ways. The relationship between your audience and your business follows a natural progression; coming on too strong is definitely a risk.

2.     "What value can this bring to the table?"  Take a look at this technology from your customers' perspective. What is the benefit to them? If there is value to your customers, let them know what it is, and follow through. Promising special offers to Twitter followers rings hollow if your company account has not been updated in months.

3.     "What is the potential ROI that these new ideas could deliver?"  Analyze the costs and benefits to determine if this new technology is worth investing your time, money and resources. The engagement benefits of Wave could result in the type of positive word-of-mouth that is hard to put a price on, but the manpower required to manage all of that interaction will carry with it a cost of its own.

4.     "Will executing these efforts have a negative affect on current program performance?"  To reemphasize my point from above, what works for one company, may not work for another. Ensure that any new initiative doesn't curtail your current email programs' success. Conduct thorough testing to measure any potential negative impact of new email elements, and act accordingly.

5.     "Does this align with company values, goals and objectives?" Before making any technological investment, keep your company's best interest in mind. Standing pat after a considered decision is always preferable to backpedaling after a rash one.

We live in an age where the next technological breakthrough is not just anticipated, it's expected. The challenge to email marketers is to balance our fascination with technology alongside our responsibility to our audience. These are exciting times, and innovation is occurring every day. But as a marketer, being innovative doesn't always mean you acted first -- often, it means you acted best.

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