Here are a few inspirations from this week and a few ideas we hope to explore at the Email Insider Conference in December.
The social experiment -- It's not an experiment any longer. It has arrived. While some scoff at the value and return on social media efforts, no one denies that it enhances a customer experience and businesses must address it. Every session that included the words "social strategies" was standing room only. At one conference there were over 400 people in the session, and there was no room to even sit on the floor. It was the same at OMMA Global. While people are becoming bored with the concept of creating a Facebook fan page, more of the discussion is shifting to connecting experiences across channels and how social relationship marketing is evolving.
People are questioning measurement and how to take very unstructured feedback data (the new buzz word is "sentiment analysis") and new forms of behavioral data and apply it within their marketing approaches. It doesn't always fit. While no one can really tell you how many Fans are enough, they are beginning to address the reach and quantity of feedback in general market research terms. Does it represent a proper sampling to project across a subset of your market?
I'm so excited about this movement related to social marketing. It's not just the uber word of mouth we've tried to harness, it's evolving to support-connected experiences that are very episodic. In simple terms, people will interact with your brand through social environments, but it will be intermittent and restricted to the times during which your program is run - an episode that will bring context to the feedback, reach, and sentiment, and validate your targeting efforts. This is the only way to bring context to unstructured, ad hoc feedback and engagement. If you expect a general company effort to sustain engagement and only review it in mass, you will not be satisfied with the results and will always struggle to make sense of the engagement value. I believe we will evolve to look at the value of social efforts through a period of time, contextualizing the engagement based on the types of campaigns we run to the types of audiences we target. Taking this to the next level, you'll have contextual sharing that can be used to help target types of content, timing, and audiences. Sounds very much like marketing!
I had an enlightening chat with David Daniels of Jupiter/Forrester. He's a staunch believer that there are flaws in email measurement. I liken this to the media and search worlds. Measurement can be quite sophisticated and literally mean nothing in the end, except that people spend a lot more in those channels. For 10 years, we've measured the same thing in email and for 10 years we've always struggled with applying real actionable meaning outside of tactical interpretations (open = interest, click = intent to buy, delivery = accuracy). Measurement is too integrated for many. There were some interesting views that I'm sure we'll see more of in 2010, that will focus on cross-channel measurement, using other channels to inform email and vice versa. Does email have an impact on search? Is there any evidence of channel shift among certain customer segments? How does media influence a retention audience? And then we'll make a final connection of level of engagement that will soon be defined by channel efficiency (why buy media targeted at your highest value customers if it doesn't have an impact on RFM?).
Keep your ears open. You'll hear more and more about monitoring and social data solutions. The new tools will give you deeper views into how we consume email, how this relates to the specific lists we manage, and how social data will extend our view of consumers and how they have built and managed their social networks.