In our Email Elite series we interview industry experts about ‘all things email,’ from creating brilliant, personalized experiences to the future of email marketing. In this edition, we sat down with Lin Wang, VP of Strategy and Analytics at Shaw + Scott, and talked about email personalization trends this year and closing gaps in email marketer’s attempts to personalize their messages.

What would you consider as the most important recent (or current) development in email marketing?

Ten years ago, the availability of data was the bottleneck in building a successful marketing program.  Over time, we have more than overcome the data issue, but now the bottleneck exists in our ability and resources to rapidly react to what the data is telling us.  The most important recent development in marketing as a whole are these technologies that are allowing us to automatically take actions on the insights gathered from data.

What is the biggest trend that will drive success in 2018?

Personalization, multi-screen personalization, and multi-channel personalization.  Consumers today are being bombarded by marketing campaigns from every brand they interact with.  They are choosing to interact with different channels and different screens depending on timing, convenience, and preference.  In short, success in marketing programs in 2018 will need to have an ever-increasing focus on driving a hyper-emotional connection with the consumer.

What are the most common gaps you’ve seen in email marketers’ attempts to personalize marketing messages?

Their significant gaps can be summarized in really two major categories.  Non-alignment of personalization to the business goals and not listening to the data.  

In regards to non-alignment to the business goals, many marketers today are thinking too narrowly about campaigns as opposed to take a step back on what is the goal of the program.  Rather than thinking about how each campaign is driving the CRM/marketing program forward in the right direction, marketers are looking at the success of individual campaigns, some even simply at the individual send level.  With that view, the personalization efforts are narrowly focused on how we optimize the individual campaigns rather than how we are personalizing the overall customer experience with the brand.

In regards to not listening to the data, many marketers voice concerns that they don’t gather enough to make any real personalization attempts.  However, every interaction where a customer engages with the brand is a signal that tells us a story about why they are taking the initiative to interact.  These signals should be fully leveraged and exploited when we are thinking about personalization. Even simple analytical methods can start to uncover the why and the emotional connection needed to keep pushing the marketing programs to the next level.

What’s the best example of a brand doing it right to personalize along their customer lifecycle?

Alaska Airlines – Abandon Browse: Alaska Airlines lowers the hurdle to abandon browse emails by providing a clear path to previously searched dates and destinations. “We’re holding your seat” language provides sense of urgency, along with a clear “book your flight now” links to complete travel planning.

Airbnb – Retargeting Series: This series encourages investment in the engagement path and leads to personalized trip recommendations. Simple and straightforward creative focuses on single call to action in each email, rather than including lots of content in one message.

How do your clients make their email marketing investment decisions? Do you think this is the right approach? Why/why not?

Many email marketing investments are made today based on a resource need.  In essence, many are looking to leverage technologies to offset their lack of resources.  There is nothing wrong with this approach as it makes perfect sense from one view of the business needs.  However, this decision should be supplemented with an assessment from a customer experience need as well. The overall customer experience should drive the initial requirement of the who, what, when, when and how personalization, and the consideration of how it will be deployed across the marketing program.  Finally, these personalization needs will drive the technology investment.

Lin Wang is the Vice President of Strategy and Analytics at Shaw + Scott, working with a wide variety of clients in aligning their CRM program with their business objectives by creating and refining their roadmap, defining gaps and opportunities and putting together the strategic direction to achieve their business goals. Check out Shaw + Scott on Twitter: @ShawScott

In our Email Elite series we interview industry experts about ‘all things email,’ from creating brilliant, personalized experiences that drive email ROI even higher to the future of email marketing.

In this edition, we sat down with Rich Wilson, VP of Customer Experience at BrightWave, and talked about topics such as measurement and attribution, solving personalization challenges, and email innovation now and in the future.

When you work with clients on email personalization efforts, what are the most important KPIs you track?

As tools like Google Big Query, Domo and Tableau continue to become more affordable and easier to use, attribution will continue to be a more important and more effective metric for success. Our teams seek to uncover the most reliable source of truth in terms of overall effectiveness. This means we want to know how every individual dynamic element of an email helped contribute to increasing the strength of the brand-customer relationship and eventual financial success. A common mistake is to measure email as if it were media. This ignores the additive effect one email has on another in growing an ongoing relationship. The perfect world of attribution that takes into account individual messages, specific content and the overall relationship as a whole is a tough nut to crack – however, moving beyond opens and clicks to reveal financial performance is very top of mind for what we’re doing day in and day out.

“Moving beyond opens and clicks to reveal financial performance is very top of mind for what we’re doing day in and day out.”

What type of email marketing message or tactic do you feel is significantly underutilized?

The use of increased interactivity within the inbox itself is surprisingly underutilized, even by well-known brands with budget. It’s possible to develop emails with multiple layers leveraging hide and reveal states that make an email appear to work like a webpage. In-email polling, expandable menus and parallax scrolling of images allow organizations to reduce the steps a consumer needs to take in order to uncover key information or even make a purchase. Early adopters are starting to play with new inbox toys like these, but some of this technology has been around for a while and I’m amazed my own inbox doesn’t have more experiences that inspire me. Think about it…how much value would an email bring to an organization if it reduced a single page from a customer’s buying process? The problem is that most brands experimenting with inbox innovation techniques are focused on simple animated gifs or other gimmicky tricks. It’s a lot like the early days of Flash in the ‘90s. Eventually, the novelty of animation and emojis will wear off and true inbox innovation will have to improve the overall customer experience to be meaningful.

Which brands do you think are innovating in email? Why?

Selfishly, I can say that the work we did for Mizuno in utilizing home-grown progressive profiling was a big win. Likewise, I think the work we’re about to launch for has more dynamic information integrated than anything I’ve seen lately. Virtually every piece of content in the email is based on customer data built in conjunction with the client’s data teams. The images, cost, ratings, amenities, live availability…all of it. It’s not obvious to the user, but that’s the point, right?” Outside our four walls, I think the work Sephora is doing around targeting is interesting. LinkedIn does a pretty good job of sending me relevant messages based on what I’m doing with the app. And all you have to do is dig into the Litmus blog to get a dose of instant inspiration.

In your opinion, what are the biggest obstacles preventing marketers from personalizing more of their emails? What is your advice to overcoming those obstacles?

There are typically three major obstacles preventing marketers from personalizing more emails. In no particular order, they are:

Lack of Data: Only recently have we been able to actually use hyper-granular levels of customer data in a cost-effective way. As a result, marketers haven’t necessarily been collecting data for the purpose of personalization. What we see lately is an effort to reach across different parts of a client organization to forensically uncover data from business units outside marketing. It’s a bit like reaching between the digital couch cushions for loose change. It’s imperfect, but until new systems can be put online to effectively gather specific data for personalization, it’s a good way to increase understanding of customers.

Lack of Technology: Even if an organization HAS data, it’s often not connected to the systems utilized by marketing. It’s not uncommon for an organization to have a wealth of customer data living across several disparate databases in outdated systems that don’t talk to each other. Getting approval for capital expenditures to update systems takes time and limits the amount of owned data that can be readily available for personalization.

Lack of Expertise or Organizational Will: Personalization is more than changing subject lines to include a first name. True personalization is seamless contextual communication that anticipates needs based on past purchases, demographic information and output from predictive modeling. Five years ago, many marketers still saw email as a broadcast resource – just another channel. We’re at a tipping point where consumers are forcing brands to be more relevant, and taking the leap from batch-and-blast email to customer experience focused personalization requires skillsets that haven’t historically existed inside an organization. That’s why agencies and consultancies centered around marketing platforms have seen explosive growth in recent years – they have the expertise.

How will email marketing be used five years from now?

Five years is an eternity in the world of marketing technology. However, I think a couple of trends will continue. Consumers will continue the perennial search for convenience. This means other tools may emerge and compete with email as a means for consumers to communicate – especially on an interpersonal level (Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, etc.). But email stands to deliver a level of basic utility that will be hard to replace, even in the years ahead. Email will continue to be an important professional and transactional channel.

“For email to stay competitive, it will have to become more choosey.”

However, for email to stay competitive, it will have to become more choosey. Meaning, the underlying technologies will get better and better about figuring out what you do and don’t want to receive. Organizations seeking to communicate with individuals will have to have something truly meaningful to offer in order to simply get the message through. In that regard, email has the potential to become even more important than it is today. Likewise, the advent of movements like GDPR and blockchain will deliver more and more control of personal data back to consumers. If adoption of tools like the Brave Browser and the Basic Attribution Token take hold, we may find marketers actually paying consumers in micro-increments for the right just to send an email. The future is exciting, but we would all be best served to take a progressive approach. The challenge is massive and we can only tackle it in digestible chunks at a time.

Do you think email marketing is as good as good as it’s ever going to get? (why/why not?)

Hell no. The best days of email are ahead. Restrictions like GDPR and increased filtering will make email BETTER in the long run. Today’s hypomanic audience will demand better and better experiences and so long as email is one of the channels most closely tied to data, email has the potential to deliver experiences in five years we haven’t even dreamed of today.

Rich Wilson is the Vice President of Customer Experience at BrightWave, overseeing the work product from a diverse group of people on their Strategy, Technology, and Creative teams. He’s spent the last 20 years in the agency world helping brands become more meaningful to their customers. He can be reached via: @ThisRichWilson