Over the last several months, we’ve explored trends in the email industry that have emerged from abuse of the channel: deliverability has evolved as a result of an immense volume of spam, and privacy has become a huge focus due to the frequency and impact of fraud attacks. In the third and final part of this series, we’ll switch to a more positive gear and take a look at hyperpersonalization, which is all about dynamically designing every aspect of an email based on each individual subscriber’s behavior and preferences. Going forward, I believe hyperpersonalization will elevate our interactions with subscribers for more meaningful, mutually beneficial relationships.
The Concept of Personalization Isn’t New
For years, direct marketers have been adding the recipient’s name to postal mail. With the move to digital mediums, those old tactics took a new form, with the recipient’s name, location and other unique details being peppered into subject lines and body content. The format was static, as a simple database was used to fill in the blank with the personalized data point. However, this approach worked. It worked well and consistently, resulting in up to six times higher transaction rates. Just as the postal mail recipient had previously been excited to receive a postcard or catalog “just for them,” the email subscriber would respond eagerly to messages “just for them” in their inbox. Over time, however, this excitement has waned as subscribers receive more and more messages using the same personalization elements. The novelty has worn off.
A New Form of Competition
Similarly, retailers have historically thought of competition in terms of the Sunday paper. Consumers would leisurely view Company A and Company B advertising inserts side by side and make a purchase decision based on the best offer or merchandise featured. As advertising and shopping options have moved online, the subscriber’s inbox has replaced the Sunday paper. However, instead of a few competing companies, the subscriber is now inundated with options. In fact, the average subscriber now receives 500 marketing emails per month, but opens only 33.
As subscribers have become much more selective of the messages and companies they engage with, retailers have been forced to compete not only for consumers’ dollars, but also their attention. Every other brand trying to reach your customer’s inbox is a competitor (travel, social media, consumer brands, etc.). Standing out amid the clutter to be among the few messages opened will become critical for continued success in email, and retailers will have to adopt smarter, more relevant tactics to create a personal shopper relationship with consumers.
On-Demand Environment Spawns Higher Expectations
The prevalence of mobile has fostered a low tolerance for irrelevance, and we’ve already observed subscribers exhibiting new behaviors, such as triaging their mail on a smartphone and later opening the saved messages on a desktop to take action. As our world has become more on-demand, expectations have risen. Consumers expect to see and get exactly what they want when they want it. The future of email personalization incorporates these behaviors into the sending strategy. The path to purchase now becomes fully experiential as retailers construct an ideal environment for engagement and conversion by crafting a mobile or desktop experience specifically for the way subscribers are leveraging each (e.g., mobile for catching attention, desktop for driving the click to conversion).
Prior Value Drives Engagement
The concept of prior value deduces that with every message sent, a subscriber mentally takes note of how valuable (or not) the message and sender is to them. After a few consistent experiences, the subscriber begins to form assumptions (e.g., Company X sent the same 20 percent off coupon to me five times in a row, so there’s no urgency to buy now because I will receive another 20 percent off coupon from it tomorrow).
This is especially important paired with the inbox triaging we’re seeing from subscribers. They’re making split-second decisions to delete or engage, largely based on their expectations set from previous messages. This raises the stakes substantially for retailers to pack each and every message with relevance in order to continually reinforce the value of the relationship.
The Future is Bright
In the future, retailers will look to data to drive conversations with subscribers. In lieu of a single, static data point, retailers will invest more heavily in data science to make big data actionable. Some technology has already emerged to facilitate real-time optimization of images and subject lines. This trend will continue and grow in influence to ultimately drive every aspect of an email program. Data will determine how many emails each subscriber will receive, the best day and time to mail each individual subscriber, the content featured in the message, and even the landing page experience. Every message will truly be designed for each individual, and managed with the goal of optimization.
Optimization of the subscriber’s experience is the common factor in all three of our trends, and has a symbiotic relationship:
So, what are the trends driving email? Engagement, engagement, engagement.
This article originally appeared in Total Retail.