The Future of E-Mail

It’s difficult to predict what will happen next month, let alone two years from now. Nonetheless, let me tell you what I believe the future of email looks like, and explain what you can do to take advantage of the changes not only in email, but also in technology as a whole.

First, we need to know what’s happening in the present. More than 30 billion emails are sent worldwide each day. Over 25 percent of it is spam. The result is tons of electronic clutter, dismal metrics, unhappy marketers, beleaguered governmental agencies, besieged ISPs and frustrated consumers. The situation has also sparked knee-jerk reactions over email delivery from just about everyone in a position of power.

What’s worse, if it remains in its current state, the future of email may be its destruction.

We all know email is inexpensive, intrusive, flexible and simple to implement. We also know there are serious initiatives afoot to filter it, limit its reach and control its content. Companies like AOL and MSN have already incorporated technologies designed to block most unsolicited email from reaching their customers.

Yet even with all these issues, I still predict email marketing will one day exceed postal mail as the preferred direct marketing vehicle for both acquiring and retaining customers.

Of course, many things must happen before “someday” comes. It will, especially because the email of the future will be more accurately targeted, with greatly enhanced subscription techniques, segmentation technologies, and (given the continued spread of broadband connectivity) messaging capabilities. Today’s systems will look primitive in comparison.

I expect permission email marketing to morph into a technology that uses a handshake system between sender and receiver, including some form of digital authentication. Research shows nearly 40 percent of permission-based email is either deleted or ignored. These technologies will ultimately help achieve a higher degree of satisfaction between senders (marketers, publishers, individuals) and recipients. While some marketers are now trying to do this through the implementation of best practice standards, their efforts will likely produce only short-term gains rather than solutions to grow the industry.

A major shift will be from stand-alone email acquisition (unanticipated messages that arrive at any non-specific time and clutter inboxes) to relationship email marketing where recipients anticipate and clearly want the messages.

Driving this shift will be permission-based newsletters, which will emerge as the preferred way to establish relationships. Newsletter-based sender/receiver relationships will reverse the lackluster click-through results we see with today’s standalone email campaigns.

To implement this strategy, companies must develop newsletters designed to establish customer relations, not rely solely on standalone email marketing messages. It’s a strategy that will work for a number of reasons:

  • Because newsletters have set delivery intervals, consumers will anticipate and expect communications. This will reverse ailing click-through metrics.
  • Newsletters brand products and services in additional to sending transactional messages, virtually impossible to do in standalone email messages.

Transactional banners and email-capture text links will also improve the email acquisition process and foster better permission-based relationships. These techniques produce email lists based on a true need, fueled by a consumer impulse. In essence, they create a pull, as opposed to a push, process.

I expect permission-based marketing to move toward request-based marketing. Consumers will clearly indicate the precise information they want to receive. No more dubious lists of people who, somewhere along the line, may have given someone some kind of vague or general permission. In the new email world, a marketer would ask a customer who requested information about mortgages if they would also like to receive information on moving, insurance, etc.

E-mail will remain one of the most affordable methods of acquiring and retaining customers. However, for this process to achieve the growth I believe is possible, marketers must abandon freestanding email clutter and move toward a value-based concept.

Finally, a prediction for the more distant future: at some point, convergence will take hold. We’ll see integration of voice and video with email for authentication and security purposes, as well as for messaging. As email becomes more and more compatible with telephone and television, interactive emails will become even more commonplace. Usage will explode.

I predict as the convergence technologies everyone is talking about finally take hold, email will be indiscernible from TV, particularly given the conversion to high-speed Internet connections. According to In-Stat/MDR one-third of all households will have high-speed service by 2006. I think it will happen sooner.

E-mail may one day replace paper-based communications. We’re moving toward a cashless society, where e-commerce, e-banking and e-taxing are now standard operating procedures. According to Jupiter Research, a division of this publication’s parent company, Internet banking will virtually quadruple by 2006, jumping to 43 million from its 2001 level of 16 million. I read some banks are even starting to charge customers who want to receive their bills via snail-mail.

Computers are no longer a luxury. They are now viewed as a utility like electricity, providing consumers with the ability to research products and services, and buy anything they want, anywhere they want, whenever the need arises. By 2007, it’s predicted 68 percent of all portable PCs and PDA will include a wireless local area network. E-mail communication will no longer be the purview of laptop carrying road warriors, but an everyday accessory for moms, dads and kids.

Paying attention to emerging trends, both in email and technology as whole, will help ensure your email marketing campaigns stay on the cutting edge and continue to hit their mark.

Keep reading.

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