Last week, Mintel Comperemedia took part in the Email Evolution Conference in Miami, where email marketers, ESPs, and major brands came together to share proven strategies, best practices, and the future of the channel. In the Keynote address, Guy Kawasaki, imparted upon conference attendees his skills in the art of enchantment, that is, how to influence people’s hearts, minds, and actions. Guy’s message was simple: the goal is to bring about voluntary, enduring, and delightful change that enables you to maneuver through difficult decisions, break habits, and get others to work for long-term, mutually beneficial goals. Something every marketer can relate to.

Guy’s words of wisdom set the stage, followed by leading innovators in digital marketing driving the conversation on key topics of the day: consumer engagement, the role of email in an omni-channel environment, and the future of digital media. Here are five key themes that emerged from the conference:

Context & Relevancy

In the age of Big Data, companies have endless amounts of customer data at their disposal. Consumers are increasingly aware of how and when their data is being collected, and expect to reap the benefits with unique, seamless experiences. The strategy of “marketing to the consumer of one,” requires more than just personalization. It requires context, and utilizing context in direct marketing is a difficult mission. Vivek Sharma of Movable Ink encapsulated that difficulty in saying, “If content is king, context is a chessboard.” Piecing together customer data to craft the right message at the right time results not only in an immediate sale, but also establishes enduring loyalty. The “Make it Mine” Mintel Trend suggests this could be a boon to brands, because “not only [will they] build a more personal relationship, they can also avoid wasting money, time, and resources on things their customer doesn’t want.”

Dynamic & Responsive

Brands are now challenged with engaging more customers in more media channels than ever before. Consumers, however, insist upon a seamless hassle-free customer experience, regardless of channel. The solution to this conflict is being dynamic and responsive – not only in strategy, but in design as well. While responsive design does not always result in increased response rates, emails and websites with responsive design improve readability, usability, and therefore positively impact the overall customer experience.

The (Enlightened ) Customer Journey

Multiple EEC panels described and dissected “the customer journey.” Marketers map out the path from acquisition to the point of sale and beyond to understand where the gaps are, and when to employ trigger messaging or further contact to progress the consumer along to the next step. The Keynote panel on “The Age of Data-Driven Consumerism,” in which Comperemedia’s Andrew Davidson participated, touched on a key point: consumers are smart, and if not already, will soon know how to game the system . For example, online shoppers who have abandoned shopping carts and received a discount offer as an incentive to complete the purchase may do so intentionally in the future. Marketers must find new ways to convert prospects into revenue, beyond incentives or promotional offers.

“Email is a vehicle, not the end destination”

This was said by Phil Davis, CBO of TowerData during his panel on email best practices, describing how email data can be leveraged for targeted online and social media advertising. Although consumers are engaging with brands on multiple channels, they do not always want to be sold something. Online banner ads have low engagement and lower click-through rates. High inbox placement and open rates do not always translate to customer engagement. Email has the ability to drive customer loyalty by offering more than just a coupon code. As the “Experience is All” Mintel Trend describes it, “concentrating only on price means losing the opportunity to build genuine brand loyalty.” IBM Silverpop’s Loren McDonald put it another way, using the old rule “sell the sizzle not the steak,” as an example: “the new rule is ‘educate with grilling tips, recipes, and wine pairings.’”

Audience of the Future

In the Q&A portion of the Keynote address, Kawasaki was asked by an attendee about how email marketers could engage with not only millennials, but even younger consumers, who may be on social media but not on email. Kawasaki’s response was simple and blunt, “You have to go where they are; it’s not the other way around.” As consumers hold more power over what media they consume, and what brands they engage with, it is imperative for brands to evolve with tastes and preferences.

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