What does the future of permission based communications look like in the next 24 months?
As I ask myself this question, I think of the technologies that I believe will have the greatest impact on the way we, as consumers, receive information. These considerations include email, RSS, and SMS. To me, these mediums, although all of them not fully mature, pose the greatest opportunity for an integrated permission based communications platform.
First and foremost, it is important to understand where each of these mediums are in their individual evolution, before we can think about the ways that they will interconnect as a universe of multi-channel communication. For some of you, this information may seem basic, but I think that it is important for every reader to have a base understanding of each medium.
Email is by far the most mature medium in the mix. Simply stated, it is one of the most effective ways for any organization to communicate with their customers on a loyalty and retention level. Jakob Neilsen recently posted the second leg of an ongoing research project that once again concludes that “Email newsletters are the best way to maintain customer relationships on the Internet.” A bold yet true statement. Email is a huge part of the way we communicate now and will be well into the future. Email is integrated into our daily lives, providing us a medium to communicate with individuals and organizations from every aspect of our lives. In my opinion, email is being taken for granted, thats how instilled it is in our culture. Inbox’s are not going anywhere, and chances are we will most likely see some interesting developments in the future regarding email deliverability & technology. Think email 2.0.
2. RSS (Really Simple Syndication)
Although RSS has been around for quite some time, it is only now rapidly going mainstream. The medium began to emergea few years back with the blogging revolution. The idea is simple, RSS feeds are XML files that allow content to be syndicated across the internet, hence the acronym Really Simple Syndication. Most people, like myself, began consuming RSS feeds using readers like Bloglines. Essentially, the beauty of RSS is that it allows you to easily and effortlessly “subscribe” to various content, and whats even better is that users do not receive any spam or struggle with any deliverability problems.
To put things in perspective, RSS now supports a variety of formats, text, HTML, audio and video. For example, as it relates to blogs, I can go out and subscribe to the 175 or so blogs that I read via their individual RSS feed, and then read all of them in a separate application called a reader. When a particular blog that I am subscribed to is updated, I am alerted in my reader and from there I can scan the content or click through back to the site if I chose too. This is much more efficient than going out to 175 individual sites to read the latest posts.
An alternative to using a reader for RSS, is using an application that translates RSS to email. This is the most simple method for users to subscribe to RSS content, and it is currently having a big impact in the widespread consumption of RSS feeds. It works like this, instead of having to go to another application like a news reader, the blog content that I am subscribed to comes right to my email inbox. You can choose to get individual posts mailed to you, or a daily digest of all posts for active blogs. Check out RSSfwd for a great implementation of this. Also of note, is the fact that Outlook 2007 will have the plumbing of RSS built into it, making subscribing through the email client simple and straightforward.
I group audio and video into the RSS bucket because I truly believe that RSS will be the next mainstream syndication technology encompassing text /HTML (already addressed) as well as audio and video. We already see this happening all over the web. With the release of RSS 2.0, these XML files are now able to attach audio and video files to them, known as “enclosures.” This is where the birth of podcasting originated from. While this is all still very much in its infancy in terms of mass adoption, it is growing at an astounding rate.
The addition of audio and video syndication via RSS encompasses all podcasts and video podcasts, or vlogs (video blogs). There are more and more podcasts and vlogs popping up everyday. RSS is growing fast. The growth of podcasting and vlogs has largely been driven by the independent content producers, however now we are starting to see the adoption of the medium by corporations. This truly opens up an entirely unique way to communicate with customers. It also offers new media opportunities for organizations of all sizes. Many vertical industries are beginning to explore new marketing initiatives using RSS.
3. SMS (Short Message Service a.k.a Text Messaging)
SMS is much more integrated into corporate marketing communications in Asia and in Europe. In the USA we primarily use SMS to text message people we know. Not for long though, SMS is quickly becoming a part of marketing plans everywhere. As with every medium, the key with SMS is to ensure it is 100% permission based. You want to receive unsolicited text messages on your mobile phone as much as you want to receive the next email spam promoting Viagra. That said, with permission built around SMS, and the massive adoption of mobile technology (phones, Smart Phones, PDA’s, etc), this opens a channel that can be used for many effective communications for business.
Every medium listed above I believe will have a big part in the future permission based marketing platforms of the future. That said, I do know of a couple of companies who are offering platforms with all three mediums integrated into them, but the offerings do not provide a seamless integration from both a user and publisher perspective (at least not from what I have seen). This is what I am talking about in terms of functionality and usability, a one stop shop solution for integrating your customer’s communication preferences and have a powerul interface from which to publish your various corporate and marketing communications.
These 3 core mediums will have an increasing role in the way businesses communicate with their customers and prospects. The various deployments of technology platforms that allow organizations to manage their communications should be a very interesting evolution.