This doesn't mean that there aren't some great programs out there pushing the envelope. Sephora is doing interesting things with personalization based on user preferences, while BabyCenter's stage-based newsletters are a great example of lifecycle messaging. But these more innovative programs are the exception rather than the rule. Most of the programs I see are still stuck in email 101, batch and blasting away. Most folks are just starting to move into email 201: segmentation, personalization and triggered messaging.
I also agree with David that we are most likely to see innovation happening in how email works with social media. There are already a few strong email programs out there that are "early adapters," leading the way for the rest of the industry to follow in their footsteps. Of the big social networks, LinkedIn does a good job of extending social reach into the inbox. A less well-known social networking company, Wetpaint, is doing a great job of including user-generated content and customer profile information within its transactional messages -- check it out!
Even if you're not a Web 2.0 or social networking company, you can innovate by using social influence within your email program. Even companies with no basic infrastructure to collect customer data can start participating, using the positive results of first forays to build support for more in-depth initiatives.
Here are four quick and easy ways to bring social influence into your email program:
1. Include press coverage. Start with the low-hanging fruit! Legitimize a product or build a halo around an offering by weaving press mentions and quotes into your messaging.
2. Include polls and surveys. Simultaneously add interactivity and get a read on customers' opinions on products, services and offerings. Encourage participation by offering incentives to your top contributors like sweepstakes entries or gift certificates.
3. Customer reviews, ratings and quotes. Leverage the data you gain in your poll and survey efforts by including reviews and quotes from your top contributors, as well as aggregated ratings.
4. Customer feedback loops. End your communications with a request for feedback: "Help us improve our newsletter. How would you rate the usefulness of this email?" Overlaying answers with other performance metrics could yield interesting results.
The current challenging economic climate is forcing many email marketers to look long and hard at their programs to identify opportunities for wringing out better performance. Sending out more mailings may seem like an obvious and easy short-term answer for many, but as Email Insider Melinda Krueger lamented recently, the more the industry sends as a whole, the more we dilute our strength. We have to be smarter than that. To remain healthy as an industry, we need to challenge ourselves to strive for more innovative ways of reaching our customers and improving the performance of our programs.
I too am looking forward to seeing many of you at the Email Insider Summit this week. Let's work together to innovate and inspire the entire industry.