Before It’s Too Late: Just-In-Time Information

Author:  David Baker

The notion of Just-in-time (JIT) information is not new. It evolved from the concept of Just-in-time inventory used in automotive manufacturing, designed to make efficient use of materials to support real-time needs. Sound familiar? My feeling is that putting concepts like JIT into different frames is thought leadership — it expands our view and brings us out of the tactical jungles where we live.

In the Web world, early examples of JIT information were pop-ups and help windows designed to support a single experience, task or need. While the concept is easily understood, it is rarely done well — for several reasons. To summarize, the main issues with JIT for the Web are understanding the disparate “in-the-moment” needs of the consumer and how to facilitate this through content/information.

At its best, for marketing purposes, JIT information can make the difference between a purchase or a deferred decision. So, where does email fit in and why is this important?

Email has become an extension of JIT Information. It’s not merely a fulfillment tool for research. Email is pervasive. We “do” email at work, at home and on our mobile devices. Between work and personal email, we process over 125 messages a day.  It has become “in the moment” and it now travels with us.

As professionals, we know that triggered email has a dramatic impact on conversion. We also know that mapping messaging and timing to Web consumption behavior doubles the chance of getting the sale. We know that when consumers grasp something that is relevant, they are far more likely to share and be an advocate for the message, company and brand. We know that people are increasingly using email to build and evolve their social networks.

We believe that the basis of the perfect email is mass customization. We can deliver discrete messages based on Web events, business events or time-based/lifecycle-triggered events. We can deliver dynamic content to each customer based on pre-defined information needs or market timing considerations. We can assess consumers’ behavior to better understand if and how response patterns support our hypothesis around timing and relevance. We can track this independently by consumer, segment or any behavior trait we know about the consumer.

So, why is it important to talk about JIT and email? METHODOLOGY.  Email is often thought about as cause and effect. It is discussed by marketers through a promotions and loyalty eye and rarely defined through the customer’s eyes or at a task-level view. We hope that by throwing a bunch of information out there, people will self-select and self-navigate. This makes sense based on adult learning theory, which posits that adults tend to want control over the pace and direction of content in a self-paced structure. But that assumes you are clear about the tasks, content and behavior change you are designing programs for, and have clear methods of evaluating this effect.

Choosing discrete tasks and functions you want to support and correlating the information needs, consumption paths and timing considerations will be the foundation of building worthwhile “experiences” in this “on-demand” world.

Building email programs that evolve through this type of logic will be the key to your success in the future. It may not be about the sale, it may be about supporting the information needs in a lead inquiry process, or compressing the consideration cycle, or being the conduit to a multichannel experience that ends at a pre-defined event (call center, sales center or ecommerce event).

JIT information and other user-centered information architecture approaches are rarely employed in the development of email campaigns.  It is time to extend these methodologies from site development to email programs. We should embrace this view of information and the behavioral effects, or we’ll never make sense of an open rate or justify the value of a click-through rate.

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