Is e-mail marketing next for extinction

The most frequent criticism I’ve heard about the new Apple iPhone is that it ‘doesn’t handle e-mail too well’, as least not when compared to a Blackberry.  When you look at the iPhone home screen you get an idea why.  E-mail is there, of course, but so is YouTube and SMS, and usually the free applications for Facebook and MySpace Mobile.

Why would Apple apparently place so little emphasis on e-mail?  The answer is simple.  For the young consumer, e-mail isn’t the primary communications channel that it is in the business world.  A friend of mine who is the Principal of a school in Sweden tried to email the school list but got very little response.  When he asked his pupils why they hadn’t replied, the most common answer was that they hadn’t read his e-mail.

Young people don’t communicate that much via e-mail anymore.  They don’t devote time to checking their e-mails and so the feedback on sent e-mails is slow and indirect.  They prefer to communicate via faster and more direct ways such as SMS, online communities and Web messaging.

There has been much hype about the web 2.0 generation, and the 16-19 year-olds we were watching with some curiosity a few years ago are now the next recruits into our businesses.  My friend’s pupils will be our employees just a few years from now.

Will they bring their own communications preferences into the workplace with them, or adopt e-mail as we ‘old folks’ do?  My own view is that it will be the former, just as the generation before ours brought computing into the workplace and we brought the Internet and e-mail.  

It means that as managers, we have to learn to regulate, monitor and track communications within these almost anarchic, fast-moving virtual environments.  That will bring its own challenges.

As direct marketers, we have to recognize that communications channels will change every few years, and that we will have to adapt our technologies or risk missing some of our key target groups.  As we have already seen in the music sector, the use of online communities can potentially make marketing budgets stretch further because members of those communities pass the message to each other, as long as your offering is good enough to recommend!

We will also have to become more used to direct marketing being a two-way process.  Online reviewers and commentators are ruthless in their evaluation of products and services and for the first time, have the ability to make their judgements visible to the world.  

It seemed so much simpler to send out well-thought-out, now old-fashioned email and wait for the response.  The Web 2.0 generation recruit in his or her first job would probably view it with the same curious detachment as a stone-age axe head. Companies must embrace the use of social media and even more instant communication and work these methods into their marketing outreach.  

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