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Agile email creative means creating and curating email content not before send, or at send (with automated or dynamic content) but at the moment the customer opens or re-opens an email.

This agile creative allows the marketer to change pictures in an email depending on time of opening, location of opening (via IP address), weather in that particular area, or the device the email has been opened on.

Movable Ink is a company currently providing this technology as part of its email build and insights platform, a layer that sits on top of a company's email service provider. I spoke to Matt Potter, VP UK and EMEA, to get some more detail on agile email creative.

What can be done with this technology and in which sectors might it prove particularly useful?

Streamlining the customer experience

A lot of what this agile creative can achieve boils down to eliminating extraneous steps from the user journey when they open an email.

Device recognition is a good example of where the journey from an email can be streamlined. In the example below from Seamless, you can see that the call to action to download the company's app has been tailored for the device the user has opened the email on.

In this instance, the device is iOS, and so the picture downloaded invites the user to download from the app store and is linked to the correct page in the Apple store.

If the user had opened the email on an Android phone (or indeed reopens it on an Android), the Google Play image and link would have downloaded as part of the email.

This agile creative precludes the user from having to click through to a landing page first, then selecting the right app store download. This kind of optimisation will likely increase the proportion of customers that download the app, as fewer will fall by the wayside after clicking to download.

If this kind of targeting was done based on past user behaviour (and not agile creative), there may be some instances where the user has changed devices and hence the personalisation would be inaccurate.

device targeted email 

Targeting locations

Here's an example of using agile creative to target users in particular locales with appropriate content, with doing any prior segmentation.

The NCAA Men’s Division 1 Basketball Championship in the USA is down to last four every March. Finish Line wanted to promote merchandise to customers in the surrounds of each school involved.

The IP address of the device the email is opened on is used to locate a user. If the IP is registered to within 100 miles of one of the four schools, a particular team's merchandise will be promoted in the image that loads into the mail.

If the recipient is outside these zones, a default image showing all four teams is downloaded (on the right hand side in the image below).

location targeted email

No delivery of expired promotions

Using agile creative to download different images for promotions depending on what time the recipient opens the email allows a company to adapt. The countdown clock in emails is the traditional or original use of agile creative, but this can be taken further and made more sophisticated.

This tactic also allows marketers, when the promotion has expired, to load an image in the email explaining this and pointing the recipient to a different or more appropriate landing page.

This example from Boden shows exactly this tactic in use. The second email shows what happens when opened after expiry. Note the call to action to make Boden a priority next time.

Content during promotion..

promotion countdown in email

..and after promotion expiry.

end of promotion in email 

Which sectors could really up their game?

Publishing

Syncing web content into email images, or in effect adding an RSS functionality into email, would be a boon for publishers.

Imagine sending upgrade offers to free registered users where the content is real-time upon opening. This may allow publishers to provide as relevant and compelling call to action as possible, as part of a paywall strategy.

Travel

Travel is so time-sensitive, both booking and then when taking up your airline seat or hotel room.

Agile creative could be used to change messages to potential seat reservers about how many seats are left on their plane. It could also be used to let the customer know the next stage of taking their flight, whether checking in, dropping a bag or checking in for the return.

Yes, these are instances where subsequent emails could be triggered, too, but the power of being able to change a link in an old email could work for trying to remarket or remessage to reopeners.

Ben Davis

Published 6 May, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is a senior writer at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Sean Duffy

One problem with this technology is the likes of Gmail and Hotmail who cache an image based upon IP of their servers, and therefore the intended recipient never sees the dynamic one intended for them, only what the image was at the time of caching.

Could easily be a massive chunk of your audience, plus any animated images like countdown clocks won't work in Outlook.

A more robust way is to capture information about customer upfront, and then use the ESP's personalisation suite to tailor the content.

almost 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Sean

I'll have to defer to those with more technical knowledge, but a post from RedAnt points out that querystring can force refetching of an image, though browser cache might interfere.

It does suggest that IP and device won't be correct, though.

http://www.redant.com.au/how-we-do/cache-busting-gmail-new-image-caching/

According to MailChimp, POP and iMAP clients won't be affected. The iPhone client isn't affected.

But web mail is, and probably Gmail apps, too, which represents a decent proportion of those on Gmail.

Perhaps a combination of tactics is best, but I'd rather leave it to someone else to answer.

On Moveable Ink's side, I guess there's a lot of other stuff in the platform around productivity and build, but it would be good to get a clear picture of how accurate IP information is and whether reopens are registered.

almost 2 years ago

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Matthew Potter

@Ben

Your point is correct, we blogged about this exact point some time back.

Gmail did make short term changes that had an impact on how images are cached and served. Subsequent further changes by the Gmail team mean that images can now be served live again. For readers who would like some detail it can be found here : http://blog.movableink.com/real-time-content-and-re-open-tracking-return-to-gmail/

The beauty of our agile email content is that it is rendered at time of open and not at time of send. This is much more appropriate for today's audience and works in tandem with email broadcast tools and the lifecycle messages they deliver. The rich media content is optimised for each email client, operating system or device so that the recipient receives the very best version they can. Even the lowest version of that content still offers an increase in user experience over the static version.

almost 2 years ago

Marco Sansalone

Marco Sansalone, web designer at www.marcosansalone.com

Take a care with using an image for count down time! The new gmail has a caché that save the first image loaded, so is a little bit hard to make a usefull count down

almost 2 years ago

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Steve

Ben and Matthew, do you have stats on the success of the campaign that used an IP address to determine location and push content? Has this been tested?

almost 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Marco

Yep, as the some of the comments point out, this has been a problem for some marketers.

However, if you read Matt's blog post, you'll see that a no-cache header takes care of that.

Cheers

almost 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Steve

I'll leave Matt to chime in on stats.

almost 2 years ago

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Matthew Potter

@Steve

The geo located campaign generated a click through rate 80% greater than the previous year. This was personalised content in a scheduled email.

Geo location of content is interesting in that it can be used to serve in localised content or imagery. It can be used to drive local mapping with details of points of interest and store locations. It can also be used to drive weather related content based on real time conditions or forecasts at time of open.

The big caveat here is the accuracy of the location, as it is usually based on IP address. However, at Movable Ink we have seen great results where we blend known locations (postal data) with inferred locations (IP address) to give the best personalised content depending on the context in which the email is opened.

almost 2 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CTO at Fresh Relevance

Agile creative: the future of email? We're betting that it is. A few notes:

(1) Google's promotion tab grid view works *really* well with agile creative - what we call hero images - because you can format a big image that summarizes your offer to the current user, right there in the inbox.

(2) Every email can have a "stop press" section at the bottom, for errata. If you get a price wrong, you can publish a correction right there in the email.

(3) No need to promote out-of-stock products, or more importantly LOW stock products, because the dynamic content can always switch to show appropriate product suggestions.

This is an issue that marketing bloggers regularly miss, but IMO one of the biggest issue in email marketing to consumers is *wasting* marketing on products that are not selling at all, or that are going gangbusters and will sell out regardless. In both cases, it's better to edit the dynamic content to push other products and get better ROI.

(4) You covered count-down timers, but it's a bit clumsy to just show a message that "the door has slammed" when an offer has expired. I would recommend editing the count-down timer to refer to the next offer - if necessary with a count-down to when it starts - so there's always a positive selling message.

almost 2 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Senior Writer at EconsultancyStaff

@Pete

All great uses!

Yes, Gmail's new Pinterest style promotions inbox is going to be very interesting.

Something we should cover here.

almost 2 years ago

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Matthew Potter

@Pete

I agree that Gmail's Grid View is a great opportunity for marketers if/when it comes out of field trial mode. It would finally allow marketers to optimise 'subject images' in real time to show the best performing content at the right time. Agile email content (timers, location, personalisation etc...) also works really well here, its like a preview for your main email content.

I would challenge your view that the Boden email was 'clumsy'. There are two ways of thinking about what content to show at the end of an offer / when a countdown hits zero.

1. Change the offer or content to reflect new products that are now available. This has the benefit of always showing someone some content that is accurate that they can interact with / buy.

2. Show that the offer has ended, this could be a 'door has slammed shut' piece of content, a greyed out offer or a clock that shows 00:00:00. This variation shows the recipient that they just missed the offer and that next time they should open and click sooner.

Neither of these versions is wrong, they have very different results and are based off very different trains of thought. In the example above the offer had reduced over a few days 20% > 15% > 10% and therefore telling the reader that the offer had expired was in line with the messaging in the broader campaign.

almost 2 years ago

Pete Austin

Pete Austin, CTO at Fresh Relevance

@Matthew This is a very interesting issue.

Taking the the scenario you describe, where the email was specifically to promote a limited-time offer, I totally agree that Boden should announce if the original offer has ended.

If they didn't do this, there are several situations when the user could be confused and annoyed. For example if they are reopening an email, to return to the offer that they read earlier that day, and they can't find any mention of it any more.

The question in my mind is - what next? What is displayed in that email, immediately below the message that the sale is over? What is the new call to action?

(1) The new message could say that the offer is over and here's how to subscribe to the next one. In this case, the call to action has been swapped from "buy" to *subscribe*, which I see as pushing the shopper the wrong way along their customer journey (back from buyer to subscriber). Probably "clumsy" wasn't quite the right word, but that's what I had in mind.

(2) Or the new message could say that the offer is over and here's the next one, which I see as keeping the shopper in "buying" mode.

almost 2 years ago

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Matthew Potter

@Pete

The great thing about this whole area is that it is a conversation that email marketers would never have been able to have before now.

The landscape is changing and opportunities are opening up. The ISP world is 'adapting to' and 'shaping how' people act and react. Technology providers are making things like real time email content possible where it was historically not. Marketers now have capability to better shape future conversations with consumers.

All this hopefully means a better experience for the end recipient and yet another reason to not write off email!

almost 2 years ago

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