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August 13, 2013

WE THINK ALONE, together

August 13, 2013

Email marketing can at times feel woefully slow on the technology curve. The collaborative efforts that led to web development standards sort of bypassed the email-sphere, leaving different email platforms to make their own decisions about how to read code. One of these days, we'll have video in emails and likely many other fancy things we can't yet imagine.

While it's possible to do some interesting things now (with animated gifs, or responsive email templates), the real opportunity to surprise and delight with email is strategy and content. It had been a while since I saw someone create an inspiring and fresh inbox experience. Enter filmmaker Miranda July with WE THINK ALONE.

email sign up for WE THINK ALONE by Miranda July
(The sign up experience for Miranda July's WE THINK ALONE forgoes convention. No simple bar here. Enter your name into the blob!)

For this project, July asked 10 people to forward her a message from their sent mail around common themes. Anyone in the world can sign up to receive the weekly digest, and with it, a peek into the secret digital lives of strangers and celebrities. Seven weeks in, I find myself wrapped up in the part-stories of people I had never heard of before.

The prompts are ordinary enough that most people could find an example somewhere in their sent email. Who hasn't written an email about a dream at some point? Other prompts: An email that gives advice. An email that talks about something you want. An email to your mom.

What I love about this project is that the emails were written at a time gone by, with no thought that those words would see the light of day beyond their intended recipient. As you might imagine, these prompts could turn up some raw and meaty stuff. Or something completely ordinary. Either way, it's something very genuine, very real.

At SmallBox we think and talk a lot about authenticity. We place a lot of value on being ourselves, even if it means occasionally showing that we aren't perfect and polished. Because guess what? We're a human organization, doing the very human work of being creative. Sometimes that's messy, and we say that's okay, so long as we make every page count before it's all done.

And we do have some internal debate over the importance of transparency. How much is too much? If we are more open, does that foster or squash our most authentic selves? These are debates we love to have, but one thing we've noticed – people respond to openness. 

For some businesses, the idea of sharing private emails publicly probably sends shivers down the spine. Think of all of the times you receive emails that have privacy clauses in the footer. But transparency can come in many other forms: Admit mistakes. Solicit and share feedback and ask for further reactions. Record and share (or even scarier - livestream!) an internal project or event.

Inspired by the openness and vulnerability of this project, I'm now looking at our company communications with a transparency lens. Is there more we can do to be open in a healthy and serving way? Do you have ideas to embrace more openness in your world?

If you're not ready for a transparency leap just yet, live vicariously through others. You can still get in on the WE THINK ALONE action by signing up here. 13 more rounds to go!

This whole prompt thing actually has me thinking about and looking forward to our next edition of Think Kit, which we'll embark on this December. To be notified of the project launch, sign up here.

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