Times are Changing, and So Must Marketers

We used to live in a simpler time. Companies controlled how, what, when, and where consumers experienced and interacted with their brands.

Consumers became aware of new products in magazine or newspaper ads.

They consumed convincing commercials from advertisers during their favorite television programs.

Everything was systematic and perfectly planned from a brand’s perspective. The company controlled the narrative. They dictated what consumers were aware of, wanted, and demanded in stores.

But then came the Digital Age.

At first, it started slowly, with computers shrinking in size but growing exponentially in power and popularity.

But then, the speed of change accelerated – rapidly.

The Internet became a place where brands exposed consumers to products. Phones transformed into always-connected global beacons and have now become actual extensions of our very selves; and consumers began using social media as a primary means of interacting with each other – and with brands.

Related Content: Owning Email Success in a Mobile-First World

The Digital Age is also the “information” age – the amount of information available has increased, and the way it can be collected and used by brands has evolved drastically. With more willingness to share data, consumers also expected more. To those whom much is given, much is expected.

This has all made our jobs as marketers harder and more demanding. We’re challenged to turn mass amounts of data into unique, personalized messages for individuals. But with so much data and so many tools, it feels like impossible task.

Revolutionizing our Roles with AI

To adapt to the growing demands among customers for more personalization, it’s not just what we’re doing that has to change, it’s how we’re doing it.

Customers expect personalized messages with content, products, and offers specifically for them. And they are willing to ditch a brand that can’t deliver it. But to do this, we have to be tuned-in to multiple channels, collecting and unifying all customer data, and automating personalization – at scale.

But this is simply not possible. Human-driven personalization doesn’t scale. We have to change the physical work we are doing as marketers.

AI-driven marketing will allow marketers to change the physical work they are doing – no longer spending hours and days segmenting contacts.

By using an underlying layer of artificial intelligence and machine learning “embedded” within your marketing platform, you’ll be able to interact with the machine learning and AI algorithm from a dashboard.

Artificial intelligence is the study (and building) of systems that can make intelligent decisions which would be considered smart if performed by a human.

Machine learning is the study (and building) or systems that can learn to make intelligent decisions.

This type of technology feeds off of the vast amount of customer data you have, and begins to learn about each of your customers as an individual.

This is what will allow you to scale personalization.

Technology is driving our roles forward and allowing us to refocus on our strategy, content, and creative projects where we can impact and shape a seamless customer experience. Interestingly, this entire process starts with email.

Email: The Beginning, Not the End

In the beginning, email emerged as a way for humans to interact quickly, easily, and digitally.

Creating an email address established a means of sending quick communications, receiving updates from news outlets and your favorite brands. It also created for you a digital identifier.

In the Golden Age, the only ways brands could collect information from their customers was either in-store or via direct mail/rebate programs. If customers weren’t coming in and purchasing or proactively indicating interest, it was hard to collect their names or phone numbers.

And if a brand didn’t have that type of information, it was hard to pinpoint and target their specific audience with messaging. Instead, they had to rely on ad purchases that would reach large audiences, even if only a small fraction of that reach was their target. Remember the saying, “I know half of my ads don’t work, I just don’t know which half”?

But once email was introduced, it was easier for a brand to collect information from their customers and establish a more detailed, more complete understanding of their target audiences. This combined with the rapid adoption of online shopping led to an explosion of email as a mass marketing tool.

And send out emails they did. Lots of them.As customers made purchases online and in-store, brands started collecting that information and using it to send emails about new products and sales to their customers.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a consumer today that doesn’t say they get too many emails from brands. Even if a customer signed up for email notifications, the shear amount of emails we receive each day as consumers is mind-numbing.

So, we had to find a way to cut through the clutter. Interesting and creative subject lines. Including the recipient’s name in to the email. Manually adjusting send times in hopes of standing out among all the other inbox clutter. All this energy flowing into email marketing gave customers a small taste of personalization.

But it didn’t stop with email.

Technology sped forward, introducing new channels for consumers to be on at all times. We now have mobile devices, apps, text messaging, websites, social channels, and so much more.

This changed how consumers interacted with brands. It shifted the power dynamic. It created a need for omnichannel – with email at the center of the mix.

Today, email is anything but dead. It’s still the number one marketing channel for a reason: it works. It has just evolved. It’s no longer our sole source of communication in the digital world, but it is arguably the most critical – at least for marketers.

Related Content: The Path to Omnichannel Excellence Begins with a Digital ID

Consumers are now in control. Consumers drive the when, what, where, and how. Brands must interact with them on their terms. That changes the game and the work that we do.

As marketers, we have to change.

Mastering Personalization

Personalization is the name of the game.

It’s the reason marketers are being bogged down with so much data and segmentation. But personalization has become the (maybe unsaid) expectation from customers, so we must get on board.

Brands are now on the hook for building a relationship with their customers, earning their trust. What better way to earn that trust than by showing your customers just how much you understand them?

Intelligent anticipation with product recommendations

What if a brand knew you so well that every time you visited their website or received an email, you saw products that were curated specifically for you – not the same three products everyone else sees, but products that speak to you?

We have to create experiences proving we know our audience’s style, shopping preferences, and individual tendencies down to the smallest detail.

We can infuse website (product) recommendations into our strategy to build trust with customers. And with AI-enabled technology, product recommendations can be populated automatically with a simple email or website widget informed, of course, by your customer data.

Individualized incentives for 1:1 messaging

In most marketers’ worlds, incentives have become a guessing game. Why?

Because it’s nearly impossible for humans to A/B test multiple levels of incentives in a campaign with tens of thousands of customers.

When we try, we find ourselves using incentives to react to emails that were unopened and offers that went unused. But that doesn’t take into account the segment of people who would take action on the email or offer if they had received another type of communication. Instead, we too often send out blanket incentives (which cheapen the value of our products and ultimately cost revenue).

But, with the capability of machine learning and AI-driven marketing, you can send each customer an individualized incentive, just for them, based on all of the data in your system. This not only gives customers an incentive when they need it, but also only offers the right incentive to drive a purchase. For some customers, that might be 30% or 10%, for others it could be free shipping.

Individualized incentives add a layer of personalization. They show customers you understand their unique shopping habits and that you’re willing to offer them a special incentive to stick with your brand.

Delighting with Send Time Optimization

The age-old question still begs: When is the best time to send an email?

Even after reading every study about email times and A/B testing send times, you’ll never find the perfect time to send an email.


Because there’s no way to identify a group of 1,000 contacts who prefer to read their email at 2:00 p.m. on a Wednesday. It’s not humanly possible.

But, with machine learning, you can teach your automation platform to learn the best time to send an email for each individual customer. When set in place, the machine will use past customer interactions to identify the best times to reach each customer.

Related Content: 5 Things to Consider Before Sending Your Next Email Campaign

Using technology like that which powers Send Time Optimization will allow you to redirect the focus of your marketing efforts from how and when to send emails back to real, pure relationship-building.

Moving to a complete omnichannel approach

Consumers expect consistent, unified interactions with brands from channel to channel (email, SMS message, in-app notifications or otherwise), and from each touch point to the next.

When the above-mentioned tactics start to work together – not just as separate functions within your e-commerce strategy – but as a cohesive, well-oiled apparatus, you’ll start inching closer to that so-called omnichannel customer experience.

Within an e-commerce context, omnichannel really means two things:

  • Customers can come and go, picking up where they left off at any given time. They can start a shopping cart on their tablet, receive, open, and act on an abandoned cart email on their smart phone, and complete their check out on a laptop.
  • Each touch a customer has with your brand is “contextually aware” of the last one. In other words, no communication is ever repeated, or incorrectly sent. Every interaction feels “right” – as the next logical communication to help move somebody along their journey, ideally toward conversion.

By allowing the machine to harness, analyze, and segment customer data, omnichannel starts to become a reality. Plus, your team can begin to focus on the strategy behind winning repeat customers instead of trying to painstakingly craft standalone experiences for each customer.

Final Thoughts

Personalization is no longer optional.

Those brands that embrace the future, including AI marketing will win big with customers and find continued long-term success. Those that ignore the shift in customer expectations will continue to be bogged down by data, rather than empowered by it.

The infusion of machines into marketing will help usher in a new era – and unleash a creative renaissance in terms of how we work.

► Catch Allen’s full-length, 35-minute presentation from Revolution, here.