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The evolution of email marketing - personalization and AI breathe new life into campaigns

Email marketing specialist Joanna Milliken of Salesforce explains what makes effective campaigns effective and what role AI and data play in them.

At Dreamforce in San Francisco, we sat down with Joanna Milliken, SVP and GM of Messaging for the Salesforce Marketing Cloud, to discuss the latest developments in email marketing.

Milliken comes from ExactTarget, which Salesforce acquired five years ago for $2.5 billion and laid the foundation for today's marketing cloud. She's been in E-Mail marketing for 17 years. At Salesforce, she is responsible for product management and leads a leadership team that leads Scrum teams. In total, her team consists of about 50 people who take care of everything from email development, mobile, automation, content, personalization, and channel interlocking.

Why email, as a dinosaur, is still so popular among marketing tools

E-Mail marketing has experienced many ups and downs in the course of time. After absolute hype and the "e-mail is dead" phase, a simple insight has now prevailed: email is very effective in permission-based marketing. It is safe terrain for marketers because of the explicit consent given by the opt-in. It is based on a clear relationship between brand and consumer. The user himself can decide when to open the inbox and whether to read the message or not. This "one- to-one experience" makes e-mail the anchor of many digital marketing measures.

What an effective email marketing strategy looks like

E-mail marketing is currently evolving: "From bash and blast to multichannel journeys" Milliken describes the evolution. This means nothing other than that even the big, traditional retailers who send out 10 or 15 million mails on a Tuesday morning start experimenting with deeper segmentation and more orchestration. Personalization is the magic word. And not only on the level of content and address, but also on the level of channels.

Her colleague Cliff Seal, UX Lead at Pardot, Salesforce's B2B Marketing Automation, also advocates extended segmentation and testing in his presentation at Dreamforce. This allows more variants of mails to be sent, resulting in more learning. This also sharpens the KPIs. Why should I, for example, measure the clicks and use them as a benchmark when a newsletter is hardly opened? Here it helps to sort out and experiment with frequencies. Does a subscriber only want one email per month? Maybe the user doesn't have time to read at the moment. Why not add a snooze feature for the recipient to resend the mail within a certain time frame? Only those who dare to experiment with email marketing can improve. Seal recommends at least one significant test per month. This sounds like absolute basics, but experience has shown that most people have never actually tried it.

In addition, Joanna Milliken has recently observed that companies are integrating their employees across departments to improve email marketing. For example, service staff know what the main problems are for customers and can provide valuable tips.

Basically, it's about listening first and then responding. If the email no longer reaches a user, you can try using Facebook Ads, for example, or switch it around in some other way. SMS, push, chat clients - everyone has different preferences for contact with a company.

Data at the heart of email marketing

For an effective strategy, however, the email marketer needs data first and foremost. On the one hand, this data can be obtained through segmentation and testing - behavioral data. According to Milliken, however, the key is the data that the customer voluntarily provides: "Data you ask for is business vital".

Sometimes marketers simply forget to ask questions and want to mine everything. It seems so easy to ask either with forms on the website or after the opt-in in the context of other campaigns. This is called "progressive profiling". For example, a requested preference can easily be taken into account in the next newsletter. Behavioural data, on the other hand, can be used much more effectively with artificial intelligence.

The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Email Marketing

For years the marketing mantra has been: We have to send the right message at the right time via the right channel. AI can solve that. At Salesforce, artificial intelligence has also become an integral part of the products and helps in email marketing with target group selection, content creation and, above all, decision making. In everything that has to do with data discovery.

Two examples: Frequency Analytics determines the time interval between messages. As mentioned earlier, some people want to receive more, some less. The time can also play a decisive role for commitment. AI is able to predict how likely it is that a recipient will interact with the content. If the chance is small, one possible measure is to change the timing or even use another channel.

AI also supports you in selecting the appropriate content. According to Milliken, an e-mail is just a container consisting of different blocks. These blocks can all have their own rules and be filled according to the preferences of the recipient. Which sequence they contain, in which order they are structured, the size of the different images, etc. - everything can be calculated and personalized by AI. Addressing a subscriber by name is by no means the end of the story.

E-mail and innovation sound like antonyms to many - what does the future hold for us?

It is difficult to find new use cases in email marketing, Milliken admits. In most cases it is the same variants that are used in the campaigns. Nevertheless, the specialist also sees room for innovation in the future, especially in the area of content.

The technology has evolved over the past few years, but the clients have not quite lagged behind. HTML5 and CSS, for example, offer exciting possibilities, but are not yet fully integrated. They promise interactive and interesting content. For example, a user sometimes no longer has to leave his inbox to complete a purchase.

"We just scratched the surface of the possibilities," believes the expert. So we can look forward to the future of email marketing.

Photo by Web Hosting on Unsplash

This blog was translated from the following article:

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