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.

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.

The Power of Personalization

Personalization is a top priority for email marketers; from contextual levels to more obvious name or product specific personalization, there are many different ways to do this. Send highly targeted, well personalized emails to your subscribers and you will see an increase in your opens, and better conversion rates. Ultimately you’ll build a better relationship between your brand and your subscribers, however, despite all of these benefits and the many methods of personalizing email, a huge 60% of marketers admit that they struggle when it comes to personalizing content in real-time.

A prime example of this is a recent email which I received from British fashion retailer OASIS with the subject line:

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-14-50-44

Working in this industry, it instantly caught my attention (not just because I’m on the lookout for a personalized clutch bag) but also because I was intrigued at how they may have personalized this email. With such a specific subject line, I presumed SURELY there would be some sort of individual personalization happening…

I was wrong…

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-14-52-13

Now, I doubt I was the only person in OASIS’ subscriber list who was disappointed upon opening this email. What a wasted opportunity!

As well as the lack of personalization within the email, there is also no obvious indication of how limited this ‘limited’ time is for.

This would have been an absolutely perfect time to add a personalized name to the image to actually show potential customers exactly how their bag could look.

With a few simple customizations, this email could have really stood out of the inbox and enticed more readers to purchase the product.

 

Firstly, this would have been a perfect opportunity to personalize the image to show readers what their bag would look like. Using a Kickdynamic Tag, this is easy to set up and implement and has a great impact on readers.

Secondly, to create the sense of urgency of the limited time this product is available, it would have been a great addition to include a countdown timer within the email. The urgency of the offer would be driven by the seconds counting down live. Additionally, when this offer/option has expired, swapping the image to an ‘after’ image, or showing a 1×1 gif in place of the timer, would ensure the content is relevant and always up to date. Ensuring the most up to date offer information is shown to the recipient will improve their customer experience and affiliation with the brand.

From this:                                                          To this:

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-14-37-46

 

What do you think? Would seeing your name or initials over the product image have encouraged you to click through and complete a purchase?

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.

Dynamic Content 2.0

Kickdynamic Open Time Content Automation is the next generation of Dynamic Content for email. It gives you all the power of highly targeted and engaging content but saves huge amounts of time in set up, maintenance and management, leaving you and your team more time for marketing. Traditional Dynamic Content is a great concept – you can personalize email text and images down to the individual recipient level, using coding language provided by your ESP. This means that if John has browsed smart shoes last week and you have that information in your ESP platform, you can use Dynamic content to merge in some smart shoes in the email you send to him today. You can do this without creating loads of segments. Dynamic Content is particularly useful in transactional or triggered email. You need to go beyond Dear %%Firstname%% to get a good response to your email. So far so good.

So why doesn’t everyone use Dynamic Content in email?

Many marketers do use Dynamic Content, but it does come with a number of challenges, principally:

  1. Setting up Dynamic Content scripting and testing it can be a long process
  2. Maintaining Dynamic Content (keeping it up to date, repairing it when it breaks) is labor-intensive
  3. Dynamic Content can cause send out speed problems

Kickdynamic’s solution addresses all three of these issues by managing and creating and serving image content on a separate system (not the ESP), with its own management interface. So, the set up can now be done by marketers with no scripting knowledge. Maintenance is automatic, as data (such as pricing/products/blog content) can be taken automatically from a feed or website. Using Kickdynamic separates out the database activity required for sending email from the database activity required for personalizing content. This means you can send out highly personal email at the same speed as ‘flat’ HTML. This is particularly important when it comes to peak season for retailers and we are fighting for inbox real estate on Black Friday or Cyber Monday.

Furthermore, Kickdynamic’s Content Automation creates the content at the moment of open, rather than the time of send. This means that key information such as price and stock availability or offer expiry will be correct at the time the recipient reads the email. The content can also be adapted, in the moment, to the recipient’s context: to their device, place, time or weather conditions. Because the content is created at the time of Open, it can also reflect the most recent browsing behaviour, for example, products or categories browsed after the email was sent, but before it is opened.

Here is a useful summary of the differences between traditional Dynamic Content and Kickydnamic Open Time Content Automation:

Traditional Dynamic Content Open Time Content Automation
Content produced at time of send Content produced at time of open
Scripts produce personalized content for every single recipient Personalized content produced ONLY for those who actually open the email
Uses ESP scripting

Uses ESP database

Content Automation handled by Open Time image server, not ESP

 

Slows down infrastructure of ESP when sending because content production and send out use the same Database and infrastructure No impact on send out speed because all personalization handled at image level
Can personalize ‘system text’ in emails

 

Can personalize text in images but not ‘system text’
Cannot reflect offer expiry, latest offers, stock levels or price changes

 

Can be in complete synchronization with website on pricing, stock and offers, even once the email is in the inbox
Requires IT team involvement Can be done without IT team
Needs to be set up again if you move ESP You can take this from ESP to ESP with no extra set up
One time set up then send out requires no creative, coding or testing – only infrastructure management for speed One time set up then no creative, coding or testing – no worries about speed of send out
Bring in best selling products at time of send Bring in best selling products at time of open
Show recommendations based on browsing behaviour up to time of send Show recommendations based on browsing behaviour up to time of open

How do you personalize when you have no data?

Personalization is a top priority for marketers this year according to Econsultancy’s Digital Trends 2016 report (and every marketer we’ve asked too!). ‘Personalization is a priority’ is often followed by ‘but it’s hard to do’.

The phrases ‘big data’ and ‘single customer view’ are frequently bandied around, and tend to make personalization sound like a difficult beast to tame, especially when it comes to dynamic content and actually using your data. After all, how can you possibly personalize an email when you’ve got such complex data structures (or unstructures in a lot of cases), and, even if your data ducks are in a row, is it even possible to use this data in your ESP in a useful way? It suddenly becomes tricky.

But here’s the thing: It’s actually never been easier. You can achieve significant and effective personalization without ‘big data’. You can use the recipient context (location, time, device) to personalize a message even if you have absolutely no data.

The next step is to use recent browsing behaviour to personalize a message. If the recipient has been looking at dresses, show them your best offers in your dresses category, or the newest dresses, just in. Suddenly, from ‘no data’ you are confirming a great brand experience. All of this is possible within a couple of weeks of set up and requires nothing more than access to a tag manager or Google Analytics.

 

What’s new – Yay!

What is coming in March?

Every month (or so) we push the latest version of the OpenTime marketing platform live to our customers. So what’s new? and what’s coming in March?

Templates for Personalized images, Timers and Content Automation

Kickdynamic customers are using more and more of our template functionality to create their own Personalized images and Countdown Clocks. The templates allow you to upload your own background image and overlay the Kickdynamic functionality so that you have a Timer or Personalized image that is completely on-brand. We have therefore moved this function from the account area into the main navigation to make it easier to access and to help with the workflow. You will see it here, next to Campaigns and Analytics.

Screen Shot 2016-03-07 at 13.57.17

Please use the templates area to build your live-image templates. You can then create as many Live Content Tags as you need using your own branded templates.

Personalized images Countdown Clocks Content Automation

Content Automation is a new function that we are beta testing. You can create a live image from any feed, website or API using Content Automation. If you would like to be part of the testing program please contact us.

Font upload

You can now upload your own font to use in your live-image templates! To do this, please go to your user name top right and select Account:

Font

Here you can select Font and upload your desired font.

Your uploaded font will be accessible in all images templates automatically once uploaded.

Clock image speed

Clock image speed. We have been fine turning the animated versions of our live-images to reduce the weight, and therefore the rendering speed, of the image.

Now, to the naked eye, the image loads instantly, however, looking at logs we noticed the image wasn’t loading to our extremely high standards. We have now improved this and clock images load fastest in the west.

If you have any feedback, please let me know.

2015 was the personalisation warmup; 2016 is game time

There’s no excuse for not personalising email any more. In the past marketers have been held back by data – they haven’t got enough, it’s too complex to segment, the data needs to be cleansed/sorted/restructured before it’s usable. Whatever the reason may be, marketers haven’t been personalising email content as much as they could. But this year is the year that’s going to change.

Personalisation is way more than just personalising an email’s subject line to the recipient or greeting them by first name. With Open Time Marketing (and absolutely no data apart from email address) you can quickly and EASILY send highly personalised email content using information detected at the point of email open. This information can then determine what content is displayed to the recipient, giving them a personalised, relevant and engaging email experience every time they open. Increasingly, throughout 2016 we expect to see more and more emails personalised to location, language, currency, device and time.

timeI know that on many occasions I have opened an email containing numerous offers only to click through to the website to find the offer has already ended. Using the time of email open and Open Time Marketing, marketers can personalise email content to the time of open to show the latest content at the moment of open. Instead of showing the offers that have expired, or products that have sold out, marketers can display current offers and products with stock availability or that are the latest at that point in time. It’s not personalisation in a traditional sense but you’re going to be seeing more and more of it.

KD_icons_LocationThis year I think we’re likely to see nearest store become a constant feature in almost every email send, especially for the retail sector. With competition between bricks and mortar stores at an all time high and customer loyalty becoming more challenging, retailers are looking for more ways to drive customers into store. Nearest store functionality, or geotargeting, has long been a feature ‘in app’ but it’s use in email has been relatively sparse in comparison. This year, expect to see retailers showing pins over a map depicting the nearest stores to the location of open; upon clicking through recipients can be given personalised directions from their location to the door of your store (powered by GPS). Personalising nearest store to open location and providing directions resonates with customers and makes it so easy for them to find you over your competitors.

locationThere are also other, clever, ways to personalise email using location. Do you have a big event happening in a certain location? Or maybe a new store opening in Manchester? Set a radius around the event and only show the content in the email if the person opening the email is within that radius. Again, this is a different way of personalising content, but what you’re providing is content that is only relevant to those opening in the correct area. Anybody else outside of that area won’t see that content. You’re personalising content based on open location.

device targetingDon’t just personalise content based on location though. There’s heaps of things you can do using the context of open to personalise email content, which brings me nicely on to mobile. Mobile, mobile, mobile. Everywhere you turn and every blog post you read you’ll be seeing and hearing about mobile. Quite simply, mobile is everywhere and marketers need to embrace it. Totally and completely. Especially in email. Personalise the content of the email to the device being used to read it. It’s simple to do with Open Time Marketing Tags. Display device specific messaging for the device being used such as a mobile banner with a link to the correct version of your app in the correct app store. It’s the perfect way to promote cross channel sales, app downloads and save messaging space. If you’re promoting your mobile app, only show it to those using a mobile device – content personalised to the device that is relevant and useful. Device targeting ticks lots of boxes so it’s sure to be a hit in 2016.

KD_icons_DevicesSimilarly, you could use device recognition technology to hide content that is not relevant to the device being used. For example, nearest store probably isn’t relevant to those opening the email on a desktop so chose not to display it. In contrast, it’s super relevant for mobile openers who are on the go so show it to everybody opening on a mobile device to capitalise on recipients on the go.

Identify-RecipientI also think that image personalisation is going to be increasingly popular in 2016; I think we’re going to see more of it across promotional, as well as lifecycle and transactional email. Fancy artwork with my name on it makes me want to click through. I enjoy the effort that the brand has gone to and it makes me feel a bit special! Image personalisation does require some data but as long as you have first name then you’re in business. Personalised images don’t have to be big header banners with the name in lights though, subtle uses, such as the ASDA example below, will become more prevalent as marketers look for new ways to add personal touches in email.

Asda example for Image personalisation

InformationThere are lots ways for marketers to take personalisation to the next level this year. Many of them are quick and easy to implement and require little, or no data. Personalising the content of an email at the moment of open with the latest information or to the device being used is the best way to do email this year. Give your recipients relevant, engaging content that’s personalised to them every time you send an email.