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How to breathe new life into your emails

How to breathe new life into your emails Jai Williams

It seems the admiration I have for movies is about as strong as my heartbeat's pulse for music. Just as there is a song to evoke every emotion, there's an equally captivating movie that visually illustrates most actions. Recently, I was multi-tasking while the tube was on in the background, and I overheard the memorable line from "The Sixth Sense," -- "I see dead people." The self-proclaimed nerd in me immediately thought, I've seen dead email programs -- but then I thought differently, putting things into perspective. 

Email programs themselves don't necessarily become "dead" per se, just more or less going through the various stages of sleep. Allow me a moment, and I'll elaborate. 

How to breathe new life into your emails

The multiple stages of email sleep

Stage one: The stage of sleep that is characterized as being light, drifting in and out, easily awakened.

In my opinion, many of the better engineered email programs in circulation will likely fall into this category. Marketers working in this stage of the game will be actively using one or more different levels of triggered messaging as they are actively moving email programs forward in an effort to quicken speed-to-market. Use of dynamic content during this stage will also be commonplace because production teams will have realized and acknowledged the benefits and efficiencies that can be gained, simply by implementing such a great practice. 

Stage two: best characterized as the point at which eye movement stops and brain waves become slower. 

Relative to email, this is very much how I'd describe batched or static emails. Take a moment and think about why batched emails even come into play: They're simple, uncomplicated, and a quick, easy way to get things done -- the most basic of common denominators, I'd say. The same goes for static emails. Think on a global scale for a moment, i.e. Europe, the Americas, Asia-Pacific -- very distinct audiences, obviously, and even more undoubtedly, different associated creative template elements. Due to a time crunch, or lack of bandwidth, a marketer that doesn't know any better may just as well go through the motions of developing multiple versions of templates. Not a very efficient process, now is it?

Stages three and four: Collectively, these stages lend no eye movement or muscle activity -- better known as deep sleep.

I usually like to refer to emails that fall into this category as the unintuitive. These emails fall short in a few notable ways:

  • They do not generate any level of curiosity

  • They contain no sense of urgency

  • More often than necessary they have no real relevance

  • They lack valuable content for the recipient

  • They do very little to drive engagement

This is like the marketing message a guy receives that is obviously meant for a woman. You know the one -- it features women's boots or dresses. If basic data is being collected from consumer segments, I can't imagine why a guy would receive such an email. A better experience would be to spice up the copy a bit, acknowledging that you know recipient is a guy, but saying something like, "Hey guys: wow your lady with this!" We should know more about our audiences to know better than that, right?

REM and what email dreams are made of

There is one final stage of sleep, REM. This stage is known when breathing becomes rapid, irregular, and shallow, eyes jerk rapidly, and limb muscles are temporarily paralyzed -- heart rate increases, blood pressure rises -- this is the time when most dreams occur, and if awakened, usually dreams can be remembered. 

To continue with the sleep analogy, the future of email is chock full of the things that dreams are made of: progressive profiling (being able to be more relevant and behaviorally targeted as data is accumulated about recipients over a period of time), cross-channel retargeting (leveraging behaviors observed in other digital channels to drive targeting, segmentation, and content within email), and location-based messaging (using geo-tracking functionality at the time of open to drive real-time, relevant content to audiences).

We try to have as close to a 1:1 conversation with our targeted audiences as possible by telling stories. Like the various stages of sleep, email programs cycle through various stages at different times. It's not a science, and, because of that, it's a constant effort. It's a constant effort to keep things fresh, and an ever stronger effort to keep things relevant. What I have always loved about the channel is the ease of how readily measurable it is. Will all of our programs hit the mark out of the gate every time? Not likely -- but this is, in fact, how we optimize our efforts. 

Email has been around for years, and the more passionate marketers will continue to capitalize on those emerging trends and technologies that create a level of thought-provoking dialogue.  They'll continue trying to push the envelope. These are the things that will ultimately drive engagement. I recommend doing a little more than just thinking right outside the box by thinking beyond the box. We've gotten beyond the era of when things were simpler. Our audiences are smarter, and they expect more of us. Wake up your programs.

Jai Williams is a senior marketing strategist at StrongMail.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

"The hands of a feminine touch on the envelope and mail" image via Shutterstock.  

As one of StrongMail's marketing strategists, Jai brings a genuine passion for the channel, emerging technologies and trends to clients. Previously, Jai has spent time client-side with InterContinental Hotels Group where he managed global campaigns.

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