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Tribes

Earlier Laura talked about a communication gap between ESPs and ISPs.
My take on it is that it’s something more than just a difficulty in communicating, rather it’s a division due to differences in personality and approach of those individuals whose primary interest is themselves and those whose primary interest is the health of the overall email ecosystem.
The former group (who I mentally refer to using the shorthand “frat boys“) want to make everything all about them, and their companies revenue, and their visibility in the industry, and their ego resume. Broad generalizations with little need for understanding are adequate to raise their visibility and keep them employed. Details aren’t that important to them. Dominating the conversation is. (Lest that sound negative, these are exactly the individuals who can thrive in sales, customer relations, bizdev and marketing environments.)
The latter (shorthand “utilitarians“) instinctively want to make email work well and to be useful for everyone. They want email to be a healthy, useful system and tend to believe that that means optimizing for the greatest good for the greatest number. (If you’ve any philosophy background, think “felicific calculus as applied to email”). They tend to understand the system in much more detail than the frat boys, though maybe less than the mechanics. And they tend to be better at working together – as they’re more interested in hearing other peoples data in order to get better at what they do, rather than being there to convince others of their pre-decided agenda.
(There’s a third group I think of as “mechanics” who take more joy in the details of keeping the system running smoothly on a small scale, without much interest in the broader system, whether that be in a technical or business role. They tend not to be very interactive in public, though, so don’t have much impact at the level of conversations I’m thinking about).
While I hate the broad terms “senders” and “receivers” used to (falsely) divide the industry into two disjoint halves, I’m painting with a fairly broad brush here, so I’m going to stick with them.
There are quite a few of all three types of people at both senders and receivers – but their power and visibility varies.
At senders there’s a mix of frat boys and utilitarians in operational and policy making positions, but the frat boys tend to have a lot more public visibility – they’re the ones who are trying to be visible, to dominate the conversation, and they’re the people you tend to see doing all the talking and less of the listening, whether it be on industry mailing lists or at the microphone at a conference. Because of their greater visibility, they’re who you think of when you think of senders, and typically they’ll be the ones you end up interacting with most in any random mix of individuals from senders.
At receivers the  operational (as opposed to policy) level is where the real decision making power is as far as email is concerned, and it’s heavily dominated by the utilitarians. (In fact, the more visible frat boys I can think of who were in influential positions at receivers are mostly now working on behalf of senders).
Frat boys are very, very bad at communicating with utilitarians. And utilitarians find it very hard to discuss issues they consider serious with frat boys at anything deeper than a superficial level.
Mechanics aren’t great at communicating with strangers in anything other than a fairly friendly environment, but manage best with other mechanics or with utilitarians.
If you’re a C level manager at a sender, and you’re deciding which of your staff are well suited to collaborate with typical receiver staff that’s something important to consider. The public face of the recievers are probably utilitarians. Frat boys are the worst representatives to send out to talk to them.

4 comments

  1. Edward Weatherall says

    Hi Steve,
    Great article. To help illustrate this further, I was recently at the IAB email council and motioned we should look at the relationship between ESP and ISP, for the good of the industry. Sadly this was met with strong opposition with the main motivator being each ESP saw their own deliverability as a competitive advantage.
    From a Sender perspective we need to make sure that email is not just driving deliverability but more around relevancy. If everyone receives relevant emails I think the ISPs will receive less complaints and legitimate senders will have more success.
    On a side note, I have been trying to get people to Opt Out and not delete their emails, which I hear is liberating, and I hope will save the inbox – http://www.b2bm.biz/blog/2009/11/join-the-revolution-and-start.html

  2. Suresh Ramasubramanian says

    If thats what you call frat boy steve .. theres enough of a positive spin available to put on it, that’d make it a desirable trait for a receiver (someone who can bridge gaps between business / marketing / ‘utilitarians’)

  3. Barry says

    I don’t really see a way to fix the communication gap because the ISP goals and the ESP goals appear to be totally opposite. I just plain do not see ISPs changing or relaxing their policies, which are getting more stringent all the time, just to accommodate marketing mail which by the ISPs metrics isn’t really wanted. Some marketing mail IS wanted, to be sure, but its a vanishingly small percentage of the flow that comes at us. Look at Christine@AOL’s post about permission (http://postmaster-blog.aol.com/2009/12/03/p/) – there’s a vast difference between mail someone *wants* and mail they get as a work-around, to get something else they want. Or worse, mail that they get because they unknowingly signed themselves up for a co-reg network. There may be really lonely people out there who live for the advertising in their mail boxes, but most people do not have time to deal with the onslaught, and they dont *want* to. Those people are our customers, and we will do the best we can to accommodate their wishes.

  4. A very young industry – Word to the Wise says

    […] have this feeling that some of the industry wide issues with conflicts between “frat boys” and “utilitarians” is partly due to the lack of experience on the email marketing side. Contrast that with the ISP […]

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