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.
My fellow ClickZ columnists have provided some interesting insights into the 2012 inbox from multiple angles. We, as marketers, know we'll have to address this, but before we finalize our Q3 2012 e-mail strategic plan, let's ensure we consider what the consumer view may be at this time.
We all know the best e-mail marketing programs are the ones that really place the subscriber on a pedestal and treat her accordingly: with respect, value, and the knowledge that the permission granted is special and could end at any moment.
I wholeheartedly agree with Stephanie Miller who said that our 2012 inboxes will continue to be cluttered and be both portable and interactive. I also believe that e-mail will maintain its place as the de facto starting point of the consumer digital experience, as well as the communication hub. According to a recent ExactTarget study, 58 percent of consumers start their day by checking e-mail (over five times the number of people that said they check Facebook first). I don't see that changing, but I do expect the what, where, and when to be a bit different.
Over the past decade, online consumer behavior has changed dramatically... and it hasn't. E-mail is still the go-to task, but it isn't the case of log on, check Webmail/Outlook, move on to my next task, and so forth. The inbox has been extended to multiple sites, shapes, and forms. Outlook will continue to dominate the business users, but expect consumers to have more than one place where they check e-mail.
Fragmentation will grow even more, by device, e-mail client, and even by consumers segmenting how they want to receive offers and news though different e-mail addresses, platforms, and devices (take that, batch and blasters).
E-mail marketers will need to raise their game if they want to have a place in the inbox of the future. I expect subscribers to categorize commercial e-mails they get - the ones they're looking forward to receiving and the ones they don't read and delete. Your e-mail program can't control the brand's relationship with the consumer, but it can guide it and must support it.
The best e-mail programs will go beyond an offer and a few links. VIP-type programs and compelling and unique offers and content are where many e-mail programs need to go. Just look at the success companies like DailyCandy and Groupon have had.
Smartphone sales are poised to surpass laptop sales by 2012, according to Gartner. By 2012, smartphones will make up 37 percent of all global handset sales (up from 14 percent in 2009). The writing is on the wall, and every marketer knows it. There's no excuse for e-mail marketers not to be ready for a substantial part of their e-mail subscriber base to be reading most, if not all of your messages on a mobile device. That means your creative, messaging, and coding must follow, or you will be deleted in the grocery store before the consumer gets a chance to review your fancy Photoshop work.
The idea of mobile triage really can't be understated in 2012. The consumer will be too busy, too mobile, and too picky to be expected to read your fourth e-mail of the week hawking the same wares. A great subject line, perceived value, clear benefits, and maybe something a bit extra won't guarantee a conversion, but certainly should help.
The inbox of many has already moved to social networks and beyond and is why e-mail and its digital-targeted messaging brethren are taking their permission messages where the users are. Whether the consumers' social inbox is Google Wave, Twitter, or my mom's AOL account from 1998, capturing their attention is like hitting a moving target.
I know many consumers who use Facebook as their inbox (and look out for Project Titan's impact for connecting with friends and their favorite brands, SMS for communication with more friends and select companies, and their Gmail account for everything else). I expect more people to compartmentalize like this. Don't get left at the bottom of the "everything else" pile.
I expect day-parting to play a bigger role in how consumers check their e-mail and as a result receive e-mails from the companies they opt in to. I'm not talking about the nonsensical studies that say 9 a.m. on Tuesdays are the best time to send e-mails, so everyone should do it, but consumers will be more methodical about how and when they interact with brands. Frequency and value should determine when a marketer sends the message but a consumer is going to be connected on an ongoing basis and multitasking.
Fighting through the clutter is going to be a heightened challenge in 2012. Consumers spend an average of 2.7 hours on the mobile Internet each day, the firm Ruder Finn recently noted. How do you get your share of face time with that user on the go and the consumer that is only "checking" e-mail when there's something that jumps out at her? This is a challenge today and certainly will continue to be in 2012.
Make no mistake, the consumer will rely on e-mail as the digital glue that connects them to friends, colleagues, and preferred brands. So bottom line, the e-mail marketers that deliver strong value on each and every message are positioned for continued success. The principals of e-mail success won't change, but some of the underlying methods to achieve it may be altered. It's never too soon to start thinking of the future, especially that of your subscribers.
What's your take?
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Simms Jenkins is CEO of BrightWave Marketing, North America's leading email marketing-focused digital agency. The award-winning firm specializes in elevating email marketing and digital messaging programs that drive revenue, cut costs, and build relationships. Jenkins has led BrightWave Marketing in establishing a world-class client list including Affiliated Computer Service (A Xerox Company), Chick-fil-A, Cox Business, Phillips66, Porsche, and Southern Company. The agency was recently ranked among the fastest growing private companies by Inc. Magazine.
Jenkins was awarded the prestigious AMY 2010 Marketer of the Year from the American Marketing Association for being the top agency marketer and the Email Marketer of the Year at the Tech Marketing Awards held by the Technology Association of Georgia. Jenkins is regarded as one of the leading experts in the email marketing industry and is regularly cited by the media as such and called upon by the financial community to provide market insight and consulting.
Jenkins is the author of two definitive and highly regarded books on email marketing; The New Inbox (published in April 2013 by ClickZ/Incisive Media) and The Truth About Email Marketing (published by Pearson's Financial Times Press in 2008). Jenkins is currently the Email Marketing Best Practices Columnist for ClickZ, the largest resource of interactive marketing news and commentary in the world, online or off. His industry articles have been called one of the top 21 information sources for email marketers.
He has been featured in Fortune Magazine, The Wall Street Journal, Adweek, Bloomberg TV, Wired Magazine, and scores of other leading publications and media outlets. Jenkins is a regular speaker at major digital industry and general business conferences.
Additionally, Jenkins is the creator of EmailStatCenter.com and SocialStatCenter.com, the leading authorities on email and social media metrics. Prior to founding BrightWave Marketing, Jenkins headed the CRM group at Cox Interactive Media.
Jenkins serves on the eMarketing Association's Board of Advisors among other civic and professional boards. He is also a mentor at Flashpoint, a Georgia Tech-based startup accelerator program. Jenkins is a graduate of Denison University in Granville, Ohio and resides in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood with his wife and three children.