Email is pretty slow when it comes to transformational innovations — or rather, it has been, up until recently. But one of the big-time changes propelling email forward was the advent of open-time technology.
We’ve been over the topic before, but in case you missed it, the key takeaway is this: “open-time email formats your content not when you write it, not when you send it, but when your customer opens it.”
This kind of in-the-moment marketing is important to achieve true personalization. And luckily, open time gets us close. It allows us to know who is opening an email, where and when it’s occurring, and on what device, so that an email can be optimized with the most relevant content for any given scenario.
Standard Uses of Open Time
There are a lot of ways open time can be used to make the most of your marketing, either on their own or in combination with one another. I’ve rounded up a handful of these to give you an idea of what’s already being done.
Provide Up-To-Date Recommendations
Not only can you send recommendations based on the most recent actions of a user and similar customers, but you can also be sure to not make recommendations for out-of-stock items.
Highlight the Current Social Media Conversation
Include up-to-the-minute feeds of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. to show what’s being said about a brand, while also encouraging interaction.
Use A/B Testing
Send out more than one version of an email, promotion, or product feature; collect information about which one is more successful; and update all of the emails with the winning content.
Include Directions to a Local Shop
Using the location of users, it’s possible to pinpoint nearby physical stores with the address, contact information, and a map leading them there.
Share Local Deals
As with the above, if there is a physical store in the user’s vicinity, include information about what kinds of special sales or events are taking place at that location to encourage more footfall.
Focus on the Weather
Whether a customer is smack dab in the middle of a heat wave or at the risk of being snowed in over the weekend, make sure the products and topics in the email are relevant.
If there’s a special sale coming up or a limited time offer, the inclusion of a countdown timer in the email will stress the immediacy and urgency of taking action when the time is right.
Device-Specific Content / Offers
When you know if your user has an iPhone or an Android or something else entirely, you can promote the correct apps and accessories for that device.
Creative Uses of Open Time
As the above examples demonstrate, there’s a lot being done with open time, but as creatives, our job is to think beyond what it does on its own, and figure out how to capitalize on it in new and interesting ways. The technology makes the content relevant, but we make it engaging.
To get the wheels turning, here are some examples of particularly creative uses of open time that have been done in recent years, or that could be done.
A new product can be unveiled using the power of a crowd. For example, the agency Proximity Colombia won a webby award for its email revealing the new Mazda SUV SX-5. As each new recipient opened the campaign, additional pieces of images of the car were revealed. The email was updated automatically, which encouraged users to re-open the email in order to stay updated on the revealing process.
You’re Our 100th Customer
Based on the traditional trolley run of a new supermarket, the 100th person to open an email is rewarded with a special offer. Alternatively, the buyer might be given a specific amount of time to fill his or her e-commerce basket with as many items as possible for free or at a discount.
This could also work for the first customer to open an email. How? Many people know when they receive regular emails and look forward to the good ones, so a creative sender will turn this into a game, making it a race among subscribers each week to be the first to open.
Forecasting Multiple Outcomes
Depending on your given audience or topic, you might prepare multiple types of content depicting different outcomes. When the email is opened, the most relevant content being delivered ensures you are up to date.
This reactive Twitter campaign for Oreo during the Super Bowl might not be something you can predict, but is a good candidate to express the results of being relevant.
Bespoke men’s tailors Social Suicide produced a line of suits entitled the Beaufort Scale, based on “an empirical measure that relates wind speed to observed conditions at sea or on land.” The company then ran a campaign for its Ganton Street Store in Soho, London, based on the weather: the hotter the day, the less you pay. So if it was 18°C, you could claim 18% off your dapper new suit.
Similarly, you could deliver temperature-, wind strength-, rainfall-, or snow depth-based discounts depending on your brand, product, or subject.
Something like this is a great opportunity for a mobile live game. Send clues to your customers in emails, which direct them to physical locations. When they reach a location, the content in the email can update to reveal a clue to the next location, treasure, or prize.
It’s likely that some of your customers aren’t engaging with your brand across all boards. To encourage recipients to follow more than one social channel, pull all your social channels into one email and create a “Community Update.” Then provide different parts of a discount code that they can unlock in each channel in order to acquire the whole one.
Run to the Store
If your store has a physical location, take advantage of knowing where your subscribers are. Then, when they open the email, encourage them to “run to the store” in a given period of time — be it in the next hour or the next day — to receive a free gift or a discount on specific purchases.
Inspired by Others
This one is simple and easy, where you simply show a recipient the exact items being bought by others near them, updated in real time. This might peak their interest in what’s new or what’s available.
Feeling inspired? If you know of any other creative uses of open time in email, please share in the comments below. Additionally, let me know if you use any of the approaches above and how effective they were for you.