Majority Report: Personalized Email Testing and Optimization

As I marvel on a regular basis at how far modern technology has come, my mind wanders back to scenes from Steven Spielberg’s futuristic thriller Minority Report. I remember sitting in the theater and chuckling at how there was no possible way that technology would become so human interactive, and no possibility that content and media could, or would, be allowed to adapt so personally to the individual. This doubt is of course supported by many other futuristic films that boasted hovercraft and other sky-flying technology in common use, and were set in years that have come and gone with no trace of this technology.

However, as I watch Minority Report again, 12 years after its 2002 release, I find that a lot of the touchscreen and mobile technology portrayed in that film eerily forecast a lot of the capabilities present in our modern smartphones and tablets. Given that this is a personalization blog, I am naturally headed to the scene where Tom Cruise walks through a marketplace and receives personalized relevant advertising as he passes different storefronts. Of course, because it’s a thriller, and Spielberg relishes in pushing the envelope, the personalization is hyperbolic in that it is calling Tom’s character by name and directly soliciting a response from him. Nowadays, with personalization in popular practice within the digital sphere, we know that it requires a subtle touch. One in which relevant content is being adapted subtly to meet the explicit or implicit preferences shared and captured by a visitor’s anonymous profile.

However, this Minority Report-style digital acquisition and advertising in the marketplace is in itself not far off from Spielberg’s vision. We have many customers, especially in the retail, travel, and financial services industry (FSI) spaces, who are embracing mobile location-targeting and iBeacon technology. These technologies are available with our Adobe Mobile Services offering (included in Adobe Target Solution) and can be used to target mobile offers based on a store that a customer might be in close proximity to, or by offering a discount related to a product category the customer might be browsing on the shelves. It’s becoming much more commonplace for customers to comparison shop in a store with their smartphones or tablets, providing a good opportunity to use these new types of targeting. There’s also the connection of digital screens and applications within stores, at airport digital kiosks, or even in the screen on the back of a taxi or airline seat, that can be subtly personalized to meet the needs and preferences of the customer for greater customer engagement, conversion, satisfaction, and brand loyalty.

As far as we’ve come with digital personalization across multiple channels and touch points, one traditional channel that has persisted and maintained its effectiveness over the years in terms of acquisition is email. Yet even with the long-term consistent success of email marketing, I’m surprised at how little testing, optimization, or optimal personalization I see coming from this vital but often misused opportunity for customer engagement. Too often we receive “personalized” emails that are basic targeted mass mailings based on a category preference and clearly have not been optimized or even personalized according to any sort of profile data.

Think about it: you have my email, so you know who I am. Because I have at least authenticated or connected my profile data with this email, you have a lot of information about me, such as where I’m from; how I came to your website; what I was searching for; what I looked at, bookmarked, added to my cart, or purchased; what I signed up for; etc. This profile data might even connect to a customer profile in my customer relationship management (CRM) or other databases that I can capitalize on within Adobe Target for optimized personalization within email campaigns. And yet, even with all of this information, basic targeting and potentially mirroring of this marketing message on a landing page is where personalization ends.

Testing in email, for the most part, is nonexistent, and most point products that claim they do it only truly offer targeted content sent to an email service provider (ESP).This is because point products have not invested in developing the implementation flexibility required for swapping content or other elements within an email template, the ability to properly integrate with the leading ESP providers, or the ability to real-time target the best-performing version of content to unopened emails.

Adobe Target, with its server-side architecture, true real-time marketer control, and flexible implementation, allows our customers to test and dynamically target and personalize email campaigns in real time. It lets them connect these tests to tests on the home and landing pages that can be targeted in real time based on performance. If the test determines that one version of content is best to target a certain segment of the email population within the remaining unopened emails, it can be changed in real time to capitalize on the best possible outcome and revenue lift.

Values can also be set in the email to pull Mr. Cruise’s name dynamically into the template, if Tom happens to be your customer, along with product images, investments, or other content he’s engaged with or has consumed. Because of our unified solution implementation, we have customers who are also testing recommendations and the algorithms driving them within email campaigns as well. This is super powerful in terms of acquisition email campaigns and re-engaging customers postpurchase or post-cart abandonment and improving customer satisfaction by offering relevant additional services or cross-sell opportunities. All of this is built and executed within the Target solution.

It thrilled me to learn that email campaigns were not overlooked with the Adobe Target solution when I was a customer, as it remains one of the most productive yet most often overlooked channels in terms of personalization, customer acquisition, and ultimate conversion. I’m confident that if Spielberg had included the personalized email scene connected to an optimized personalized landing page within Minority Report, as I would have scripted it, the movie perhaps would have been titled Majority Report.