Making Message Convergence Work For Your Business

In this second of two posts, guest blogger Carrie Scott continues her exploration of “message convergence” — what it is, what it can mean for consumers and marketers, and what companies can do to overcome message delivery challenges.

This is the conclusion of guest blogger Carrie Scott’s exploration of message convergence. Scott is Director of Product Marketing at Message Systems, Inc. She writes on marketing topics at the Message Exchange blog and dispenses shopping wisdom on her personal blog, Smart Woman $$ave.

In yesterday’s post I discussed how new mobile communication capabilities brought about by smartphones and wireless networks are changing customer expectations about when and how they should be engaged. I wove the story around my experience with retailers that I interact with frequently, but it’s important to note that the brand-customer relationship is changing across all kinds of vertical industries: banks and financial services, healthcare, media and publishing, and many more. This holds true for interactions that happen in a sales or marketing context, as well as interactions happening in a customer service or support context.

The question then becomes: how do businesses reorient their messaging operations for the new mobile communications environment? The answer is to adopt message convergence as your guiding principle for customer engagement.

Customers in control

So what exactly is message convergence? Broadly, it’s messaging adapted to the preferences of the customer: customer-aware messaging where brands know their customer’s needs and preferences, and then act on that knowledge to coordinate their messaging so that meaningful content is delivered at the right time and in the channel that’s most contextually relevant. In practice, it means that you the business conducts customer conversations through whatever channel (email, IM, SMS/MMS text, social media) is most appropriate at a given time.

It’s important that businesses start thinking about how to implement a customer-adaptive messaging capability, not just because customers are becoming more mobile and their expectations are changing, but because customers are becoming empowered as never before. Consider that with services like Google’s Priority Inbox and the new Facebook Messages, where consumers control whether you can even reach them via email. With customers now in the driver’s seat, what does this mean for marketers? How exactly do you optimize your sales and marketing messaging when your customers and prospects treat your messages as insignificant noise, or worse, block them altogether?

While email is still the most pervasive form of message-based communication, it’s no longer a wired / desktop medium. Increasingly, people read email on their mobile device – not their PC. But that’s not to say email will become the sole message channel for mobile. Reports peg SMS traffic growth to reach 8.7 trillion messages in 2015, up from 5 trillion messages in 2010. Moreover, consumers value SMS/MMS as a more immediate channel:  90% of text messages are opened, while email open rates are never greater than 40%.

For these reasons, if a brand/service is really important to a consumer, we will likely begin to see the preferred method of communication shift over to SMS – or perhaps a social channel like Facebook Messages – so that important messages aren’t overlooked. As such, marketers will have new opportunities to tailor promotions and campaigns to specific customer interests, and to create more personalized and intimate relationship with individuals.

Yet, all of these possibilities hinge on the ability of business to execute and put in place the technology infrastructure to power customer-adaptive messaging. Customers are way out in front of the business community on this point. They have the devices and the smarts to use them to their full extent. They’re commenting on Facebook fan pages via email from their iPhones. They post pictures to Flickr via MMS and then text with friends to share the experience. They carry on two-way message-based conversations that bounce from email to text and back.

On the other side of the B2C divide, most businesses still see email and SMS and IM and social media as distinct entities walled off from one another. That needs to change. Remember, customer behaviors should inform your technology, not the other way around. Which means, if they’re using SMS while actively shopping, can you reach them through that channel when needed? Can you convert message content on the fly from channel to channel as needed, or transition a customer care email exchange to a live IM conversation?

Meeting the challenge

Message convergence is happening, and quickly. It will be a challenge to navigate but it’s doable. For the enterprise: know that customer adaptive messaging is going to entail some realignment of data resources and organizational structures. That means maintaining separate web marketing and email marketing teams – and systems – isn’t going to get it done in the new digital communications environment. You need to adopt infrastructure that supports message convergence.

For marketing services providers that specialize in email and digital marketing: know that you’ll face enormous challenges integrating conventional email infrastructure with SMS/MMS, IM and social channels. You’re going to need an integrated approach, with carrier-grade capabilities. The customer empowerment sparked by smartphones and social media will only accelerate. That’s why it’s imperative for companies to embrace message convergence or risk losing their vital connections with customers for communication and commerce.