Every time someone proclaims the death of email, new technologies emerge that make email fresh and new again, ready to retain its title as the technological heavyweight of the marketing world.
The next generation of email is at the gate, even as we speak. It is evolving into an even more highly optimized channel that pulls in customer data and offers services and functions now available primarily on Web sites.
For marketers, this means that recipients will potentially be further down the purchase decision path when they click through to the site, giving you and them a shorter path to conversion, whether it's a sale, site registration, product download, demo request or completing an application.
This isn't pie-in-the-sky conjecturing, either. It's happening right now, with technologies that operate in real time:
Testing services (e.g., Omniture Test & Target and 8Seconds) that perform A/B split or multivariate tests on live content and automatically serve up the winning combination within the same campaign.
Personalized product recommendations served into the email body reflecting a recipient's preferences, past buying history or other interactions with a company (Certona, Baynote, etc.).
Up-to-date customer reviews personalized to reflect the recipient's interests, previous purchases, transactions and other variables (BazaarVoice, PowerReviews, etc.).
Real-Time Testing Optimizes Email on the Fly
What's exciting about this isn't just the "ain't-it-cool?" aspect (although it is pretty cool to watch in action).
This technology allows marketers to test content in real time, using automation that serves up the winning combination in the campaign during the send, instead of doing it piecemeal on samples of their lists and then applying the results to the list at large.
This cuts the lag time between testing and optimization to hours rather than days. Think how that could have improved the last campaign you sent where the results didn't quite meet your expectations.
The software delivers the test emails randomly throughout your list and then tracks actions on the messages. As recipients open and act on the messages, the software calculates a winner and then delivers it to the balance of your mailing list once it reaches a desired confidence level (typically a 95 interval).
Dynamic Content Moves Off the Web
Serving Web content personalized for customer data such as pages visited, past purchases, demographics and preferences is standard operating procedure. Dynamic content in email isn't the latest frontier anymore, either. Bringing these concepts together introduces a new layer of relevance and credibility to email.
The ability to draw in fresh recommendations and customer-generated reviews allows you to create and send highly targeted, personalized and timely email messages, which are more relevant, engaging and credible than yet another generic broadcast free-shipping offer.
Add in send-time optimization, and you have the potential for real-time content based on when your recipients open their email messages, not just when you send it.
Optimization Evolves Beyond Occasional Testing
We talk a lot about optimization in email, testing various aspects of each message along with your email program as a whole, and then applying what you learn to move your program to the highest level.
However, real-time content optimization takes this concept farther, going beyond simply "testing," but rather serving up image-based content assets with confidence that one approach will beat out another. This approach makes testing technology an integral component of every email you send.
If you are using real-time content in your emails, I'd love to hear your experiences in the comment space below.
Until next time, take it up a notch!