It struck me as I was reviewing my plans for the upcoming Internet Retailer Conference and Exhibition in June that there is not a lot of attention on using email to reach one’s customer base in the Conference agenda and session discussions about online marketing. In the not so distant past (which means a year in the new technology era), strategic email marketing was still regarded as the most effective and affordable means to reach an audience and maintain a connection.
So, what has changed?
For starters, people are suffering from email fatigue in a substantial way (Wikipedia actually refers to this as “email bankruptcy”, but I’ve since added the term today). According to some estimates email is a $650 billion drag on the economy, because people engage in too many unnecessary responses and waste time reading messages that they either should not have received in the first place, or simply add no value to their overall productivity (I’ve actually been guilty of that several times as I am writing this blog entry).
The other factor is SPAM. Heinz Tschabitscher, contributor to About.com, writes that
This is not to say that email is no longer a productive solution to marketing and lead generation. In fact, Spam exists not because a group of a few thousand people globally have nothing better to do until they get their Nintendo Wii, but rather because it is highly profitable.
As a basic premise – assume a mid-level spammer distributes between several hundred million messages to a billion messages in a month, and just received a .03% or .05% response to those emails, the number of leads would be in the tens of thousands. According to Consumer Reports, in one month last year, approximately 650,000 Americans made purchases in phishing scams initiated by spammers.
I think it is safe to say that the issue surrounding email as a marketing tool is not a question of profitability. Pound for pound, it still remains highly cost effective and can yield positive results. However, the shear mass of data coming through nowadays and the volume of Spam that each of us receives, truly minimizes the ability of email to really inform and engage people in a way that builds positive brand recognition. If anything, people are shying away from email marketing, because there is a growing stigma surrounding it, but also because they are finding that reaching the “Inbox” is no longer the value it once was.
This leads us to the question, “If not email marketing, then what?”
A lot of the buzz lately is around using social media to get your marketing message out to the masses. In fact, the IRCE agenda is filled with sessions on Web 2.0 strategies and social media solutions designed to help eretailers.
In our own experience, we have found using social media, such as blogs and webinars, social networking sites (For example, check out our ParentPower community on Facebook and join me on LinkedIn), Twitter, and the like, to be a very helpful way to both discover new solutions and new ideas as well as get more direct interaction with our customers and content providers, which enables us to hear about the user experience first-hand… sometimes as it is taking place. You simply cannot get that from an email that someone may or may not get a chance to read – assuming you reached the inbox in the first place.
The challenge surrounding social media, however, is often overlooked by its dynamic appeal, uniqueness and the subtle suggestion by the news media that everyone is doing it, and if you are not – you’re missing out. In fact, the challenge with using social media and networking is quite obvious when you think about it: it’s time intensive.
Just ask yourself, “How effective would I be if I walked into a room of 50 or 100 strangers, all engaged in their own conversations, and shouted, “I’m offering a 20% discount on a new product that will mean you never have to clean your kitchen floors again!”? Not only would you annoy a lot of people, there is a strong likelihood that you would discourage the very people who may be interested in such a product under normal circumstances from even approaching you.
The truth behind these strategies is that they are based on building relationships (see Livingston on wooing bloggers), and relationships take time. This whole concept of building relationships is what the new marketing paradigm is built around. In the not so distant past (we all know what that means now, right?)… email campaigns were the quick and easy way to broadcast your brand and offerings to the masses. Today, quick and easy is how you bake a cake or clean a toilet bowl (And yes, I lifted that from Tango and Cash). Is it how you run your marketing?
Right now, as you read this, the masses are worn out from it all, and they want meaning… they want substance. On the one hand, this forces all of us in marketing to take on more responsibility and work. But on the other hand, it gives us a tremendous opportunity to provide meaningful solutions to people (fyi – its the customer’s perception of what is meaningful that you need to address) and establish relationships that go deeper than a name on a message.
Of course, this brings us to another solution to the growing decline in the value of email and online marketing strategies, which are desktop applications.
The benefit of desktop applications, more so than one-dimensional widgets or email, is that they are all-inclusive communications vehicles. Not only do they engage your audience by providing a bridge to relevant web content, they provide a one-stop resource for video, audio / podcasts, flash-based games, and in the case of ActiveAccess, include a built-in RSS reader, interactive weather map and links to other resources. The multi-faceted nature of a desktop application, not to mention that the application is on the desktop all the time a person is on their computer, is more engaging for the user, less fatiguing, and helps build a content relationship between the provider and the user that is unique.
What’s more, desktop applications, as a piece to your Web 2.0 puzzle, are not nearly as time intensive as other social media strategies. In fact, they are used to enhance your existing web strategy by providing a portal for your customers to reach you when they are not browsing the Internet.
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