In the course of developing their recent white paper, “Preparing for Message Convergence,” Dave Lewis and David Daniels adopted several terms to identify or describe certain new communications trends or concepts, including message convergence, device convergence and inbox convergence. I say “adopted” because these weren’t exactly new definitions. A quick Google search shows that these terms have been in use for a few years – limited use, but in circulation nonetheless. As many of us here at Message Systems are now using these terms in conversation and in a lot of the content we’re developing, I think it would be useful to get some definitions in place.

Device Convergence

The trend whereby devices that were once regarded as single-use implements now bring together multiple capabilities in a small package. Smartphones like iPhones and Droids are the most obvious examples, bringing together camera and video capabilities, music and radio with a bewildering array of apps. And, of course, voice and multiple message options as well: email, mobile text, social messaging, IM and more. Device convergence is empowering for the consumer – you can get all your email and text, and track your social connections, all through a single device – but it presents challenges for businesses. That’s because while it’s allowing time-tasked individuals to do more with less, it’s creating shorter windows for companies to connect with consumers.

Inbox Convergence

A single interface/application through which to send and receive all kinds of messages: email, text, IM, social messages, etc. Of the three things I’m addressed in this post, inbox convergence is the most widely known, as iPhones and Droids feature universal inbox apps for consolidating email accounts, and Facebook’s much ballyhooed Social Inbox will also allow users to access multiple message streams or channels through a single interface. Inbox convergence is another empowering concept for the end-user because it vastly simplifies the confusion caused by multiple channels (“that exchange I had with Rachel yesterday – was that through work email or through IM?!”), and in theory provides greater control over incoming messages. But again, from the business perspective, the changing dynamics of how individuals receive and manage messages presents challenges. Just consider a couple of issues: Would a customer rather be contacted through email or SMS text? Does it matter if they’re accessing everything through a single interface? Having insight into the preferences of the end-user takes on greater importance.

Message Convergence

Where companies know their customers’ communications preferences, needs and wants, and act on what they know to actually coordinate their communications so the right message is delivered at the right time and in the channel that’s most contextually relevant. In short, it’s customer-aware messaging in the fullest sense.

Message convergence is essentially an approach that enables businesses to solve the problems created by the proliferation of message channel choices (email, text, IM) and device convergence. Consider that companies today send out marketing email or transactional email to an address, and hope that it gets to its intended target. That target might only check that email address once a week. But they’re on Facebook three hours per day every day. If you could IM that same message to their Facebook account, bingo. You’ve upped your chances of making effective contact.

Same with mobile devices. If you’re an airline and you’ve got a flight that’s getting delayed at the last minute – say two hours before the flight is scheduled to leave – do you send an alert to your passengers’ work email addresses? Or do you send it to their cell phone via SMS text? Or both? If that passenger is already on their way to the airport, of course they would prefer to get it on their cell phone. When you know the message channel of choice for a given customer at a given time – and you act on that knowledge to communicate as effectively as possible – that’s message convergence in action. You’re using the appropriate channel at the appropriate time to optimize the likelihood of effectively communicating what you need to get across. The implications for companies adopting message convergence go far beyond the tactical processes I’ve outlined here, and we’ll be exploring those possibilities in future posts.