Email's Future: Marketers Who Adapt Will Rule

Should email marketers be worried about statistics claiming that young people don't use email anymore? That the most pervasive and utilized electronic communication method is in peril because kids would rather text or IM or message each other via their social-media networks?

Time for a reality check, folks. Yes, the MySpace Generation is more oriented to their cell phones than their desktop or laptop computers. But, guess what? These kids will grow up, and their lives and their technology needs will change.

Look at your own life. When were you on a skateboard last? When you were a kid, everyone on your block had one, but did people say skateboards would eventually replace cars? I'm guessing that 99%plus of the readers of this column are not skateboarding to the office Monday through Friday.

Today, if you're a teen-oriented retailer like Aeropostale or Hot Topic, you need a good mobile/social-media strategy to reach kids. But their parents, who buy birthday presents and back-to-school outfits, will read your email offers on their home or work platforms. You need both modes to reach your markets.



It's easy for those of us who live on our BlackBerries, Treos and iPhones to forget that a big chunk of the American population is nowhere near as connected and, in fact, prefers not to be.

To illustrate this, consider these statistics from the 2006 Pew Internet and American Life survey on technology adoption:

-- 59% of Americans either use their electronic gadgets sparingly or get annoyed at dealing with electronic connectivity.

-- Only 8% were classified as deep users of Web and mobile technology.

The number of smartphone-owning Americans is growing rapidly, buoyed greatly by declining prices and sexy new devices like the iPhone. Still, at least here in the USA, we're far from having the handheld email reader dominate the market.

All this doesn't mean marketers can continue emailing like it's 1999 anymore. The evolving "smart" inbox could have a much bigger effect and drive the need to remain relevant to and valued by recipients.

We're already seeing how the email client interface has morphed into a communication center, with RSS feeds, calendar, SMS and IM clients fighting with the inbox for attention. Just a few years down the road is the inbox that organizes email not just by sender, subject line or date received, but also by relevance, subscriber relationship, type and number of interactions and meta data from the ISPs.

Relevance is the key, and your recipients are the ones who are driving it. The more they interact with your emails, the more relevant they'll appear to the ISP, and the better the position of your messages in their inbox. If your emails get deleted unopened, you'll fall farther down into inbox purgatory.

So again, making your email more relevant so that your recipients respond correctly becomes important, no matter what platform they use to read it.

These three strategies can help you remain master of the email universe:

1. Understand the differences among your customers -- even in the same demographic niche. Females age 35 depend heavily on mobile communication and texting, but they don't all use the technology in the same way, so you can't market to all of them the same way.

2. Your email preference center becomes even more important because you need this more detailed data to help you uncover those differences in the way your customers want you to communicate with them.

3. Adopt a multi-device approach. Your recipients will be reading the same message in two or three places: they might see it first on their smartphones; but, for a few years at least, most will then convert when they get home to the computer. You'll need to design HTML and text versions that have better chances of rendering reasonably well on different devices and be compelling enough for them to keep the message in their PC inbox long enough to act on it.

Email will not go away just because today's youth aren't as oriented to it as their parents are. However, email marketers must be nimble enough to see how the universe is changing and adapt to meet those changes. The platform might change, the inbox will evolve, the message style might look different -- but relevancy and response will continue to rule the game.

What do you think? How are you preparing for the next phase of email marketing's continued evolution?

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