Interview: Movable Ink's CEO Vivek Sharma Talks Agile Email Marketing
Storytelling Innovator Series

Interview: Talking Agile Email Marketing with Movable Ink CEO Vivek Sharma

Imagine opening an email that pulls in personalized, live, and streaming content, geo-targeted to your exact location. You might think it’s something from science fiction, like the live newspapers in Harry Potter, the Daily Prophet. But actually, it’s agile email, a highly customizable descendant of traditional email.

Vivek Sharma, co-founder and CEO of agile email marketing company Movable Ink, explained to me the innovation of agile email, its power to enable creativity, and its result on the bottom line.

Marketers, wands at the ready. There’s magic to be made.

Why should brand marketers use agile email?

Brand marketers should adopt an agile (aka contextual) email marketing mindset for one reason: their customers. Today’s consumers don’t want to be marketed to; they want to be engaged with authentic experiences that resonate on a personal level. Also, consumers aren’t static, but move seamlessly between moments, devices, and places.

We pioneered the use of contextual marketing in email precisely because we saw where things were headed five years ago with trends in mobile and shifts in consumer behavior. Email already drives the highest ROI of all direct marketing, but brands that evolve their strategies and thinking around context will gain the greatest value from the channel.

Since two-thirds of all emails are opened on mobile devices, what can marketers do to optimize emails for an on-the-go audience?

Creating responsive emails that look good and enable easy engagement on mobile devices is a must for modern marketers. Yet, according to Salesforce’s 2015 State of Marketing report, 42 percent of marketers say they rarely or never create responsive emails. There are a handful of useful tips and ideas that marketers can use when designing responsive emails that aren’t hard to implement. For example:

  • Avoid using multiple columns (single column scrolls are easier to navigate)
  • Keep font style and size easy to read (minimum of 16px is best)
  • Create a true hero image (consumers prefer exploring without excessive scrolling)
  • “Thumbify” your links (i.e. make links easy to click with a finger)
  • Size social media and other buttons for optimal mobile rendering (around 48px works well)

When should brands take advantage of geo-targeted email?

There are many opportunities for brands to leverage geo-targeting to provide in-the-moment context for consumers that are constantly on the move. Geo-targeting can technically be used for just about any email campaign alongside other contextual signals to ensure recipients get the most relevant content or call-to-action.

Geo-targeting works especially well for brands with a national or international presence and consumers spread out all over. Different content could be served to an individual customer that’s moving around a city, or larger segments based on weather across various geographies.

Geo-targeting in Agile Email Marketing

How can marketers get creative with email? Does an agile model provide them with any new capabilities?

Taking an agile or contextual approach to email provides endless creative opportunities. Campaigns that were once locked in with stale, outdated content can be brought to life with real-time dynamic content. For example, the agile model allows brands to pull live visual images from social media (Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, etc.) right into an email. This could be both user-generated content, or the brand’s own editorial-style content. Authentic imagery can be displayed in various creative ways and is proven to increase engagement and conversions.

What challenges surface when pulling in content directly from a public or authenticated website, RSS feed, or an API call?

There are several issues that have to be considered when pulling content from a public website or API. These are reliability, performance, and security.

First, the website or API has to have high uptime. A consumer will have a disappointing experience if the data source is unavailable and live content can’t be rendered. A way to mitigate some of this risk is to gracefully fallback to default content if an API or website is unavailable.

Second, the website or API have to be able to support a heavy load from millions of emails being opened in a tight timespan. A platform with smart caching baked in can help alleviate a lot of these bottlenecks.

Finally, security is a key consideration, especially around personalized content. It’s important that content that is unique to one individual is never shown to another individual. Authenticating content for each consumer on every API call is a solution that ensures that the right content is delivered to the right person. A modern platform should make this authentication easy for a marketer.

What’s the number one thing marketers can do to increase email open rate?

Subject lines obviously play a big role in email open rates. There’s a lot of existing research and data out there on subject line length, words to use and avoid, etc. MailChimp has some good tips on the subject. From a contextual point of view, time of day can be a factor.

Something else we think about at Movable Ink beyond the initial open is how marketers can encourage consumers to re-open or go back into an old email. With live content, fresh promotions can be fed into an email that’s already been opened once, encouraging recipients to check back and engage/convert—even if they didn’t the first time.

Could you share an example of a Movable Ink client that has adopted agile email and has since been able to serve their customers better?

An example of one of our great success cases is with a retail client called Boden. They were looking to re-engage with dormant customers but wanted to do so in a way that engaged each person individually based on context. They achieved this by focusing on the unique relationship they have with each customer and used past-purchase data to create nearly 20,000 different stories for 20,000 individual customers.

Boden - Movable Ink Client - Agile Email Marketing

The campaign generated unprecedented results, generating a 230 percent increase in click-through rate compared to other emails sent during the same week. This in turn resulted in a 2,000 percent increase in revenue-per-email, with one in 10 customers going on to make a purchase. Boden has since gone on to launch similar campaigns powered by Movable Ink in an effort to serve previous customers better.

What’s the next innovation in email marketing?

The first generation of a new software category often resembles its analog correlate (music players, digital publishing, display ads) but quickly breaks away from those constraints. Over the next four years, we will see a giant shift from campaign-centric to behavior-focused email programs. Campaigns are convenient for marketers, and today they resemble the big planning and analysis cycles from the ad industry.

Over the next four years, software will make it much easier to identify every individual’s behavior, to select appropriate content, and to message individuals when they are most likely to engage.

Today, 90 percent of an email program consists of batch-and-blast campaigns, but in four short years, 90 percent of marketing will be behaviorally driven and will converge on the consumer with cross-channel messaging being delivered in seamless concert.

Want to read more interviews with innovative marketing leaders? Subscribe to the Content Standard Newsletter.

Recommended for you