Twenty years ago I used a corded phone to call my best friend every Saturday for just 30 minutes. Although he lived only 15 minutes away it was still a long distance phone call and we had to keep the phone bill down. Ten years ago, when we traded those corded phones for cellular phones, long-distance was a thing of the past. Today, most teenagers donʼt even know what a “home phone” looks like, and for many of us, weʼve been wire-free for years. On the surface it sounds amazing, but let me ask you this: how many phone numbers could you recite from memory? Probably as many as you can count on your hand, if your memory is sharp. Thatʼs why he have speed dial and address books.
What Happened To The Phone Number?
It used to be that getting someoneʼs phone number meant something, but now most people couldnʼt list ten. It used to be that youʼd have to call someone if you needed to talk, but now you have texting, social media, blogs, and email. Itʼs not just that we have better ways to communicate either. I know dozens of entrepreneurs that wonʼt even pick up the phone for friends, let alone customers. In a strange way, weʼre developing a huge aversion to voice to voice contact.
The AOL Days
Do you remember when AOL used to ship those free CDʼs and weʼd sign up for the trial over and over again? What about when we used to swap internet providers based on who had the best deal? Eventually, you probably cycled through fifteen email addresses, forcing you to email your friends and family every time you made a change. It was painful!
In those days, we changed email address in the same way we change clothes. Today, thanks to services like Gmail and Yahoo, we tend to pick an email address and keep it. Sure, we might have secondary addresses that we use for Paypal, work, and/or signing up for newsletters, but weʼve all got that one email address that we keep for the important stuff.
How Email Became The New Phone Number
With the advent of cloud-based email systems, phone numbers simply arenʼt relevant, itʼs the email address that matters. Think about the way you exchange information with someone that youʼd like to do business with. You might give them a business card with a phone number, but the piece they really want is your email address. On the other hand, if youʼve met someone youʼre not interested in doing business with, youʼll give them your website address, or maybe a Twitter or Facebook URL – but youʼll keep that email to yourself. Why? Because now more than ever, we use email to do business. When the phone rings now we let it go to voicemail, but when something hits the inbox, we give it our undivided attention.
One could speculate that itʼs easier to do meaningful business without getting caught in trivial conversation, but the truth is that we donʼt need to talk on the phone to do business because weʼre already talking to each other anyway. These days, that weekly phone call to my friend has been replaced with daily status updates, Tweets, and blog comments. But whatʼs the one piece of information that binds all of those profiles together? Whatʼs the only constant in a rapidly changing digital world? Itʼs your email address, the digital ID that enables us to do business and communicate online. With nothing more than an email address, I can create a Twitter account, Facebook account, YouTube account, Google Voice account, and more.
How Google Changed The Game…Again
Have you noticed how Gmail asks for phone numbers to help you “backup” your Google account? Theyʼve been doing it for a while, but no one really noticed. Weʼve gotten so used to giving away our phone numbers (mostly because we donʼt answer anyway) and texting back and forth that we gave it away without a 2nd thought. If you were Google, and you had everyoneʼs email address linked to a phone number, what would you do? You guessed it…Google Voice. Brilliant.
With one fell swoop, Google not only made the phone number relevant again, but turned the email into a key card used to reveal a personʼs entire social profile at once. With a Google Voice account, which can easily be accessed via web or cellular device, I can call you without ever knowing your phone number. I can make phone calls from Gmail, and if I have your email, I can call you on the spot. Better yet, you donʼt have to be home. Google Voice allows me to find you wherever youʼre willing to be found.
As a business, that makes having your email address more valuable than ever, and as a consumer, it gives me even more reason to safeguard it.
Transcending VOIP and Cellular
The email address is officially the connector, it is the most valuable piece of information you can obtain from someone. Google Voice is already a core feature of Droid devices, and it will eventually find the same market on the iPhone. Itʼs live in airports, and now…in your inbox. Because of this, I predict a return to voice to voice communication, simply because the barriers to access have once again been removed. Where once Skype and Vonage destroyed the landline, Google Voice will destroy the cellular service plan while simultaneously serving notice to those that helped pave the way.
I can easily imagine a Google device, one which allows me to contact you via phone, video, chat, that uses nothing more than a Gmail address as the glue that binds it all together. Until then, this is what Google Voice has become. Many praise Facebook for aggressively entering the information brokerage business, but Google takes them to school with this one.
The landscape is changing, and with this move, your email capture methods have become more important than ever. Email addresses are currency, not because you can use them for telemarketing or spam, but because you can go the extra mile to show your customers that you care. This is how we usher in new forms of marketing and customer development, how active becomes interactive, and how personal becomes interpersonal. What are you doing to embrace it?
Thumbnail Photo: spencerholtaway