It's a discussion that's getting old, but with the advent of Outlook 2007 support for RSS – the online industry continues to make comparisons between RSS and email for online Marketing Communications (with SMS right around the corner).
From a content management standpoint, a lot of Industry folks think of all of these as ‘output' types. That's a really ignorant view. It's like looking at Direct Mail and a Bulletin Board the same because you used the same copy in both places.
RSS versus Email:
- RSS is a ‘pull' technology, not a ‘push'. The delivery methodology is at the convenience of the customer and not the marketer. As such, time sensitive or must-see content may be better off being delivered via email than RSS. It's easy to measure subscribes and unsubscribes via email, but it's not as easy with RSS unless you have 1 to 1 feeds.
- RSS is primarily read vertically, while HTML email content is commonly sliced into columns. People like to scan RSS from the top down, reading subjects, headings and bullet items – swiftly moving from feed to feed. RSS content often doesn't have an ‘above the fold' attention seeker because folks will gladly scroll the length of it. For email, content that's going to grab your attention needs to be within view before your reader deletes the email.
- RSS is a publication, while email is treated largely as an event in the industry. If you're an email marketer putting out a weekly email, it's common for you to have 52 versions of that email – one for each week. If someone subscribes to an RSS feed, the content should change but never the feed address. Old content is archived and unavailable once new content is published.
- RSS is widely viewed as a mass medium. 1 to 1 content via RSS is fairly rare and the tools currently don't exist to do complex analytics on feed consumption when every subscriber has a different feed address. Systems like FeedBurner simply don't work. Tracking systems at ESPs can work great for tracking subscriber engagement for feeds – but the methodology for reporting that data must change to provide the ‘publication versus event' approach that emailers take.
- RSS has options, like displaying a subject only, an excerpt, or a full feed. This requires some handy work when it comes to writing copy for each – recognizing which medium you're going to display.
- RSS supports media such as video and audio. Though it's possible to disable the security features that block those in an email, new email clients like Microsoft Outlook won't render script or embed tags at all.
A Word on SMS
SMS (short messages via your mobile phone) is a far different medium. SMS has the ability to interact with people as well as just push content to them. That's quite different from RSS and email. Marketers will really have to sort out how they are going to leverage the strengths and weaknesses of each medium – both in the copy, the format, the permission, and the delivery. There are a lot of opportunities to maximize your communications efforts – and there are a lot of opportunities to miss the mark!
In short, don't drive a plan to simply output the same message through different mediums.