Ray Tomlinson, famous for sending the first email ever, described his initial test message (sent to himself) as insignificant and something like QWERTYUIOP. Summarizing all of his tests, he commented, “They were entirely forgettable and I have, therefore, forgotten them.”

More than 40 years later, marketers are sending equally forgettable emails to millions of consumers every day.

Fortunately, this reality is changing. Over the past five years, technology has emerged that allows email marketers to engage consumers with relevant messages at the moment of open.

The early versions of contextual marketing were focused on widgets such as countdown timers or weather forecasts. And while it’s true that applying such tactics can deliver results, as Sun Tzu wisely warned, “Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”

Contextual marketing is evolving and is now much more than just widgets. Long-term success requires marketers to adopt a whole new strategic mindset and approach to email. Providing the best possible experience must replace selling as the primary objective, which is possible with the right technology.

Email marketers embracing a strategy that puts consumer experiences first will be best positioned to win in an age where every marketing message -- regardless of channel or device -- must provide immediate value and utility. Consumers invariably ignore and forget anything less.

So how exactly does new technology spark a strategic approach to email marketing? And how does a strategic approach to email marketing stoke the flames for new (or at least incrementally better) tech?

Thinking Outside the (In)Box

Contextual marketing technology pushes email marketers to think more strategically about workflow and consumer experiences. With the right technology, email can become a contextual marketing engine that unites digital channels and offers relevant messages across all devices.

Adopting a contextual strategy means thinking differently about content creation and aggregation. Email has the power to be an all-encompassing digital content hub, offering content from brand channels, (e.g. social media or website content), users or followers — or, in the future, even content streaming from digital TV or other sources.

Data is what makes all of these omnichannel experiences possible. And syncing this data across solutions, channels and devices is one of the challenges facing all digital marketers today. One powerful and easy way to achieve this data integration is by using APIs.

Traditionally, email data existed in one of many digital marketing silos along with social, mobile, video, and Web. API integrations connect all of the silos without the required heavy lifting of sorting and cleansing the data. These integrations can power interactive experiences that provide utility and allow consumers to shop, book and make reservations directly from their email, whether opened on a desktop or mobile device.

For example:

-- Airlines and ticketing venues can allow customers to select or upgrade seats from right within an email.

-- Restaurants can send special deals and allow guests to make reservations with two taps.

-- Patients could make an appointment at the doctor’s office simply by clicking an available time.

-- Hotel guests could reserve a room directly from a loyalty email.

New devices and software solutions are creating opportunities for email marketers to improve the customer experience and drive engagement and conversions both online and in-store. This could revolutionize both how brands use email and how consumers think about it.

It all starts with context. So it’s time to ask: Are you approaching contextual marketing as an overarching strategy and philosophy for improving the customer experience? Or are you just slapping widgets into an email?


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