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Email: Isn't It About Communicating?

The global financial meltdown reminds us again how important good communications are in our societies.

In 1929, the United States experienced a major stock-market crash, which precipitated disastrous bank runs – thousands of account-holders descended on their local financial institutions, demanding their life savings in cash – and contributed to what we now call The Great Depression.

As news spread over the last few weeks about potential failures in the financial markets, the specter of the bank run rose again as people talked again about withdrawing their hard-earned money before it disappeared.

But it didn't happen and isn't likely to happen in most countries throughout the world. I believe we will avoid failure because of the systems and protections enacted throughout the world to avert these runs and because of the instantaneous nature of communications.

While TV, radio and the Internet alerted people to the financial-system meltdown, customers could go online and read press releases from the affected banking institutions and government bodies and be reassured that their savings were either insured or protected.

Where does email come in to play? I personally have direct relationships with three financial institutions (not including credit-card issuers, mutual funds, etc.). Only one of them has reached out to communicate with me about the market turbulence in the last few weeks.

This company has sent me three separate emails, all meant to educate and reassure me about my accounts and status of the financial markets.

One of the other institutions is, in fact, a well-known bank that has been in the headlines in the last few days as pieces of the bank will be sold to another bank. But nary a communication from them. Nothing. Zilch. Nada.

As marketers, we spend most of our time talking about things such as customer acquisition, conversion rates, average order size, revenue per email and other short-term top-line-oriented metrics.  But, at its core, email is still a communications channel from consumer to consumer and between businesses and consumers.

The emails I received from the one financial institution recognized that we had a relationship and sought to strengthen it through timely, candid and reassuring communications.

My point here is not to talk about the quality of crisis communications but to make us think about all the ways to use email beyond the typical approach of sell, sell, sell.

For most businesses and consumers, email is still the most efficient and quickest way to communicate. When developing your email program and communication cadence, build in the aspect of basic, value-added communications: keeping your subscribers and customers up-to-date on both good and bad news.

It might be as simple as a notice that a popular product is out-of-stock, a bulletin that seminar registration is full, a Web site will be down for maintenance, or you have to add a fuel surcharge because of higher jet-fuel costs.

At its core, email is a communications vehicle, not a just billboard for your latest free-shipping offer. Use email for all it can be.

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