When Seth Godin explained the concepts of Permission Marketing in
his landmark book some years ago, it created a revolution in Internet
Marketing. Email opt-in lists and online newsletters proliferated rapidly
as marketers jumped on this extremely effective idea. Seth was right -
regularly communicating product and marketing information to those
users who express an interest is much more likely to catch them at the
psychologically appropriate moment when they are actually interested
in making a purchase; rather than, say, a newspaper or TV ad, which is
necessarily displayed to a broad audience, a majority of which is not
interested in that particular product for reasons of need, timing or cost.
More specifically, the targeted "opt-in email" marketing message has
the following advantages, over a generally broadcast one:
- Supports rich media
- Can be customized for targeted interest groups
- Can serve as a regular, periodic ping
- Provides links to deep content
- Supports Upsell, Cross-sell of products and services
This concept has worked well for several years now (which is a very
long time in Internet terms). The problem is that with practically every
merchant now offering a mailing list, this approach is losing much of its
effectiveness. First, the clamor is making it really hard to get a
prospect's attention; users are getting flooded with too many emails.
Second, with the rapid adoption of security software and spam filters,
just presenting the email to the user is becoming quite a challenge.
The main problem is that, in terms of merchant-user communication,
an email is still like a phone call. Yes, the merchant has permission and
it no longer interrupts the family dinner, but this communication (email)
still forces me to deal with it explicitly even during those periods
of time when I'm busy or not interested, or else it floods my mailbox.
What would be ideal from a consumer's point of view, would be a
medium that combines the ability to get pinged about items of interest
with that of broadcast media to "fade away" with time. If the user goes
away for a while, then she would like to see the latest items first on
coming back, yet still be able to drill down into past articles, or search
through the archives. Even better would be the ability to search
through content across multiple merchants. For such a solution,
jumping on it early will give an online seller a competitive advantage.
Several new approaches provide some combination of these abilities -
mobile messaging (SMS), podcasts, viral marketing and community
sharing; email spam control is also improving. The most promising
approach is RSS feeds that users can subscribe to, potentially with
built-in filtering based on tags. Further, if feed articles are archived on
the merchant's web site, users can search through them. Feeds can
also be input to the myriad vertical search engines that are coming up
in specialized domains; Google and Yahoo also support incoming xml
feeds for content search.
This is like combining your website with a permission-based "push"
facility - almost like a subscription channel for broadcast, one that can
be archived and searched. Some of the content gets stale, of course,
like time-limited specials and campaigns; but overall, the information is
still quite useful. At the same time, the feed is more like a broadcast, in
that the user can easily tune in or tune out.
At this time, the big issue with feeds is user adoption - the number of
users outside the techie community who use feed readers is still quite
small. However, it is likely that this will change rapidly in the near future,
as "one-click" readers start getting integrated directly into mainstream
applications like MyYahoo, the Google Home page, and even, as
explained in TechCrunch and Niall Kennedy's blog, Microsoft products.
Another interesting development is the availability of services like
FeedBlitz, NewsGator and rss2email that allow users to receive RSS feeds
via email, which puts feeds within the reach of anyone with an email
Marketing with RSS feeds, is currently at the stage where email
marketing was several years ago - the number of users is small, but at
the same time, there is much less likelihood of your message getting
lost in the noise, which will happen over time as more and more
merchants jump on the bandwagon. The competitive advantage is in
leveraging this medium now!
Certainly, email marketing is not dead; given the nearly universal
adoption of email applications among Internet users, it is the best way
to reach a maximum number of users. But it is clearly becoming
increasingly ineffective - is it heading towards obsolescence?
So what about you: do you include RSS feeds in your marketing
arsenal? If not - isn't it time you did?