(Note: This article has been published on the Business 2 Community website)
Email is one of the oldest and most successful of all Internet applications. Over the course of the last two decades, email has virtually replaced snail-mail as a way for businesses to keep in touch with their customers. But email in-boxes are overstuffed, so it’s difficult for marketing messages to break through the noise. This article discusses a new email streamlining technique under development and suggests how marketing managers can take advantage of it.
Since its inception in the early 1970s, email has become one of the greatest Internet success stories. But email is a victim of its own success. In 2012, it was estimated that the total world email volume was nearly 145 billion messages per day. It’s little wonder that despite a mountain of software used to filter emails, people are still inundated with tens – if not hundreds – of legitimate email messages landing in their in-box every day, each begging to be read. This presents a difficult challenge to marketing departments attempting to use email to get attention from potential customers.
Stated simply, people just don’t have the time to work through all their emails. The root of the problem lies in the processing of each piece of email. It takes a long time to open, read, understand, act upon, reply and close each message.
For example, you scan over the list of emails arriving in your in-box, looking at the one-row summaries of each received message. You spot a reminder email message regarding a webinar that begins within the next few minutes. Immediately you embark on the following steps:
- You click on the row containing the message summary, and a window with the entire email message opens.
- You scan the contents of the message to:
- Locate the link to the webinar, and
- Locate the conference call-in phone number.
- Call the phone number and connect to the conference.
- As the phone connects with the conference, you click on the link to the webinar. Another browser window opens, taking you to the webinar page.
- Sometime later, you go back to the message window and close it.
The above example may seem trivial, but consider that over the course of a day, an individual may receive 50 – 100 legitimate emails, each requiring 1 – 2 minutes of time. This adds up quickly, stealing 10% or more from a workday.
Making Email More Efficient
Google is working within schema.org to implement optimizations to email. More specifically, Google is closely studying email handling habits and classifying them into categories, and then optimizing the processes within each category. The objective is to make the handling of email messages more efficient.
For example, let’s revisit the webinar email example above and imagine the following optimized steps:
- The one-row summary associated with the webinar email message has an embedded button. The button is labeled, “Attend Now!”
- You simply click on the “Attend Now!” button without opening the email message.
- The webinar window automatically opens on your screen. At the same time, your phone rings. When you answer it, you are automatically placed into the conference.
The above steps are streamlined based on the assumption that when someone receives a webinar reminder email, she will either attend the webinar or not. And if she attends, she will always do the same things: Connect to the webinar, call the conference line, and shut down the associated email message screen. The marketing person who sends the webinar reminder will automate this process and embed it into the “Attend Now!” button, saving the webinar attendee a lot of time.
The Marketing Angle
Marketing professionals should understand this new email approach and be prepared to take advantage of it. Embedded action-related buttons that appear within email summaries may soon preempt long-winded paragraphs of text. People will probably not open many emails; rather, they’ll just briefly review the summaries and then click on the associated action buttons. The emphasis will be on speed and efficiency rather than reading paragraphs of text.
As of this writing, the technology is still in development. Google is studying different types of email interactions and creating optimized solutions. They have provided a number of “Actions” that can be initiated directly from an embedded button. These actions include:
- Acknowledgement – Clicking on a button conveys an affirmative response
- Review – A drop-down to review a product or service
- RSVP – A drop-down to RSVP to an event
- Link – A link to an external site
Google is actively seeking requests for more types of actions.
Currently, Google Gmail is the only email client that implements this technology, and it is still in the experimental stage. It is anticipated that email clients from other vendors will soon follow.
It’s worth noting that this new approach to email does not disrupt existing technology. In other words, email client programs that haven’t yet implemented the new schema.org technology will continue to work as always. The “action” buttons will not appear within email summaries, but the content of the email messages will still be available.
Though email is extremely popular and fundamentally important, the user experience hasn’t been optimized very much over the years. That’s all beginning to change, as there is a considerable effort underway to increase the efficiency of email for the end user. Soon it may not be necessary to actually open an email in order to take action on it. Marketing professionals should understand this new development and be prepared to take advantage of it.
You can find more information, including a very thorough video introduction to this concept, at the Google developer’s site at https://developers.google.com/gmail/actions/