Are emerging digital channels still under construction?

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What's your stereotype of an early adopter of new technologies? Probably young males: teenagers in front of their bedroom computers or newly minted urban professionals in pinstripes.

History has shown that they're the ones who tend to try new technologies first and buy the latest gadgets, while the rest of us wait for technologies to become improved, more accessible or just plain cheaper.

Of course, many technologies ultimately become mainstream after these goals are reached. We know that the demographics of the Web have leveled off to a mainstream audience, including women, seniors, and people of all ages and incomes.

Now what about the Web's offshoot channels, that are still known to many as "emerging channels" such as podcasting, RSS, blogs, text messaging, message boards and the like?

A number of e-mail marketers who are wondering two things about these channels: 1) What if you want to reach a broader audience than young males? 2) Will e-mail, the standard in digital communication, lose share to these new technologies? The answer to both seems to be a resounding no. Bluestreak's recent research, "Emerging Digital Channels: Consumer Adoption, Attitudes & Behavior," shows that podcasting, RSS, blogs, text messaging and message boards are already becoming mainstream. So much so, that the title of our report is almost a misnomer. Marketers, take note: you can reach mainstream demographics by targeting "emerging" channels.

Yes, the early technology adopters of yesteryear tended to lean towards young males, but today Web usage is so ubiquitous that all its associated technologies seem to be quickly following suit with rapid, mainstream adoption. And it's harder to stereotype a single user of these channels.

For example, while your teenage niece may be a power user of instant messaging, it has also crept into the business world fairly quickly. There's a good chance your buddy list is populated with as many colleagues as friends at this point.

I should point out that, for the most part, the report shows that respondents use emerging technologies primarily for personal use. This is surely impacted by the type of content that is currently available for these channels. But they are using it, and business use seems destined to follow.

In general, the study showed that the rate of adoption for new communication technologies represents a huge opportunity for marketers to expand their online investments into these emerging channels.

One hundred percent of respondents currently use e-mail compared to 88 percent using text messaging; 71 percent using message boards; 63 percent using blogs; 36 percent using podcasting; and 28 percent using RSS. Twenty-eight percent of respondents using a relatively new channel is fairly healthy.

What about marketing on these new channels? Some marketers are afraid that consumers might be resistant to marketing tactics on these newer platforms, assuming they are gun-shy from the e-mail spam phenomenon.

What's nice to learn from this study is that there's also a growing acceptance of advertising as the trade-off for good content and a further willingness to accept ads and "sponsored" content as long as the information is relevant and high quality, even on emerging channels.

This is yet another call for marketers to develop and deliver a one-to-one communication with their consumers. The caution is, as always, that over-communicating or untargeted communication can have an adverse effect both on the marketer's brand and its bottom line.

As to the question about e-mail losing share to these other technologies, the study does

not indicate this at all. Eighty-four percent of respondents receive up to 30 e-mail offers per week, and 72 percent of respondents open more than 60 percent of permission-based offers. That's good news for e-mail marketers.

Interestingly, the study's demographic data revealed that the 35 and older age group tends to be more responsive to online marketing offers. This is probably because they have more disposable income or maybe they're retirees with more time on their hands. They are more likely to open a high percentage of the permission-based e-mail they receive, and to take several actions, including making a purchase.

The fact that this older group of respondents is accepting of and responsive to online marketing is further indication of the Internet's growth towards a mainstream channel as opposed to a playground for the young.

Overall, early adopters of emerging communication technologies span gender, age and income levels. Noting the small amount of differences across demographics, as compared to historical data, I predict rapid adoption and expanded use of these new channels in the coming years.
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