2017 will be the Year of AI and Many Other Distractions

It is that time of year. We are all just back from a couple weeks of fun and frivolity and hopefully a long deserved rest. We have put 2016 to bed and are staring at the dawn of 2017 with wide-eyed wonder of what the year will bring. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this year is going to be interesting and I for one, am looking forward to the ride.

So, what are going to be the key trends in email marketing? As an industry we are going to spend most of the year focussed on:

  • GDPR
  • The death of ‘batch and blast’
  • Purchasing from the Inbox

While it is easy to get excited by all of the opportunities that these trends present (even GDPR), we always need to remember that until we get the basics right, adopting new technology is like putting lipstick on a pig.

GDPR

I recently asked a group of about 100 email marketers whether they were worried about GDPR and nobody raised their hands. So I asked who knew what GDPR stands for and again nobody raised their hands. At this point I started thinking that maybe they were shy so I asked if anybody roughly knew what GDPR is … again nothing.

GDPR stands for General Data Protection Regulations and is the new European data protection regime which will come into effect in May of 2018. Like all regulations there are some vagaries in the wording for which we are eagerly awaiting guidance from the ICO but there are some things we do know.

  • Brexit will not matter – The Secretary of State for DCMS has confirmed that GDPR will apply in the UK from May 2018 just like the rest of the EU. This makes sense for a number of reasons. First, the UK will still be part of the EU in May 2018. Secondly, this was pretty much the last EU regulation negotiated before the Brexit vote, so it is just more practical to adopt it and move on to other things. Third, we will have to be recognised as a data safe haven if we want to continue to trade with the remaining EU members.
  • Plain English – Under the new regime, privacy policies have to be both more detailed and written in plain English. That means that the marketers and lawyers will have to work together to draft language that is both detailed and accurate but not written in legalese and has the brand’s tone of voice.
  • Permission – We will have to be able to confirm that it was the owner of the email address that opted in, not just someone else using that email address. dotmailer has been out in front on this by recommending confirmed opt-in since this past summer. Email marketers will also have to start recognising that permission is not forever. We will have a finite window within which we can first use the registrant’s data and a maximum length of inactivity and un-engagement before we have to stop using their data.

GDPR is a thing and while the email space will be less impacted than many other channels, email marketers need to get their heads around it in the first half of 2017.

‘Batch and blast’ is dead

There are three factors that are coming together and which will drive us to finally kill off batch and blast. We have been talking about the need for greater relevance for nearly twenty years but irrelevant emails worked so there was no real incentive to spend the extra money on significant segmentation. The three driving forces now are:

  1. Consumers are getting tired – We recently launched the Consumer Tracker Report with the DMA, which has been tracking consumer attitudes towards email marketing for the past seven or eight years. The biggest takeaway from the report for me was that consumer attitudes towards marketing email are really quite positive but I get the sense that that could change very quickly:
    • 61% of UK consumers get more than 21 emails per week from brands
    • 85% of UK consumers say that more than half of the emails they get are irrelevant
    • 50% of all consumers have or would consider deleting an email address to control the marketing email they receive.

When asked, UK consumers prefer email as the way to maintain relationships with brands by more than 2:1 over every other channel, across all age groups. But that will quickly wane if we continue to deliver content about which they could just not care less.

  1. Data Science – The result of the feverish chase after “Big Data” a few years ago has left us with both the systems to process all of the data we have and the people to help us make sense of it all. This has resulted in marketers being able to better use both the explicit and implicit data that they have to drive marketing action. We also now have the systems in place to convert this information into great customer engagement through marketing automation. When we speak of marketing automation, people generally think that is a customer does A, we will deliver N and if they do B, we will deliver O. This is what we call downstream automation. We also need to remember that we can automate many of the activities that go into building a campaign and getting it out the door. We call this automation of the low value-added button pushing, upstream automation.
  2. AI – Like it or not, 2017 will be the year of Artificial Intelligence. If data science allows us to pick out the key information from all of our data, then AI allows us to automate the process and get better information more quickly. AI in various forms is already in the email space, with tools like Phrasee and Subject Line Gold. Just before Christmas our product development team got into the act during our AI themed hack week.

It is time for batch and blast to die. We are at a point where the opportunity cost of irrelevant emails exceeds the cost of delivering relevant content to each and every recipient.

Purchasing from the inbox

For years the email-receiving community has been actively stripping functionality out of email as a way to protect their customers from spammers pushing malware. In 2017 we are going to see the industry collaborate with the payment providers to allow customers to purchase directly from their inbox. Some of our clients have tested Apple Pay in their emails to great effect, so while this is possible today, it will become widespread in 2017.

Again dotmailer is leading the charge here, with a new PayPal feature we are releasing into beta on January 4 and will go into full release in February. This new feature adds a PayPal button as an element in EasyEditor, which can then be added to any email. The PayPal button is the easiest way to sell a single product straight from the inbox; just add your PayPal account details and product information and you’re done. When your contact clicks the button they’ll be taken to PayPal to complete the transaction.

Don’t be distracted

As I said above, there are going to be some great opportunities in 2017 with data science-driven automation, AI and purchasing from the inbox. Even GDPR will present us with some great opportunities to take our email programs to the next level. That said, we need to make sure we are nailing the basics before we embark on using some of this new technology (GDPR is quickly becoming one of the basics so no ignoring that one). All of this new technology enables us to do the “basics” better, faster and smarter. Get the basics right then use the technology to smash your targets.