E-mail Inbox Blues

A while back I wrote a column about how I had conducted inbox feng shui to clean out my e-mail clutter.

Well, like Oprah, I had a relapse. Toward the end of December, I saw that I had slowly gotten myself into to an ungainly situation — weighed down by more than 5,600 e-mail messages in my inbox.

“Ugh” does not really describe my reaction when I woke up to this fact. I spent the rest of December grimly deleting and filing e-mail. The task took up way too much of my consulting time and, I’m embarrassed to say, way too much of my holiday break.

I firmly resolved I wouldn’t let this happen to me ever again. So while I cleaned, I again unsubscribed like mad from anything that had become irrelevant. And this time, I created rules in Outlook for diverting whole categories of e-mail into certain folders (which now I rarely look at because they are filed).

I’m not out of the woods yet. Because my job as a creative consultant and copywriter requires me to stay up to date on a number of topics, I have a steady stream of e-newsletters coming into my inbox. In a perfect world, I’d read them all. In the real world, that’s just not happening.

However, I did put one good practice in place: my assistant now prints out the most important e-newsletters for me once a week and I read them whenever I’m on the train or sitting outside one of my kid’s tutoring sessions. My assistant also set up an iGoogle page for me, with RSS feeds to some of my most important news sources. Ideally, over time, the iGoogle page will become the information page. The e-mail inbox will become the client communication portal. Meanwhile, Facebook is becoming the place to stay in touch with old friends. And LinkedIn is the place for colleagues to keep in contact.

So now I have four inner sanctums for communication and information — and it takes a significant time investment to stay current with them all. That means the barrier keeps getting higher for any new e-mail, any new e-newsletters, and the like. You can’t get into my inner sanctums now unless you show me you have something very valuable to offer.

What does this mean to B2B (define) marketers? Clearly, if you’re going to reach busy professionals like me, you need a multichannel approach:

  • Facebook and LinkedIn are rapidly gaining steam as alternate e-mail portals. Consider what you can do to maintain a presence.
  • Encourage your readers to bring your e-newsletter in as an RSS feed — the sooner the better. I know my Google Reader is already overflowing with more newsfeeds than I could ever read, so you’re already competing for my attention.
  • Follow up with your unsubscribes and offer alternatives to bring consumers back in the fold. I recently unsubscribed to the print version of the Lands’ End catalog. Today, I received a letter by mail acknowledging that it had taken me off the mailing list. It also offered other ways I could continue to get its catalog less often and in more appealing ways: just the sales catalog or by e-mail only. (At least, I think that’s what it offered; I scanned and shredded the letter too quickly to remember verbatim.) What Lands’ End doesn’t realize (or maybe it does) is that our household still gets its catalog — under my husband’s name. Keep in mind that unsubscribing is an impulse move, and there’s an opportunity to win back your customers by regular mail.
  • Advertise where your prospects will be during their workday. On my iGoogle page, I have “Video of the Day” that takes me to YouTube. I also have sections for checking my horoscope and weather. I check headlines from “The New York Times” and other local newspapers. Over time, I will probably add industry publications to my iGoogle page. So if you want to engage me, you should probably run ads in both popular and industry online publications. If you run a compelling offer, you can activate the “impulse buy” — and bring readers back into your e-mail fold.

I’m not what you would call an early adopter. Many of you are probably way ahead of me on this. But I do represent the middle adopter. So if I’m changing my online habits, pay attention and formulate a response; there are legions of other professionals going in the same direction. The only way to reach them is to create an integrated online approach that stays one step ahead.

What integrated, multichannel approaches are you taking to your B2B online marketing? Contact Karen.

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