Put Personalization in Context With Real-Time Email Marketing

Consumers can smell superficial personalization from a mile away. Even a relevant, interactive campaign can elicit eye rolls if the personal details and suggestions aren’t spot on.

But, marketers are daring. According to the Real-Time Marketing Insights Study, conducted by Adobe and Direct Marketing Association (DMA), 77 percent believe real-time personalization is crucial, and most are planning for real-time technologies that can help improve personalization efforts with more relevant data.

Surprisingly, 80 percent of marketers surveyed name email — not mobile, social, or web — as the most important channel for real-time personalization. In short, email has emerged as one of the most reliable and effective channels for engagement.

Real-Time Is More Than Just Agility

Done right, real-time email marketing is contextual personalization at its best. It far surpasses social marketing or using a contact’s first name in the greeting and other references to basic demographic data. Real-time email marketing delivers contextually relevant experiences, value, and utility at the appropriate moment in the customer lifecycle in ways that reflect the customer’s preferences.

To be contextually relevant is to take into consideration where readers are now, where they came from, and where they are going next. It’s a faster way of saying “marketing that is personalized based on behavior, time, inclination to purchase, environment, and device.”

If you want to mature from basic personalization to contextually relevant, real-time email marketing, you need access to a constellation of sources containing sophisticated data, including:

Context Changes Everything

In real-time email marketing, the content of your email is never completely static. Readers may see different copy or promotions depending on the day they open it. Someone could read your email in Boston, hop a plane to San Francisco, open the email again, and see fresh content that reflects the current climate and location-specific offers.

That’s what makes context so powerful: it transforms marketing campaigns from static to interactive, favors personalized engagement over broad targeting, and emphasizes utility and value over transactions. Real-time email marketing that is driven by contextual data has the potential to blow customers away. It is consistent across digital and offline channels, populated with relevant and engaging content, and delivered at just the right time.

It is challenging to achieve all this without the right technology and methods for collecting, organizing, and continually updating customer data. But, marketers who make the effort will be rewarded with continuous cycles of interaction that build loyalty and drive revenue.

Three Steps to Real-Time Email Marketing

Real-time email marketing is challenging but absolutely within reach for digitally savvy brands. You don’t need 10 or 12 data points in a given email to see results. A more manageable 4 or 5 dynamic data points can provide meaningful and impressive personalization. It’s enough to help you leap from the spam folder to the trusted “priority inbox,” as readers discover real value in your emails.

Real-time email marketing begins with a strategy based on customer needs, then it integrates marketing technology to address the real-time, omnichannel customer journey.

Step One: Gather Customer Data
First, gather customer insights in creative and meaningful ways. Pop-up forms demand feedback and can be off-putting, and lengthy registrations can feel like an interrogation. But, if you gather from a range of sources and make it fun or rewarding for customers to share a little personal information, you can amass the contextual data you need. Social media likes and follows, fun surveys embedded in your emails, and subscriber-preference settings are all useful.

Keep requests brief and make it clear that you are seeking to make your content and experiences more relevant and valuable to the individual. It’s quality over quantity; letting readers opt in or out of emails may shrink your list initially, but those who do opt in tend to actually engage with content and rate emails as very useful.

Step Two: Generate Real-Time Insights From the Data
You need the ability to quickly segment your audience based on the most useful data in the moment. Organizing data around customer personas or profiles enables you to better understand your customers and predict their behaviors.

For example, everyone has different email habits. Some of us are hoarders, obsessively labeling and keeping or archiving every message. Some delete everything as soon as possible so their inboxes stay pristine. Others just let it all pile up, only clicking on unread messages that look important. You can use these contextual clues to update customer’s emails — according to date, time, weather, location, recent behaviors, and so on — each time they open them.

Step Three: Continue to Learn From the Data
Data grows stale fast. Progressively capture insights so you always have an accurate read on customers’ needs and preferences, and continually update your segments or personas to reflect what you are observing and learning about them. Ideally, you will find yourself in a loop of testing and refreshing — a loop in which underperforming content and tactics are replaced quickly.

The more behaviors and preferences you capture, the more data you have to play with and the more relevant and valuable your email becomes — and high-value readers become easier to spot.

Real-Time Email Marketing Is Mature Marketing

Mature your email-marketing efforts from traditional, static content to contextually relevant, real-time value. Ultimately, real-time email marketing will lead customers beyond the inbox to a seamless experience across multiple channels.

Start with real-time digital-marketing tools and technology that can serve relevant email content — by location, time, preferences, and more — to deliver helpful and compelling experiences.

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