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GUEST COMMENT The top five technological trends shaping the future of email marketing

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by Mark Ash

Email marketing is evolving rapidly. Technological developments and the emergence of new channels are making processes quicker and presenting exciting, new opportunities to brands and marketers. Today the focus is on leveraging big data to deliver real-time, highly personalised marketing messages. If you use email to engage customers and prospects, here are our top five most exciting technological trends currently shaping the channel today that you should be aware of.

Real-time bidding using email data

Real-time bidding has revolutionised the world of online display advertising. The ability to buy display inventory to deliver time-sensitive, highly targeted messages to individuals, rather than mass segments, based on their previous browsing behaviour is incredibly powerful. Previously, cookie data from websites was used to power this, but now, in addition, it’s possible to target display ads according to how consumers engage with email communications.

As a customer acquisition tool this means that when a consumer receives an email from a brand and elicits some kind of response – whether it’s the opening of the email or clicking on a specific link – brands can now follow up on those initial signs of purchasing intent. By retargeting and serving a sequence of tailored messages about specific products, the prospect can be kept ‘warm’ and brands can ensure they remain front of mind throughout the course of the purchasing cycle. This is particularly useful for more expensive items where there’s a longer consideration process. In effect this helps brands maximise the investments of their email customer acquisition campaigns by linking with other digital channels and driving the sale in a very targeted way.

The cloud and data management

The amount of data now available to marketers is limitless. The core data-sets that once formed the foundation of direct marketing – demographic, transactional and behavioural data – have been joined by a plethora of new sources, social media, geo-location and apps to name but a few. One of the single biggest challenges to brands therefore is how do you manage all these multiple streams of data? The role of marketing directors and chief marketing officers has fundamentally changed from being purely marketers to being information managers.

The answer comes in cloud technology, which can dramatically enhance a company’s capability to access, collate and analyse huge volumes of different data-sets (including social media) without the need to invest in sophisticated databases. Importantly, the technology can be used to run highly complex searches in order to deliver dynamic, highly targeted marketing messages, in real-time. The fact that this process is completely automated saves considerable time and resources, whilst real-time feedback provides companies with the vital information they need to optimise their marketing spend.

The cloud and creative messaging

In the future all marketing media planning will be centred on targeting known individuals based on what stage they are at in the customer journey. This means that a one channel approach – whether it’s email or any other channel – simply won’t cut it. Brands will need a holistic understanding, particularly in the retail space, where you typically have a short window of opportunity in driving the purchase decision. The problem is that because data is often collected by different units within the company, marketers are being forced to market to a channel rather than an individual. So the real challenge is how to cross-channel market and deliver a clear and consistent message to an individual regardless of the channel.

This brings us back to the capability the cloud gives brands in being able to access data from multiple sources and use it to constantly refine their creative messaging. Using customer data to dynamically change creative according to a consumer’s demographic/previous behaviour is nothing new, however the fact that it can be done in real-time and utilise a wider range of data-sources means that the relevancy of the message is significantly enhanced. Indeed, the ability to tailor and coordinate messages across channels gives retailers a lot more control of their inventory.

Sales attribution

The key to maximising the return on investment of marketing spend in this multi-channel world is quantifying the effects of different touch-points throughout the customer journey. Only by understanding how each channel is driving the sale and how these are interconnected can a brand optimise the allocation of its budget across the multiple touch-points. One of the challenges for email, as a channel, is that its influence on sales is often under-represented, however the development of increasingly accurate sale attribution models will help overcome this.

The inherent danger of using sales attribution is that by selectively choosing which channels or influences are included in the model, it can be used politically within an organisation to support an existing strategy, rather than to actually determine what the future strategy should be. So in this respect, you need to have an open mind when using them. But as these tools develop, associated costs decrease and its use within marketing departments becomes more common, its importance and influence will no doubt increase and the true value of email will be realised.

Brand advocacy programmes

‘Forward to a friend’ links are commonplace in emails, but emerging are exciting new methods which build upon this basic concept. Take Pinterest for example, by adding the capability to pin items directly from an email to the user’s board, brands can facilitate the sharing of content. Furthermore, the pinned item can be tracked so that if any friends of the user subsequently click on the selected item, the brand can then associate it to that customer and reward them accordingly. Likewise, personalised ‘member get member’ email programmes make it easy for customers to send personalised branded messages to their friends; anyone who in turn signs up can then be linked back to the original customer who can then be rewarded for being a brand advocate.

Whilst these five technological trends are just the tip of the iceberg – in terms of influences shaping email marketing – they go to show the channel is far from ‘being dead’ like some naysayers have suggested. The emergence and integration of new technology and practices will ensure that email continues to evolve with marketers’ growing needs and remains a highly effective and efficient communication channel for the foreseeable future.

Mark Ash is director of media at eCircle , a Teradata company.

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