As I logged on to my Yahoo email the other day and found no new emails for a second consecutive day I thought it was time to consider the lack of traffic. Not having committed a social faux-pas for several weeks I was pretty sure that my empty inbox was not a barometer of my popularity. In fact I think it points to a wider trend in communication (well I certainly hope so anyway)
We all know that the explosion in social media has meant that we now can keep in touch with friends in a variety of ways that did not exist at scale even 18 months ago. However, for private, one to one personal communication the email has still had a key role to play in our day to day lives. Now though it is in danger of being usurped by a plethora of apps that make broadcast and private messaging much easier. The rise of WhatsApp and its ilk mean that email now looks clunky and out of date, we take our photos and share them on our phones, we create pictures and share them on our phones, we view content and share it on our phones – so it should be no surprise when apps custom designed for the platform start to dominate. Yes you can share all the above via email on your phone but is not as slick, not as instantaneous, not as accessible and certainly not as inclusive.
Now here lies the problem. If my personal email has no personal emails, what is left? Well that leaves communications from my e-commerce suppliers (email verification, transaction verification etc) and speculative marketing messages that have managed to get past the spam filter. Not exactly the kind of thing that makes you rush to check your inbox. And that is a key point. To loosely quote Tim Berners - it is not the speed at which things take-off on the internet that should surprise us but the speed at which we abandon things. If you think I am exaggerating take a look at your personal email traffic, compare it to previous years, even the number of marketing emails is diminishing.
So in the digital world our biggest channel to potential customers may well be dying. What does this mean to marketeers? We need to move away from thinking about reach primarily in terms of number of active email addresses and start to understand what the number of Twitter followers, Facebook likes, App downloads means for our ability to reach customers. We also need to get serious with how we use and measure these social media tools so that they mature into useful channels for communication and campaigning rather than proxies of popularity. Once we develop our understanding of what we can do with these channels we will get a better understanding of their commercial worth and where to focus resources.
P.S. Today a friend of mine received a missive from a gentleman who thought that my friend’s distant relative had died in a hiking accident in China and how they could share the £17.5m fortune if… Well we all know how that ends but here is the point – this was not an email it was whitemail, even the scammers see the writing on the wall!