Two colleagues, Stanton Willins and Amol Potdar were discussing if “email was dead.” Amol – after his smart remark about it being dead about the time he graduated high school 10 years ago, asked the important question: “so what replaces it?” After this holiday season, where I received no fewer than 3000 non- work messages between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I am forced to say I would consider any options for its replacement.
It feels a lot like the days of telemarketing at dinner time – where we coined all the smarmy jokes about the people who wasted our time and disrupted the evening meal, the evening news, putting the kids to bed or just about anything else you would rather be doing than a survey on dish detergent or signing up for newspaper subscriptions.
We used to think email would bring the right information right to us, at the right time. That has been overrun by marketer overuse. It has translated to misaligned customer and brand experiences. (Seriously brand marketing folks, go back through the emails you’ve sent customers for a period of a month and see if you feel like buying from them. What makes you think your customers want to? Are you really attracted to being notified about the same sale 6 times( even after you have already shopped it? Or getting a Marriott Visa card. Really? Given that you’ve mentioned it no fewer than 50 other times and places – what makes you think…today is the day she’ll sign up…???)
As such, media and tools that allow consumers to interact will begin to rise up and take the place of email. Although Stanton argued that email must live on, Amol argued that micro-segment mangement is possible. I’d side with Amol. With endless content libraries allowing us to customize the experience I can have, assembling, rearranging and reassembling what I need in endless combinations, why should I find a static message suitable?
I began to consider exactly why do I need to log into those 4 email accounts (5 if I count my client-provided one)? The yahoo one is full of ads. My Mac email consolidates the other three, but still…I used to rush to check my emails – back in the days of relevant communications. However after you work for a company who overuses the medium with endless cc’s and cya’s and tla’s (three letter acronyms) and automated notifications and automated alerts and and and: you get a little tired of it. I used to get 200-300 work emails a day. It wears you out. It’s a time suck. Now my personal email is the same way.
Currently at least 25% of the content I receive is notifications for content that to consume I have to go somewhere else. That’s not email. That’s an alert, and that doesn’t require email. In December, I set up a new profile for an account – because they asked me to. Not only did they send me 5 emails immediately confirming separate parts of the transactions (one would have been really fine – in fact even handy) but then they screwed up my bank account alerts, and that gave me another 3 completely unnecessary communications. Even if I say it’s okay to email me, it doesn’t mean its okay to email me 5 times in 20 minutes. If they keep this up, I will not only opt out of email, but out of them entirely. When you ask permission to email, you accept the responsibility of doing it well. I didn’t grant you permission to do a half-baked job of communicating with me. I gave you the opportunity to increase our immediacy and intimacy. Either respect it, or you will not be invited into the next stage of my communications life – which will not involve email.
Most of my friend-communication is directed to me via facebook, twitter and other sites that aggregate content in a way email can’t. Plus, the promise of *customized* to me – not simply *personalized* with my name is still as undelivered as “address could not be found.” We all have mountains of proof of this. What’s more, in this season, I found people to whom I gave no right or permission awaiting me to opt-out. They got my name and mailed me until I unsubscribed or filed them as spam – neither of which is good for the long term health of their communications.
After the egregious abuse of email this holiday season, I would expect the following for retail:
1. a spate of unsubscribes for the offenders
2. increasing adoption of aggregating technologies that process the information into personalized dashboards
3. the ability for consumers to use AI or bots which we can turn on and off to go find what we need, when we need it, reducing impulse and benefiting the global world
This diminishes email, meaning that retail better find a better way – and fast. In this way, a publishing model may be reborn. If a style maven assembles items into approaches that support retail fashion, or how to organize a garage or clean kitchen or install a new piece of software, the purchase of bundles becomes even likelier but more distributed. That represents some challenges, but it’s doable.
I would expect the following for financial services:
1. reduction in email-based data transmission due to mobile interfaces that function at or near the point of interaction (purchase, payment etc)
2. continued privacy and permissions challenges that dramatically decrease the consumer’s willingness to accept any information through email
3. government oversight that increases the theatre of financial security but not the actual financial security. In other words, more email that they are required to send and we will continue to ignore because it’s still not helpful and still doesn’t act in our in favor.
Email will still exist in financial services and still not be able to deliver any content you need. You’ll need to go to the aggregator of your choice or bank website. With any luck, FS providers will provide more on the device. This generally means greatly reduced marketing messages and more targeted content. It’s better for us consumers, and believe it or not, better for the bank because for once they are not driving us batty enough to hate them for trying to sell 62 things that are better for them than the consumer. They might even save money by NOT marketing.
Media and its consumption:
1. Media will move closer to point of consumption. If HBO can recommend content when I actually sit down to watch, then its interesting. At the beginning of the month, when I can’t watch TV until the 10th because I have pressing matters…it’s not interesting
2. Media will trigger upon my action/recommendation – instead of forcing the effort. In other words, why force the contact when it can be triggered and responded to – at a moment’s notice? If I am watching TV with my boyfriend, it can recommend something different than Eat/Pray/Love or Valentines Day. If I am watching with my nieces, it could bring me Toy Story. It can recommend the Princess Bride any day it wants.
3. Media can better fit its forms – Gaming/Music/Movies…all benefit from different treatments – such as, I don’t know, maybe…video?
So, when I realize that 90% of my email can be processed through:
* dashboard configured for me alone
* triggered communications
* communications nearer the point of interaction on a device, a screen, a pane of glass in my car/desk, my palm (yes, currently possible)
Yes, email is slightly more ignorable than the telemarketing call during dinner, even if you are a charity or have the *dubious-at-best right* to call me because we have a “relationship.” However, that ability to ignore is what will cause its slower and more protracted death as it moves from annoyance to invisibility.