One Inbox to Rule Them All?

It’s a much debated number, but common marketing research (read: marketing urban legend) says the average person is exposed to 3,000 ads every day. Yet, while even most marketers complain about the shear volume of ads, we continue to add to the problem. Consumers and business people, however, aren’t just struggling to find time to recognize the value from the chaff. We’re all trying to keep track of the new ways to communicate with each other and the brands with which we do business. Managing our inbox has become a chore.

A decade ago I didn’t need email, now I can’t seem to get along without email, mobile email, text messaging, social networks…and most recently, Twitter. (Actually, I can do without Twitter, but I’m trying to play along). Younger people are significantly heavier users of text messaging and social networks when communicating with friends. Yet, even for this demographic, if one solution to tie all of these messaging tools together exists, it is certainly email. It has become the one-box portal. Not only does email cover bank statements, promotions, messages from friends, order confirmations, and newsletters…increasingly it is the gateway to social networks as it updates when someone reaches out on Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn.

Our joint research with Ball State’s Center for Media Design showed that teens are more responsive to promotions via email than they are via social networks. Yet, the multitude of comments we received on our research, many commented on the need for a convergence of these media. One comment to a TwistImage blog commentary on the notion that “no one uses email anymore” said:

“I’m 23 years old—I probably receive a large majority of my messages through social networks (I don’t have the email addresses of a number of friends—we keep in touch via Facebook), but email remains a vital hub for managing communications. Keeping up with all of the messages on these fragmented sites would be nearly impossible if alerts weren’t sent to one central inbox. If email can maintain its position as a hub, it will stay relevant.”

Will email continue to be the “hub,” the one inbox to rule them all? I think there are many reasons to think it will. The first is the fact that it is ubiquitous—and certainly 99% of the population can’t be wrong. It is similar to me to compare how English became the international language…not because it was better, just because it was already ubiquitous.

How do you leverage this as a marketer? Continue to ask for permission and ensure you are reaching your audience at their “preferred” inbox. Over time, they all may be the same inbox anyway.

—Chip House of ExactTarget