I’ve been pretty vocal about my lack of interest in e-mail. Maybe it’s a shortcoming, maybe it’s not. I just can’t help but believe that e-mail in its present form is what the telegram became in the category of letter writing.
I don’t think e-mail is a natural way of writing or communicating; I think there are huge concerns with lack of tone and resultant ambiguity which always seems to creep into messages…and don’t even get me started on the political shenanigans of bccs and e-mails being forward to all and sundry.
This being said, a recent USA Today poll indicated that workers would sooner give up their phones than their e-mail.
That may be so, but I would contend that if the poll gets asked in the not too distant future with a new choice being added in, that of Instant Messaging (IM), the answer might be very different.
Another shortcoming of e-mail is the lack of immediacy. There is no guarantee that an e-mail will be returned in a timely fashion; in fact with all the in-box clutter there often is no guarantee that an e-mail will be seen at all. But what e-mail lacks in turnaround, IM makes up for in droves.
Instant Messaging is the quick-fix of digital communications. It’s the addictive rush that is just impossible to let go once you get a hold of it. On a personal level, its ubiquity is becoming prevalent across an increasing number of access points – on planes, on cell phones, across geographic boundaries – in fact anywhere where an Internet connection is available.
At my previous agency, I worked with a client who was looking to reposition his brand among a younger demographic. I had the perfect plan of action: sell him on IM. The conference room was packed to the rafters; I connected my computer to the Web and switched to the main attraction: the Proxima screen. My “plant” (one of my media planners) was waiting for the signal and then it happened: A REAL LIVE CONVERSATION ENSUED, along with :-)’s, LOL’s, TTYL’s and even a ROFLMAO thrown in to boot.
There was silence, followed by thoughtful nodding and then the moment of Zen, “Ah yes, Instant Messaging. My kids use that!”
Instant Messaging is one of the Web’s most exciting tools or tactics that has best practices written all over it. The only challenge is aggregating enough information, research and/or case studies to help support the case for IM beyond a “cool way for my kids to chat.”
It’s also a cool way to put bums in seats on a Friday night; introduce a new malt liquor beverage; launch a new album; drive tune in to an upcoming program; recommend a lunchtime meal option; and so on and so forth.
“IM is a critical requirement for providing immediate communication,” states Paul Martecchini, director of marketing services in the Network Services Group at Yahoo. “It’s viral, builds community, is a communications hub and indicates a users' 'presence'!”
Another advantage of IM is that it is what might be called a Best Practice Hub: it maps to multiple best practices simultaneously, and in doing so becomes a multi-purpose sweet spot.
“IM taps into multiple leading best practices” states Dave Chase, managing director, Industry Marketing & Relations at MSN. “Some of them include the ability to reach key audience, including the at-work audience, targeting by Immediacy (as evidenced in the KFC case study, IM can carry a specific message on a particular day that drives traffic in-store for a specific promotion. KFC promoted its Free Popcorn Chicken offer at lunch time) or dominating share of voice (the ability to run in an uncluttered environment and own share of voice on a particular day).”
Another best practice and benefit is that of viral marketing. “Peer-to-peer marketing complements broad reach traditional advertising and enables marketers to leverage their fan base (i.e. movie studies before opening day of a movie), explains Martecchini. “This expression of viral marketing helps companies reach the 'tipping point' for their products by providing a communication tool for 'connectors' and 'mavens.'”
For sure, the reach and activity is already there:
- MSN’s Messenger boasts 75 million unique users per month.
- According to eMarketer, in February of 2003, 1.6 billion IMs were sent daily worldwide through AOL’s IM client.
- As of Dec. 2002, 17 billion messages were sent per month -- an 81% increase of the past year.
- Even though IM is immune to the shackles of bandwidth limitations, broadband users still dominate its usage. In fact, broadband users spend on average 3.3 hours a week on IM, versus their dial-up counterpart’s 1.3 hours, according to the UCLA Internet Report – Year 3.
STILL NEED SUPPORT FOR SELL-THROUGH
“Most mainstream marketers don’t consider it a branding opportunity yet,” states Chase. “Continuing to educate the market about the growth of IM and the audiences it reaches will help further the adoption of this service as a great way for advertisers to reach their target market.”
“IM is a fairly new communication tool,” explains Martecchini. “Many senior marketing decision makers have not yet seen the market research showing how essential it has become to the lives of their customers.”
In other words, current support is fairly anecdotal and we need to flesh out more extensive cases in order to drive home this opportunity.
IM in the workplace is growing exponentially, and as long as its use is either free or facilitated through one of the recognized clients, messaging opportunities will exist.
According to the IDC, The number of worldwide corporate instant messaging users will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 140% and will exceed 180 million in 2004. For worldwide corporate and consumer segments, the total number of messages sent will approach 2 trillion by 2004.
In another survey conducted among at-work IM users by the Radicati Group (2001), 81.3% of respondents reported using IM "daily," with the remainder using it "weekly".
As mentioned earlier, what e-mail lacks, IM makes up for in buckets. And leading this charge is arguably context.
Yahoo!'s IMVironments (IMVs) are the first expression of the immense power of bringing context to the online communication realm. Users can talk to each other within special branded backgrounds that provide additional color and personality to a conversation -- and provide unique rich media features. These backgrounds can be sponsored by advertisers in creative ways that are fun and effective advertising.
“IMVs make real-time communication more personal and expressive,” says Martecchini. “Clients like Adidas, Ford, Skyy Blue, Radio Shack, and Purina have all had success. On average, for a specific IMV, we see 1.5 Million people download a particular IMV, send over 100 million messages within it, and spend five to 10 minutes per user per day per IMV. This time spent is a particularly impressive statistic when you compare it to how much time in one day that user would spend watching a particular TV commercial for that advertiser.”
“MSN Messenger will be delivering a new consumer release later this spring that will deliver multi-media capabilities and personalization options that will be interesting for both consumers and advertisers,” states Chase. “We’ll provide additional details as we get closer to availability of the new version.”
And expect similar roll-outs from the granddaddy of IM, AOL, to follow.
A final word or concern is on integration of a different sort: the ability for one IM client to talk to another. Today this is not a reality. Some users have chosen to download all three clients, but they are in the minority. Others (the innovators) have downloaded aggregator applications, which roll-up all three services and in doing so, strip out all the differentiated context and rich functionality in the process (not dissimilar to online travel sites!).
I would be most concerned with the aggregator scenario as this could conceivably kill the golden goose of Instant Messaging. And if that happens, there aren’t going to be too many marketing folks LOL or ROFLMAO!