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Email marketing: Are you up to speed with email's new breed?

28th Jan 2013
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Despite being a standard part of the marketing kit, email continues to evolve, throwing up new features and opportunities that marketers must learn to master.

Despite its long established role in the digital marketing mix, email continues to evolve, throwing up new features and opportunities that marketers must learn to master to reach their customers. Indeed, the developments discussed below will see email truly come to life in 2013 – enabling savvy marketers to drive high levels of engagement and conversion.
Creating tailored personalised experiences based on data
Email is a great relationship building tool for brands and their customers, but it is important to remember that a good relationship is about listening as well as talking. By listening to customers and taking the time to understand who they are and what they like, brands can deliver emails at the correct frequency, optimised for the right device, which contain the right type of content for the recipient. The more advanced the industry gets, the more important it becomes to listen and respond in as close to real-time as possible.
Today, it might still be enough to send an email that contains content broadly tailored for either a male or female recipient of a certain age and still see good levels of engagement. But in the future, brands will need to learn from each customer engagement and link transactional data together in a clever way – for example, if a female in her mid-twenties buys a coat on your website, a brand should follow up with an email showcasing the scarves and hats that suit the coat she has bought.
Some brands, such as Amazon are already doing a great job of this, while others still have a long way to go.
Cross-channel marketing
When a customer opens an email on their mobile phone, enjoys the content and shares it with their friends via social media – is that engagement via one channel or three? To the consumer it does not matter. All they care about is being able to read the email as and when they want to, that the email itself matched their interests and that they could simply share the content via social media. While some marketing channels move faster than others, email sits squarely at the heart of many important customer interactions.
Marketers must stop thinking about channels independently and instead employ tools that enable them to create and manage cross-channel campaigns that engage consumers in a way that interests and excites them.
Real-time content
For most people, email is the standard method of communication when at work and engagement levels are understandably high. However, when using personal email accounts – where people receive most of their marketing content – engagement levels are much lower, with these accounts often only being checked once or twice a week. 
If a person only checks their email once a week, but eventually does open an email, it is important that the information is as relevant to them as the day it was sent. The key here lies within delivering dynamic, live content. People want to know what is available today, not about a sale that ended yesterday. The ability to update email content once it is in the inbox will become an increasingly important trend in years to come, as consumers become increasingly used to real-time engagement with brands.
Some brands – including UK mobile carriers – have started sending SMS messages to customers to alert them to an email in their inbox. This uses the real-time immediacy of a text message as a prompt to open the creative content that is contained in an email. While only a few brands adopt this approach, it is a clever way of driving email engagement – but if you received a text message from every brand that sent an email, this would quickly become an annoyance. Similarly, brands need to use clever analytics to understand which customers are slow to open email and those that regularly engage. Getting chased to open an email that you have already opened would be just as annoying.
Email on the move
Digital agency Steel recently conducted some research that found that more than a third of consumers read marketing emails on their mobile, which rises to 55% among 18-34 year olds; a high proportion of many marketers’ target audience. It must be said however, that mobile and desktop email have their advantages: desktop offers the opportunity for greater creativity; but mobile offers location-based services and addresses an always on mentality.
The challenge for email marketers is to ensure that their campaigns render correctly on whichever device the consumer uses to open their email. Email continues to play a central role in consumer marketing and, with the major developments the channel is undergoing, marketers have a tremendous opportunity to create successful and imaginative strategies. 
Matthew Potter is director of product and propositions, digital, at Experian Marketing Services.

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