eBook Smarter Emails Smash Benchmarks

Email is still the bedrock of marketing – it remains the most prevalent and dominant form of digital marketing, providing incredible return on investment. But with 200 billion emails being sent and received every day, rising to almost 250 billion by the end of 2019 (which could even be an underestimate), how do you ensure your emails stand out in an already cluttered inbox? To continue the success of emails, brands need to embrace the vision of email as a conduit to deliver targeted, real-time, personalized content to consumers who they know are at that precise moment in time showing a high propensity to purchase.

Email. So much to answer for

Since the first commercial email was sent out in the late 1970s with great success, email has been slipping down the cool chart over the decades and is now seen more like the ugly stepsister of digital marketing. But however much mud is slung at it, email is still the bedrock of marketing – it remains the most prevalent and dominant form of digital marketing, providing incredible return on investment.

Worldwide, over 200 billion emails are sent and received every day. This gure is due to rise by 5% each year, reaching almost 250 billion emails by the end of 2019. This could even be an underestimate. Email user numbers also continue to grow. Currently standing at 2.6 billion, by 2019 there will be almost 3 billion email users worldwide. By the end of that year, one-third of the world’s population will be using email. Success via the inbox is hard enough now, imagine what it will be like then. Email however will continue to be a reliable channel to deliver ROI. But its success will rely on whether brands use email in its most traditional form, or will embrace the vision of email as a conduit to deliver targeted, real-time, personalized content to consumers who they know are at that precise moment in time showing a high propensity to purchase.

Common issues around email marketing:

  • Struggling to keep momentum with email campaigns
  • Diffculty standing out in the inbox
  • High frequency send – sending high levels of emails to try and maintain revenue levels, which can cause negative effects for a brands
  • Competing for consumer attention and share of their pocket

Email as an essential part of effective cross-channel digital marketing

Email is the fundamental basis for effective cross-channel management – it gives proven results and is a robust form of marketing communication, but its power also lies in effectively enabling customer retention AND acquisition through enriched personal data.

Cross-channel synchronization is not easy, but using a marketing platform that is built around a real-time decision engine (RTD) utilising both real-time and non real-time inputs to drive next best interactions across all channels will make this work in perfect harmony. Marketers can interact with a RTD through various interfaces; commonly the journey planner and the personalization UX. This is by either designing a channel agnostic campaign focused on a customer persona and next desired action, or to drive a response in a specific channel. For example, the UK’s largest high street toy retailer The Entertainer target their lapsing purchasers with a promotional campaign displayed in email or web. This depends on where the engagement occurs when the customer qualities. They also send a multi-stage email sign up welcome program to new customers/email sign-ups. Using a Big Data structure truly changes the benchmarks for email marketing – meaning marketers need just one platform delivering real-time email that changes content on every open. This makes the complex simple so a marketer only needs to touch a single button and live recommendations – wholly based on customer persona – are rendered thanks to decisioning that has happened in real-time in seconds.


What we learn about customers from email:


We know. Personalization is the buzzword of the moment. The term is everywhere, discussed by everyone as the saviour of our modern email marketing times. It is also in danger of becoming ubiquitous – the industrialization of what should simply be a personal and unique real-time connection with a consumer. BUT when it is done properly, personalization is a truly beautiful thing. Personalization is the canvas, where email and web preferences paint a consumer’s unique picture.

‘Relevant emails drive 18 times more revenue than broadcast emails’
Jupiter Research

The current average open rate for commercial emails is 19-20%, with click-through rates of around 3-4%. Personalization offers a way to drastically improve these figures by offering hyper-relevant content – rising above the ever growing number of emails received by consumers. To make any kind of mark in an inbox, emails need to be personalized to stand out from the deluge of batch and blast emails. These standard send emails are now redundant – instantly forgettable, instantly lost when they are in competition with more powerful and relevant contextual emails. Emails need to feel as alive as websites, and must interact with customer live data as well as live streams from third parties such as weather, currency and traffic.

First things first – building a personalized email campaign

It’s all very well and good to send better, more powerful and totally up to the second contextually relevant emails, but how do you actually personalize these messages to a user’s context, time of open or availability of offer? To enable contextual personalized emails, you need a marketing platform with a highly-intuitive editor for personalized content. An advanced marketing cloud allows for personalization designs – including picture and text overlays, interactive content such as scratch cards and countdown timers, and algorithmic-driven content such as product offers and next-best actions. These personalizations can be deployed in a single and consistent policy across any number of digital channels, as well as to a mobile device for in-store use cases. This means that email can be triggered by an in-store activity – and equally an email action (click or open) can change what a customer sees on their next web visit.


The importance of A/B and multivariate testing

Understanding the effectiveness of variants, and using the results in real-time to create new variants or reduce down to just one, is vital for effective email campaigns. A/B/ and multivariate testing capabilities must be easily configured and tested in a marketing platform. Test results and subsequent actions can be determined automatically by setting rules – such as rolling out a winning segment based on a specific criteria. Offer content, the algorithms and weighting configurations can then be modified in real-time, creating new variants to maintain effectiveness measurements. All results can then be stored and measured against the single customer view, allowing effectiveness to be measured at the engagement level or at the individual customer level. Machine learning means every individual customer interaction is fed back into the system for ongoing optimization.

SKU level product recommendation integration in emails

  • Providing next-best offer and next-best action guarantees revenue increases. We see time and time again this algorithm massively improves rates across all benchmarks.
  • Emails now need to be able to swap out featured products even after the email has sent. It’s vital that emails change content down to SKU level product recommendations in real-time. For example if a product runs out of stock, a promotion ends, or the weather changes (a summer promotion campaign is sent but the weather turns cold).
  • The Entertainer are able to react to stock levels the second an email is opened. Sales are maximized because their emails always show products that are in stock. Within their industry, the most popular toys go in and out of stock very quickly, so live personalization is essential to swap products in real-time.
  • It is frustrating for a potential customer who clicks on an email product link to find it is out of stock. Customers who know your products are always in stock become more loyal – their time and interest hasn’t been wasted.

Triggered messaging

It’s critical to have a wide range of email triggered messaging. Using ecommerce platform connectors enables all types of transactional and service related messaging. Behavioral triggers such as browse, cart, and site abandoned are integral to a marketing platform solution using native tracking capabilities and RTD.

Triggers depend on the real-time nature of the data, which is as close to ‘in the moment’ as a brand can provide. For example, email clicks and web interactions can be harvested and acted on in real-time, whereas if a brand can only deliver POS data overnight (which is quite common), the RTD will have to use the last best information it has. Marketing platforms that are still reliant on relational databases can’t process this amount of data in the moment, let alone make a decision on what to do with it.

Within email this can deliver up to 4x increase on standard marketing KPIs like open and click-through. In this way, all email becomes like transactional email, delivered at the appropriate moment without stale, static content and no longer driven by the marketer’s best guess.

Integrating email strategy with mobile marketing

Proximity = Personalization

The integration of mobile and email is one of the key foundations of a contextual marketing program. Where some vendors stop at simply facilitating emails that render on mobile, more advanced platforms go further into cross-channel messages based on email behaviors and emails triggered by mobile location data. For example, triggering a post-store visit email based on how long that person spent in-store and in which departments. Mobile in this case makes email more advanced. Location data gleaned from a loyalty app personalizes for the ‘segment of one’ customer.

A leading UK shoe retailer had an open rate of 73% for emails of this kind, which is the usual level of engagement expected from transactional emails. Personalized push notifications also amplify this messaging.

Customer personas and profiling

Understanding in detail the context of a customer’s various interactions with your business is the first step to providing a deeper level of personalization.

Building personas using available information on your customers is vital to achieve this. A persona is a framework you pad out until you have a set of rules for each customer segment, and these personas can then be used across your business to guide marketing strategy. It is essential that any strategy begins with an understanding of your data. Before carrying out statistical analysis, give careful consideration to your brand’s overall goals and the data touch points you have available to you. The majority of marketers are already using behavioral and transactional data sets in their digital marketing but it is important to look beyond this for an all-encompassing view.

According to Gartner there are five research modalities that can offer significant value:

  • Demographic – population data such as geography and income
  • Psychographic – insight gathered by understanding opinions and attitudes
  • Ethnographic – insight gained through observation of your customers
  • Transactional – data acquired through your customer’s purchase history
  • Behavioral – data captured through how people interact with your company via various digital channels

Within these key areas there is a wealth of useful, actionable insight that will bring greater depth of knowledge about your customers.

Persuasion profiling

You need a marketing platform that can find your customer personas who are not discount driven. This means you can reduce the amount of price promotions sent to these groups, therefore increasing your margins.

Customer personas and profiling

Create segments based on your data analysis

Before you can build your personas, it is important to action your data hypotheses within your digital marketing strategy by creating segments of customers.

These segments should be based on key attributes that have been discovered as part of your customer analysis. It is important that any outcome data is captured and fed back into your central data tool for further analysis and to measure performance of each segment over time.

You don’t need to add expensive, custom analytics to get the benefit of defining specific persona segments for your customer base and tracking the performance of each persona over time. The trick is to define enough personas that create uniqueness, but not so many that analysing and tailoring your marketing messages is overwhelming.

Companies who have spent a significant amount of time defining personas say having between 8 and 16 is current best practice.

The best way of defining your segments is to initially focus on new, potential, loyal and lapsed customers. Don’t spend too much time fine-tuning the definitions, you can let the data tell you how to adjust your definitions to optimize your marketing as you go along. A good customer analytics tool will let you define and track your personas.

Quantum personas

You should be using a data solution that lets your personas develop and adapt over time. Personas change every second, so you need real-time and dynamic data otherwise all the work you have carefully done will be out of date in six months.

Customer personas and profiling

Run a testing program

The best way to verify the hypotheses that informed your segmentation strategy is to build a testing program. Choose a number of variables that will have the most meaningful impact on the personalization of your offering and feed these back into the segments to make them more coherent. Examples could include favored channel, tone of communication, product affnity and frequency of communication.

Create and apply your personas

The implementation of a sound analysis and segmentation strategy will provide the foundation to start building out your personas. The steps detailed above should provide you with the knowledge to make objective rather than subjective statements about your customers and a feedback loop will allow you to continually verify your prognoses.

Evolve personas over time

Any personas you create should be fluid and evolve over time as your understanding of their behavior grows. Many loyal brand advocates are happy to provide further information, particularly if they are aware that it will be used to directly improve their customer experience. Customer service surveys, the capturing of stated preferences and product feedback following purchase can all be used to help further build persona models. As your business continues to grow and adapt according to strategy and market conditions it is also essential that your personas are continually re-evaluated.

A good example of catering for complex personas has been achieved by The Entertainer, whose customers have many children (the ultimate consumer) associated with one personalization profile. A marketing platform needs to be able to handle these areas, and in the same instance provide next best offer and action depending on the customer history and predictive next move.

Using real-time data to create customer segments

Interacting with data to create fully actionable segments that draw on all data points is an essential part of modern-day email marketing. Segmented profiles can be further refined via actionable dashboards, enabling the addition of market knowledge/learning to further enhance persona accuracy. These can then be dynamically managed and used to drive email interactions.

All data is immediately available for segmentation and all segments are immediately available to campaigns. Segments can be static or dynamic depending on the marketer’s choice. For example, the insights element of SmartFocus’ marketing platform The Message Cloud has been designed to store all data types with the core design principle that it must be able to answer the next question. Marketing departments want to know their current campaign state within and across channels, effectiveness, conversion, brand loyalty, customers, social etc, and need a full analysis and reporting platform.

The most advanced marketing platforms provide quality insights to define segments and scale through lookalike modeling. This enables marketers to always deliver the best content to the precise consumer in the right moment.

Dynamic real-time emails

Delivering personalized and context-aware emails in real-time can be diffcult without an advanced marketing platform. You need a canvas of possibilities to send highly dynamic messages that optimize in real-time when opened. This gives every customer truly personalized engagements.

To send effective personalized emails, it is vital your marketing platform is able to:

  • Incorporate personalized product recommendations
  • ​Swap products with relevant products on-open if the product has sold out, or if the weather has changed – changing sandals for woolly hats for example
  • Offer live up-to-the-second pricing on-open, which is vital around sale times
  • Bring your emails to life with dynamic content such as countdown timers and scratch reveals
  • Include dynamic and attention grabbing CTAs
  • Use its contextual engine to include external feeds such as weather and location

Only then will you be able to achieve personalized, relevant and powerful emails to send to customers.

Questions to ask your digital marketing platform

Along with the essentials of personalized emails, there are other questions you must ask of your platform:

  • Can your personalized emails cope with complex personas (eg, a multiple-buyer household)?
  • Can you use your email database to instantly find lookalikes of your most profitable customers in third party applications (like Facebook) to grow your acquisition channels?
  • ​Can you create real-time retargeting campaigns on social networks based on customer behavioral email data?
  • Can you stitch a historic anonymous customer profile to an email record created at a later date?

Such complex areas are very hard to process, unless you have an advanced provider. When you go beyond the usual boundaries of email, the possibilities are endless.


User generated content – how to boost your brand’s content pool

Most brands are content poor. Delivering effective and engaging brand content to customers is timely and expensive. User generated content (UGC) solves this dilemma by enabling the delivery of more engaging and personalized experiences to audiences.

It’s a win-win to use UGC in email (and across channels without extra work). It’s easy to increase engagement levels, saves money on agencies and content creation, and only takes a fraction of the time brand content takes to put together. UGC leverages the full content spectrum of the internet – the world becomes your content library.

The benefits of incorporating personalized UGC in emails include:

  • Accelerating in-email purchases with live product reviews and customer imagery
  • Adding dynamic conversion links turns social content into a powerful sales asset
  • Creating more relevant and engaging emails on-open

Adding UGC to brand content is proven to increase results

It’s easy to use UGC within advanced marketing platforms:

  • Social feeds set-up
    Create your own rules and filters against automated content feeds so relevant content is only included from the pool of social feeds.
  • Curating and managing content
    Content from social feeds is reviewed and used alongside brand materials, amplifying its impact.
  • Shortlisting, scheduling and publishing content
    UGC content can be shortlisted and previewed for further consideration or approval at a later date. Agreed content can be published, unpublished and deleted at any time.
  • Adding social content to email campaigns
    Approved UGC can then be directly added into email campaigns. Real-time emails can pull through up-to-the-second approved UGC on open.
  • Content insights and analytics
    Brands can now analyze and understand content performance and engagement plus all content trends, through the reporting information directly from approved social content.

Engagement rates increased by over 2x using UGC in email
Teletext Holidays

Conversion rate is nearly 6x higher for content marketing adopters than non-adopters
Aberdeen Group

70% of consumers place peer recommendations and reviews above professionally written content


Email success case studies

No-one else can do all of the above on one platform. SmartFocus knows that email is the hub of all cross-channel communications and is the channel that still delivers the best ROI for marketers.

You need a digital marketing platform that can deliver excellence in email and cross-channel marketing, and with guaranteed improvements in results. You need The Message Cloud.


Case Study One: The Entertainer is the UK’s largest high street toy retailer with 120 stores and thetoyshop.com ecommerce site. They required a world-class digital marketing platform that could let them personalize, segment and achieve a single view of their customers.

“We tripled our email revenue last year compared to the year before, which is a brilliant result for us and something we are really happy with. We’ve used the same database – it’s not like we have massively grown the database. All we have done is send better messages to the same people and got a better result from that.”
Rob Wood, Head of Online, The Entertainer


Case Study Two: Peak Performance is Scandinavia’s biggest sportswear clothing label with stores in 14 countries across Europe and the Middle East. Working with SmartFocus, Peak Performance implemented a digital customer marketing strategy. Sending personalized emails saw massive revenue increases.

Case Study Three: Teletext Holidays are the longest established digital travel agency in the UK, providing great value holidays for over 20 years and with 300,000 customers travelling with them last year. The brand wanted to deliver even more engaging and personalized experiences to their audience. They already were using The Message Cloud, but turned to Smart Content – the SmartFocus UGC solution – to enhance their own brand content.

Leading Department Store Group

Case Study Four: One of UK’s leading department store groups, who implemented personalization to understand customer behavior across all their channels with SmartFocus, achieved significant email result improvements.

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