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?