Girding for the looming battle for subscription space

Thank you, Seth Godin, for again saving the day. In early 2007 the next major upgrade of Internet Explorer (IE) will be released. Among its features is an easier way for IE users to subscribe to sites via their RSS feeds. I’ve struggled with how to explain to clients (and many of my readers) the urgency of acting now. If your site warrants it, immediately set out to begin adding an RSS feed that announces your new content, and then promoting this site feature like crazy before the competition for user subscriptions really heats up.

In my attempt to find the right metaphor to illustrate the situation, I’ve been reminded of a comment that Al Gore made in a pre-election interview in 2000. The interviewer asked this clearly very studious politician what he has lately been studying. “Semantics,” he said. He explained that this digital age has left us with a dearth of ways to communicate its concepts. Survival hinges on our society retooling its language to fit this new reality. A group of people, whether they are a corporate board or a national electorate, cannot affect change on something that they can’t discuss accurately.

The best I’ve been able to do in my attempts to set the scene is to quote those who have predicted that RSS — this lower-risk (from a privacy perspective) permission marketing alternative to the opt-in email — will quickly trump that tactic in user popularity and marketing effectiveness.

Forget about “bookmark this page,” I’ve stated, “the RSS subscription is a more aggressive bookmark — one that hollers when the ‘book’ it is ‘marking’ has added a ‘page.'” Notice the metaphors. They are all dusty; descriptively hidebound. They are semantically crude, mostly because they lack the dynamic element that push technology delivers.

Mr. Godin found a better metaphor. It was hiding in his iPod.

He calls it “shuffleworld.” Seth points out that the shuffle feature means that the muchness of a hard drive bursting with songs empowers the listener, but also makes it difficult to listen to a favorite song, or even artist (he mentioned Elvis Costello — Mr. Godin is a man of good musical taste!). If I weren’t tiring of comparisons that are soooo last millennium, I’d say that this shuffleworld phenomenon has hidden any particular song like a needle in a haystack.

His point: Web sites are hidden in a similar way, and can only rise to the surface when they are voted worthy of attention on sites like digg, or when a new headline is pushed into an RSS subscriber’s consciousness.

So many sites, and so little browsing time!

Subscriptions help. But any particular user can only subscribe to so many feeds before being overwhelmed with their new content announcements. IE will make subscribing easy for the typical user, but it will also make unsubscribing, or not adding new subscriptions, just as easy.

Okay, web marketers. You’ve got a metaphor to grasp the problem. And you have a deadline. Wake up now. Add and promote those RSS feeds before your best prospects are too overwhelmed with other feeds to consider adding yours.

One thought on “Girding for the looming battle for subscription space”

  1. I don’t know about you Jeff but I’ve got a limited amount of space available in my short term memory – there’s only so many newsletters I can tolerate before my mind begins to refuse to accept anymore.

    I’m willing to bet that this is how a lot of people feel in the aptly named information age. Credible or not – there is an abundance of information. With this abundance of information will newsletter marketing increase or decrease in effectiveness?

    In my own marketing endeavors I’ve found that direct response has had a more effective response rate than email/online marketing, and I’ve heard direct response being thrown around as the “new” vogue.

    But with the arrival of more sophisticated junk mail filters the trend has been opt-in/permission based marketing. but at what point does it become too much for the consumer?

    I’ve always been a fan of effective ideas, whether they are unpopular with marketers, trendy, novel, or eccentric (within reason) – but the real challenge seems to lie in finding concepts that are new or at the very least have been revisited.

    Like most marketers i’m interested in staying ahead of the pack – while making strides to lengthen that gap. So with the scenario of limited mindspace what are new (and old) ways to remain fresh in the minds of our prospects?

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