Using known information to improve communication is nothing new in the digital world. Since my first day as an email marketer, I’ve been groomed to look for insightful ways to divide and conquer email lists. List segmentation has been a core component of email marketing’s ability to stay competitive amongst peripheral digital channels.
The email ecosystem has always seen the biggest successes from marketers willing to take the next step in personalizing the customer journey. Context is a crucial element to every conversation; maintaining relevance is just as important as the value of words conveyed. Online, this conversational practice is primary to holding the attention of customers. In email, this challenge has been particularly difficult to solve with basic list segmentation.
Contextual Email in Current Workflows
Contextual email marketing still involves all of the previous personalization methods but allows for increased focus on the consumer. List segmentation can be used initially for the targeting framework, responsive HTML design will deliver the message cleanly across devices, dynamic personalization structures the content, then contextual elements interact with user-level indicators as the email is opened to enhance content interaction.
Adding contextual functionality to email shouldn’t affect how an email campaign is created, managed, or deployed. Naturally, it’s an additional step to create the real-time targeting, but the HTML is added to the email template the same as any other content. The actual segmentation work happens the instant the email opens and the targeting variables are identified.
Dynamic vs. Contextual Content
You might be asking. So, what’s the difference between dynamic email content and contextual email content? In principal, they’re very similar. Both segment content based on data from the recipient. The primary technical difference would be where the data gets pulled for the customization.
Dynamic and contextual email code are created and integrated into the email template during the development phase. During the email deployment, as emails are sending, dynamic content is pulled into each email just before it leaves the server. Dynamic content creates unique messaging for each recipient but relies on backward-focused CRM information to personalize.
The contextual technology works more responsively within the campaign structure. While the targeting is done before the email is sent, the content segmentation is done as the email opens and recipient attributes are used to dictate the display. Creating unique messaging for each recipient and giving the email forward-looking flexibility to deepen that personalization.
You’re Better Off Using Both Content Types
Each form of personalization works well independently. What makes a difference in an email is when these two methods are combined. Being heavily CRM-driven, dynamic email takes on a whole new life with contextual functionality. With both content types being used contextual relevance meets documented customer history.
A great example of this type of email could be a membership rewards campaign. Dynamic (pre-defined) data would be used to add things like name, member id, birth date, etc. While contextual (real-time) data like reward points total, reward availability and imagery all refresh at the moment of open.
The Future of Contextual Email
Real-time content elements will gain usage as email companies discover new applications for the kinetic style of messaging. Consumers will largely demand better digital communications from companies overall, consequentially pushing email functionality towards more of an interactive online medium. The inbox will shift from flat email content to a website-like interface.
Domain authentication will also become more prevalent in email marketing; helping authenticated email senders deliver enhanced messages, leaving unauthorized emails in cyberspace or relegated to static content delivery only.