Direct Line Blog

We Need More Cowbell, Not More Email

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Photo Credit: NBC
Photo Credit: NBC

You know that classic Saturday Night Live “Cowbell” sketch? The one where Christopher Walken plays a music producer and tells big-bellied Will Ferrell that his band's song needs more cowbell. As the skit goes on, and as Jimmy Fallon continues to lose his composure, Ferrell beefs up the bell. And the more he bangs on the bell, the more Walken loves the song.

Often, email marketers sing the same tune: The more email they send, the more likely they are to engage subscribers. In fact, marketers send so much email that the average worker receives 11,680 emails per year, Barry Gill, enterprise consultant and product marketing manager for Mimecast writes in the Harvard Business Review. But Brian Solis, principal analyst for Altimeter Group and author of the book The End of Business as Usual, says that more isn't always better.

“The answer isn't more email—maybe more cowbell, but not email,” he told the audience during his keynote at the Direct Marketing Association's Email Evolution Conference in Miami. “The answer is spending more time thinking like a human being again.”

The mentality of today's human beings is to be constantly plugged in. Solis referred to this connected segment as Generation C and defined the population as anyone with a smartphone or tablet. So instead of just trying to engage a single audience, marketers now have to attract “an audience of audiences”—audiences that are constantly communicating and sharing. 

But connecting with this group is challenging. For one, everyone uses technology differently; yet marketers assume they use their devices the same way they do, Solis says. And this audience doesn't sit still. They switch between the on- and offline world seamlessly and expect marketers to know who and where they are at all times. But while traveling across digital and offline channels is intuitive for consumers, executing these integrated experiences isn't intuitive for marketers, Solis said. 

Thankfully, there's something that all consumers, including those in Gen C, share in common—empathy, and the desire for shared experiences. Solis said that this involves focusing on the main "P"s--not product, price, place, and promotion, but people, promise, and purpose. So instead of focusing on what message they want to say to consumers, marketers need to focus on what experiences they want them to have and want them to share.

"Email is about dialogue [and] it's about communication," he said. "It's not just one-way talking to people."

So how can brands humanize their marketing? To create this empathy, marketers need to rethink the term "omnichannel." Omnichannel should mean using multiple channels to create experiences that unlock emotions all humans share, Solis said. A break in this experience, he says, can cause consumers to abandon their journey altogether. But creating empathy-infused experiences designed around devices and desires attracts consumers and brings their "moments of truth" together, he said. This makes consumers more apt to listen to future messages and keep those messages in their inbox, he added.

But humanizing this data is no easy task. To help, Solis advised appointing someone who's responsible for making sense of complex data and why it matters from a human perspective. 

So stop adding to all of the email noise, and start ringing in the empathy.

"More email is not the answer," he said. "Strategy and empathy is how we win."

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