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Future of email marketing part 3 – Interactivity

After the first (mobile) and the second (relevancy) parts of this future of email series here’s the third part centered around interactivity. Until recently the usage of email other than clicking and reading was very limited: email clients were simply too closed because of security reasons to allow any other interactivity. Luckily this limit in email marketing endeavours was lifted a bit late last year, when Hotmail introduced Active Views. It allowed a receiver to not only view and click within the email, but also use a search and calendar box and get results without skipping to a website outside of the email. This was a huge breakthrough imho: from that moment people were allowed to get a linear experience from their emails, not having to click through to websites and fill in forms here and there. Efficiency and ease-of-use were greatly lifted and I had high hopes of this new interactive email technology.

Luckily recently it has been given a boost by other brands jumping in and supporting the Active Views technology as well: Netflix, Posterous and LivingSocial have joined the ranks to provide a new email experience to their subscribers. For example Posterous will be allowing subscribers to see and respond to comments on blog posts, whereas Netflix and previously announced participant LinkedIn will be providing (and live updating) info on people’s contact and movie queue information.

Another important part of these interactive email possibilities are within the way it works with OATH authentication: email content can be expired at a given date and time. This gives a tremendous real-time advantage to marketers wanting to run timed email campaigns which last only one or two days to give people a sense of urgency, -and- show how much time is left in days and hours for a certain offer. Until recently such offers were not entirely possible in email: the run length of the offer was dependant on the timing of a subscriber receiving and viewing an email.

Is Microsoft alone with this funky Active Views technology then? Has the big Google been left out in this race to finally get email into the 21st century? Certainly not, but it has been a bit quiet lately around their new email tech called Enhanced Content. Launched a year and a half ago it allows people to see up-to-date content and browse certain items within an email, and also putting them in a movie queue in the case of Netflix emails.

After the initial cheering it has been quiet around this GMail extended technology, and no new partners have been announced either. The reasons are not clear: maybe the results were too small to push it on further to other brands or Google is still thinking of ways to expand the service.

In any case,  people these days (especially younger generations like generation Y) want instant gratification and results. They are used to everything being fast, efficient and delivering results. This is not just thanks to hardware and network technology getting faster all the time, but also people’s attention spans getting more focussed on receiving value, and not having to wait ages (minutes) to get something done.

The Hotmail team has tried to address that with Active Views:

The feature arose from Microsoft research showing that the vast majority of emails contain links, directing people to web sites or other applications, and making the experience less efficient.

“We started out by saying, hey, how do we solve this problem by rethinking email itself, so you can actually do more inside of email,” said Dan Lewis, Hotmail senior product manager.

Interactive email marketing will allow the end user to get something done faster with more pleasure: I sincerely hope that the technology will expand and many more email clients (including GMail, Yahoo and Outlook) will be offering layers upon which email marketers can build great email campaigns. After all this years just viewing and clicking within an email (only to be led to a website) is getting a bit tiresome.

To provide some extra info on reach, here’s some stats on webmail usage (worldwide) concerning unique visitors in Feb 2011:

This is from comScore, one of the most reliable internet statistics companies out there. Big numbers there, with Hotmail and GMail combined at over half a billion unique visitors. That’s quite an audience!

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