Just as Slack announced its initial public offering with headlines blazing—death to email—it appears we have reached a crossroads. At this intersection, it makes sense to reflect on the role of email not just as a communication medium, but its evolving form as a productivity platform
In the past 10 years, technology has accelerated our societal, cultural and business rate of change more than any other decade. Our shopping habits have changed thanks to Amazon, StitchFix and Rent-the-Runway, to name a few. The way we get around has changed thanks to Uber, Lyft, Grab, Bird, Lime, Ola and others, and how we travel has changed thanks to the likes of Expedia, Hotels.com and Airbnb.
In the midst of all this change, there is one constant that’s quietly adapting to this changing lifestyle: our email address. Email plays a critical role in retaining information and context, whether it’s personal or business, and with it, a whole new ecosystem of services and products have opened up leveling the playing field among new boutiques and big-box stores that have been around for decades.
The change was first led by B2B companies offering sales and marketing automation services, leveraging the Chrome ecosystem to build extensions that connected with Gmail and allowed users to leverage their email data to perform actions that improved business productivity. There are hundreds of Google Chrome productivity extensions; some of the most popular are those that let you automate your organization’s workflows with regards to sales processes like Streak, Mixmax, Yesware, Copper and Hubspot.
These are just a few examples of wildly successful companies that have built a business model out of focusing on the email as a productivity platform. But there are also other less visible examples of email-based applications that are powering entire business solutions. As I see it, there are three key drivers behind the future of these apps, and jumping on either one has the potential of nourishing any napkin idea into a full-fledged business.
The Scope of Microsoft and Google
Google’s G Suite is not just a $4 billion subscription business, it’s a $4 billion market for companies building applications around it. Millions of companies now use Google G Suite, and there are endless possibilities to build seamless and automatic productivity solutions via Google Chrome extensions or Gmail add-ons.
Similarly, Microsoft Office 365 is a $13 billion market for companies building applications around its suite of legacy applications. There is value of tying a product or solution to one (or more) of the behemoths’ technology platforms. These giants aren’t going away anytime soon, so businesses should leverage them with products that can make the lives of everyday workers much easier.
Retailers Unlock Email’s Untapped Potential with Artificial Intelligence
Our email address is a digital extension of ourselves. Retailers and brand marketers know it. For retailers, email marketing is still among the most effective ways to engage buyers. Email notifications abound about store events, new arrivals, discounts and so on.
Email as we know it will change with the way in which content is utilized. The next wave will be powered by companies that provide a combination of value, privacy and a framework to revoke that access. As AI powers the next wave of technology to personalize special offers, email is at its center.
Email is the new repository for purchases consumers make every day. Uber receipts are sent to email. Coffee (or anything else purchased via Square) receipts are sent to email. In turn, retailers can compile these digital receipts to view individual spending habits and use that info to inform their marketing decisions.
The ability to actually make purchases within email and file receipts easily makes the buying experience more convenient, faster and will boost sales for the brands that embrace this level of interactivity. The more brands allow subscribers to engage within emails in new ways—whether it’s a personality quiz or the ability to book hotels without leaving email—the more engaged and ready to purchase subscribers will be with the brand. Google has already created a new framework that turns email into a browser that can power commerce.
Open APIs Make the World Go Round
The API economy is making it easier for merchants to improve business operations by connecting email to order management, shipping and inventory systems. Businesses that create an open API that allows end users to integrate their own apps—to customize and meet their specific needs—remove barriers and gain important operational insight about popular items before they are out of stock.
Open APIs also promote innovation to enhance the user experience. Such integrations allow merchants to “bundle” services—think Pinterest integration on a shopping site, store locator maps on a retail site, or next-generation expense management from a web browser extension or just inside email. Just as importantly, when properly used, open APIs allow businesses to expand and scale by delivering new merchandise and revenue channels.
Slack has been dubbed an “email killer,” and it certainly has altered how we handle person-to-person communication in the workplace. But email isn’t going away anytime soon. Still, the way we know email will probably change forever in the coming years.
In the same way that our kids cannot imagine how we lived without smartphones or internet, future generations will have to visit a museum to see the earlier version of email that was just an asynchronous communication medium. To end it with a cliche, email is dead, long live the email.
Fyle provide expense-management software.Favorite