E-mail in an Irrelevant Social World

I’m as guilty as the next man, woman, or adolescent  – who are of course all over 13 and just look nine years old to you and me in their profile pictures. Our involvement in the goings-on of the third most populous ‘nation’ in the world is at levels that nobody could have expected an establishment just six short years ago. While I am by no means searching for the next meeting of ‘Social Networks Anonymous’, I do most definitely feel a strong desire to check in every couple of hours to interact and be part of what Facebook has become – if not to post something benign about my day or the family, then most definitely to spend time as a voyeur.

I am not quite sure what drives my desire to experience so regularly the world of my three or 400 closest friends, but it most definitely is not the need to see how long the queues were for the latest iPhone or how bad the food was on the latest short haul flight on Garuda. And while it is likely that no analyst or social media expert (can there really be such a thing?) could answer that million, if not billion dollar question in any succinct way, I believe it is at its most fundamental level the child-like desire to be part of something that everybody else is doing. It is a desire not to be left out of the fun.

So as one who is not only a consumer of most things ‘social’ but also ‘in the industry so to speak, it is difficult to ignore the money and energy (more of the latter than the former currently) that are being pumped into social media channels by brands and their agencies keen to leverage this sticky, addictive, fun, and connected community and the untapped potential it surely must possess as a channel to drive revenue and corporate profit.  Let’s face it (no pun intended), with 500 million users, Facebook is most definitely a community ripe for the picking for marketers. And what about all those other social networks and social applications that are out there across the region – surely they must offer some tremendous advertising and marketing opportunities?  Or do they?

Our company’s recent Customer Experience Marketing survey confirmed that while social media is starting to play a part in driving recall, brand recognition, and influencing purchase behaviour, it is by no means the most pervasive and powerful – at least yet.  At a regional level, only between 7 to 10 percent of consumers surveyed said social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, Sinablog, and Kaixin001 influenced their purchase decisions in the majority of product categories, while email topped the list as a preferred channel for future product or service information for over 60 percent of consumers in many categories. In addition, 40 percent of consumers recall TV advertising upon purchase, while 31 percent recall print promotions. A deeper dive into the data also reinforces what many marketing strategists should already know and understand – different channels are used in different ways by varying age and social demographics. This is something that many lost in the hype of social media are overlooking – right person, right message, right time, and right channel.

And there are a lot of channels.

Never mind there now being more media available than consumers actually have time to consume – there are simply so many social media offerings and communities that many find it hard to keep their tweets and posts up to date let alone pay any attention to the advertising and branded content that is slowly making its way to the party.

Ask yourself: how often do you click on an advertisement in Facebook? I for one have never clicked. And more to the point, how many of you have ever seen an advertisement that is actually targeted and relevant in any way?

As of this writing, I was being asked to partake in a “Memorable Queensland Photo Competition” to win an All-Weather Camera by Cathay Pacific. Sorry, but this is just not engaging or relevant. I am in Hong Kong after all and have never flown to Queensland on Cathay Pacific or any other airline.

Social as a standalone channel is not yet in a place where it is able to provide the data and insights necessary to drive relevant, two-way communications. Marketers that are trying to capitalise on its obvious strength are simply breaking all the rules of direct and interactive marketing 101. It’s all currently wrong message, wrong person, and wrong time.

While so-called industry experts and agency folks (you know who you are!)  are reading email marketing the last rites, and advising clients that they simply have to be involved in social media (because nobody communicates by email anymore, do they?), the ads and fan pages are for the most part going unnoticed after a few initial clicks.

What about email? If you think about it, email was and still is ‘the’ original social application with its viral capabilities and forward-to-a-friend functionalities, and today plays a vital role in the communication ecosystem of social networks that is regularly overlooked.

When you start a new job, you get an email account; you do not get a work- focused Twitter or Facebook account (unless you are hired into a social media specific role). Think about the number of brand or product specific e-newsletters you have signed up for and forwarded on to friends and family that are actually influencing purchase behaviour. Compare that to the number of similar “Fan Pages” you have joined, or the number of advertisements you have “Liked” or posted to your friends’ walls.

And when you are sitting at your desk, or on the road using your phone or iPad to check email, how do you know that someone has actually posted on your Funwall, sent you a message on Facebook, or wants to connect with you on LinkedIn, or follow you on Twitter? That’s right, you get an email notification – because your email address is the one unique factor that defines you as an individual to social networks, and it is fast becoming the glue that is holding social media together by pulling consumers into the social world from their everyday real-world lives.

As direct marketing practitioners and advisers, we have a responsibility to clients to educate them about the importance of all channels in the marketing mix. Not all channels are relevant to all customer demographics, and not all channels are relevant to consumers at the same time – life cycles are very important in driving the channel mix and the communications strategy.

E-mail is dead maybe for some, but long live email… and social media, and direct mail, and TV, and outdoor. Let’s just make them relevantfor our customers!

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