Published April 25, 2023
Billions of emails are sent by businesses to their customers daily. Netcore, as an email service provider (ESP), processes over 600 million emails for its enterprise customers each day. The basic format of the email has not changed much over many years. The email creative with the marketing is crafted by the brand, a list of email IDs is selected based on certain rules (segmentation) typically via a marketing automation platform (MAP), and then the promotional emails are sent to the ESP for delivery. The process differs for transactional and triggered messages where the communication is for a single recipient based on a specific event (for example, a purchase receipt or an abandoned cart). The MAP or ESP will append a tracker in the links to monitor click throughs. A zero-pixel image is also added to track opens. This has now become less useful because some inbox providers and email client applications have started caching images to speed up display of the email; thus the ‘open’ could be by a bot rather than the intended recipient.
Email’s baseline numbers have not changed much through the years: 1 in 10 marketing emails is opened and 1 in 100 is clicked. Yet, the low cost of sending an email ensures the channel has the highest RoI among all push messaging options a brand has available to bring its customers to its properties (website and app) for eventual transactions.
In previous essays, I have outlined many new email innovations which promise to convert the 1-way push messaging channel to a 2-way hotline. These include:
- Ems, which offer daily short messages with informative content to be consumed in 15-30 seconds
- AMP, which brings in interactivity, and can potentially eliminate the clickthrough to the landing page, thus removing a step (and friction) from the conversion funnel
- Atomic Rewards, which offers micro-incentives to consumers for specific actions (like feedback, ratings, zero-party data)
- AMPlets, which can combine AMP and Atomic Rewards to transform the email footer with brandlets and gamelets
- Adlets, which can potentially make B2C emails free
The primary objective of these initiatives (which I broadly club under ‘Email 2.0’) is to improve the efficacy of the email channel and thus help solve the crux of the brand-customer relationship: a communication and interaction which both parties benefit from. Customers get personalised messages with greater relevance and with reduced friction in the interaction. Brands get better engagement with their existing customers which can bring down the need to retarget via Big Adtech and thus cut down on AdWaste which could account for half of their digital market spend.
In this series, we will discuss the “How” – how do brands, martech players and ESPs work together to make this new world of email marketing come to life?
Almost 30 years ago, I was working on a software product I had called “Image WorkBench”. It was an image processing solution. It would take in an image and then apply various ‘transforms’ to it. For those who saw the output, it almost seemed magical: contrasts between the gray scales enhanced to reveal insights that would otherwise not be easily visible, edges becoming sharper, and objects being counted. IWB, as I called the software, failed. I could only sell two copies of it over a two-year period. I eventually had to shut it down.
The idea of a ‘transform’ is what came back to me recently as I started to think about email and what could be done to make it better. What the email pipeline lacked was a ‘processor’ – a workbench which gave marketers tools to leverage the new ideas of Ems, AMP, Atomic Rewards, AMPlets and Adlets, without adding new layers of complexity to the emailing process. In other words, marketers needed an “Email WorkBench.”
The current email value chain looks like this – a relay from the brand to a marketing automation platform (MAP) to an ESP (email service provider) and then onward to the customer’s inbox.
In some cases, the MAP and ESP could be the same entity, as in the case of Netcore which offers a full-stack martech solution to brands.
Into this chain, we need to inject an email processor, which can take the raw HTML email as input and output an ‘AMPified’ email suitably modified as per the marketer’s instructions. For starters, the email body could be converted into an AMP email to bring in interactivity by bringing elements from the landing page (a form, for example) into the email itself. Mu (as micro-incentives) could also be added for click throughs and other actions a marketer wants done.
The exciting ideas relate to what can be done with the other elements of the email. The email Subject could have the Mu count added as a prefix to signal that the email has rewards. The Header of the email could have a Search bar which displays results within the email (and can have Add to Cart and Payment options powered via AMP) or simply a scroll of the latest headlines or brand news. The Footer could have brandlets to collect feedback and zero-party data with each action earning Mu. It could also have gamelets to enable redemption of Mu. Finally, the adlet could show AMP-powered ads which could be many times more effective than a simple banner ad.
Another idea for an AMPifier is to create a parallel email track of sending Ems (short emails with informative content). Think of these as AM-PM Emails. They are sent daily at the same time – in the morning (AM) or evening (PM). Content could be created by AI and personalised for an individual. The AM-PM Maker’s objective would be to serve as a temporary intervention to train users to open brand emails and thus improve domain reputation which would then ensure more brand emails land in the primary inbox.
In addition, the AMPifier could also create a link in the non-AMP email component for recipients to click and view the AMPified email – should their inbox not support AMP. The AMPifier could also be the place where integrations with eCommerce platforms like Shopify could be handled. Also, it could help map mobile numbers and email IDs, thus helping companies reach out across an additional channel to their customers.
All of these additions could be inserted by the AMPifier since AMP is the underlying technology used in most of the elements. The AMPifier thus is the processor which converts a plain vanilla HTML email into a powerful interactive message.
The next question is: where does the AMPifier reside?
The AMPifier is an external software that can be accessed by the brand, MAP or ESP.
It has a single purpose: take an email and based on the embedded instructions ‘transform’ it prior to delivery to the brand’s customer. It can make interventions and thus appropriately edit the email Subject, Header, Body or Footer. By making it external to the brand, MAP and ESP, it can potentially work with everyone – much like Google Analytics has become a de facto standard.
The AMPifier itself could connect to multiple other software elements:
- AMP Editor and AMP Store, which can ease the creation and addition of AMP components
- MuCo, for managing the Atomic Rewards distribution and redemption
- Ad Server, for showing the Adlets
As the AMPifier unifies the actions of all the other software components, what the end customer will get is an email totally transformed. Even as the core brand message stays intact, there is now a wrapper that becomes as important for driving action. Remember: 9 of 10 marketing emails are not opened and 99 of 100 emails are not clicked. So, there is plenty of room for improvement. That is the focus of the AMPifier intervention: to increase manifold email engagement and thus help brands build better and deeper relationships with their existing customers.
This is how the email ecosystem looks like with the AMPifier:
The AMPifier is at the heart of Email 2.0. It brings in many new capabilities inside the email – each of which helps improve engagement. The AMPifier simplifies the journey for brands into the Email 2.0 world. It is additive in every respect – there is no ‘harm’ done to any email, no deterioration of experience for any customer. Accessing AMPifiy can introduce a delay of a few seconds into the email value chain but that is not a problem at all because marketing messages are not that time sensitive. Of course, the AMPifier can also be used to transform transactional and triggered messages but their volume is much lower than that of the promotional ones.
One point to note is that the AMPifier needs to custom craft each email because of the need to insert the Mu Count in the email Subject. That is the key which unlocks customer action; the Mu Count tells the customer that the email has incentives and the right Mu Count guards against spam.
We are now ready for the next transformation leap.
In its next evolution, the AMPifier will become central to the Email 2.0 ecosystem.
It will be much more efficient for the various components to interact directly with the AMPifier rather than in a chain. The Brand can send instructions directly to the AMPifier on what transforms it wants to apply to the email. The AMPifier can fetch the segmented database of whom to send the email from the MAP. It can then ready the AMPlets via its interactions with the AMP Editor and AMP Store. A query to MuCo gets the MuCount, along with the appropriate validations for adding Mu to brandlets and gamelets. An Ad server query adds the adlet. The new transformed email is now ready for dispatch to the ESP for onward delivery to the customer. Customer actions flow back to the AMPifier and then to the other entities (brand and MAP).
There are many other benefits of making the AMPifier as the core of the Email 2.0 universe. With aggregated analytics, better send time optimisation can be done. AI in the AMPifier could improve Subject lines. Industry dashboards could provide insights to improve best practices. Reactivation campaigns can be run within this ecosystem without the need for Big Adtech: if an end customer is interacting with Brand A and not with Brand B, then Brand B could run an adlet on a Brand A email (as long as they are non-competitive). AM-PM content could span across emails (comics, stories, tips), thus reducing the likelihood of an email being ignored. End customers could be incentivised for streaks in email actions across brands thus ensuring that email opening becomes a habit rather than a sporadic activity.
For the past decade, email stagnated. And yet, its utility did not diminish. It remains the best performing push channel for brands. The simplicity and openness of email is what has kept it going. The Email 2.0 innovations that I have proposed in this and previous essays are about making email even better with the focus on reducing (or even eliminating) friction for consumers, marketers and developers.
Just as cities upgrade their infrastructure every so often to make themselves attractive to new residents, Email 2.0 is also about bringing in millennials and Gen-Z customers who have grown up on messaging apps. The interactive and incentivised inbox will herald the renewal of email. For brands seeking profits, they need look no further than the AMPifier as the energiser the world needs to reboot and refresh email. At stake is the $200 billion AdWaste – half of the digital marketing spends done by brands. Also at stake is the path to profitability for brands. This journey runs via Email 2.0 hotlines, with the AMPifier as the underlying engine powering customer interactions.