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September 11, 2006

Why RSS will Overtake Email In Importance To SMBs

Small business folks have an identity problem....they don't have one, at least not enough of one. The last stat I remember hearing says the average small business has about a 7% rate of brand awareness. So basically only seven out of every 100 potential customers who are looking for the services they supply has a clue of who they are. That ain't good. So in order to reach that other 93% SMBs have turned to email marketing. And why not? It's cheap, relatively easy to put together, real easy to execute and extremely easy to track its effectiveness. And therein lies the problem. It's so easy and cheap that everybody and their mother (i use this cliche but really have no idea of where it came from and why for that matter) sends it, filling up in-boxes to the point of insanity. And as you're looking at your in-box, you'll probably agree that most of it is unsolicited, junk or unsolicited junk. Studies show estimates that up to 75% of email is perceived by recipients as one of those three categories, leaving them overwhelmed and with a sense of helplessness. Present company included, as I delete at least 40 unsolicited emails daily. No doubt many of these are from small businesses trying to sell me something when I'm not ready to buy, or attend a workshop/seminar/webinar/networking mixer/fill-in-the-blank I'm not interested in attending. Why else would email response rates be so low?

Although it sounds like it, I haven't come to bury email. It's still serves as one of the best ways to interact with folks you have existing relationships with. And because it is so cheap and easy to execute, there will always be a place for it in attempts to build new business relationships. But the fact of the matter is you're message probably isn't hitting the target. At least not enough of it. That's why it's really important to understand how Really Simple Syndication (RSS) can help move beyond that 7% brand awareness number.

Instead of trying to put together a lengthy definition of RSS I would suggest checking out the definition at Wikipedia.. I think it's easier to understand it this way. I'm taking back control of my in-box as much as possible. I, like many other folks, am trying my best to cut down the current flow of stuff into my in-box. I'm opting out of everything except only the very few newsletters I really depend on. And luckily many of the sites I look to for information I can get delivered to me another way. I am always in Google, Yahoo! and MSN searching for stuff, so instead of using the basic homepages of these three, I've set up my own customized home pages - My Google, My Yahoo! and My MSN. With these special homepages I can subscribe to information from my favorite sources and have them configured as a part of my customized home page. This is perfect as I get to choose what information gets displayed. It's easy to add and remove without going through a lot of hassle. Services like TypePad and Blogger make it really easy to get into blogging.  And just like any other piece of content, I can have my latest blog entries as part of my homepage. Look at all the different ways my blog shows up in the different search engine homepages:

My-Google.gif My-Yahoo.gif My-MSN.gif

Microsoft has come out with a new free newsreader (codename MAX) that really makes my blog articles look nice when they are subscribed to as well as being able to subscribe to newsfeeds in the next version of Outlook - Outlook 2007:

Microsoft-Max.gif

So I only have to use my TypePad account to create a blog entry and because of RSS, it can automatically show up in all these different formats without any extra work. It can also be syndicated to web pages. I really only need to focus on the content of the blog because the technnology makes it so easy to use and maintain it. The search engines will make my content available for those searching for the kind of information I provide and allow them to easily consume it in the way the wish to receive it. So I'm not force-feeding it to people who really aren't interested in reading it just because I have their email address and I think they'll like it. I have over six thousand email addresses, of which I actually know less than a hundred of those people. I don't think they'd like to read my stuff, I'm HOPING they will, knowing darn well 97% probably won't give it a second thought because other things are more important to them at the moment the email is received. But with RSS, I can easily make my content available for all who is searching for it, which should increase that 7% at least somewhat higher. And that should help in the all important search for new prospects and customers.....maybe even more than the ever popular, and even more annoying, email message.

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