It's Not Just Email Anymore

  |  June 5, 2013   |  Comments

Are the days of the email specialist over already, or do we just need to become generalists and accept the jack-of-all-trades limitation that comes with it?

When speaking with clients about their email marketing, it has never been just about email. Though for some email has operated in a vacuum, for us it never did. The company's website was always a key point of integration, and traditional advertising and marketing efforts always had to be taken into account.

Today it goes far beyond that. With the explosion in the number of marketing channels and the increased profile of email has come the need to integrate and coordinate with the entire advertising and marketing ecosystem. Whether it's when and how to use SMS; if and how to integrate messaging with an app; how to drive subscriptions from search and banner ads; or promoting and supporting an offline event, email is always part of the equation. Not to mention that these days no marketing conversation goes very far before someone raises social and how to integrate the company's use of social media as a marketing medium.

As email marketers, specialists in the highest ROI medium there is, what should we make of this? Are the days of the email specialist, the email channel marketer, over already? Do we just need to become generalists and accept the jack-of-all-trades limitation that comes with it? Or should we, like some others, declare email as dead and jump ship to the coolness that is social?

I think the answer is "No, but..."

No, because as the capabilities of enterprise email platforms continue to grow, the need for specialists grows too. If you do not know the capabilities in-depth, you will not be able to take full advantage of them. What used to be learn-in-a-day platforms now have so many features, capabilities, and integrations that you can keep learning ad infinitum.

No, because like any mature channel, email has depth and complexity that requires specialists. I've seen too many general agencies make simple email mistakes with serious consequences to think otherwise. Just look at the content of many email conferences. We're still running a constant stream of 101 content. Why? Because there's a lot to learn even to cover the basics, and despite its maturity email is still evolving.

Now for the "but." I don't think we can operate in a vacuum. Though some of us never did, many marketers got away with only minor interaction with other channels. Today, though, consumers and company executives increasingly expect seamless, integrated campaigns, not siloed, channel-specific (or even channel-agnostic) messaging. It's not just about the same message across multiple channels. The expectation is complementary and consistent messaging across all channels, and that requires cross-channel awareness specialists.

So though I don't think we need to become generalists, it's no longer just about email. There is a set of marketing channels that, while each one is distinct, share so many attributes and overlap so heavily in content that they should be grouped together as a single discipline. The channels include email, SMS, MMS, app push, and social push. Each one is digital, opt-in, used across a range of devices, and is a push mechanism.

These channels have another thing in common. They're all being supported on the major email service provider platforms.

A few years ago, if you wanted email you went to an ESP; for SMS, a mobile aggregator; and for social, one of the emerging social platform providers. Now all these capabilities are available in a one-stop shop. If you visit the website of any "email" service provider you will notice that they don't just do email anymore. Almost without exception they will tell you about their email, mobile, social, and web offerings. Some will also speak to marketing automation, eCRM, retargeting, and banner integration. The platforms we've learned for email also support a set of additional channels that are closely related to email.

What I haven't fully decided is what we should call this specialty. The best I have so far is "digital messaging," though I'm not entirely happy with it as a moniker.

Regardless of what we call it, is it time to move beyond email and start talking about digital messaging?

Until next time,


Image on home page via Shutterstock.

This column was originally published on March 13, 2013.



Derek Harding

Derek is the managing director of J-Labs, Javelin Marketing Group's technology skunkworks, a role that draws on his 20 years of experience and leadership in the fields of marketing and technology. A British expatriate based in Seattle, Washington, Derek is perhaps better known as the founder and technologist behind Innovyx, one of the first email service providers later acquired by the Omnicom Group. An industry veteran and thought-leader, Derek is a regular expert author, contributor, conference speaker, and takes an active role in a number of industry and trade groups.

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