I'm preparing a road show for my clients about the state of the industry and what it means to their business, so I thought I'd share my top three predictions for 2006: relevance will be defined, metrics will take new roots, and marketers will brave new horizons.
Relevance will be defined. I saw the word "relevance" used over 500 times in a single report, and it's used in every article I read these days, so it must be important. But what does it mean exactly? In many circles it means trying to make a connection to, or prediction about, the consumer's interests--and sending messages based on those interests. A virtual exchange. Okay, but what about the baby gift I gave last month from a major online retailer? Now the seller is sending me communications with all types of baby items on the front page. This is predictive analysis, but not relevance.
Customer pathways are bridged by exchanges between vendors and consumers, and relevance is what creates the value in such exchanges. I won't say that every single communication should be requested by the sender, but there should be some awareness on the consumer's part of what type of communications he or she will get, and in what context.
My prophecy for 2006 is that more programs will reinvent their welcome messaging and apply a curriculum method to introduce new people to their brands and programs. Marketing Sherpa's 2005 Benchmark reports that with the declining response of an e-mail address over time, the key to growing and sustaining the response of customers is in keeping them in a high-response loop for a longer time.
Metrics will take new roots. What is the monetary value of an open rate or click-through? Most people don't really know, and can't translate campaign or program results into monetary terms.
Because not all programs have transactional end-points, I predict that in 2006 more companies will use general advertising-style reach and impression factors to monetize the value of their database and raise the effectiveness of an e-mail program. Rather than relying on trending from campaign to campaign, I believe that marketers will begin to consolidate all messaging (transactional, marketing, system, customer service) as a factor of total brand impressions. As we trend, we will find ourselves forced to look at the total reach of the database and number of impressions to this audience, instead of cause and effect--i.e., close rates and conversion rates.
Marketers will brave new horizons. Most reports say it is becoming harder to distinguish among the e-mail service providers and eService Softwares, and fit will be more important than features. I certainly have my preferences and fits for my partners. But I believe there will be a new trend in 2006: we'll see more migration of accounts from delivery system partners (internal and hosted).
In the past, it was harder to switch services or in-house technologies because we relied so heavily on deliverability, white listing and all the supplementary factors of e-mail delivery. However, with the emergence of a new breed of deliverability and reputation services, I believe more companies will make the switch and bring in a "hired gun" to make sure it is set up right. In addition, the high volume marketers will flock to the reputation services and bonded sender programs to ensure delivery to the larger ISPs. The pay-for-delivery model can be very valuable when you normally average a 15 percent open rate at AOL, or you're continually filtered to the SPAM folder in Yahoo. What would a 20 percent increase in response rate do for your program?
Making predictions are like telling jokes. Everyone has one, and few people remember them. But I hope the three I've shared here will stick with you throughout the year so you can create programs with relevance and measurable metrics.