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Email Marketing Still Holding its Own in AI-driven Omni-Channel World

While email promotion may seem somewhat quaint in light of more recent marketing technology innovations, updated and considerably enhanced, it remains a potent force, according to many exhibitors at the recent London-hosted Ad:tech expo.

Photo: Far from elementary: Dynamic deductions from the IBM Watson AI system.
Far from elementary: Dynamic deductions from the IBM Watson AI system.
Photo: Far from elementary: Dynamic deductions from the IBM Watson AI system.
Far from elementary: Dynamic deductions from the IBM Watson AI system.

Ad:tech's return to London once again resulted in two exceptionally busy days, especially as, this time around, the event was co-located with Technology for Marketing and the eCommerce Expo, a combination that saw footfall grow by 26%, with more than 12,000 attendees heading through the turnstiles. This was the first time these three well-established events had been jointly held, a development that brought together more than 250 advertising, marketing and e-commerce brands.

Perhaps as a consequence, many of the key seminars at the event proved to be standing-room only. Particularly popular was the session held by Russell Scherwin, Chief Marketing Officer of IBM Watson, the 'natural language' question answering system under development by international computing giant IBM. Outlining to delegates just how this era of rapid digital innovation obliged them to innovate their customer experience, he said: "Basically, it's time to disrupt. Or be disrupted."

One particularly disruptive innovation that was widely discussed at the event was omni-channel campaign management. Outlining her own company's approach to this notoriously thorny issue, Jessica Stephens, Vice-president of Client Services for Related Digital, a London- headquartered specialist in marketing automation platforms, said: "We start with a unified profile for each customer. Then, once this has been combined with the relevant omni-channel interaction history, a personalised campaign is created, allowing bespoke content to be managed across all marketing channels."

While tech was – predictably – the key topic at the show, it wasn't all about algorithms, with improving content by harnessing innovation also very much on the agenda. Addressing this issue, Gaston Tourn, Chief Marketing Officer of Badoo, a London-headquartered global dating app, emphasised the value of strong messages, irrespective of how they are delivered. Singling out storytelling, in particular, as an online technique that can be effectively used to boost customer engagement, he said: "What would Hemingway say to a marketer?"

Meanwhile, for those delegates still getting to grips with the intricacies of international marketing, the Cross-border Theatre offered talks from a range of big names, including Amazon Business, JP Morgan and GlobalE. Maintaining the global perspective, over in the Main Hall, the event's sizable Chinese delegation hosted a large 'silent-salesman' stand as a showcase for many of the mainland's leading cross-border companies and development sites.

Foremost among these was the Wuhan East Lake Free Trade Zone, a high-tech development area, where goods may be landed, handled, manufactured / reconfigured and re-exported without troubling the local customs authorities. Among the businesses said to be already active within the Free Trade Zone was Hanjingtong, a specialist in bonded logistics services, and Dowsure, which was said to be the world's leading cross-border e-commerce 'insurtech' company, with a particular mastery of big-data-driven risk-management systems, AI, blockchain and a range of other recent technologies.

Wuhan was not the only Free Trade Zone keen to build its profile at the event. Indeed, a nearby stand was given over to the advantages of Dubai CommerCity, one of the MENA region's leading e-commerce free zones. This year, representatives of the zone's management team had made the 7,200km trip to London in a bid to help promote Dubai's claim to be home to one of the world's leading international e-commerce platforms and to outline the country's economic diversification and smart transformation strategies.

While all the attendant free trade zones were keen to flaunt their cutting-edge capabilities, one discipline that, in certain quarters, is now considered somewhat quaint also had a surprising number of proponents – email marketing. Leading the charge was Adestra, an Oxford-based supplier of bespoke email marketing software of 14 years standing. Introducing the current incarnation of its platform, Sales Manager Jack Lester said: "The latest upgrade incorporates numerous features, including data-management, reporting, targeting and cross-channel. They all go towards what we call 'actionable-insights' – the kind of data that drives the most successful marketing."

Across the aisle, Dot Mailer Marketing Executive Jack Tutin was making an equally strong case for the Croydon-based company's omnichannel marketing automation system, saying: "We've come a long way since 1999, when we just produced a simple emailing tool. Today, we offer a platform that enables marketers to create powerful digital campaigns using email, SMS and social channels. We also now operate in 150 countries, working with leading marcomms companies, as well as such big brands as DHL and Barbour."

Photo: Badoo: Storytelling is key to engagement.
Badoo: Storytelling is key to engagement.
Photo: Badoo: Storytelling is key to engagement.
Badoo: Storytelling is key to engagement.
Photo: Dubai CommerCity: E-commerce, Middle East-style.
Dubai CommerCity: E-commerce, Middle East-style.
Photo: Dubai CommerCity: E-commerce, Middle East-style.
Dubai CommerCity: E-commerce, Middle East-style.

Another exhibitor offering email marketing solutions – North Carolina-based Oracle Bronto – was of more recent provenance. Essentially the product of two acquisitions – firstly by NetSuite and then the subsequent sale of Netsuite to Oracle – the Bronto brand solely focuses on e-commerce marketing software, making it a good fit with Oracle's other cloud-based services.

Clutching a plastic brontosaurus in a bid to underline the company's positioning, Brandon Wilkins, the General Manager of Oracle Bronto, said: "We're not dinosaurs. Our business has had to constantly change in line with the demands of retailers. We now integrate with NetSuite, Magento and Shopify and offer sophisticated e-commerce marketing automation, all geared to enhanced engagement, in-depth analysis and increased revenue."

This surprisingly still fast-growing sector has also lured Adobe onboard, a consequence of the California-based software giant's US$1.7 billion acquisition of a fellow Californian business – Magento, said to be the developer of the world's most flexible e-commerce platform.

Over on the Magento stand, Mohamed Nofal, the company's UK and Middle East Enterprise Sales Executive, confessed himself "excited" by the takeover and keen to see what Adobe would bring to the party. Since the show, that has become a little clearer, with the two brands e-commerce services integrated into the Adobe Experience Cloud, a system said to offer unlimited scalability and open-source flexibility for B2B and B2C users.

Elsewhere on the showfloor, Feefo, a Hampshire-based customer review provider, had managed to encapsulate its offer in a stylish graphic presentation – a refreshing change from the wordy, jargon-heavy approach taken on many of the surrounding stands. Over the years, Feefo has made quite a name for itself as the go-to business for the collection of genuine customer feedback, subsequently allowing for a greater level of insight and more informed business decisions on the part of its clients.

Keen to bring users (and potential users) up to speed on the latest happenings at the company, Client Development Manager Antonio Genziani was actively spreading the news of its recent partnership with Google Adwords, saying: "The fact that our technology is now being used to optimise campaigns for Google's advertising customers is a big feather in our cap."

Another international brand with a big budget for targeting the advertising industry was the aforementioned IBM. This time around, its particular focus was on IBM Watson, its proprietary AI system, which is said to accelerate and deepen machine learning. Clearly confident in its abilities, Mike Bean, a Senior Sales Engineer, happily scanned a number of passing delegates and then uploaded the data to the Watson Studio desktop. Thankfully, consensus has it, its analysis proved largely accurate.

The Standard IBM Watson Studio Cloud would set an individual data scientist back $99 month. Alternatively, a team rate of 5,000 hours a month is on offer for $6,000.

AI, of course, was a feature of many stands, including that of Helsinki-based Nosto Solutions, where the technology was the cornerstone of its retail solutions offering. Claiming the company's system was now the leading AI-powered personalisation solution for e-commerce retailers, Marketing Manager Chloe Pascal said: "We have spent seven years developing our patented technology, with the results – garnered from some of the world's most successful e-commerce retailers – telling their own story: happier customers spending up to 30% more, representing a seven-fold ROI."

The Nosto starter bundle is $1,000 per month, with its premium bundle priced at $3,500 per month.

Overall, if Ad:tech is truly a barometer of where the advertising and marketing industry is heading, then the potential of omnichannel e-marketing and e-commerce seemingly knows no bounds. This is especially the case given the signs that AI-led targeting and engagement is seemingly becoming more intuitive and adept with every passing month.

Photo: Ad:tech: “Advertising reimagined” over two days at London Olympia.
Ad:tech: "Advertising reimagined" over two days at London Olympia.
Photo: Ad:tech: “Advertising reimagined” over two days at London Olympia.
Ad:tech: "Advertising reimagined" over two days at London Olympia.

Ad:tech 2018 took place from 26-27 September at London Olympia.

David Wilkinson, Special Correspondent, London

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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