Customer Experience News & Trends

Exciting email secrets from industry insider

We just sat down with Matt Highsmith, president/CEO of TailoredMail, an email marketing and automation software firm, about what’s working in email right now — and what trends will soon emerge. Our talk produced some juicy tips for emailers.

The highlights from Customer Experience Insight’s Q&A with Highsmith:

Has mobile optimization caught on to the extent that it should have?

Highsmith: I think everyone’s aware of the issue and is concerned about it, but surprisingly there are a lot of companies out there that aren’t doing it. I subscribe to everything I can find to look at what others are doing. And this is from my own non-scientific research, but I’d say less than half of businesses have actually caught on and invested in upgrading the design of their email templates so they work on a smartphone. And I think they’re not fully motivated because they don’t realize what the return will be.

For one of our clients, we took a non-mobile-optimized template with a very engaged audience (subscribers loved their email), and we optimized it for mobile. Half of the client’s audience was comprised of mobile users. The engagement rate went up 80% — and that was for an audience that already loved their email.

If that’s not proof it works, I don’t know what is.

But even the 50% of companies that are doing it [mobile optimization], I’m still stunned they’re not sending recipients to a mobile-optimized landing page. That’s the next level of hurdles for companies to overcome: How do I get all of my content mobile ready?

What is the next big thing in email?

Highsmith: In terms of what people aren’t doing today and what’s on the horizon, our belief — and this is why we’ve invested so heavily in it — is integrating video with email content. That is going to be one of the next big trends in email.

Video marketing is growing all over the internet. About 80% of the bandwidth is gobbled up using video. And most of our time on smartphones is clicking on videos. So with 40% to 50% of email opened on a smartphone, and video being such an important part of smartphone usage, we figured we should combine the three [smarphones, email and video].

How do you combine the three?

Highsmith: The problem today is when a client asks their email vendor, “Should I put video in email?” the vendors say, “No. Don’t do that.” They say you don’t want to embed Flash or JavaScript or attachments, because a lot of people would have a poor experience.

But when TailoredMail started to look at HTML5 and its pervasiveness in all the current web browsers and smartphones, we saw a significant opportunity existed to solve this [customer experience] problem.

So in our email platform we’ve added the ability for our clients to upload, encode and embed their videos into their email in five minutes. And our platform is capable of automatically encoding the video into more than a dozen formats. It will automatically detect what email client a recipient is using, and serve up the email and video in the correct format for that recipient. There is no need for the recipient to download special software.

We believe this is the future of email.

What kind of results have you seen from using video in email?

Highsmith: For our clients, if they’re sending out 12 newsletters a year and you took the best performing link in those newsletters, and then you sent a video for the first time in the 13th month, that video will outperform the best link somewhere between 8- and 11-fold, on average.

It has that big of an engagement impact on what you’re sending. When people start to realize what it can do to further engage their audiences, it’ll be a hot trend.

Are there any general video-in-email tips you can give our readers?

Highsmith: These are some things we’ve found from analyzing our clients’ video-in-email performance:

  • If your goal is try to get as much of your lists to view the entire video as possible, we’ve found that the sweet spot for length is between 50 seconds and one minute.
  • Never have a video set to auto-play. It’s tempting, but we’ve found it can actually result in an increase in unsubscribes.
  • The resolution and quality should be set to the highest it can be, because people will click “expand to full screen,” and you don’t want it to be grainy and unreadable.
  • If you’re going to use video, make sure it’s the primary offering in the email or complements the core strategy of your email. Video that’s included just because it’s a nice-to-have will draw attention away from the main goal of the email.

Other than mobile optimization and adding video, what else should companies be doing?

Highsmith: Retargeting. If you can put a little science behind retargeting, it can be very beneficial.

For example, one of our clients is a car dealer, and we send content out to 2,000 of its customers. Their interests range from new cars, used cars, refinancing, parts, service, SUVs, hybrids, sports cars and trucks. If you can categorize what people are clicking on, it’s fairly simple to automate retargeting campaigns to those customers.

By categorizing those 2,000 customers into “people who clicked on new cars” and “people who clicked on trucks,” and so on, you can create a ridiculous ROI for marketers. Clickthrough rates will be 50% to 60%, with the chances of recipients converting into a buyer increasing by 500%.

It not only creates a better experience for the customer, it increases sales. It’s something every marketer should be integrating into their strategy in the coming year.

One problem is a lot of people muddy the [retargeting] waters by saying segmentation is something you need to do. Segmentation’s OK, but if you actually put science and methodology behind it to try to engage people with their interests, you’ll take it to the next level.

What’s another trend you see emerging?

Highsmith: There are actually two:

Trend No. 1: The use of dynamic images and letting email get smarter and smarter. For an example, say your business has an offer that ends in five hours. An image could be made on the fly that shows a countdown box, and it’s accurately mapped to when the deadline occurs. In situations like this, it creates more of a sense of urgency and reflects the real time of day.

For another example, you may have two offers and you don’t know which one customers will prefer. So Offer A goes to the first person and Offer B goes to the second person, and you repeat this until a certain criteria is met (like an offer reaches 30 conversions). Then from there the best offer is sent to everyone else.

Usually dynamic content is thought of as putting someone’s name in the email. There is another level of dynamic content, and we’re starting to see our clients buy into it. Our dynamic content gets rid of the lists. You just produce one email and let the content morph itself to the user. This will end up being the future. We might’ve just been ahead of our time.

Trend No. 2: This one’s less sexy, but it’s important. This is a problem for everyone whether they know it or not — and it’s whether you’re email’s getting blocked in the inbox or at the ISP level.

Increasing deliverability requires marketers to focus on the inactive people in their list. Some refer to this as list hygiene. The reality is, inactive people are hurting you. Some inactive addresses are spam traps, and ISPs are using them to decide whether to let you in [to inboxes] or not.

So segmenting your list into those who are engaged and those who aren’t are big steps businesses should take if they have the ability to do so. Create one list of active recipients and one list of inactive recipients, and send them out at different times from different IP addresses.

Matt Highsmith is the president/CEO of TailoredMail, a cloud-based email marketing and automation company — one of the first to offer dynamic content, video-in-email, automated segmentation and triggered-action capabilities in one platform.

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