Editor's Note: This article is part of our Future of Business Technology series which focuses on what is happening to business today as a result of technology, and in turn, what's happening to the economy, the job market and IT careers.
What is often called "disruption” tends to be the mere aftermath of a mistaken forecast. "The Death of E-mail" is a topic I've been asked (usually by e-mail) to cover countless times in the past few decades. ("This guy said e-mail is dead. Scott, how come you're not on top of this?") I've declined for reasons which, to me, were obvious. Like any new toy introduced to a kindergarten, e-mail was -- and is -- abused by this first generation of Internet proprietors. If misused tools could be easily declared dead by the media, the world would be devoid of firearms.
"E-mail marketing is absolutely not dying. I would say it's evolving," says Matt Byrd, senior e-mail marketing manager for a service called WeddingWire. "It's part of a growing ecosystem of various digital touchpoints. It's definitely not the only communication channel to reach users and drive relevancy and build engagement. But it is still a very foundational one."
WeddingWire is an online gathering point for couples planning for the most important vow they will take in their lives, bringing together all the vital services that planners may require into one resource. There are plenty of Web technologies that would enable WeddingWire to run completely automated. Instead, it uses e-mail to maintain contact with its customers, for a reason that undermines the basis for any theory that e-mail is somehow dead: Unlike an automated service, a modern e-mail marketer is staffed with people who communicate with customers using common language.
"I would love to kill the word 'blast,'" says Byrd, referring to the technique of replicating a single e-mail message for a business' entire customer base. "That is what I think is absolutely dead."
Which makes this not really a story about disruption at all, but rather a resumption of the evolutionary course e-mail had already begun before being besieged by spam. True, modern e-mail client software, such as Outlook or Web browsers, remains ineffective at filtering out the tremendous email clutter that plagues users every day.
But what is that clutter, exactly? It's a strange, semantic paste, assembled through a brute-force effort to punch through the filters and blockers that occlude a clear path from mass marketers to mass audiences.
In short, spam is poor marketing. When firms do use brute force, it's because they believe they lack the power or skill or resources to reach their would-be customers directly. They know the percentage of people who pay attention to their messages may fall into the hundredths of a percentage point, but regardless, if they blast tens of thousands, they may pick up a few dozen. And in summoning the wherewithal to launch such attacks, they sacrifice any integrity their brands may have carried, assuming those brands are even legible.
There is a growing class of digital marketing professionals who are doing more to combat this methodology than a spam filter ever could. They believe that much more scientific principles can be applied, in order to learn customers' shopping habits and purchasing preferences. They are becoming scientists, sociologists, students of human behavior. Instead of brute force, their tool of choice is business intelligence. Rather than fish for dozens of customers among a list of tens of thousands using methods that typically don't work, they search for hundreds of customers where they tend to gather together, using methods that typically do.
"There is a balance now in marketing between art and science," remarks Sheryl Pattek, vice president and principal analyst with Forrester Research, in a recent interview with me. That balance is reflected, Pattek says, in a shift in the role of the Chief Marketing Officer to more of a business manager. The new CMO is becoming more of a CIO, she tells me. "They do understand data -- maybe not to the level of a scientist, but they understand the importance of insights. And they also have recognized the importance of technology."
In a recent Forrester report on the CMO's role in purchasing decisions, Pattek demonstrates that marketing as both an industry and an art, has already completed its evolution to an information science. In an earlier era, marketing campaigns were treks onto a battlefield where advertising was a key weapon, and success was measured in revenue. Today, marketing strategy is a planning maneuver, whose success is measured in the quality of the data it produces. With that data, salespeople can then execute the plan, with far more assurance of success. She continues:
"We have seen a shift in marketers' understanding that they need those skills. Some people have made that journey; some people are still in the process of making that journey. We've also seen clients who don't have those skills surround themselves and their team with people who do. For example, you'll see a rise in marketing technologists -- people who understand what marketing is trying to accomplish, but they also have a very rich technology background, and they can communicate those needs to IT, making the bridge between IT and marketing."
About the Author
Scott M.Fulton, III has chronicled the history of computing as it happened, from the unveiling of the Apple III to the undoing of MS-DOS to the rise of the cloud. He's the author of 17 books and over 5,000 articles. Scott and his wife Jennifer run Ingenus, LLC, an editorial services provider for technology and higher education publishers. You can follow Scott on Twitter at @SMFulton3.
More In This Series:
- The Impact of Cloud Dynamics in Retail
- Cloud Dynamics & How the Customer Reaches You
- Cloud Economy: Distribution & the Supply Chain
- Realigning Your Organization to Face the Future