People have been talking about convergence for a long time. When I worked for British Telecom Research and Technology in the early ’90s, the expectation was that within a few years all our digital devices would be completely integrated and almost homogeneous. The reality is rather different, but convergence is happening. IP’s ubiquity is leading to availability of disparate communications channels over a single system, while wireless’s growth is leading to media mobility.
Acronyms such as VOIP, IPTV, 3G, and 802.11n are the technical end of this convergence. As everything down to and including kitchen appliances becomes IP-enabled, it becomes multifunctional and capable of presenting the integrated media available over IP. As more devices gain wireless capability, users become able to receive media anytime, anyplace, anywhere. As Google’s recent YouTube purchase demonstrates, video has come of age on the Internet. So much so that some are even proclaiming YouTube to be the future of television. Meanwhile, telcos are placing large bets on mobile video, the ability to watch TV shows on cell phones and iPods.
When convergence was first posited, it was presented as unification. But this was an oversimplification. Even though a cell phone is capable of playing a movie, consumers are unlikely to routinely view movies on their cell phones. They are, however, likely to view video. Thus we see the lines between media blurring, yet fragmenting so each delivery mechanism is in effect a different medium. Just as an e-mail is neither quite like a letter nor exactly like a phone call, so a vodcast (define) is not quite a TV show. Consumers treat the two differently.
For marketing, this kind of convergence has two important effects. First, consumers increasingly expect integrated media campaigns. As they receive marketing messages in more media concurrently, they expect the messages to be consistent and the content to be appropriate to the medium. Second, they increasingly expect to be in control, to be able to receive content in whichever medium on whichever platform they desire when they want it.
Many marketers are struggling mightily with these issues. Media integration requires them to substantially rethink how marketing departments are structured and operate. It requires a much higher level of coordination than most organizations currently achieve, presenting a structural challenge. Most marketing departments are split by medium, with experts focused specifically on print, TV, e-mail, and so on. For many organizations, campaign integration requires reorganization, replacing existing media-specific silos with cross-disciplinary teams.
Media integration also requires employees with unusual skill combinations. As cross-disciplinary teams are created, the old silos remain due to lack of cross-media understanding. In addition to media experts, marketing departments will need generalists, strategic thinkers with a solid grasp of a wide range of media and the ability to think about campaigns and programs across all applicable media. An understanding of each medium’s capabilities and how consumers use it will be vital to selecting the right media mix for any given campaign.
The final challenge is technical. Identifying the appropriate medium for a given consumer can be an extreme challenge. Take e-mail on a BlackBerry. For BlackBerry users, the same message must be displayable both on a BlackBerry and in Outlook. However, the two formats are incompatible, so a great experience in both is hard to achieve. These kinds of challenges will only grow as the range of devices and channels continues to explode.
The good news is the benefits of campaigns that integrate e-mail and other media are becoming increasingly clear. A recent JupiterResearch study shows integrated campaigns delivering almost four times the revenue of traditional broadcast campaigns. As we develop the expertise and experience in media integration and widen the range of media, these benefits should continue to grow.
The result will be a richer, more focused, and more personal experience for our customers and the proverbial interesting times for us.
Until next time,
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