I am at war against manual processes.

This Fantastic quote from Dan Grech of Trendeo in the latest Smart Insights 2017 email trends guide goes to the heart of why our Content Automation solution makes such a difference to email marketers lives. Do you spend Friday afternoon building the emails for the weekend? Do you spend days editing dynamic content scripts in your ESP interface? Does this sound like your working environment:

‘….juniors, freelancers, interns are extracting CSVs of personally identiable information about customers from one system, running some queries and cleaning, then uploading it to another system’.

Dan Grech p. 18 of Smart Insights 2017 email trends guide

Do you sometimes have to stay back at the office to re run an personalisation upload or manage the editing of an image because a price or offer has changed? Every single one of these examples of stressful, error-prone manual processes can be removed, yes removed, by using Kickdynamic Content Automation.

I find it frustrating that many thought leaders in email still ignore the manual work required for building content to match what we can now do with data. As this Smart Insights 2017 email trends guide shows in many places e.g. this from p.3

‘Alongside this evolution, automation and machine learning are further freeing the marketer from hours of data manipulation and analysis.’

Yes, in some cases, this is true. Some retailers have invested heavily in CRM infrastructure and are well down the track of the recommendations by Michael Leander, CEO of consultants GIDMA on p. 5 of the Smart Insights 2017 email trends guide

‘First, create a solid and committed strategy backed by top management. Next, aim to establish one data repository, a strong content and offer strategy aligned with the interests of the target audience across the customer lifecycle. The ability to track and use behavioural and transactional data, and automate certain processes along with a realistic view on which resources are required to get results.’

If you now have a CRM infrastructure that is capable of making meaningful product and messaging recommendations for your customers, you are in a very exciting position, you can move beyond segmentation. But, how will you create content that matches all those thousands of individual recommendations? You are used to creating one email or maybe 4 variants for 4 different segments. Now, you need to be able to slot in content for thousands of variables. You need more than a ‘strong content strategy’ you need a content automation solution that allows you to match up relevant live content with those customer recommendations. Even if you just want to move beyond 4 segments to 8 segments, you will need to change your approach to content building. It needs to stop being a manual process.

When we think of building automated content – we think of production recommendations, right? There are lots of solutions that will produce a strip of products, based on best sellers, for example. This is not what we mean. Sure, automating the right product images is important, but you also need to automate soft content like blogs, recommendations, social content and so on. For example, look at how P&O Ferries has used Kickdynamic to automate soft content in their emails.

Kickdynamic image tags build images for email live at the time of open. Kickdynamic can build images based on results from an API query, or product feed, live at the time of open. By simply merging a customerID into the Kickdynamic image tag, Kickdyanmic can submit that ID to an API, live at the time of open and receive recommended Products as a result. Kickdynamic can then build personalised images for each recipient at the time they open their email. We recommend replacing a static mail merge for all recipients at time of send (current process) with Kickdynamic tags building images via an API query or from a product feed. This also opens up possibilities for using Browse data to match recipients with products they will be interested in and to prioritise products displayed, based on conversion rate.

Content Feeds- The Hot Topic of 2017

There are two hot topics going down in the KD office; one – the disaster that is Lent, and two, the brilliance that is content feed connection.

Firstly, let’s tackle Lent…

biscuit-ban1

The nemesis ‘Lent’ has made quick work of the Kickdynamic office this year… all remaining Hobnobs have been swept away never to return, the chocolate stash replaced with apples and oranges, and a strict ban on afternoon ‘biscuit runs’ is in immediate effect – Coffee seems to be the only hope!

However, it’s not all doom and gloom – Lent also gives us the opportunity to set a challenge for all Email and CRM marketers – so, our challenge to you is:

challenge‘SEND A TRULY PERSONALISED EMAIL CAMPAIGN IN THE NEXT 30 DAYS’ (emphasis on the word ‘TRULY’).

This challenge quite nicely brings me to my next order of business – The HOT TOPIC of 2017 – yes, Content Feeds. Now I know you’re probably thinking “hmmmm, how is a feed a hot topic?”- and I don’t blame you. This is new for many, but once this concept is introduced and understood, Content Feeds are quickly becoming the most optimum way of achieving fully automated email and sending truly personalised content.

Content Feeds are rich in valuable product data that is updated frequently (typically daily or hourly in some cases). To name a few data categories: Product Category, Brand, Price, Stock Level, Colour, Gender, Sale Price, User Ratings. The phrase ‘The World at your Fingertips’ doesn’t necessarily do content feeds justice – combine this with CRM data and we are edging close to the Holy Grail for all E-Marketers.

At this point, for those still eating chocolate and have sugar in the tank to keep reading 😃, will be thinking, “ok, sounds interesting, we have a content feed, we have CRM data-  but you can’t get this into email without days of build time or plenty of custom interjection”…. WRONG – getting this into email is simple, quick, and requires no customisation what so ever – hence being the Hot Topic of 2017. Many are now connecting up data feeds, fully automating email content, and creating content rules to show products based on user data live at the time of open.

How this works in the Kickdynamic platform:

  1. Set up a Template with ‘Content Blocks’ connected directly to the live feed (this only has to be done once!).
  2. Apply visibility rules to change the design when required (i.e. show the ‘Was Price’ when item is on Sale).
  3. Set up a Campaign linked to the Template you’ve just designed.
  4. Apply Rules: Add in a ‘Merge’ rule that will filter the content feed at Open Time based on the merged in user preference (i.e. Previous Browse was ‘Beats Headphones’ – The Tag will merge this in and show products from the feed containing ‘Beats Headphone’ at open time).
  5. Copy the auto generated Tag into your Email HTML and you’re done… simple.

Unlike screen cropping, favoured by those like Movable Ink and Liveclicker, feed connection (which requires NO custom intervention) finally gives brands the quick and easy ability to put CRM data to work.

For those looking to build Feed Connection into their strategy our advice is to follow 3 simple steps –

  1. Automate to free resource – (I like to call this stage the Breath of Fresh Air) in most cases, time and resource is a huge challenge due to the BAU build and send process. Rather than applying a lean methodology to streamline the existing process, with what we have, this introduction of new technology will remove the old BAU process of email build. In the past we have seen this bring build time down from 10 days to just 1. Thus opening time to focus on personalisation and creating truly great email.
  2. Truly Personalise – all those great ideas that have been collecting cobwebs- dust them off! Email and CRM teams will now have the time and technology to easily personalise. Kick off your mission for Truly Great Email by taking personalisation ideas, such as Open Time Brand Preference and roll out. Test this – we expect to see +5% uplift in revenue in many cases.
  3. Lifecycle: Work Automated Personalisation into all email – Staying relevant all the time is effortless when true personalisation is so easy, why not share this love in all emails.

Feed Optimisation companies such as Golden Feeds, Passion Digital and Lengow are great companies that are helping many brands get their feeds in order, not only for email, but for all areas of e-Commerce. We highly recommend reaching out if you haven’t done so already.

Wishing you all a splendid March! 😃

Christian

Elevate email engagement with User Generated Content

banner-for-blog-1We come into contact with User Generated Content (UCG) on a daily basis, so much so that it’s easy to forget that it’s a form of advertising.  By definition, UGC is any form of media content, from blogs to images, that has been created by users of a product or service which is made available freely usually via social media platforms. This translates into a huge amount of content which sees people like you and me promoting brands rather than brands promoting themselves.

As much as we don’t always like to admit it, social media continues to be part of our everyday lives (if you disagree with me, I don’t believe you!).

With the huge rise in social media, aided by the mass use of smartphones, there has been a noticeable shift in companies, particularly retailers, strategically utilizing the content produced by their customers (and why wouldn’t you – it’s free advertising).

Through the use of social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram, customers can jump on a hashtag and within hours produce numerous innovative, unique images which have the potential to reach a wide-spread audience. It’s no wonder retailers are then building these images into their advertising as a means to promote their products.

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Why you should be using UGC. . .

As we move into a society where social proof and approval are high on agendas, as a marketing tool, UGC created by real life customers is extremely powerful. It instantly allows both existing and potential customers to see how specific products look in everyday life, by everyday people. Consumers are gaining more influencing power over how a brand and its products are portrayed on social media. This content is highly successful because it shows a range of personalities and often provides inspiration for others.

In 2015, 78% of B2C companies were already incorporating UGC in their marketing strategies and this figure has only grown since. However, what inspired me to write this piece is the distinct lack of UGC (nevermind live UGC) in email.

When I’m online shopping, I see so much UGC built into websites, with customers showcasing their recent purchases. However, despite the abundance of incredible UGC available online, there is a lack of it making it to email and this hugely disappoints me.

Many companies who already have UGC displayed on their site are missing an easy opportunity by failing to roll this out in their emails.

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 16.15.35

How to generate UGC. . . 

If you are new to the UGC concept, there are tonnes of ways to encourage users to generate this content. A great idea is to run a special seasonal competition or giveaway. Who wouldn’t take 5 mins to get creative and take a cool picture/selfie with the potential to win some goodies?!

Example: Birchbox

Birchbox, a monthly beauty subscription service, asked it’s customers to upload a picture with their most recent package for the chance to win £450 worth of beauty products. In doing this, over 25,000 images have been uploaded to Instagram. Whilst there is almost half a million images tagged with #Birchboxuk.Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 15.00.41

How you could be using UGC. . .

Now here’s the best part… incorporating UGC into your email campaigns is not only extremely cost-effective, but it’s also compelling, inspiring, and makes your brand, products and services more relatable in your customers’ eyes (basically it’s a no brainer).

Make it Live!

Using a Kickdynamic Tag in your emails to display UGC will allow you to display automated, engaging content live at the time of open. If you already have UGC on your site, then typically the content has been monitored, filtered and pre-approved. Kickdynamic serves images live at the point of open, as the UGC is approved and updated, it will appear within the email and update live, at the time of open.

It’s as easy as 1,2,3 . . .

  1. Identify your curated feed & connect in the Kickdynamic platform
  2.  Design your template to make on brand
  3. Generate Tag and insert into your HTML

This only requires a one time set up and would ensure that the most recent images are displayed at the time of open.


Miss Selfridge, a British clothing brand, has great UGC on its website, however it doesn’t get used within their emails. I received this email recently and simply mocked up how they could add their UGC, which instantly makes the email more engaging.

Screen Shot 2017-01-27 at 11.26.32

 

lightbulbTop Tip: Inspire your email recipients to shop the looks/items other customers post. You can pull the content from a curated user generated feed, or pull it straight from your site into your email to show the latest user generated content, each and every time the email is opened.

What do travellers want from pre-travel emails?

A pre-travel email or a pre-travel automation series should provide all of the valuable information that a traveller needs to make a successful trip. What’s surprising is that whilst these automated emails do include information about the booking such as flight numbers, departure info and so on, the content of these ‘pre-travel’ emails really hasn’t progressed in the last 10 years. With travel booking rolling into peak (bless those January blues) I decided to analyse the last 20 flights I took (basically my travel itinerary from the last year) and realised, somewhat disappointedly but not wholly surprised, that the Top 5 UK and US airlines that I’ve flown with in the last 12 months sent me really poor pre-travel content. Here’s a few examples of pre-travel emails myself and the team have received recently:

First-gallery

Second-galleryIn the travel industry, email can be leveraged to deliver highly personalised, time-sensitive, value-laden communications that are completely relevant to a traveller’s upcoming trip. Customers have gone through the booking process so you have a lot of data that you can use, so why are Airlines and the travel industry as a whole, not using the data to its fullest?

There’s a very real opportunity that many airlines and travel companies are missing out on. Capitalising on opportunities to generate additional revenue between the booking and the date of travel/check-in is a must. Equally, it’s really important to deliver high quality, valuable content in that pre-travel period.

For an airline, if the flights are booked, there’s time and opportunity to promote additional add-ons of third party offers such as live car hire ability, live hotel availability and more. You know the dates and destination of travel so delivering content in emails based on this will increase revenue from the channel. Likewise, including live currency conversions, promoting the latest exchange rates is a powerful addition to email. Leveraging Open Time content to deliver the latest, personalized content at every open is proven to increase revenue.

Alongside revenue opportunities, Open Time technology also saves email teams significant time. It’s no longer necessary to build out bulky dynamic content rules with content that needs frequently updating and managing. All of this can move to an automated approach, where the latest content is built on the fly at open time based on the data you know about a customer.

Take this Thomas Cook example, which was setup over two years ago, and runs as part of a fully automated campaign. The Open Time tag was added to the HTML back in 2014, but continues to show the latest exchange rate based on the recipient’s destination at every open.

Thomas Cook

Here’s an example of the live tag:

Airlines and hotels may want to consider incorporating live elements into email around upgrades and room/seat availability to drive urgency and prompt customers to upgrade. For example, an airline could show the number of upgrade seats available, and even the exact seats available at the time of email open.

In the immediate days before travel it’s a key time to build a relationship with your customer and to really cement your brand in their mind as being a great travel partner. At this stage, you really should be using what you know about a recipient and automatically display content that is only relevant to their trip. I need to know useful things like the weather, what time online check-in closes, what the exchange rate is and so on.

As part of the automation program, send an email a couple of days prior to travel with an automated countdown timer, counting down to the closure of online check-in for their flight. From this you’ll see an increase in the number of people checking in online and as a knock on effect see less queues at your check-in. Here’s a great example of this from Aer Lingus:

AerLingus

In the same email you could include a live weather forecast showing me a live 5-day forecast at my destination for my date of arrival and then ongoing from that point. Every time I check back in with that pre-travel email, I’ll see the latest weather forecast for my trip. Whilst this isn’t a revenue driver as such, it’s a good way to connect with the customer and deliver content that they need. Here’s an example from IHG:

IHG-pre-stay

Here’s an example of the live weather Tag:

Finally, it’s a good opportunity to promote live currency again, especially if you work with a partner that offers a click and collect option to buy now at a rate and collect at the airport. Show the live exchange rate from the home currency to the currency at the travel destination.

Whilst every pre-travel scenario is different, there may be days, weeks or many months before the date of travel, what is consistent is that every customer needs to receive relevant and up-to-date content before they depart. It’s no longer enough to send a transactional email for confirmation and then treat the pre-departure period as a promotional window to bombard the traveller with content totally unrelated to their trip. This is unlikely to yield engagement or encourage further booking, in fact it could have the opposite effect. Cleverly crafted, strategically thought out content delivery that well-timed and always up-to-date is something that all travel companies should be looking to do in 2017.

Here’s an example of what my perfect pre-travel email a couple of days before my trip would include:

– Personalised boarding pass image to include: firstname, surname, flight number, airport code.

– Link to self-check-in with timer showing time left to check-in (expect to see higher number of online check-ins and reduced queues at the airport)

– Device targeting to encourage me to download the app for paperless travel (expect to see more people checking in via the app, more trees in the rainforest, less bits of paper left on the plane).

– Live exchange rate for my destination so I that I can buy my currency. Stress-Free.

– Weather at my destination for a few days (I need to know what to pack and what to book).

– Last minute live car hire/hotel availability & prices (for people that leave it until the last minute).

– Activity suggestions based on date of arrival, availability and weather at destination (because this is cool).

– Get me to the airport – GPS directions to the airport for when I’m ready to leave home.

Purchased on site, live in email

There’s so many ways to use live images in your email programs to keep content fresh and to reduce email build time. Increasingly email marketers are turning to user generated content for its flexibility for keeping content automatically up-to-date and on-trend. Live Instagram and Twitter feeds are becoming a more prevalent and commonly used feature in email for the latest automated content. User Generated feeds such as curated hashtag specific Instagram posts are starting to filter into email too as they provide a fantastic way to bring word-of-mouth to life in email. In the next few months keep an eye out for live hashtag sections in email; they’ll probably look something like this:

UGC

Whilst these fantastic examples of open time email content are really starting to become standard email components, especially in automated campaigns, there’s one great open time opportunity for retailers to feature in email but it’s not something that I’ve seen anybody do just yet.

Check out the homepages of many retail websites you’ll notice a live feed of products that have just been purchased on site. Most recently I’ve noticed it on the Net-a-porter site:

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And on the Oasis homepage:

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Personally, I’d love to see real-time website purchases feature in email, leveraging open time technology to show the latest products purchased on the site every time an email is opened. Not only is this a new and innovative way to add live, socially driven content to an email, it’s also really quite easy to achieve.

Aside from the fact that visually it’s very strong and lends itself well to email, ‘purchased on site right now’ also has a wide range of additional benefits. First up is the opportunity to extend your range of discoverable products. Typically, email is limited to a certain number of products – there’s only so many products you can feature in one email. Usually this is around 20ish products. Incorporating live images based on web sell-through data massively increases the number of products that are discoverable from your email, even displaying products that might never have been visible previously.

Use case: At open time, the most recently purchased products are displayed, the recipient may not be interested in those, but if they check back in with the email at a later date, different products will be visible and they may be of interest.

It’s also a great inspirational piece, particularly around peak periods in the year. Take Christmas for example. We’re all after that great gift for that one tricky person. Showing the latest purchases from your site, in email, will provide ideas, inspiration and show off more products than you could hope to display in one email.

Top tip: Throughout peak, think about including a ‘trending right now’ or ‘what customers are buying’ section in your Christmas product level emails.

It’s also a great way to build your recipient’s trust in your brand. We’re all suckers for social signals and word of mouth, so displaying what other people have purchased on your site in-email will increase trustability, not only in your brand but in your products too. A live purchased product feed is instant social proof that you’re a reputable source; it’ll go a long way in convincing recipients to click through and complete a purchase.

Although this isn’t something I’ve seen in email before, it is easy to get setup and running. The great news is that once you’ve set it up, you can use the live images in multiple emails and automated programs. You only need to set it up once for live products at open. All you need is a ‘purchased product feed’ from your site. Many websites have this available, it’s just a case of surfacing it. Once you’ve got the feed, connect it to a content automation template, design your live image and then generate a tag to add to the html. Each time the email is opened the latest products that have been purchased will be shown live in the email. Each product image can click through to the individual product page to make adding the product to the customer’s basket quick and easy.

This Christmas and into 2017, retailers should be looking for new and innovative ways to automate email content and to make it live without any additional resource. Next year is going to be the year where markers push the boundaries of open time technology to diversity product visibility and bring a real on-site experience to life in email. As a result, more customers will convert from email programs with no additional strain on resource.

Live Product Availability in Email for Black Friday

On shopping days as big as Black Friday it can be a toss up for Marketers. Do you fire out generic promo emails promising big savings on every product whilst stocks last, or do you take a more refined, product based approach?

Understandably you may be wary of taking a more product-centric approach. What happens when the products in your email sell-out for example? Chances are, that on high-volume shopping days, products promoted in-email will have a higher sell-through rate than usual.

To overcome the very real problem of promoting sold-out products you can leverage live data to provide a great customer experience. The case for only including available products in email is obviously strong. Those that click through are doing so because they’re interested in the product and possibly have an intent to purchase. Only including products available to buy at the time of open is going to drive revenue.

You can also drive product sales by providing open time product availability in email. Using an API, or other data source, pull in live product stock levels and the latest pricing, delivery and product information at every email open. Each time the recipient re-opens the email the stock level and product information will automatically update.

Here’s an example of a live product feed generating email images that are live at open time:

example-product-feed-live-images

Use layered visibility rules to create image layers for stock level callouts and discount stickers as required. As the data source updates with real-time availability, discounts, prices and available products, the images in the email will update at every open with the latest, up-to-date content. For example, you could show a live stock availability call out over an image when the stock level dips below a certain number. This stock availability is live at every open, meaning that products featured in your email will always be available to click through and buy. For example, show a stock call out sticker over the image when there’s only 10 left. When the stock level drops to below 5, change the messaging on the stock call out to introduce urgency, such as ‘Hurry! Only 3 left.’. If a product goes out of stock, we’ll automatically swap it, on open, to display the next available product. Likewise, all product information will automatically update too, so if the discount amount changes or the price changes throughout the day, the email will reflect these changes live too.

Here’s an example of live products with stock level callouts:

live-stock-example

Not only does using Open Time Content Automation give you to flexibility to promote products that are in-stock and available to buy at email open, it also enables you to automate much of the email content. You can create on-brand product images from a data source for your email without requiring any support or resource from your design team, perfect for those on-the-fly campaigns that you’re likely to need to send out as Black Friday and Cyber Monday unfold.