Micronbox: A New Inbox (Part 4)


One way to build the future is to imagine it and then take the steps to make it happen. Let’s do the same with the micron-verse. Let’s look ahead a few years and see how brand-customer engagement has changed.

Each of us has a micronbox. It is built on email so it doesn’t necessarily need a new app or identity. This new inbox collates all the microns from our Gmail inbox and organises them better. No microns from a brand which we have not subscribed to make it through. Only a single email from a brand is present – older, unread mails get layered together into that single email. Thus, the micronbox only has as many emails as brands we subscribe to. Microns that we read are automatically deleted unless we choose to save them for future reference. (To elaborate: automatic deletion and especially only those emails getting saved which come from a conscious choice gives us and the brand added information – that people really care about this particular content; this is something that a simple open rate vs ignored will not capture.)

Microns are interactive. So, instead of just a static one-way communication, microns become dynamic and engaging. One can buy a book right from the micron itself, expand a new story to read more, provide feedback or answer questions – right from the inbox, without having to click through to the website. (The magic which makes this possible with emails is AMP.)

An element of gamification makes it fun. Customers/subscribers earn points for opening and engaging with microns. The more the continuing engagement, the better the rewards. (This is similar to what credit card companies offer – the more you spend, the more you earn. Basically, loyalty and discipline is being rewarded.) They also earn points by sharing information about themselves with brands so the communication they get is more personalised creating a mutual win-win. They can control what personal info they share with different brands. All this helps in increasing the signal-to-noise ratio in the inbox.

The micronbox is clutter-free. Instead of a ‘delete’ mindset when dealing with emails, there is a ‘delight’ feeling as we scan it. Brands have become friends whose messages are never ignored, read promptly and always acted on. Brands provide us useful info which make daily life better. They offer us what we need rather than what they want. They learn from our actions to make the relationship better daily with every interaction.

(Aside: This is the key and the core of a successful brand-customer relationship. The essence of a market economy – where businesses grow only by successfully meeting their customers’ need – at the lowest cost possible (else their competitors win). So if business in this sense is about meeting needs, a reinforcement of trust starts to happen between business and customer through microns – businesses promise to meet customers’ need and customers in turn provide the needed information/preferences.)

What has made the micronbox such a widespread global success is the fact that it is built on the email transport layer. Email is an open standard and allows anyone to publish via SMTP. We have control on the inbox and can use different email clients built using the IMAP protocol. This openness of standards continued with the micronbox – with one addition. The right to publish by a brand had to be matched with a subscription from the customer – only then is the communication channel established. The control is always with the subscriber who can decide to terminate the relationship at any point.

Thinks 165

Six Customer Data Points You Should Be Tracking: by Software Equity Group. “Tracking customer metadata helps you identify opportunities to improve sales efficiency, expand revenue, and increase retention. These metadata, typically captured through CRM or user level analytic software, provide important customer insights so you can deploy sales and marketing efforts on the segments with the greatest return on investment. Here are six customer data points every SaaS CEO should be tracking: customer size, industry, geography, active users, user persona, products and modules.”

The Unicorn Boom: Shareholder issues: by Akash Prakash. “Entrepreneurs must think through their choices on their listing venue, shareholder base, and valuations.”

Arnold Kling on how to make Twitter less rude: “Introduce a buddy system…Have each Twitter user designate a buddy to whom your tweets are directed. If my hypothesis is correct, then simply having a single person in mind who you respect would temper your rudeness as you tweet. And if enough people on Twitter temper their rudeness, then good manners would replace bullying and put-downs as social norms.”

Micronbox: A New Inbox (Part 3)

Email Marketing and the Inbox

The digital revolution sparked by the Internet needed a unique identifier for every individual. That was the email address. Cookies and device identifiers on mobiles were also additional mechanisms to identify people, but they still afforded some anonymity to the consumer. An email address was precise because it delivered communication directly to the inbox. And thus rose to prominence the field of email marketing. Brafton offers a nice history of email marketing. (Email marketing (along with SMS) has also been Netcore’s primary business for the past 14+ years.)

Writes Neil Patel: “People are inundated with interruptions, pitches, and advertisements everywhere they look. Though you might think your email is special. But to the reader, your email is one in a million — and not in a good way. This is why it’s important to remember where you are and use good manners. Getting into someone’s inbox is like being invited to their home for dinner.”

There are 3 inboxes which are central to our digital lives – SMS, email (mostly Gmail), WhatsApp. These ‘messaging apps’ are the way we communicate – 1:1 and in groups. These inboxes are also the endpoints for brand communications – from OTPs to receipts, from the ‘what’s new’ to offers. Each inbox has its own unique characteristics and thus serves a special purpose.

The email inbox has multiple advantages over the others. SMS is largely limited to text and 160 characters (even though RCS promises to enable rich media in the inbox). WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, has many restrictions on who can send and what can be sent. Both are also expensive. In India, SMS costs 13 paise and WhatsApp costs 30 paise. In comparison, emails cost 1-3 paise and can have text, images, audio and even video as content.

The popularity of email as a communication channel has also led to a rise in spam – hindering the effectiveness of marketing communications. Gmail’s folders and sorting algorithms are not the lasting solution. I believe the time has come for a dedicated inbox for brand communications.

I had written previously about an idea I called the microbox, “a custom inbox for viewing and engaging with microns. Brands should be able to directly publish to this micronbox – as long as they have permission to do so. Customers can get a significantly upgraded viewing experience than the conventional email inbox with its linear list of incoming emails. The micronbox has the potential to transform brand-customer engagement the way WhatsApp upgraded person-to-person mobile communications from the SMS inbox.”

So: can we create a micron-only inbox for brand communications? How will this two-sided platform work – why will brands send messages to yet another inbox and why will we as consumers further divide our attention with a new inbox?

Thinks 164

Simon Winchester in an essay on technology: “Japan introduced the bullet train, the Shinkansen, in 1964…No accident attended its first journeys, nor in any of the journeys in the years and decades since. These days the Tokaido line, running between Tokyo and Osaka, sends ultra-high-speed trains in each direction every six minutes on average, 130,000 of them each year. Four hundred and twenty-five thousand passengers are carried every day along the three-hundred-mile route, at speeds of up to 180 miles per hour. The average delay is just twenty-four seconds. Not a single person has ever been killed on the line.”

You are a network: by Kathleen Wallace. “You cannot be reduced to a body, a mind or a particular social role. An emerging theory of selfhood gets this complexity…The network self view envisions an enriched self and multiple possibilities for self-determination, rather than prescribing a particular way that selves ought to be. That doesn’t mean that a self doesn’t have responsibilities to and for others. Some responsibilities might be inherited, though many are chosen. That’s part of the fabric of living with others. Selves are not only ‘networked’, that is, in social networks, but are themselves networks. By embracing the complexity and fluidity of selves, we come to a better understanding of who we are and how to live well with ourselves and with one another.”

The Five Biggest Mistakes Companies Make With Customer Surveys: by Utpal Dholakia in WSJ. “Among them: They ask too many questions, or too few.”

Micronbox: A New Inbox (Part 2)

Lester Wunderman

I first heard about Lester Wunderman from Ajay Row in our MartechBrain conversation. Ajay strongly recommended reading Lester Wunderman’s book “Being Direct”. Wunderman writes: “This is a book about direct marketing, about how to advertise profitably in a postindustrial, information-based society. It is a book about how manufacturers and consumers may engage in an interactive dialogue affecting the behavior of both. It is also a book about the changing paradigm of brands — which used to represent a cluster of product values but now increasingly identify clusters of consumers’ individual needs. I have written this book in the form of an autobiography to show, step by step, how I learned to make advertising pay. It is based not on theoretical hypotheses or secondhand case histories but on the recorded results of the many billions of dollars’ worth of advertising I helped create and whose results I was able to measure. I will describe the rules as I learned them and show how I discovered them — the facts, the hunches, the breakthroughs, and the frustrations — the experiences I used to create the campaigns that succeeded and others that failed.”

Wunderman lists 19 principles of direct marketing in the book:

  1. Direct Marketing Is a Strategy, Not a Tactic
  2. The Consumer, Not the Product, Must Be the Hero
  3. Communicate with Each Customer as an Audience of One
  4. Answer the Question “Why Should I?”
  5. Advertising Must Change Behavior, Not Just Attitudes
  6. The Next Step: Profitable Advertising
  7. Build the “Brand Experience”
  8. Create Relationships
  9. Know and Invest in Each Customer’s Lifetime Value
  10. “Suspects” Are Not Prospects
  11. Media Is a Contact Strategy
  12. Be Accessible to Your Customers
  13. Encourage Interactive Dialogues
  14. Learn the Missing “When?”
  15. Create an Advertising Curriculum That Teaches as it Sells
  16. Acquire Customers with the Intention to Loyalize Them
  17. Loyalty Is A Continuity Program
  18. Your Share of Loyal Customers, Not Your Share of the Market Creates Profits
  19. You Are What You Know

A few interesting points from Lester Wunderman in a 2008 interview to Clickz:

Media has returned us to personal engagement. This is a good thing. But this is also where I worry. I don’t want to make friends with people who want to sell me something. The supermarket got it right. They proved that you don’t have to be a friend; they only had to provide products at fair prices. That changed the retailing world. I remember going shopping with my mother [as a child], and we went to shops where they knew our names. The butcher knew what she was accustomed to buying. Data is returning us to that kind of relevance. It’s creating warmth that has not existed in advertising when we were starting out.

… We never had a click before. We did have other relationship vehicles (coupons), but we never had this situation where both parties are aware that something further is going to happen. The consumer clicks because she wants to know more. The marketer is aware of the click and wants to do more for the consumer. We never had that signal that could be the beginning of satisfaction for both parties. It has to be dealt with carefully. Corporations have got to set up departments that are sensitive to potential danger that the click can create.

… The difference between a consumer and a customer is what makes success and failure. A consumer might become a customer. A customer is someone who is using a product. If you have a customer, you have to nurture that relationship. You have to make sure the customer continues to buy your product. I think there are going to be tricks and promotions within advertising and marketing. These will cement those relationships.

Ray Shulz wrote about Wunderman in an obituary in January 2019: “[W]hile it is hardly premature when a man of 98 dies, it has to fill email marketers and everyone in this business with sadness and a certain awe. Not that Lester ever focused on email marketing in particular, but everything he did before it paved the way for it.”

Email marketing has become one of the key pillars of direct marketing, and that’s what we turn to next.

Thinks 163

Parry Ravindranathan on podcasting, writing in BloombergQuint [Audio Media In The 21st Century]: Rebirth Of The Spoken Word: “You can listen while doing other things like cooking, reading, nodding your head during annoying zoom meetings and—parents will agree here—during times when you need a release from dealing with your kids. You don’t have to be fully engaged like with video. In India, the third-largest podcast market in the world after the U.S. and China, the growth has been enormous in all languages. India has its own platforms in JioSaavn and Gaana in addition to the global players and they have all gained large audiences.”

Bo Ilsoe: A multi-part series on the “incomplete guide to leadership”. From Part 1: “A hierarchical responsibility — a title — is by nomination. Leadership is not. Leadership is the innate individual expression and empowerment of others who take you toward your goals. This empowerment motivates and enables others to contribute. Done well, leadership results in contributions delivered unselfishly by stakeholders and employees alike. They will apply themselves and marshal resources, with the company’s mission as their North Star. Leadership is an emergent skill for every individual. Throughout our lives, we can learn as leaders. Leadership is cultural. It is contextual. There are common characteristics of great leadership, but they are expressed and delivered by individuals. Leadership is a journey of self-discovery.”

How India shackles its small businesses: by Gireesh Chandra Prasad in Mint.

Micronbox: A New Inbox (Part 1)

Direct Marketing

Let’s start with some history of brand-consumer communications. For a long time, this was done via mass advertising – TV, radio, print. As more niche media platforms were launched, it became possible to segment audiences. Then came direct marketing – individuals could be identified by their addresses and mailers sent to them. Starting in the mid-1990s, the Internet brought in very targeted advertising – and also pricing based not on size of audience, but on performance (clicks, form fills, transactions).

Let’s dig deeper into direct marketing, before we get to the world of email marketing.

From Wikipedia: “Direct marketing is a form of communicating an offer, where organisations communicate directly to a pre-selected customer and supply a method for a direct response. Among practitioners, it is also known as direct response marketing. By contrast, advertising is of a mass-message nature. Response channels include 800-numbers, reply cards, reply forms to be sent in an envelope, websites and email addresses… Direct marketing is attractive to many marketers because its results, positive or otherwise, can be measured directly. For example, if a marketer sends out 1,000 solicitations by mail and 100 respond to the promotion, the marketer can say with confidence that the campaign led directly to a 10% conversion. This metric is known as the ‘response rate’, and it is one of many clearly quantifiable success metrics employed by direct marketers. In contrast, general advertising uses indirect measurements, such as awareness or engagement, since there is no direct response from a consumer. Measurement of results is a fundamental element in successful direct marketing.”

From Cyberclick: “An essential aspect of direct marketing is that the consumer response is measurable: for example, if you offer a discount for an online store, you should include some kind of cookie or pixel to let you know if the user has used of the code… The most powerful and innovative direct marketing strategies want to elicit a reaction in the target audience using content delivered directly to the consumer, both physically and through the email marketing. A very striking graphic design, a surprising product, or a video that touches the heartstrings of the listener, can elicit a direct response from the consumer.”

From CFI: “The term “direct marketing” was first popularised by an American man named Lester Wunderman. In 1967, he identified trends in marketing and defined it using the term “direct marketing.” Thus, Wunderman is considered to be the father of contemporary direct marketing. Coincidentally, he was also responsible for the creation of the toll-free 1-800 number, an invention that is still widely in use today.”

Thinks 162

Nancy Sherman: “The early Stoics taught that we are world citizens connected to all of humanity through our reason. Marcus Aurelius paints a graphic image in his “Meditations.” He jots his notes in the quiet of nightfall after a day of battle during the Germanic campaigns. The detritus of the battlefield is on his mind: Picture a hand and head lying apart from the rest of the body. This is what a person makes of himself when he cuts himself off from the world. We can’t be “at home in the world,” a Stoic catchphrase, if the good is reduced to self-interest, or grit is defined as go-it-alone self-reliance.” [NYTimes]

A 2016 essay by TCA Srinivasa Raghavan on the Indian Constitution: “The simple truth is that although it is a fine document from an aspirations point of view, it is simply not a practical one for a politically independent India. It suffers from two flaws. One is that its design and purpose is a colonial one: that is, of a very strong central government that the British had prescribed via the Government of India Act, 1935. That Act was not designed for change or even managing change; it was prescribed for maintaining the status quo. The other problem is that it gets into too much detail of the administrative kind.”

Donald Boudreaux: “Government borrowing changes the identities of the particular taxpayers who incur the costs of government projects; government borrowing does not, however, enable taxpayers – considered as a group over time – to escape these costs. Government projects undertaken today and paid for with current tax revenues are paid for by taxpayers today. Government projects undertaken today and paid for with borrowed funds are paid for by those taxpayers who will be responsible for servicing and repaying the debt – namely, taxpayers tomorrow. While in principle some worthwhile projects – such as a hydroelectric dam that will operate for 75 years – are better funded with debt than with currently raised tax revenues, even these projects are costly. Buchanan warned that debt-financing’s shifting of the burden of paying for government projects and programs from current taxpayers to future taxpayers will incite current taxpayers to consume too much through government.

Prashnam Survey on Covid Deaths quoted in The Economist

On June 2, I had written a column in ThePrint based on a Prashnam survey about the number of deaths due to Covid. The latest Economist (June 12 edition) has written about it as part of their story on estimating the Covid deaths in India. The story is headlined “More evidence emerges of India’s true death toll from covid-19” with the stub “New surveys corroborate earlier estimates that the number is some six times higher.”

Evidence from another source, opinion surveys, corroborates the higher numbers. One, conducted in May by Prashnam, a new polling group, asked 15,000 people, across mostly rural areas in Hindi-speaking states in the north, whether anyone in their family or neighbourhood had died of covid-19. One in every six, or 17%, said yes.

Rajesh Jain, Prashnam’s founder, then compared this result with surveys in America that had asked a similar question, including one conducted in March by the University of Chicago, which found that 19% of respondents had a close friend or relative who had died in the pandemic. Given the closeness of those results, Mr Jain says that India’s overall covid-19 mortality rate is likely to be closer to America’s, at 1,800 deaths per million people, than to its official figure of 230 per million. If India’s rate does match America’s, the number of deaths in India so far would be about 2.5m, he says.

PS: The same survey was also linked from an article in The New York Times.

Additional resources on Prashnam:


Thinks 161

How mRNA became a vaccine game-changer: from FT. “Rossi was inspired by Shinya Yamanaka, a Japanese scientist who had proved it was possible to turn any cell in the human body into an embryonic stem cell-like state by inserting four genes. Yamanaka’s discovery eventually won him the Nobel prize. But there was a problem: the genes he inserted ended up back in the DNA, a mutagenic event that increased a person’s chance of developing cancer…Rossi’s idea was to replicate the Japanese scientist’s achievement using mRNA instead, to reprogramme human skin cells so they could act as though they were stem cells.”

Eliot Peper: “Speculative fiction is all about asking “what if?” What if a lone astronaut got stranded on Mars? What if genetic engineers resurrected dinosaurs and stuck them in an amusement park? What if we are all living in a simulation? The question that sparked my latest novel, Veil, is “what if a billionaire hijacked the climate with geoengineering?” These questions are hooks. They capture the imagination and pique curiosity. That’s all well and good, but it’s only a starting point.To pay off a speculative setup, you need to keep the dominos falling as second-, third-, and fourth-order effects ripple out through the story. Momentum builds. Progressive complications tighten the ratchet. Unexpected reversals fling the reader forward.” [Techcrunch]

Atanu Dey on systems versus goals: “goals are for losers. That’s literally true most of the time. For example, if your goal is to lose ten pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal—if you reach it at all—feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. That feeling wears on you. In time, it becomes heavy and uncomfortable. It might even drive you out of the game… In the world of dieting, losing twenty pounds is a goal, but eating right is a system. In the exercise realm, running a marathon in under four hours is a goal, but exercising daily is a system. In business, making a million dollars is a goal, but being a serial entrepreneur is a system.”