I was working at the Interactive Advertising Bureau a decade ago when I first heard the term “Chuck Fruit Moment.” Chuck Fruit was the head of marketing for Anheuser-Busch in 1979 when he agreed to a meeting with a group of entrepreneurs set to launch the first all-sports television network: ESPN. Where others would have seen risk, Chuck Fruit saw a huge opportunity -- for his brand to own all of sports. He signed a $15 million deal to be the exclusive beer sponsor with the fledgling network, a move that is credited with not only launching the venerated cable TV brand, but establishing cable TV as a legitimate advertising channel in its own right.
I can’t remember what we ultimately decided was online advertising’s Chuck Fruit Moment. It may have been in 2001 when Volvo launched a car exclusively online, or in 2002 when Frito-Lay’s Cammie Dunaway diverted budget from the Super Bowl to online ads, or in 2003 when Starcom MediaVest included online properties in its upfront. Regardless, it was not a moment we could have created ourselves. Our job instead was to help create the conditions under which such a moment could exist, and then of course get in front of the parade once it started, like a good trade association should.
We’re in a very similar position in the email industry right now. Email does not face quite the same threat of marginalization that online advertising did a decade ago, but the rise (in popularity and panache) of social media and increased inbox clutter are acting as a catalyst for change within email. The industry could move in a number of different directions, but the one that seems most likely is for email to become part of a broader digital communications platform, more tightly integrated with social, mobile and other channels.
The Chuck Fruit Moment for email will be the event that changes marketers’ perspective on the role email plays within communications strategy. It could mean recognizing that the branding or frequency impact of a subject line is as powerful as a well-crafted tweet, or that Facebook fans make the most profitable email list subscribers when tended carefully in both channels. I don’t know what event could be the actual moment, or what brand has enough sway to drive it. But in order for it to occur, there are still a number of conditions that need to be met within email:
1. Tools for the job. Already we are seeing email companies creating dashboards to monitor, analyze and even create communications for social, mobile and the inbox alike. Soon I expect we will see the social dashboards building out or partnering for email capabilities and approaching the market from the other side. In another side of the digital landscape, we have seen search marketing firms expand into Internet marketing companies, including SEO, SEM, content marketing, Google AdWords, Facebook advertising and any other tactic that aids in lead generation. Look for email to fit similarly into a suite of services organized around engagement, qualification and retention.
2. Email perceived as more digital than direct. At many companies, email is run separately from social media, SEM, PR and other channels, even those principally digital. Some organizations have “advanced” or “emerging” technologies groups that focus on social and mobile, but omit email because of its tenure, despite the rich potential for integration. Instead, email is considered a direct channel, and operated and evaluated largely within a direct marketing context. Email is direct, but that is not all it is. For email’s Chuck Fruit Moment to occur, marketers must stop asking, “How many sales of this thing can we get out of our email list, and how many more off social?” and start asking, “How can we best sell this thing using all our digital communications together?”
3. Integrated digital marketing functional expertise. Right now, there is no standard operating procedure for what marketing function controls which channel. Social is commonly in PR, but not always. Email often runs out of the catalog or events group, because they have already built familiarity with one set of metrics with which to evaluate email. But there are as many exceptions as there are rules, and you can make a case for almost any marketing function at almost any company to lay claim to email, social or mobile.
The commonality, though, is that the channels are usually managed separately because the functional expertise is typically limited to a channel. You’ve been trained in email, or she is an expert in social media, or he is our in-house mobile maven. In order for the channels to be integrated, the functional expertise of integrated digital marketing must exist. This is likely to start at smaller companies where there isn’t enough staff to support specialists in each discipline, and where enterprising marketers -- armed with the right new tools -- can start to experiment with integrated digital marketing.
4. Metrics and insights must contribute to tactics. Email is a channel where learning comes quickly; analytics are readily available -- and with them, the institutional knowledge of how to turn insights into improved performance. For any sort of integrated marketing movement to fully succeed, the same insights-beget-improvement analytics need to exist.
I think the idea is less to make social as individually accountable as email; that won’t happen without some seriously creepy back-channel tracking taking place. Rather, marketers need to find ways to analyze, evaluate and then act on the metrics that are available across multiple channels: device, geolocation, time of day, frequency and other attributes. And the analytics must show the benefit of integrating the communications.
For example, learning that tweeting a link to a new product page drives 15% more clicks when it hits the airwaves within one hour after an accompanying email reaches inboxes would compel many retailers to look earnestly at integrated digital marketing.
5. Coinage. I’ve been saying “integrated digital marketing,” but that’s probably not the right term. Someone has to come up with it, and then someone (maybe someone else) has to make it stick.
Note that I haven’t expressly said that Facebook or Twitter or Google+ or LinkedIn have to do anything in particular -- they don’t. The right set of features or data availability could certainly spur integrated marketing along, but the conditions that could enable email’s Chuck Fruit Moment are within our own reach.