Friday, January 30, 2009

A note on "branded" email

In Spring 2008 my classmates Alexandra Levich, Jenny Xu and Thang Troung Minh and I carried out an independent study on social networks. The study was supervised by Professor Rashi Glazer, our marketing professor at the Haas School of Business.

The goal of our study was to identify and validate the value proposition of online social networking. Our overarching question was What is the social networks' value proposition and how is it perceived by consumers?. Apart from the explicit, several focus groups unveiled interesting implicit behaviors of online social network users.

the explicit and the implicit

One of these behaviors consisted in that a given user employed's messaging system to communicate with the same recipient he has just emailed one minute ago. This modality of "branded" email struck us. Beyond pure use, and despite a clunkier usability than regular email, there seemed to be a lot of hidden meaning.

From an elements-of-communication perspective, it seems that context plays an important role. Facebook, as the context in which this communication happens, has managed to create a new interaction space with its own rules.

In its form of "branded" messaging, the content of a facebook message can potentially be the same as in a traditional email. The channel itself, although clunkier, is technically similar to that of email. Nevertheless a facebook message serves different purposes, and can have different recipients than those of conventional email. Your friends tell you certain things over facebook and other things over email. People who would not email you, contact you via facebook messages. Maybe it is perceived as less intrusive?. Regarding time, my view is that facebook messaging is also perceived as more asynchronous, i.e. less aggressive, than email.

From a marketing point of view this case constitutes a great example of differentiation. Differentiation enabled by the facebook brand and the context it creates, but driven by user behavior. Fascinating.

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