The Future of E-Mail

This week I ran into long-time friend and e-mail expert Dave Lewis, CMO of Message Systems. As we were discussing e-mail and where it’s going, he shared some interesting insights from the ESP side of the house. It was so interesting, that I captured them to share with all of you.

Jeanniey Mullen: As a visionary in the e-mail space, looking back on things, what would you say are the most significant changes in what e-mail service providers offer?

Dave Lewis: E-mail marketing has changed enormously over the past decade. It’s matured both in its essential nature and its scope. When I first entered the e-mail space, e-mail service providers (ESPs) were mainly in the deployment business and deployment was mostly “batch and blast.” That’s clearly changed.

Today’s ESPs are much more sophisticated and are fully integrated providers of a wide range of agency services, from strategy and analytics, to data and creative. And, of course, they’re also bridging into other forms of digital messaging, such as SMS and social media. Deployment has become secondary to the ESP value proposition.

These changes have been prompted by: changing consumer behavior, the evolving needs of brands that rely on ESPs, and the acquisition of many ESPs by the large data management and marketing service companies with core businesses outside of e-mail. I see these changes as very healthy because they’ve moved e-mail marketing from “side show” to center stage. E-mail marketing today is very much a full-fledged part of the direct marketing discipline and is being integrated into true, multi-channel marketing strategies.

None of this is to suggest that the underlying technology isn’t important. In fact, without the “right” technology, ESPs can’t deliver on their new value proposition. ESPs have shifted from being technology providers who deploy digital messaging, to agencies who focus more on its effectiveness. For most ESPs, this hasn’t been a choice. As fast as technology is evolving, you can’t be “best-of-breed” at both technology and agency services. And that’s where technology providers like Message Systems come into play.

(By the way, we’ve reached a point where the acronym “ESP” needs to change. ESPs are no longer just e-mail service providers. I think e-messaging service providers is much more appropriate given their role.)

JM: How is Message Systems responding to the needs of the multi-channel, socially needy marketing efforts of big brands?

DL: Our challenge, as the industry’s leading technology provider to ESPs, social networks, and large brands, is to provide a message management platform that supports how digital messaging is evolving.

The technological answer to multi-channel messaging is not to simply offer separate deployment capabilities for e-mail, SMS, IM, social media, etc. That’s a dead end that only worsens our fragmented view of the customer and lessens our ability to deliver relevant, holistic communications.

The answer lies in providing a single platform that enables real-time, interactive digital messaging across multi-channels with the ability to dynamically and seamlessly morph messages from one channel to another. In short, the industry needs a messaging platform that can mimic how consumers actually communicate today, can accommodate their channel preferences, and enables marketers to manage the flow of communications.

When you think about it, we’re entering an era where it’s not about what happens in just one channel. It’s about what happens in all channels. We need to be thinking in terms of communications being initiated in one channel and consummated in another. The future will be about managing the flow of multiple communications across multiple channels — all in real-time.

That’s where Message Systems is headed.

JM: So that’s what your rebranding is all about?

DL: Yes! Message Systems is the enabler of digital communications. Our technology sits at the center of it all, in providing the kind of digital messaging platform I described. And by so doing, we enable our clients to realize the full potential of holistic digital messaging by delivering the right message at the right time and place.

JM: What changes in e-mail technology do you think will happen by the end of 2010?

DL: We will definitely start to see the convergence of multiple digital channels into a single platform. And with that, you will begin to see “relevancy” defined in terms of channel appropriateness, as well as content, and increasingly driven by customer preference versus marketer convenience.

JM: What one piece of advice would you give a mid-level manager, who was just hired to be responsible for improving the e-mail efforts of their company?

DL: I’m a direct marketer at my core. So as much as industry may change, I believe the fundamentals of our discipline remain true. My advice is simple: know your customer. And knowing your customer means focusing on their wants and needs, finding out how well you’re fulfilling them, and applying those lessons to your successive efforts to: engage customers, build loyalty, and generate financial results. Direct marketing is all about the cumulative experience.

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