What used to seem impossible is now becoming not only reality, but also imperative as consumers continue to increase their expectations for brands.

This article originally appeared in MediaPost on May 21, 2015.

As an email marketer, I think we’re in a really exciting and transformative time.  What used to seem impossible is now becoming not only reality, but also imperative as consumers continue to increase their expectations for brands.  As an industry, we’ve been talking about dynamic content for a long time — and a next-generation level of dynamic content called open-time personalization is making the seemingly impossible, possible.

Open-time personalization, aka agile email or live content, makes it possible to show the most up-to-date or contextual content at the time of open.  This is quite different from traditional dynamic content, which is driven by CRM data that may be updated on a 24-hour cycle and contains information potentially outdated at the time of send.

Open-time personalization is based on very specific information about the recipient’s state at the time of open, such as store locations she’s near. Another common application is adding a count-down clock to an upcoming sale or event. But open-time personalization can be so much more than that. The key is thinking about the types of messages susceptible to change after you hit "send."

Marketers should also be excited about open-time personalization because it can improve the following marketing elements:

Mobile triaging – An increasing majority of consumers are viewing emails on mobile, but not necessarily clicking through and purchasing on a mobile device.  A common scenario is that a recipient will save a mobile email and come back to it later on a tablet or desktop to complete a transaction.  Brands using open-time personalization see increased total open rates, which means customers are coming back to a particular message multiple times.

Production efforts – Traditional dynamic content is not difficult to pull off, but often involves several production steps on each outgoing campaign. Conversely, an open-time personalization widget can often be configured once and reused on future campaigns. Traditional dynamic content also has a limited number of variations, such as the rotation of a set number of images, based on rules set in advance during campaign setup.  Open-time personalization can have an infinite number of variations through a single snippet of code.

Customer experience – Your recipients need simplicity and utility in the messages you send them.  For example, instead of posting multiple links to various app stores, just show the one they need for the device they are currently viewing your email on, because links to app stores that are not applicable to their device are erroneous.  Your recipients will appreciate the focus and hyper-contextual experiences you can give them based on consideration of their device, location, time of day and other aspects of their current state.  

Business alignment – Just as a customer's situation is changing all the time, so too are factors affecting a business' ability to serve that customer – such as store location, hours of operation and product availability. Open-time personalization allows you to customize messages based on relevant business information at the time of open. Never again advertise a product that is out of stock, or offer up "nearby" store locations based on CRM data that can't accommodate a traveling consumer. Optimizing offers based on business factors is not only good for achieving business goals but also improves the customer experience.  

While traditional dynamic content will always have a place in marketing, open-time personalization can replace or even be complementary to it. And advances in technology and pricing now make it possible to expand its use beyond one-off occasions. It’s time that marketers begin to let technology do the heavy lifting to bring contextual marketing to life.  The time to embrace open-time personalization in all your messages is now.

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