In case you missed it, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted 3-2 on Thursday to repeal the longstanding practice of net neutrality. Without going into the pros and cons of that decision, our opinion is that it should not have been struck down.
Net neutrality is a tenet and characteristic of the internet as we have known and understood it, and its repeal will have major unintended consequences aimed directly at email and the marketers who use it to connect with their customers.
Immediate effects of net neutrality repeal
We expect this decision will lead to tons of individual challenges for consumers, and we fear that ISPs will exploit those challenges with tiered services that essentially ask consumers to pay for things they now rely on at no additional cost.
Instead of paying a flat fee for internet access, consumers might be asked to pay one rate for a social media package, another for a YouTube package or a streaming-service package which might not include their favorite providers.
ISPs could force consumers to pay premiums for services now available as standard parts of their service agreements. Why? Because they can, and because they do it already with television channels and packages.
What could happen to email?
This could get scary for email. What happens if ISPs start charging separately for email service and internet access? We can see it now: Customers are tired of irrelevant email in their inboxes. Yet, marketers still gravitate to “batch and blast” message-bombing because it’s fast, easy and low-cost.
But, we know the opposite is true. Email is a valuable tool leading to individual customer identification across channels. Having access to the inbox means we can send our messages directly to consumers instead of waiting for them to find us.
A continued overabundance of irrelevant email could provoke consumers to re-evaluate what goes into the inbox once they pay for email service.
Unlike individually metered text messages, email has been free to most consumers since it became popular as a personal and commercial communication channel. This could change if ISPs levy a separate charge for email.
A wake-up call to focus on value and advocacy
Until we see how the internet providers respond to the FCC vote, there isn’t much email marketers can do to anticipate or offset the consequences of repeal.
As a first-person marketer, though, you should be thinking about consumers’ reactions and increasing the value their emails offer their customers. Repealing neutrality and potentially opening the door to inbox access fees means consumers will start thinking about how much they’re paying versus the value of what they’re paying for.
This is the value exchange in action. If I pay for something, I expect its value to equal or exceed what I’m paying for it. How well does your email program uphold its end of the value exchange?
It’s also a wake-up call to marketers, reminding them that their responsibility doesn’t end with just sending email. They also must evaluate the effect that this consumer scrutiny will have on their brands, their email programs and the value of email as a marketing channel as we understand it today.