Navigating the tyranny of email
A view from Nicola Clark

Navigating the tyranny of email

Information obesity is a huge challenge for consumers and marketers alike. Nicola Clark asks whether brands are over-dependent on email.

Sir Martin Sorrell, the chief executive of WPP, oversees operations in more than 100 countries and a workforce of thousands, but he also reportedly answers every single email he is sent.

I put this to the test last week; what would Sorrell's advice be to marketers attempting to cope with information overload and the tyranny of email? 'Live with it. It goes with the territory,' was his somewhat terse, but nonetheless speedy, response.

There is no questioning the fact that email helps pass information quickly, regardless of distance, but it hasn't succeeded in fundamentally making communications easier. Not only is it incredibly easy for an email to be misinterpreted, but the sheer volume of often completely pointless messages stifles communication in corporations and wastes huge amounts of time.

When Thierry Breton, chief executive of Atos, said the IT services company would ban the use of internal email by 2014 it sparked a wave of headlines about the demise of the communication medium. Several companies have already ditched email on the grounds of inefficiency and are moving to closed networks and app-based solutions or social networks such as Yammer. Elsewhere, a range of corporations are experimenting with email-free days, where, brace yourself for this, their employees have no choice but to actually talk to each other.

For brands that have become ever-more reliant on email marketing to drive traffic to their ecommerce offerings, information overload should be top of their agenda. Brands and employees alike need to reconsider their dependency on the medium, which has been devalued by brands, having used it to drive traffic and sales at all costs.

A growing number of brands are using closed networks. Consumers, too, are creating their own communication hubs. Brands that are too reliant on email marketing risk being on the outskirts of these networks.


- What does information obesity mean for brands?

Establishing new networks

According to the Financial Times, IT services company Capgemini says it has reduced its internal email traffic by 40% in the 18 months since staff began using social network Yammer to communicate. While there is a risk that extra types of communication will simply add to the burden handled by brands and employees, there are clear benefits to looking outside the confines and restraints of email communications.

Open-source data

Information obesity is not necessarily a bad thing.

By sharing data openly, brands can drive innovation and successfully circumvent consumer concerns over privacy. US organisation Code For America is a case in point. It works with developers to see how big sets of openly available data can enable cities to run better services and create jobs.

Breathing space

Attention is becoming a scarce commodity in the digital age. It's time brands rethink how they communicate with consumers. The advent of groups such as the slow-reading movement show consumers appreciate having time to slow down. Smart brands are helping to facilitate this, rather than simply adding to the clutter

Nicola Clark is head of features at Marketing, follow her on twitter @nickykc