Remember “You’ve Got Mail”? Before it was a rom-com starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, it was an amiable AOL greeting accompanied by a cartoon mailbox.
It was a brilliant marketing opportunity. But it also created unintended consequences that continue to reverberate across the digital industry today.
We’ve seen this movie
The beauty of the “You’ve Got Mail” catchphrase was its simplicity. By appropriating established terminology and imagery, AOL eased the transition to online communication and assured novice users that the brave new (virtual) world was not the hostile, technologically complex landscape they feared.
It worked. Email quickly supplanted “snail mail” as the preferred means of written communication.
The tendency, then, is to think of email as a linear improvement — a step up the evolutionary ladder. But this overlooks a salient point. Other than wiping out personal mail, email has had almost no impact.
As a marketing channel, it’s been an unmitigated disaster, with microscopic response and conversion rates. There’s also been a backlash in the form of spam rules and filters. And many email accounts exist solely to capture the daily plethora of pleas for purchase.
It turns out that the initial comparison of the two types of mail was flawed. You can’t compare tangible apples to virtual oranges — and yet we continue to do so. Imagine if billboards made their way online. (Oh wait, that’s how we all first found out about Netflix, in the form of ubiquitous display ads and pop-ups.)
Abandon your cart, three-quarters of ye who enter here
We’re seeing a similar phenomenon in the hand-wringing over widespread cart abandonment among online retailers.
The figures are sobering indeed. An estimated 60 percent to 80 percent of items placed in online shopping carts are never purchased.
Those numbers evoke an apocalyptic image. The aisles in a near-deserted supermarket are clogged with abandoned, half-filled carts. A lone shopper tries to navigate the clutter while the proprietor sobs in a corner.
That vision is comically absurd. And the problem, as with the flawed comparison of email to “snail mail,” starts with the entrenched analogy. To ease users’ comfort level, early online retailers appropriated the term cart along with the iconography and established the false notion that shopping via the internet was a linear improvement: It’s the same as shopping in a store — only better!
In truth, shopping online is not the same as shopping in a store — nor is it unequivocally better. Like email, e-retail has limitations, as well as advantages. (Ever try on a pair of pants online?)
So rather than take an either/or attitude toward different channels, marketers need to consider a recombinant approach that cherry-picks the best of each channel and mitigates the worst.
Same old… uh, strategy
Maybe you think you’re already doing that because you’re using a combination of display ads and emails and TV ads, and you have digital reporting that shows how they all perform in one dashboard. But are you synching your plan with the way consumers decide what to buy?
If not, what have you really gained? You’re just using an updated way of reporting on the same basic, flawed methods that marketers have been using for years. Yes, you have real-time visibility you didn’t have previously. That’s maybe a five-percent improvement. You’re still throwing a bunch of stuff against the wall, but you just don’t have to wait as long to see what sticks.
Marketers need to take the next step. That means using the copious data accumulated during the digital boom and applying it across all channels. That includes digital, of course, but also print, TV, radio, outdoor and others.
Marketers also need to understand that there’s no one-size-fits-all strategy. Today’s consumer demands a complete marketing breakfast with a menu that suits a broad variety of appetites, diets and tastes.
The means are there to provide it. To paraphrase Archimedes: Give me a truly integrated marketing channel, and I can leverage the world.
Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land. Staff authors are listed here.