Advanced Digital Marketing – Email vs. RSS – What Works and What Doesn’t?

In this week’s Advanced Digital Marketing lesson, we’ll cover the often confusing concept of Really Simple Syndication aka RSS and how it both is similar and different to email marketing. The basic infrastructure of RSS has existed for over 10 years but only recently, thanks mostly to the rise of blogs, has it caught on as a viable messaging platform. Blogs are a perfect way to effectively use RSS because your readers can subscribe to it using an RSS aggregator, which will collect all of your selected feeds into a single source and alert you when new entries are available

The seemingly never ending increases in spam have led some pundits to proclaim that eventually RSS will become more popular than email. While there’s no arguing that email has decreased in effectiveness thanks to sheer volume of spam that users have to deal with, it’s a bit premature to say that RSS will become that mainstream. Part of the difficulties center around the very highly geeky nature of RSS. The average consumer has no idea what RSS is let alone how to subscribe to something with it. Integration with browsers like Mozilla’s Firefox will help make this less of an issue and but we still have a long way to go until soccer moms are using RSS!

So, with all of that in mind, let’s talk about the Pros and Cons for email and RSS. Please note that for discussion purposes, I am only comparing the 2 technologies in terms of marketing channels, not as technology platforms.

Email – Pros

• Nearly universal consumer adoption. 98% of computers users access it daily and there are almost 2 billion inboxes worldwide.
• Easy to send an email campaign – anyone can do it.
• Highly trackable, including open rates, links clicked, conversions, etc
• People can forward the email to friends to extend potential reach
• Can be targeted (see my previous entry why this is important)

Email – Cons

• I think we all know this one – SPAM
• Open rates are decreasing while “false positives” continue to rise
• Messages can be blocked by filters, both corporate and at the ISP level.
• Lost subscribers more prevalent – one a subscriber opts out, chances are very high you won’t get them back.
• Registration process can turn off potential subscribers.

RSS – Pros
• Automatic opt-in process means you are sending a message only to those that want to receive it.
• No blocking mechanism – all delivery gets through without an issue.
• Often no registration process so subscribers can select feeds without having to give up information to do so.
• Can generate higher total response rates than email because the content is specific to what the reader wants to receive.
• Appealing to early adopters and technophiles, a very coveted demographic for marketers.

RSS – Cons

• Adoption rate is still a fraction of email. According to a 2006 Ad Age report, 12% of consumers have accessed an RSS feed but only 3% do it on a regular basis.
• Too technical for the average consumer to use right now.
• Since control is squarely in the hands of the subscriber, your content must be highly relevant or it will never be viewed.
• Corporate IT departments wary of RSS readers due to possible bandwidth issues, causing some to block such feeds outright.
• Still uncertainty about effectiveness of RSS to increase sales. Messages are better to be confined to conveying information, not overt sales pitches.

So, as you can see, there’s still a lot to be discovered about RSS before it can be definitely called an “email killer.” Still, given how relatively easy it is to create RSS feeds for your content, it is still something definitely worth exploring. The key is to make it part of your overall digital marketing mix as it’s not quite strong enough to be a single distribution channel.