This May, email service provider Yes Marketing announced they were ending support for their Yesmail platform. They’re far from the only service provider to have experienced a change lately — widely used platforms like Cheetahmail and Epsilon have been sold to other companies, and IBM officially shut down its marketing tech operations last year.
Have these providers seen the writing on the wall? Is email marketing technology just a commodity without a place for differentiation? Or is the reality of the situation more complex than this? Several key pundits, including Forrester’s Shar VanBoskirk, said recently in Forbes.com that email marketing isn’t dying out at all — it’s just evolving.
In fact, the latest generation of email marketers use email as no other channel can be used: to cultivate an ongoing dialogue with each customer and guide them on their own unique journeys through the product space. And that’s one area in which many traditional email service providers (ESPs) haven’t kept up with the ever-increasing expectations of today’s customers.
Up-to-date customer data sits at the root of truly meaningful insights.
If we can point to one overall trend that’s defined marketing advancement in the 2010s, that trend is integration. Across every industry and vertical, marketers are hard at work bringing data from all their apps, touchpoints and conversion funnels together onto one single cloud platform, and uniting all those elements into a personalized journey for each customer.
But as powerful as omnichannel customer journeys can be, they’re only as relevant as the data that drives them. For example, if you keep sending a customer coupon codes for services they stopped using months ago, then it really doesn’t matter how slick and seamless your “omnichannel journey” is — you’re going to wind up annoying your customer, and possibly even driving them away.
This lack of up-to-date customer insights is one key area where traditional marketing ESPs still have some evolving to do. While certain ESPs do provide tools for list segmentation, most haven’t upgraded their toolkits with functionality that’ll help you show each customer the specific message they’ll be most likely to click on today.
As VanBoskirk points out, most ESPs are focused on email delivery and lacking the innovation and new tools that companies like Coherent Path provide. ESPs aren’t able to inform you of which messaging each of your customers is about to get tired of, or when they’ll get tired of it — or which calls to action they’ll respond to next month. To discover those truths, you’ve got to take a step beyond segmentation, and start thinking in terms of dialogue.
Meaningful personalization arises out of an ongoing dialogue with each customer.
To reach the deepest possible level of insight about your customers, you’ve got to break free from the list segmentation model. Instead of putting your customers in boxes, you’ll derive far greater ROI from inviting them into an ongoing dialogue — and learning from their responses to each piece of content you send.
For example, if one of your customers just bought their friend a blender as a wedding gift, an old list segmentation model would tell you, “This customer loves blenders — so let’s automatically show them what to put in the blender!” These next step recommendation solutions are what many marketers rely on for personalization and they are not able to deliver the experiences that today’s customers expect.
The only effective way to move beyond the outdated approach is to invite your customers to help shape their own future recommendations. And that means upgrading to software that learns from each interaction with every customer.
Using data from real-world interactions, Coherent Path’s machine-learning software can predict what each of your customers will want tomorrow, then proactively generate content that addresses those desires — all while automatically listening for subtle cues to change tactics. And in most cases, you’ll find that email is still the ideal channel for that dialogue.
Email journey optimization still offers plenty of opportunities for innovation.
When we talk about “the future of email,” it’s absolutely critical to make a sharp distinction between the effectiveness of email as a marketing channel, versus the shortcomings of outdated software that hasn’t fully kept up with that channel’s potential.
Let’s be clear: personalized email is not going anywhere. It still delivers an ROI of up to $38 for every $1 spent, and a click-through rate at least six times greater than any social media platform. For marketers who understand how to derive meaningful insights from customer interactions, and turn those insights into predictive product recommendations, email is simply too valuable a channel to ignore.
At the same time, retailers now use email to keep customers engaged in very different ways than they did a decade ago. Today’s email marketing ecosystem is about far more than just making it past the spam filter. It’s about inviting the customer to collaborate in guiding the conversation toward products they’ll love. Today’s ESPs still need to upgrade their capabilities to cultivate those dialogues — and to automate them at scale. In short, email is just as relevant today as it ever was. Marketing ESPs, on the other hand, are still working on augmenting their capabilities to keep up with today’s customers — and that’s exactly where Coherent Path’s machine learning comes in.