Innovation Starts With “A”

For many, 2020 has been one of the most challenging years ever, and that includes for email marketing. One upside is that innovation thrives during periods of disruption, and we’ve seen many examples this year. In this blog, we’ll review how this has reshaped email marketing—for the better!

  • Authentication: The COVID-19 pandemic provided many new opportunities for fraudsters. Security vendor Mimecast reports a 26% increase in spam messages and a 56% increase in blocked clicks. To combat this, email senders are increasingly adopting Domain-based Message Authentication, Reporting & Conformance (DMARC), an email protocol for senders to improve protection of their domains from fraudulent email.Global adoption still has a way to go. Even in banking—a sector with good reason to take fraud seriously—only 1/3 of domains (1,800 out of 5,354) currently have DMARC records. At Validity’s recent Summit, Verizon Media’s Marcel Becker expressed a wish for 2021: “All senders to authenticate…the people responsible for the brand(s) don’t understand the implications [of not doing so].”

    A positive side-benefit of DMARC is senders can implement Brand Indicators for Message Identification (BIMI), a new standard making it easier to display logos next to emails in the inbox. This encourages greater subscriber trust in senders, as they are given a visual indicator it’s a legitimate email.

  • Artificial Intelligence (AI): AI has been driving spam filtering and fraud prevention solutions for a while now, but 2020 encouraged an explosion in other applications. Senders now use AI for send-time optimisation, engagement prediction, best offer selection, better personalisation, and next-best channel identification.For example, Validity customer eBay implemented Phrasee (an AI-powered copywriting technology) to optimise subject line and headline copy within its email, resulting in a click rate uplift of 42%.

    AI is so effective because email programs can deliver truly 1:1 messages at a scale never previously possible. This creates relevance and trust—two primary drivers for why 73% of consumers rate email as their preferred marketing channel, according to new DMA research.

  • Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP): AMP is the breakthrough technology of 2020, allowing email senders to include components delivering rich, engaging experiences by making modern app functionality available within the emails.Using this technology effectively brings website user experiences into the inbox, with senders weaving functionality like drop-down lists, carousels, and customer surveys into email itself. There are already widely quoted AMP use case examples from Booking.com (preview destinations directly within the email), Pinterest (view and save items to the board), and Doodle (participants can select times directly from the email).

    One of our favourite examples came from Babylon Health in collaboration with Action Rocket and Braze, using AMP to create a 3D version of the body, with user interaction producing a customised lifestyle questionnaire. At a time when it’s much harder to get face-to-face medical advice, Babylon reported a 56% click rate uplift and a 20% increase in questionnaire completion.

    Back when kinetic email was a hot topic, Experian reported average uplifts of 18% in click rates, with subscribers more primed to transact by their richer inbox experience. With AMP offering all the functionality (and much more) once promised by kinetic, marketers have a strong incentive to adopt this technology in 2021.

  • Augmented Reality: During a year of lockdowns when consumers were unable to visit many physical shops, brands innovated by bringing traditionally in-store experiences directly to subscribers’ inboxes. In this excellent MAC cosmetics example, customers are encouraged to use their digital tools to virtually try on eye shade and lipstick products.
    We’ve seen similar approaches from Ray-Ban, allowing customers to see if they look better in Aviators or Wayfarers. In a year where flights and holiday inventory was massively reduced, the travel industry also went virtual with senders bringing travel experiences to their customers instead.

While innovation is the lifeblood of progress, there are often obstacles to overcome, and our Summit panelists had some excellent advice:

  • Accept there may be reluctance to introduce change because of potential business risk. Email often struggles to attract investment because it is seen as a high-performing channel not needing additional help.
  • Equip yourself with as much detailed information as possible and craft a compelling business case. Define your objectives and focus on what can be achieved with the technology, not the technology itself—what business challenge is being solved?
  • Ensure there is adequate resourcing to implement and continue to support the program, technology, etc. enabling this innovation.
  • Demonstrate patience. If innovation is defined as engaging at scale with a new audience/segment, you need time to build trust and relevance.
  • Always remember you are asking your stakeholders to take a leap of faith. Bring them with you on the journey and make it really easy to buy in.

As we enthusiastically embrace the festive season, email subscribers will benefit from a year of frenetic innovation. Watch out for the next post in this series when we’ll look at “Ecommerce Christmas” and the vital role email plays supporting the big end-of-year sales push.

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