Going Boldly Where No Email Has Gone Before

Some things take longer than others to catch on. Take the gorgeous George Clooney, who despite making his TV debut in 1978, did not gain fame until he became Dr. Doug Ross on "ER" in 1994.  And while the first email was sent in the 1960's, it was not until 1971 when Ray Tomlinson and team provided the standard network for email transmission.  Not to mention the long 21-year delay before network service providers like America Online and Delphi enabled the wide scale global adoption of email in 1993.  That's a whole lot of waiting (and several years of faxing!). 

So what's next for email? A good starting point is to examine what is currently on the fringes of wider adoption. 

Email inbox organization. Google's launch of Priority Inbox reflects the much documented issue of email overload. Early reports on the feature have been very positive, both in its ability to manage one's inbox (much needed, considering the average American spends one hour and 47 minutes a day managing email) and in its ability to adapt based on user input.  But is it really so new? I gather Lotus Notes has had a similar service for years, it just didn't take off on the same scale. And then there's Messagemind, which in August launched similar functionality for Microsoft Outlook and Exchange.  Like it or not, it looks like email prioritization is here to stay.



In-email video. According to the Web Marketing Council's 2010 Video Email Marketing Survey, five in 10 marketers are using video in conjunction with email. Seventy-three percent of this group thought video would help email CTR, and the same number thought video would help conversion.  Now, doesn't that sound like music to email marketers' ears? So why aren't we seeing more in-email video if it's so efficient?  Well, 79% of marketers said their email service provider did not offer an email video marketing solution, with most marketers feeling the most effective way was to simply embed a link to a video landing page (40%). Not very 2010! 

What do people want?

At lunch last week with some non-email marketers, I probed them to see what they would like to see from email marketing.  Some themes emerged:

1.     Make the content hyper personalized.  Make it relevant, make it timely. In short, understand what I want and when I want it. 

2.      Increase the "geo-intelligence" of email.  If I am an Urban Daddy subscriber in New York City and happen to be in Miami for the weekend, why not send me email notifications of everything that's hot in South Beach that weekend? 

3.     If Gmail can prioritize emails based on the sender, why not use this knowledge to recommend the type of content my contacts sign up for? Chances are I'd be interested in it too.

4.     Create a system that automatically notifies all of the brands I subscribe to if I have changed my address.  If I have moved to New York City, the chances are I don't want to hear about offers in L.A.

5.     Make "unsubscribing" easier. 

6.     How about the ability to store my credit card details, enabling me to purchase straight from an email?  Why do I need to click though so many pages?

While, we will probably not have to wait 21 years for these changes, I hope the above has provided some food for thought.  Of course elements of the above pose data protection and implementation limitations -- but taking a step back and debating what people want from email can never be a bad thing.  Every minor improvement can have a serious impact upon the effectiveness of an email campaign.  The question now remains: What do you think the future of email will look like, and what brands do you think will boldly lead the way?

7 comments about "Going Boldly Where No Email Has Gone Before".
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  1. Jennifer Omeara from FLIMP Media, October 6, 2010 at 2:09 p.m.

    Presently, the accepted best practice for video email content involves linking to a video landing page. Enterprise organizations and email readers prefer this message instead of dealing with bandwidth issues for video content playing directly in an email message. From a user perspective, most recipients want to control where and when a video is played. With the recommended format of a video snapshot plus arrow graphic along with a link to the video content, viewers are able to effectively engage with the video. From a marketing point of view, video emails engage more recipients than static email messaging.

  2. Jeff Greenhouse from, October 6, 2010 at 3:13 p.m.

    The single biggest improvement to email, that we all desperately need, is to convert it into a secure, properly authenticated and validated protocol. The current protocol has more holes than a thousand pounds of swiss cheese, and the amount of junk, mischief and outright danger this creates keeps the medium from realizing its full potential.

  3. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, October 6, 2010 at 5:29 p.m.

    Are you nuts that you would want your credit card info stored? The more you have to fill out when you buy something on line with a credit card the less opportunity for fraud and theft. Plus, if you haven't yet, maybe you should live in a 3rd world country for a couple of years and then you can appreciate how quickly you can obtain so much now. 21 years from what - a hay mattress and an outhouse? Email and other technilogical advances will evolve in their own time. Sounds like from this writing that you are one of the people who are begging more than other to be controlled faster.

  4. Anna Russell, October 6, 2010 at 7:05 p.m.

    True, but remember this was the desires of non-email marketers i.e. our audiences. As I noted there are of course data protection issues with some of what was requested, however listening to what people want, whether possible or not, is in my experience a useful and insightful thing to do

  5. Mary Byrne from Goodmail Systems, October 6, 2010 at 7:35 p.m.

    Great article and thank you for shedding light on video in email and its important role in email’s future. At Goodmail we’re seeing email marketers embrace this growing trend because it is effective and it delivers results. Our customer data shows that embedding video directly into email messages leads to increased open-rates, improved CTR and greater ROI. We also know that wider adoption of video in email faces some challenges, primarily a lack of support from many major ISPs. Goodmail is working hard to get more ISPs on board with video, which we hope will help bring video email more rapidly into the mainstream.

  6. Ethan Beute from BombBomb, October 7, 2010 at 1:53 p.m.

    Re: the "wants" list - aside from #5, sender fulfillment of those recipient desires seems to require a very open attitude toward privacy. Especially #1. That seems to be more of a hurdle than anything technical.

    Re: video email - a couple friends of mine have built over the past few years an email marketing platform specifically to support video ( The range of customers and types of businesses signing up have been fascinating to follow.

    As video gets cheaper and easier, adding video to email is a natural evolution for both long-time email marketers and for people just jumping into the channel - for the reasons cited in the article and here in the comments.

  7. Neerja Bhatia from Messagemind, October 7, 2010 at 1:55 p.m.

    Anna - Enjoyed your article and thanks for the mention – we actually launched our products within global enterprises, several years ago. Wanted to share some additional information that speaks to how our email technology goes even further than prioritizes and organizes email - it provides a workflow management feature that helps users better manage and process email related tasks. A business intelligence component enables users to map knowledge based on keyword and key contact searches. It uncovers relationships, knowledge, ideas and opportunities buried in email boxes and document repositories, facilitating collaboration and accelerating innovation. Furthermore, the metrics and analytics available within the system provide users with critical analysis and visibility related to email productivity. Businesses are on the hunt for this kind of technology and most have one thing in common – Trying to do more with less.

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