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The changing face of emails – literally

February 24, 2012

This post was originally posted on the DMA Email Marketing Blog

At the email evolution conference in Miami last year, Yahoo and Hotmail announced that they were looking at allowing dynamic content within an email. ISP’s are concerned about users leaving their site when they follow links in an email. The idea is that when a user clicks on a link they don’t leave the ISP’s site but the content of the link is displayed in the email. This was an encouraging sign that ISP’s would start allowing us to do more with our emails.

In Hotmail these are called Active Views. This basically gives partners the ability to run scripts within an email and produce true dynamic content. Such partners include YouTube, LivingSocial and LinkedIn. But what about the rest of us?

Email service providers talk about dynamic content all the time but this is in regards to personalising the message for individual recipients. When the email is actually sent it is very static.

The more sophisticated marketers can change images that are served to the email to make the email look dynamic. Suppose you are sending a campaign offering a promotion then ends on 1st Feb 2012. The main promotion could be in the form of a number of images. After the promotion has expired you can change the images that are served to say that the promotion has expired. Simple but effective. It is not 100% accurate but there are several companies around that will facilitate this for you if it is something you want to try.

However this still isn’t true dynamic content. What about if the HTML of the email actually changed within email client to give a different message? For example, if the email was promoting restaurant discounts then it might show you different offers depending on the time of day you read the email. Lunchtime offers around midday and Dinner offers later in the day. This could be extended even further to personalise based on your current location. If you read the email in the office then it would show offers for a restaurant round the corner from work. You then go home and look at the same email again and you would see totally different offers for local restaurants near home. The email itself has changed the content based on its location and time of day.

All this is technically straightforward and something you could do on a webpage easily. Many websites already personalise the content based on the country you are in. The difference is that email clients don’t allow background scripts such as JavaScript to run in an email as this opens the way for malicious code to be implanted and run without the user knowing. Active Views is the first step to allowing such scripts to run but in a very secure environment.

So how would dynamic content like this affect your email campaigns? Obviously more targeted content is going to lead to better engagement of the user but would varying content actually work? It may scare and confuse the recipient and lead to reduced click through rates. Only time will tell and I look forward to trying this when it all becomes possible. We will wait and see if anything else regarding dynamic content is announced this month at the email evolution conference in Florida.

Posted by Simon Hill
New Features, Technology, Topical email

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