Where will e-mail marketing be in two years and how can you prepare for the changes?
This is one of six "The 2012 Inbox" columns this month, as the e-mail columnists of ClickZ examine the near future of e-mail marketing.
In the massive battle for our digital attention, the humble e-mail inbox actually becomes more important, not less. With each new feature competing for our attention, our inbox remains our private, personal space. The inbox of 2012 will be an interactive, portable dashboard. This will happen in part because consumers want to have centralized management of their friends and connections, but also because the mailbox providers - Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo - want desperately to be more central in our digital lives.
The integration of social, mobile, and e-mail has already begun to settle inside the inbox. Gmail lets me update my status on Facebook, send a tweet, update my blog, and write an e-mail to my mom - all from the same interface. Yahoo integrates with IM and its "What's New" tab shows status updates from a wide variety of services. Even a beta version of Outlook 2010 integrates social networking. Facebook and MySpace have announced plans to provide primary inboxes as part of their communities. All of this is now accessible everywhere from PCs to iPads to smartphones.
This unprecedented control given to users for managing their digital lives is both good and bad for e-mail marketers. It's good because more time will be spent in the inbox, where marketers can be present (provided they're welcome, interesting, and helpful). It's also good because social activities generate a lot of commercial e-mail messages - generally welcome by consumers - and let marketers reach the inboxes of their fan base via status updates. It's bad because promotional messages may lose some of the status they've enjoyed alongside person-to-person e-mail as mailbox providers give users more control over sorting and deleting.
While it puts pressure on marketers to be more relevant and engaging, I believe all this spells opportunity for e-mail marketers. E-mail has always been a powerful marketing channel because it's also a powerful personal communication channel. Social media is public and frantic and loud. E-mail is private and controlled and secure. For that reason, e-mail will continue to be a hub for our social activities, and remain a destination for connecting with information we like from both friends and brands.
More than anything else, come 2012, "change" will be the new black - and a constant. Marketers are wise to adjust content, contact, and measurement strategies today to encourage engagement, become proactive around sender reputation, and make sure e-mail strategy is aligned with how customers and prospects manage their digital lives.
Please let me know your predictions for the social inbox - and how you'll be adapting to it - in the comments section below.
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Stephanie Miller is a relentless customer advocate and a champion for marketers creating memorable online experiences. A digital marketing expert, she helps responsible data-driven marketers connect with the people, resources, and ideas they need to optimize response and revenue. She speaks and writes regularly and leads many industry initiatives as VP, Member Relations and Chief Listening Officer at the Direct Marketing Association (www.the-dma.org). Feedback and column ideas most welcome, to smiller AT the-dma DOT org or @stephanieSAM.
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