The Price of Convergence

I have now joined the ranks of the hopelessly and forever-after “connected” I just purchased a wireless Palm Pilot, complete with web clippings and, of course, email.

Great. Now I have NO excuse to take a break from my inbox. And although I am probably one of the world’s biggest email junkies, even I need a breather every now and then.

However, I will tell you this (and it’s certainly no secret): Welcome to the new way of the world, folks… The next revolution. Perpetual accessibility and connectedness. At ALL times. No matter where you are.

Sure, the fact that email is now ubiquitous is awesome. Especially for those of us working in the wild and woolly world of the Internet. But (as usual) there’s a caveat: Due to the limitations of some of the wireless world’s offerings (which I’ll delve into shortly), this hot new area presents a multitude of new challenges for us marketers.

In other words, “convergence” comes at a fairly hefty price.

First, let’s take a quick look at some of the current wireless players. There’s my beloved Palm VII, of course, along with its siblings and competitors with wireless attachments.

Then we have the latest in wireless phone and pager technology, which now also brings us web and email access.

The next generation of wireless gadgets will make staying connected even more popular… bigger screens, all-in-one phone, email and organizer solutions. So it’s bound to become the norm for some folks to regularly check their email when they’re away from their main home or work computers.

And we haven’t even begun to discuss gizmos such as Netpliance, where for $99 and a monthly service fee, you can have an ultra-thin web and email browser that’s always on whenever you need it. Set it on your kitchen countertop and browse cooking sites, or check your daily emailed recipes.

WebTV also comes into play, especially for the senior set. Users can check their email between soaps without missing a beat.

You see where I’m going here? The possibilities are enormous for email marketers to reach people (and I mean really reach people) where they live.

Unfortunately, we’re not quite there yet we still have a few challenges to face in this new frontier.

For instance (getting back to the wireless opportunities), many current phones and pagers have pretty severe message-size restrictions. Not to mention, of course, that they don’t yet offer promotion-enhancing HTML.

And autosense capability which is still not error-free in the wired world as far as detecting HTML-enabled email programs goes does not yet have the ability to sense whether a recipient’s address is wireless or not.

Also, attachments and high-tech graphics can’t yet be downloaded, which means that rich media promotions currently received by a Palm or a cell are rendered completely ineffective.

Granted, companies are at this very moment developing solutions to the above challenges and will most likely soon launch new products to address them. But what to do in the meantime?

For starters, you can suppress from your mailings any known alternative addresses such as palm.net. Though, admittedly, Palm’s email program presents most text messages in a fairly painless manner… as long as you don’t have 200 other messages to download. (And given the current speed and signal limitations with handhelds, who wants to sift through a bunch of email ads?)

That aside, you can also deploy a test emailing to handheld (and/or alternative) recipients separately. In other words, promote to them with quick bites for easy-to-access reading. Just keep in mind that recipients will not, at present, be able to simply point and click to get to your promotion’s web site. Unfortunately, they’d have to save that link for later. And realistically, how many people are going to do THAT?

For now, focus on how you’re currently capturing your house email database. If you’re asking your customers and prospects, “Would you prefer to receive future emails in text or HTML?” why not add another choice? You might ask: “Will you read these emails on your organizer… on your phone… on your pager?” Then market to them with brief messages, unique and customized for their space.

And speaking of the future… next week, in “Convergence: Part 2,” we’ll take a look at other up-and-coming ways that technology will make it easy for email to be everywhere.

Note: By the way, all these new tools and technologies have certainly not helped me become infallible. There were two errors in last week’s article on email sponsorships. First, Advertising.com’s CPC (cost-per-click) model actually starts at $0.50 and NOT $50. And FreeShop has 2.2 million subscribers and not 800,000.

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