Keeping up with consumer expectations and ensuring experiences that deliver on those expectations are top challenges for marketers these days.

Marketing pros spend most of their time juggling data, technological capabilities, and growing customer expectations for immediate, relevant, and personal messages. The solution to that challenge of context may seem to be in bright and shiny new channels, but an immediate opportunity exists elsewhere for innovation, learning, and optimization across channels.

Where? In the email inbox.

When you look across the marketing mix, email marketing is where the intersection of data, insight, automation, and action is most active today. And innovations are helping email to continue leading the way to more contextual and cross-channel experiences for consumers.

So how do you tap into the contextual power of email?

To really grab—and maintain—attention in the inbox and beyond, marketers need to harness and activate data to align around and anticipate consumer needs.

Luckily for email marketing, email is not a stagnant technology, and there is innovation at every email open and click these days. This innovation equates to tremendous opportunity for email marketers to lead the charge to more contextual consumer experiences that drive action and conversion.

Here are seven key inbox innovations to help you chart the course to context.

1. Open-time personalization

Content that is relevant at the time of email open is key to making messaging more contextual and creating personalized experiences that create utility to attract and retain customers.

Open-time email personalization lets you respond to your customer's needs in that very moment, as indicated by a specific social status update, such as the device they're using, where they're located at the time of open, the local weather, or the use of an app at a certain time and place.

Personalized email content has already been shown to generate transaction rates six times higher than impersonal counterparts; it's a powerful way to win customer attention, secure wallet-share, and engender brand loyalty.

2. Progressive profiling

Progressive profiling is a technique that's been around for a while, but new marketing technologies now enable this iterative process to occur in near real time.

Email automation tools can personalize messages with just-acquired customer insights to dramatically boost email engagement and conversion rates.

3. Template optimization and dynamic content

Template optimization and dynamic content can save your team countless hours of production time, but they also allow your messaging to be more flexible, scalable, relevant, and personalized.

The resulting dynamic template makes it easy to manage copy, image URLs, and links outside of the core HTML template. And that means faster campaign turnaround times, increased responsiveness, and an email body that automatically changes based on past customer interaction data.

4. Responsive design for mobile

With 66% of email opens now happening on a mobile device, mobile optimization is a priority for many marketers.

Responsive design ensures that your emails are easily viewable on a small screen, and it lets your customers quickly complete a desired action with a minimum of resizing or scrolling.

You create one dynamic email template that offers up the optimal viewing experience no matter the device used to view the message.

5. Display retargeting

Display ad retargeting is a particularly powerful way to supplement your email marketing campaigns with targeted cross-channel touchpoints. With the right approach, you can keep your brand in front of your email subscribers without risking over-sending and unsubscribes.

Display retargeting is an effective way of improving your customer lifecycle communication strategy by building multiple touchpoints with customers and keeping your brand top of mind.

6. Integrating mobile and email

The immediate attention consumers give SMS messages make it the perfect channel for alerting customers about important product or service updates, soliciting email subscribers, or reactivating lapsed customers who have become unresponsive on other channels.

Mobile is a very personal and immediate channel, so the focus should be on hyper-relevant content.

7. Integrating social and email

Harnessing social graph information can help you tailor messages based on real-time social connections or sentiment information. Embedding social sharing functionality in your emails can help amplify your messaging.

Emails that include "share" and "connect" buttons have CTRs that are up to 115% higher than emails that don't embed social sharing; moreover, they benefit from the halo effect of new engagements with recipients' extended social networks.

* * *

Finally, a tip for powering your email initiatives is to find the solution that will enable you to successfully execute email campaigns.

As you can see, these tactics are part of a complex ecosystem that uses data to deliver an optimized cross-channel experience for consumers. Today's email and cross-channel marketing platforms combine data insight with campaign automation and optimization to enable sophisticated marketing strategies.

The right technology solution will provide real-time connections to customer databases and other business systems, assemble messages quickly, support integrated cross-channel marketing triggers and messaging, and optimize performance with real-time automated programs.

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Seven Email Innovations to Bring Context to Your Campaigns

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image of Catherine Magoffin

Catherine Magoffin is the director of strategic services at email and cross-channel marketing solutions provider StrongView, where she focuses on providing clients with strategies to drive action and conversion across the customer journey.

Twitter: @cmmpdx

LinkedIn: Catherine Magoffin