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Email vs. SMS

  |  April 22, 2011   |  Comments

In the end, customers want three things: entertainment, information, or a good deal.

A fascinating question was submitted in response to my last column:

"…to what extent are SMS and email marketing likely to merge in view of the increasing number of phones capable of receiving email? Or will there always be differences, and if so what are they and what will they, individually, still offer the marketer?" - Suze from HowToWriteBetter.net

I posted a quick survey, asking "Do you feel email and SMS will merge?" The majority of responders said no. A sample of the feedback:

"The two channels each give people a different way of communicating. SMS is currently a short burst/update channel to stay in touch with the select few and get information on the fly. Email is for longer communications that people might want archived or searchable later. Each channel is still evolving in relation to the other, but I suspect most people will see a need for both - even if they're accessible from the same device." - Gretchen Scheiman, director, CRM, OgilvyOne

"Did radio and TV merge? Have different mediums with different purposes merged in the past? Email is long form and less immediate than SMS--they serve two different purposes." - Augie Ray, executive director of community and collaboration at USAA

Although these are two of the smartest people I know, I have to disagree. While there are differences in the delivery technology, it's all ones and zeroes, is it not? As one respondent said, and supported with this post, "Once mobile internet is quicker it'll all merge into just messaging."

Although we use these media in different ways today, ultimately it's communication based on relationship - work, professional, personal, social, inner circle. I am reminded of the old saw about railroads failing because they thought they were in the railroad business rather than the transportation business. Aren't we ultimately in the communication business?

Where there's a need, there's an opportunity. People will adopt platforms that make their lives easier and control the onslaught of marketing messages. If you had a simple interface to manage the texts, Facebook posts, tweets, emails (work, commercial, and personal), IMs, and threaded discussions in your life, wouldn't you use it?

I believe Facebook Messages, despite its flaws, seeks to answer this need. (On a separate note, are the flaws a Trojan horse, designed to lower our guard?) Was the fervor over group text (among a group, not outbound SMS) at SXSW a step in that direction? And, what a coincidence, Facebook recently purchased Beluga, a group text start-up.

So thank you, Suze, for your intriguing question. While we may not agree on where it's all going, I would like to address part two of your question for the current environment, about the differences between email and SMS and "what they offer the marketer."

With apologies to JFK, ask not what the medium can do for you, ask what you can do for your customer. Remember the mobile mantra: IWWIWWIWI: I Want What I Want When I Want It. This great infographic provides a robust view of mobile usage, but in the end, customers want three things: entertainment, information, or a good deal. Which can you provide in a simple, frictionless, beautifully-designed environment? What do your customers want in their hands, rather than in their overcrowded inboxes, whether on the go or in front of the TV?

Answer that question and you've mastered the differences between the channels and will be prepared for the future, come what may.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Melinda Krueger

Melinda Krueger is a senior marketing consultant with ExactTarget and a digital marketing veteran – starting with direct, moving to interactive, specializing in e-mail, and now charting a course for mobile marketing. Working with the best agencies in the business, she has helped Harley-Davidson, Miller Brewing, Sears/Kmart, CDW, and many others build their interactive marketing programs. Melinda holds an MBA from Marquette University and is a highly-rated speaker for professional organizations and business schools. As the Email Diva, Melinda answered questions on all aspects of the practice. Your questions about mobile are welcome!

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