Email Isn’t Perfect, But it Gets Better Every Year (2018 Included)
The comedian Tracy Morgan once observed that we “spend too much of our lives on email,” and, as a result, he argued, “we’re losing our communication skills.” That’s hardly a novel claim, but when you consider the fact that we send 269 billion emails each day — 35 emails for each person on Earth — one can’t overlook the link between email volume and the feeling that there’s plenty of room to improve the quality of the conversation.
Email isn’t perfect, so here are four things that will help retailers improve email communication in 2018.
1. Better Data Management Means Context Without Boiling the Ocean
For some reason people think data management is an integration problem; some think it’s a data quality problem, while others believe it’s a data accuracy problem. Yet the spin-up of customer data platforms and look-alikes have sprung up everywhere to solve big database issues with low-risk focus. What we really covet isn’t integration, but rather several forms of data:
- actionable data to drive personalization and channel strategies; and
- data that drives insights that help us discover and explore new relationships with our customers in our ongoing quest to understand what makes them tick, click and pick.
These kinds of data challenges won’t be met by a right data vs. “all data” approach, nor can retailers expect that these will be two-year/$2 million undertakings. There just isn’t a big enough fire to boil that ocean, which means you’ll never have enough time, corporate patience or budget to build this utopic 360-degree view of the customer across all channels and interactions. Remember, data is like milk: it has a shelf life. If you contextualize your focus on a single source of truth, you can begin to think about the impact of real-time interactions as well as machine learning impact on your ability to make decisions better and faster than you did the previous quarter.
2. Instant Journeys
For marketers across industries, a customer journey map is an essential tool. However, in one recent survey, half of all practitioners rated their journey mapping efforts as unsuccessful. Not that the idea of a journey map is invalid. Rather, the problem has always been that the maps are relatively crude. Retailers can sketch a map of a customer’s journey, and in so doing, identify the start and end points, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that the road from awareness to purchase is a straight line. Nor should we operate under the assumption that the world is static. Human history is a study in chaos, but as the world becomes smaller and more interconnected, retailers need to be aware of how macro events can disrupt established consumption patterns.
As retailers deploy dynamic decision-making trees, we’ll begin to think of the consumer journey as a fleeting web of interconnected engagements. The challenge for retailers will shift from one of aligning a marketing campaign with the journey map to one of responding to the “instant journey.” Instead of a longitudinal journey, retailers will need to decipher episodic consumer journeys. In that scenario, retailers will come to see browsing, both online and in-store, not as a binary event that either leads to a sale or doesn’t, but as an ongoing dialogue between retailer and customer that sprawls across time, space and channel. Naturally, this puts tremendous stress on automation capabilities, but as machine learning emerges as a greater force in retail, we’ll see marketing sync with an environment to a greater degree than we ever thought possible.
3. Progressive Profiling and Identity Management Will Lead to Omnichannel Mastery
Understanding the instant journey requires mastery of omnichannel — something the overwhelming majority of retailers say they’ve yet to achieve. Put simply, if you can’t connect the dots across channels, you’re most likely missing dots within channels. But as retailers become more sophisticated at identity management and progressive profiling, the mystery that is omnichannel will reveal itself. After all, it’s not about understanding the link between your channels, but rather understanding how individual consumers migrate between channels, and then meeting them wherever they go with the personalized experience they’ve come to expect.
4. One-Tap Commerce Will Be a Killer App for Email
Half of all Amazon.com users now use 1-Click purchasing at checkout. Similar one-tap solutions are as vital to email on desktop as they are to email on our mobile devices because consumers expect the same level of convenience, regardless of device. The key to success will be geo-centric targeting and proximity-based personalization. After all, one tap is about convenience, and the definition of what’s convenient hinges on the customer’s location. Yet it puts pressure on a brand’s ability to deliver the combination of offer, personalization and context at the point of purchase.
A Better Ongoing Conversation
With apologies to Tracy Morgan, we haven’t forgotten how to have a conversation, but we have lost touch with each other in the noise of countless channels. That would be a bad thing if technology were static. We’d be trapped in a digital tower of babble. But of course, technology is anything but static. Retailers have learned to scale the volume of the email conversation. In 2018, with a wide array of new technologies ready for deployment, retailers will learn to scale the quality of the email conversation.
Baker is a MediaPost “Email Insider” columnist and former “Email Insider” Summit Chairman and program director, and his works have also been published in iMedia Connection, Internet Retailer, Adweek, Direct Marketing News and ClickZ. Additionally, he has spoken at leading industry conferences including Adtech, OMMA, DMA, Shop.org and LeadsCon.