Email has been around for the longest time — about 40 or more years. Born before the Internet, it's loathed by some; indeed from time to time we keep hearing “Email is dead!”, like when @facebook.com email address was launched.
We've tried to replace email with other tools, but it's still a firm fixture of our lives. Our various social media accounts and purchase receipts are all linked to our email. Most Project Management tools unravel into email chains. Email has survived the dot-com boom and bust and the email marketing deluge.
While Facebook stream and chats, Twitter feeds and DMs co-exist with WhatsApp and SnapChat and other instant messengers, the volume of email still continues to grow. This interesting article argues that perhaps email is now becoming just another stream.
However, email is more than just a stream. The apps around email are helping it evolve into something far more potent. Some of these apps are a delight, some a little unnerving.
The Lets Manage The Deluge Apps
In the last 2 years alone over $50M were invested in applications around email. I posted about some of these here and here. These applications ranged from loyalty, banking transactions to salesforce management — all wrapped around email. 2013 saw some prominent acquisitions. Like Mailbox.
The Social Media Information Apps
Social media accounts need email. Knowing the email address can give marketers the information of which social media sites their customers visit.
Rapportive (acquired by LinkedIn in 2012) shows the social media profiles of the people who've sent you email, right inside your Gmail account.
A slightly similar service FlowTown transformed email contacts into engaged customers using their social media profile. It was acquired by DemandForce in 2011.
“Ark is launching an API that helps companies learn more about people. For example, a brand has 100,000 Facebook Likes, but doesn’t know much about these fans. With a list of their names, Ark could bring back aggregate insights about their demographics, locations, interests, and more. Or if a big box retailer had a list of email addresses of their customers, Ark could help it match them to people’s online identities and social presences where they could target them with ads, follow them all on Pinterest, or whatever will help them.”
And Of Course The CRM Apps
Managing contacts and emails is core to Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tools. Many CRM and Project Management tools integrate tightly with email systems like Gmail shown below.
But one app, Streak, has taken a leap further and turned the concept inside out. It has turned Gmail into CRM. The app mimics Gmail, but puts the pipeline right in the inbox.
“Streak never alters any data in your Gmail. No extra labels, and no moving around your messages. Streak adds a layer of organization on top of your email and stores this separately and securely in our own cloud.”
Now, Mash Up Of Email And Chat
These apps are trying to make email into a stream and conversations.
Hop lets you know when the other person on the email is “online” and is typing a message. Hop organizes all email such that they become chat conversations.
Fleep's started by ex-skype engineers. Fleep wants to bridge the gap between email and enterprise messaging.
Also, The 'Make-Email-Interactive' Apps
Email is ancient. It's stable but not very elastic. One can't show interactive content, fill up forms for example, inside the email. But there's an app for that.
PowerInbox, which is a browser add-on, lets users comment on photos, accept new connections — all inside the email.
Gmail recently unveiled a cool new feature that presents users with an actionable button without having to open emails. Marketers can create buttons like RSVP, Check-in etc. MailChimp has already integrated a confirm subscription button that appears next to the subject-line.
In all this — the last few years of development of the apps around email — the email address itself has become valuable as it has always been.
And Back To The Email Address
On January 14th 2014, Twitter announced that advertisers could start targeting ads based on email addresses.
With the Twitter's Tailored Audiences “You can now create tailored audiences from lists of email addresses from your own customer relationship management (CRM) database...”
Facebook had rolled out is Custom Audience feature in September 2012. “Using email addresses, phone numbers, Facebook user IDs or app user IDs to make the match, Custom Audiences let you find the exact people you want to talk to.”
Matt Keisler captures the power of this simple marketing tool in his post over at Wired.
“Email marketing is no longer about sending email. It’s about the email address, and the ability to use that potent unique identifier to reach customers everywhere, not just in first-party email campaigns. That’s why Custom Audience is changing the marketing game in 2014. For the better.”
And The 'I-Look-Inside-Your-Email' Apps
Similar to what Mint does for your personal finances, what TripIt does for your travel plans Slice makes use of your receipts in the email and gives you sliced and diced data. It works on OAuth. You can revoke the access anytime.
Once you link your Gmail account to Slice, for example, it reads and fishes for all the e-commerce receipts. Within a few seconds it showed me all my purchases from years ago. I was groaning in despair at the amount of books I have bought over the years and what an unspeakable amount that has now added up to.
This is powerful stuff but also unnerving.
But the real power is what Slice's CEO Scott Brady believes in “...if Slice’s technology reaches the point where it’s looking into people’s email inboxes around the globe, the company could create a replica of the point-of-sale systems from every major merchant worldwide. Whoever can aggregate this information at scale is creating what I think is one of the most valuable information sets in the world."
He adds that, "I think it’s going to drive personalization, it’s going to drive advertising, and offer generation.”
Slice closed $23 Million in Series B funding in August 2013.
This is a whole new game. It's going to be interesting to watch how this power of email coupled with social media is going to drive marketing insights and innovation.