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“We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us”: The email avalanche

The famous expression, originally from a POGO cartoon in 1970, captures the state of email marketing today. In this case “us” are marketing folk and our tools are the flood of emails we create and send. These take the form of business communications and those friendly e-newsletters that deluge our in-boxes, wanted or unwanted.

I admit that I am guilty. I am a sinner and I am part of the “problem” as I often help my clients craft smart, succinct messages about their business that they “blast” to their customers and prospects. I do try to make them interesting and valuable however, and thankfully a high open rate is my report card that I may be doing something of value. Nonetheless I help add to this avalanche.

When email became a significant form of communication in the 90s it was truly a breakthrough. Email was, and still is, a terrific way of communicating basic information. However, it is a lousy way of communicating feelings, humor and a long message. And has increasingly become a tool business folk hide behind instead of face-to-face or phone communication.  Here’s the business dilemma that has developed:

1. The average professional is now getting 100+ emails daily but has the capacity to handle 50 max.

2. Employees now spend over 40 percent of their workday on e-mail–and consider more than a third of that time a waste, according to a recent survey from Cohesive Knowledge Solutions (CKS).

But there are changes happening which may not reduce the email deluge, but change its shape. Here are a few of the key trends:

1. Social Media  Facebook is approaching 600 million users and Twitter and LinkedIn around 150 million. Social media, particularly on a personal level, is far broader communication than email communication and e-messages sent through these channels changes the nature of your “inbox” to a multichannel inbox. Despite the business email increase, the number of visitors to Web-based e-mail sites, like Gmail, AOL & Yahoo etc. , declined roughly 6% over the past year according to comScore. Their data indicates the youngest Internet users are leading the way to abandoning email as a communication device. Twenty-four percent fewer people age 12 to 17 used Web-based email in the past year. Younger consumers use text, Facebook messages and other methods before email. But at the same time, the number of users 55 and over continued to rise.

2. Smartphones  They are expected to outsell traditional cell phones for the first time in 2011. Again this changes the nature of email receipt. The decline of web based email above reflects the spread of mobile email devices like those handy Droids and iPhones, from which do not need to log onto the Web to see messages

3. Location marketing  Check-ins via Facebook Places, Foursquare, Gowalla, etc., combined with local-offer services like Groupon, offer new communications of where you are and what you’re doing.

However, from a business perspective, as more and more companies use email marketing as a key tactic in their marketing arsenal, they need to do so in a way that engages and informs their customers and friends, and not merely pushes the company’s agenda. Short, crisp, and graphic messages are ideal for e-newsletters.

And obviously email has a critical place in business communications. But don’t hide behind emails and then claim “didn’t you read my email?”.  If the communications is important and limited in recipients, we should never forget that the human voice and a face-to-face communications always has the greatest power and influence.




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