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.
When we surveyed readers for this series of columns, the biggest challenge identified for 2010 was cultivating an active list with high quality subscribers (33.3 percent of those surveyed). Looking forward, readers felt that the proliferation of mobile devices (47.4 percent) and the abandonment of e-mail in favor of social networks (25 percent) would have the biggest impact on e-mail marketing in the future.
I don't disagree. But while many e-mail marketers look at these as threats, I see them as opportunities, especially if you start leveraging them in your favor now. One way to do this is to focus on using them to grow your e-mail list.
Mobile and social are new channels (or sub-channels) of communication. You don't have to use each in a vacuum; in fact, multichannel efforts usually produce better response than single channel efforts.
Case in point: US Airways encouraging customers, on cocktail napkins, to send a text message to enroll in its frequent flyer program. This is a brilliant use of offline and mobile to build an e-mail list. It's much easier to send a text to sign up for e-mail than it is to send an e-mail or visit a website. This takes a traditional form of offline acquisition and makes it better by integrating mobile marketing.
The napkin is a nice touch, but it's not required. If you're communicating with someone via text message, it's nice to ask them to visit your website to sign up for your e-mail newsletter. But it's more efficient to just ask them to text their e-mail address to you to be added to the list.
Quick note on texting - it won't ever replace e-mail. The character limitation and text-only format is great for some things, but not so good for others. I see text and e-mail like radio and television - both will exist and we (senders and recipients) will use the channel that's best for the type of communication involved.
Social networks also hold a huge opportunity for e-mail marketers - in a variety of ways. Social networks are like "forward to a friend" on steroids. With a few clicks, a reader can share your e-mail content with everyone on their social media contact list(s). Studies have been done showing the success of this - and as long as social networks are around, this will only happen more, not less.
Savvy marketers are looking at ways to leverage social networks for e-mail list growth. The obvious, and most simple way to do it, is to include social sharing links in your e-mail message. This allows readers to easily post items from your e-mail messages (articles, offers, etc.) to their social media networks for their contacts to see.
The link readers post will take people to the Web page where the content resides (if your e-mail content doesn't also reside on the Web somewhere, you need to change that). In order to complete the loop, be sure to include a call-to-action to sign up for your e-mail program on every one of these content pages.
But that's not all I have to say about social. People who see social as being the slayer of e-mail are missing what I think is a critical point: Facebook, LinkedIn, and the other primary social networks all include an inbox.
It's not the inbox that we, as e-mail marketers, are used to sending to. It's a separate inbox, one which can usually only be reached by individuals and companies that the recipient trusts. This creates a level of permission that's completely controlled by the recipient. It's non-transferrable and revocable at any time.
Unlike traditional e-mail, subscribers don't hand over their e-mail addresses. They "friend" your organization or "link" to your company via the social network. As long as you stay in their good graces, you can have an online relationship with them via the social network and its inbox. Start sending spam or irrelevant content and the reader can sever the relationship with you instantly.
People you want to communicate with may be more willing to give you access to their Facebook or LinkedIn inbox than their traditional inbox, because they have control. Over time, you may (a) gain their trust enough to gain access to their traditional inbox or (b) find that the social media inbox relationship works fine for both of you and keep it at that. Either way, dabbling in social makes sense, as long as you continue to invest in your tried-and-true e-mail program.
Many organizations, both big and small, are already leveraging this "second inbox." Case in point: The Email Experience Council (eec).
The eec wants to communicate with its members and prospects via whichever channel is best for the recipients. The e-mail I received in my traditional inbox looks different than the message I received in my Facebook inbox out of necessity. But both have the same goal - to let me know about this webinar and entice me to register. Two different inboxes, two different creative executions, but one primary goal.
Bottom line: embrace the new channels. Use them to grow your traditional e-mail list and look for opportunities to leverage these new "inboxes" to drive relationships and revenue.
Until next time,
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Jeanne Jennings is a 20 year veteran of the online/email marketing industry, having started her career with CompuServe in the late 1980s. As Vice President of Global Strategic Services for Alchemy Worx, Jennings helps organizations become more effective and more profitable online. Previously Jennings ran her own email marketing consultancy with a focus on strategy; clients included AARP, Hasbro, Scholastic, Verizon and Weight Watchers International. Want to learn more? Check out her blog.