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ISP filters are good for marketers

A throwback post from 2010 Attention is a limited resource.

Marketing is all about grabbing attention. You can’t run a successful marketing program without first grabbing attention. But attention is a limited resource. There are only so many things a person can remember, focus on or interact with at any one time.

In many marketing channels there is an outside limit on the amount of attention a marketer can grab. There are only so many minutes available for marketing in a TV or radio hour and they cost real dollars. There’s only so much page space available for press. Billboards cost real money and you can’t just put a billboard up anywhere. With email marketing, there are no such costs and thus a recipient can be trivially and easily overwhelmed by marketers trying to grab their attention.

Whether its unsolicited email or just sending overly frequent solicited email, an overly full mailbox overwhelms the recipient. When this happens, they’ll start blocking mail, or hitting “this is spam” or just abandoning that email address. Faced with an overflowing inbox recipients may take drastic action in order to focus on the stuff that is really important to them.

This is a reality that many marketers don’t get. They think that they can assume that if a person purchases from their company that person wants communication from that company.

Patricia Faley of the Direct Marketing Association counters that businesses have […] the right to contact consumers without first obtaining their permission.

“We call it the ‘one bite at the apple’ rule,” she says. “Give me one chance to show you what I have to offer you, and if you don’t like it, then I won’t contact you again.”

The problem is the sheer number of companies who want to contact each consumer. Even if you limit that to companies the consumers purchase from it’s still an untenable number of contacts. Looking at my pantry right now, there are probably over 100 different brands I’ve purchased. Really, I don’t want every one of them to email me.

Increasing the amount of email sent, beyond what the users want and outside of their control, weakens the email channel for everyone. Users get so much mail, that they don’t care about any of it. It’s just more noise in their inbox, distracting them from things they want to give their attention to.

Too much clutter in the inbox leads to user dissatisfaction and complaints to the mailbox providers. Those complaints lead the ISPs to want to improve the inbox experience for their users. One way to do that is to filter mail for the user, so that the user only gets mail they really want. ISPs call it engagement, but it’s really just describing how much attention users are giving to that marketer.

ISPs give users a lot more controls now than they did 4 years ago when I originally wrote that post. Gmail has tabs and ways for users to organize email. Microsoft (whatever they’re calling their free mail service this week) has the sweep feature. ISPs have recognized that attention is limited and people want tools to help organize the volume of mail in the inbox.

These tools are a boon to marketers. Automation increases the amount of attention recipients have to give to individual emails and, effectively, provide more attention for marketers to grab.

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