You would think that retailers would have this easier, since they have an endless supply of SKUs and product imagery and it’s just a matter of merchandising the right category of content. In publishing, you’d think it would be easy: a person subscribes and presto, you align types of content based on interests or subscriptions and the curation machine will do the work. In both worlds, email marketers are basically doing a jigsaw puzzle on the fly, but in fact it turns into pain by numbers, which is a slow process if you’ve ever done it.
The problem with dynamic content with tons of if/then rules and complexity is you gradually diminish the audience/experience and statically, it’s very hard to understand what worked and its relative impact. Most end up dumbing it down to a big image or a few content blocks below the fold. That is what I like to call an “exhausted marketer’s default.”
I’ve been a huge proponent of personalization in general for a long time, but I don’t believe it’s valuable if you look at it like a mail merge. The methods to measure impact can only be seen realistically, over a period of time, not one dynamic image/link at a time. Your program should adapt over time, not be relegated to the constraints of resources.
I believe we are at an inflection point in the industry where we need to shift how we think about the customer experience in email. The facts don’t lie. Consumers are place-shifting, viewing email on the run, in the office and at home, and their attention span varies greatly. They’re also time-shifting, so the vision of send time optimization doesn’t work, unless you are delivering horoscopes — which we know everyone wants with their coffee in the morning. The consumer is device-shifting, and in some cases even switching between devices during a task like shopping.)
The future is what I like to call “individualization.” This goes against all batch-and -last views of the world and is a more adaptive approach to engagement. Sure, you have your newsletter going out to everyone and it looks the same. Sure, you have promotions where you have little control over the merchandising in the email. We all recognize we don’t always have the time to do personalization with heavy production schedules. Yet, if you think about it differently, it can ultimately change your approach and how you think about scaling a small team.
Is it viable to have everything personalized? Is it possible to automate the dynamic nature of content when you send it, vs. having to think up the matrix for each send during a campaign product run?
The shift in our market has been with triggered email. It makes total sense to personalize based on a shopping cart event: what a customer bought, what she didn’t, what she looked at and didn’t add to your cart. But this is one person and one event, right?
It also makes sense to look at product recommendations based on past purchases or trended purchase behavior to dynamically deliver content based on these algorithms. Sure there is what some like to call “live” content, where content is served at the point of open, but in all cases, it requires a lot of thought to set those up and in many cases, provides many complexities for the team to build and manage.
What if you had smart templates, where each piece of content has logic, and you consider content management more than image hosting? Instead of programming to the campaign, you are building for the content and how you want to use it. What if you shifted your thinking of how to mai- merge — “Dear David,” with an image of a car — and you could, within any email, make one logic change, and all streams were delivering content based on this logic, updating in real time.
Think differently and you’ll find the solutions are at your fingertips.
Great post David. There are nearly 35 of the larget retailers shifting their email strategies to individualization over personalization. How they are doing this is quite simple of the front end, but quite complex on the backend. Using technology from business.myalerts.com they are embedding a form at product pages offering alerts for email opt-in on price drops, new products, new availability, etc. With this permission-based first party dataset with criteria for the new content to trigger the alerts, retailers like Home Depot, Best Buy, Neiman Marcus, etc are reporting conversions that exceed their personalization efforts by 3X to 5X.