Agile vs. Data: Who is King of Email Content?

In today’s rapidly developing email marketing climate, marketers are constantly striving to optimise the content of their emails to an increasingly savvy, often sceptical target audience.

You have their attention, but for how long? Can quick, clever content solutions retain their interest or does unique recipient data still reign?

Agile content, or contextual marketing as it is otherwise known, could still be considered the ‘new kid on the block’ having only really piqued our clients’ interest in the last 18 months. The presence of countdown clocks can present a sense of urgency, a weather stream creates relevance, a GPS map can be helpful.  This gives you very clever, shiny, slick marketing content that can be witty, fun and extremely engaging. And it works.

Those organisations already carrying out real-time marketing experiences for their customers (which include delivering relevant information and product offerings across all channels and devices, personalising interactions based on previous interactions, and tailoring offers and messages according to geography, weather and time of day) have reported a 26% uplift in their conversion rates. EConsultancy - ‘Real-Time Marketing Report’ 2/14

But what of its longevity? Is contextual marketing a new trend here to stay or merely a fad? Remember the overuse of website animated gifs in the 90s? And while the interest is high with our clients at the moment, there are relatively few companies jumping on the agile wagon.

Behavioural data began from web analytics and those analysts soon realised this could be cleverly implemented into the email channel. Indeed they proclaimed ‘Serve them what they want!’ and data driven content was launched. The premise was simple; marry the content of the message entirely to the individuals’ tastes, preferences, transactions and most importantly, from their behavioural indicators on the website, all contained within the database. It took email marketing to a whole new extreme. And it works.

Research from Gareth Herschel at Gartner found that event-triggered campaigns (e.g. those based on behaviors) performed five times better than traditional batch campaigns. On top of that, Forrester Research recently found that only 17% of companies assessed themselves as mature practitioners of behavioral marketing — but those mature practitioners grew revenue faster than they planned (53% versus 41%). Market.com –Get More Email Opens and Clicks Using Behavioural Targeting’ 9/13

So what are the key differences, and how will this affect the end result? Time for us to talk about ‘The Conversion’!

There is no doubt about it agile content creates really smart dynamic content based on key identifiers. Whether this is personalised imagery, live PHP served images, RSS driven testimonials, live snap shots of live web pages, or deep linking to the mobile app, the content can thoroughly seduce the recipient. Who doesn’t want to open an email and be wowed? ‘How do they do that?’ But we must ask ‘Can the sale really be solely attributed to real time content delivered to the masses?’

I believe that data driven content remains the backbone of truly relevant messaging. Using individuals’ unique journeys from website to email and then back again is, of course, the holy grail of digital marketing. It’s the only way to produce a lifecycle email marketing strategy. Segmentation is so much more than RFM. Tailoring your messaging based on engagement and optimized frequency is now at the forefront of our clients’ minds. The actual content can be as simple as personalising the message with last category viewed or as detailed as full basket details with additional relevant recommended products. Every part of the email can be tailored to the individual, from subject line to footer to the device on which it’s received. It can be automated instantly, hourly, daily and implemented in generic weekly sends. Average conversion rates alone for data driven content remain at a staggering 20%.

So regardless of whether you’re taking the contextual or behavioural path, relevance remains fundamental to success. Both agile and data driven content have their place in the market. But use them wisely. Our audience is more digitally aware than ever. Too much delivery of each can become tedious or invasive. Too little and the individual can become disengaged. 

The key to this of course is continuous testing. A bit of both will always retain their interest and encourage the fear of missing out, which will ultimately drive the best relationship and the highest conversions.

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