Polarizing Topics For The Messaging Industry

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, November 18, 2013
Last post, a retrospective view of the email industry was on my mind, exploring why email is growing much more slowly than all other comparable channels (social, mobile, online media), but is the workhorse of customer engagement. 

For this post, I thought of this quote by Winston Churchill: “A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject." The interesting thing about polarizing topics is, it’s never as cut and dried as you think.  There are some topics that simply will never resolve with a consistent opinion, some that create a lot of noise, yet primarily focus on common conclusions, and some which, as Loren McDonald noted, are just "definitional.”

Topics that get a lot of chatter yet little ultimate contradiction:

Email is dead.   There is a lot of noise about the effects of Google Tabs, declining open rates, increasing click through rates.  Yet the industry conversations are rarely about not relying on email. This statement  typically gets a rallying cry from the industry instead of challenging its merits for different types of business that have grown their business off the backbone of email.



Big Data.  I believed this was a polarizing topic, but in fact after reviewing recent interactions and a very prudent comment from Loren, I do realize the vast majority of the discussions are not really debates but definitional discussions, much as with social recently. Everyone talks about it, everyone is trying to do it, and it’s become more a debated marketing term than a polarizing discussion on how to do data management and aggregation or make insights more accessible, or marketers’ inability to understand where to invest.

Topics that polarize the marketer and the vendor (buyer/seller):

Email acquisition.  This is a really polarizing topic, since the vender/consultants/sellers tend to be the purists, the ones who have to live with the consequences of poor email planning by marketers. The topic is unresolved and triggers the most venomous threads (co-reg, email append, list rentals, web opt in, facebook acquisition etc..).   Do it too much or too aggressively, and it will spawn into privacy discussions, CAN SPAM debates and deliverability discussions.   Don’t address it, and your database will decline 3% per month, with no means of stabilizing attrition.   

Responsive email design.  You’d wonder why this creates such polarization. Everyone agrees the merits of delivering a better experience, right?  Every conference is chocked full of samples and case studies of success.   What is most polarizing is whether this is more than an expensive way to personalize the inbox experience. No doubt you need a mobile optimized view, but can you scale this in a high-volume, highly personalized, template-driven email world?  Does the effort really justify the means?   This is where real-time content inserts itself.

A topic that is relatively new that I’m sure will create polarizing views over the next few years:

No more CPM fees:  This really isn’t a new topic for the industry!   For decades we’ve discussed the merit of pay per performance, flat fee or records based fees for email sending.   I expect this discussion to ramp up as CPM prices get lower and lower and the value applications become the differentiator: data visualization, reporting and personalization.  The debate will get a lot of opinions, and like most performance-driven channels, will not likely ever have agreement on what approach is right for an entire industry.

The topic that most in the industry agree on is attribution, since most think there is no one way to do it and no one does it well. I think this will become more of a polarizing topic over time.   Why? More people will understand that it goes beyond the merits of arguing last click attribution.   More vendors will provide the capability in simpler and more adaptable ways. And statisticians and general marketers will begin to openly debate where money should be spent.  This will spur debate in many directions:   the numbers, the methods, the business applications and will be viewed dramatically differently by those that pay the bills vs. those being paid to tell you how to spend your money.

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