It is not big news to suggest that emails should be targeted as much as data allows but many brands are starting to take this trend one step further. Not only are they personalising emails for each recipient, they are doing so in real-time, when the message is opened.
At DHL-owned email marketing technology company, Optivo, whose clients include Tui, Bosch and Air Berlin, the observation is that brands want to speak to customers and prospects in real-time. René Kulka, the company's e-marketing evangelist, explains this involves a process of double personalisation that starts by getting to know more about customers.
“There is already a lot of working going into making emails more personalised, based on the data companies have on customers,” he says. “It makes a great deal of sense, and open rates reflect, that if you send somebody something that is more relevant to them, they will engage with it. Much of our client’s data comes from their Web site, where they know what someone has done when visited recently and so they know what is the most relevant content and offers to send out.”
However, in the fast-changing world of digital marketing, it does not matter how relevant an email was when it was sent out. It could be out of date just a few hours later. That means, then, that personalising once is no longer best practice. Personalising twice is where the market has moved.
“You might open an email that has clearly got some very relevant offers for you a few hours after it was sent, perhaps a few days later,” explains Kulka. “There’s nothing more annoying than clicking through on an offer only to find the product is out of stock or the time period for the offer has run out. That’s why you now have to use data for each person, as they open the email, to serve the best offers and content. If a product has sold out, or the offer period has elapsed, you need to offer something else. Otherwise, you can end up just annoying people and losing an opportunity to convert their interest into a sale.”
In practice, this means an email subject header is permanent and, usually, the first paragraph that will be viewed in a preview pane is, too. However, what comes next should be decided in real-time, as the email is opened.
“Brands want the very latest information to appear so they want to make a decision on what is displayed the moment the email is opened,” he says. “That way they can look at the person’s behaviour on the Web site, particularly any transactions, to decide what is best to display. The context of time or day and device might well change the appearance of the email, too. Some brands may want to have night-themed imagery appearing if a person is opening an email in the evening, or bright morning pictures if they are opening it up in the morning.”
The differences may be subtle but adjusting messaging, both text and pictures, to reflect the context in which the email is being opened can bring noticeable results, Kulka claims. Rather than email being set in stone, a real-time, dynamically delivered message can open up new opportunities by not telling customers old news and instead reacting to their latest behaviour with the most apt content and offers.
Just when the email marketing industry has become used to personalisation, then, it turns out that it is not quite enough and, to truly hit the mark, emails need to be personalised twice — when they're sent and when they're opened.