Previously I wrote on the first 5 Email Evolutions (and how to respond to them). Below are #6 – #10.
6. Subscribers are using inbox filters. Almost every major ISP (Hotmail, Yahoo!, Gmail) and client-side email applications (Outlook, Mac Mail, Thunderbird, Eudora) offers inbox filtering, and there are no shortage of tutorials and tips on how to set them up to manage inbound email. And by “manage” most tutorials mean something between “delay reading” to “mark for deletion.” The objective of filters for most subscribers is to group messages that require a similar mindset to approach. Some might set up a filter for all email from travel sites and airlines, so they have a starting point for planning a trip or looking for a promotion. Others might group together all messages that include a certain company name. There is no way of knowing if it benefits your organization to be included in a subscriber’s filter or not, since you’re not sure if the purpose of a filter is “ignore this” or “save this for later” or “ooh – this is hot hot hot!” But you might market differently if you knew your messages were being filtered out, and how. Survey your subscribers to see if and how they’re using filters, and consider what course of action makes the most sense. It may be that including a few choice keywords in your emails will get your messages into preferred filters, or changing your sender address might keep some emails out of less desirable filters. You might also conclude that teaching some subscribers how to set up a filter expressly for your company’s messages is worthwhile. Even if your messages aren’t always visible in the preview pane, your brand is front and center every time your subscriber checks mail.
7. Your brand’s relationship with your subscriber may have changed. You can think of half a dozen reasons why this may have happened: your subscriber may have changed jobs, might have already purchased the product you offer, might be in a different life stage and not currently in market for your company’s services, or might no longer do business with you or be a member of your organization. As your subscribers’ relationships with you change, so does their need for communications from you, and the perceived relevance of those communications. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when it is happening or to whom, so the best way to manage evolving relationships is to let subscribers do it themselves. More often than not, a subscriber who is less engaged than before but still connected to your organization wants something in between “send me everything” and “unsubscribe.” They want to stay in touch, but maybe don’t want a steady drumbeat from you. Consider a “lite” subscription of your emails, and offer it to subscribers who have been with you for a while, but whose engagement has trailed off. Better to keep them in the fold than for them to reach a point of saturation and ultimately unsubscribe, even if it means finding their inbox only half or even a quarter of the time.
8. There is simply more email for your subscribers to get through. This is a little different from the Clutter I wrote about in #4. Clutter is a lot of stuff subscribers don’t want but still get. Here I’m talking about the increase in the amount of relevant communication that takes place through email. People use email more than they used to. We used it to keep in touch with our customers, our suppliers, our spouses, our parents, our college friends, our lawnmowing service and our kids’ teachers. We’re in it all the time, and there is a pressing need to “get through it.” Your objective is for your messages to be part of the group that has to be “gotten through” and not the “clutter” that subscribers work around. To get there, empathize with your subscribers. Focus less on everything you want to tell them, and more on how much they have time to read. Succinct, clear, relevant messages are more important than ever. Think about the state of your own inbox before you push a message into someone else’s.
9. Subscribers are always online. Finally – an evolution that actually creates an opportunity for email marketers, instead of another challenge. All of a sudden, sending messages in the evening, early morning and even on weekends begins to make sense. Your subscribers are online at all hours, so throw out your “best practices” of when to send and see if you can find new hot spots for capturing their attention.
10. Subscribers expect to communicate 2-ways. We have social media to thank for this evolution. We talk to our customers and expect them to listen. Now they talk to us and expect us to listen. That means that it’s time to lose the “do not reply” address and make it easy for your subscribers to turn your messages into a conversation. Isn’t that the whole point after all?
Keeping pace with all these changes may seem like a lost cause. But the reality is that you don’t have to keep pace to still come out ahead. Let me explain by way of anecdote:
A man is meeting his buddy at the trailhead in the woods, where the two of them plan to set out on a day long hike. His buddy looks down at the man’s feet and says, “Why are you wearing running shoes? We’re going for a hike in the woods.”
The man replies, “because there are bears in these woods.”
“Bears?!” his friend exclaims. “But you can’t outrun a bear. They can go like 30 miles per hour.”
The man looks down at his buddy’s feet, shod in heavy, rugged hiking boots. “Oh, it’s not the bear I have to outrun…”
You’re not going to outrun your subscribers. They’re too nimble and unpredictable. But if you’re resourceful, responsive and purposeful you’ll surely outpace your competitors, leaving you to hike on another day.