Hyper relevant and rich mail experiences bound to take off

At the final session of the day at the CSA Summit 2018, Marcel Becker from Oath and Christian Hanke from Edenspiekermann looked at the changing email landscape and how to provide a much better user experience for end users. The way customers are using email is changing: Email is being consumed outside of the traditional email canvas. Email needs to stay relevant, offering new display experiences, integrating voice, and offering new services. 

One example Becker gave of a new feature is extracting relevant content (e.g. coupons) and showing it to the user when it is needed (e.g. based on location or date), rather than having it simply stored by the date on which it was received. Consumers want a product similar to a concierge – one that actually knows you and provides what Hanke described as “micro services”, becoming an active part in the user journey.

Becker took aim at the assumption that email is dying, and showed that, rather, email is changing context: 90% of all email is non-conversational, being used by brands to talk to their customers. 91% percent of Americans prefer email for e-commerce communication. Personalized e-commerce emails are six times more likely to be clicked.

However, as Becker pointed out, spamming just won’t work. The ISPs are protecting their customers from the junk being sent out, and if you are sending such junk, your reputation will suffer. Not only the relevance, but also the frequency of commercial emails is important: Companies that continue undeterred with daily emailing have seen a 52% decline in revenues.

Yes, Becker acknowledged, there have been some minor attempts at segmentation – kind of half/half batching – but the emails are often not really personalized. Hanke argued that email should stop being the weak spot in the brand experience – and should become exciting again for brands.

End customers, in Becker’s opinion, want to be treated like first-class customers. Hanke agrees: Brands are starting to understand the importance of a relationship with end users – the need for empathy for the user is now sinking in. Brands need to understand intent and get a granular understanding of customers. They are really beginning to take responsibility for the digital products and experiences they are offering. Communications need to be based on understanding the customer, according to Becker, and email is just one channel in how brands deal with customers. Hanke believes the switch between channels needs to be seamless.

Becker asked how we can optimize the way we reach out to our customers. He pointed out that it is easy to understand intent with the “hand raisers” (e.g. through search), but not so easy if customers do not tell you what they want. He pointed out that receivers have a pool of data they can tap into to understand intent better – for example, knowing that the end user has booked a flight to New York means that offers for that time in New York would become relevant for that specific end user. Hanke agreed, but warned that brands care is needed in the design of such a system to avoid what he termed as “creepiness”. As a brand, there is increasingly a responsibility for interruptions or disturbances in the day-to-day usage of users. The type of content and topics need to be appropriate to the situation. 

Becker went on to say that the consumer is willing for the receiver to use the data for something meaningful – relevant, and not outdated – but the challenge is how to implement such a system – especially with data protection concerns raised by the GDPR, etc. Customers want to be treated as if receivers understand what they want. This means in turn that brands should also not offer things customers don’t want. There should be no more targeting of segments, but rather direct targeting of individuals. 

Becker asked whether we are ready for this new approach. We can experiment, and try to set things up, but from a receiver perspective, it is important to avoid annoying users. Hanke sees great potential to connect with consumers through different micro services. With the rise of voice, there was the assumption that brands would see email as less important, but the reverse has been true. He sees huge opportunities with the new possibilities of email and an effortless way to connect with consumers for brands. But he warned that there is so much work to do to change the perception of brands in users’ inboxes.

Becker argued that ESPs think in established silos, which hinders us in getting to the next level, to help our customers and create new products. Not everything can be solved by just the ISP, or just the brand of marketing agency. The set of different players in the email marketing value chain are flying the plane together, and function as the gopher between the brand and the consumer. At the end of the day, what we all want is to get our mutual customer to do something – and if you do it right, the customer is happy to get out their credit card, the brand is happy, the receiver can maybe help the customer save some money with a coupon, there is increased engagement – so everyone’s happy.