Inbox Stew: Grandma, Goods, Compadres and Confirmation

At this morning’s kick-off to the eec’s first annual Email Evolution Conference, eec founder Jeanniey Mullen showed a number of “man on the street” interviews with “real people” talking about email.

It was amusing and insightful to hear people talk about their inboxes and how they must actively manage them (you can watch one of the videos here). Better, the comments completely synched with Return Path’s Fourth Annual Holiday Email Survey, where subscribers told us that they mostly just delete unread most of what they get from marketers—defined as “junk from companies I know but is just not interesting to me.”

What really struck me was the video participants’ storytelling. They talked about email as a sort of stew—our marketing messages are mixed up in there with notes from grandma, various lovers and a three-year-old’s parents and even one gentleman’s new job announcement.

Subscribers know intellectually the difference between personal, transactional and marketing messages, but it’s an emotional decision to open or delete when faced with inbox clutter. Subscribers view their inbox holistically—we are not only competing against others in our industry, and transactional messages for purchases and e-statements, but we are competing with grandma’s message, too.

The classic example of defining your competitive marketplace by benefit and not by product is the statement that Amtrak is in the transportation business, not the train business. So too, we email marketers are not just in the retail or travel business, we are in the business of creating compelling and interesting subscriber experiences.

We can’t forget that—and frankly, it’s the secret to all e-marketing success. That is why it’s so hard. This is especially true as we tackle challenges around mobile and SMS messaging. What the DMA is calling “The Digital Lifestyle” still translates to subscriber experiences. The word “subscriber” is important because it’s about permission. The word “experience” is important because it’s about a dialogue and interactivity. It’s direct marketing, so it’s about driving response through targeted and well-timed messaging. And it’s marketing, so it’s about serving customers and demonstrating brand value.

At the center is the subscriber. Wow her, and you win. Good for Jeanniey and the eec for launching today with an engaging, inventive and visual way of showing us that the subscriber is still in charge. I’m looking forward to a great conference where I’m sure to have dozens of valuable conversations about creating compelling subscriber experiences. Look forward to hearing from you as well. Just email anytime!

—Stephanie Miller of Return Path