(This post originally appeared on Forbes)
There was once a time when people were saying that e-mails were soon to be “dead” and that texts, instant messages and communications over social media platforms would ultimately take over as the main channels for businesses when they communicate with each other and their customers.
But that’s not happening anytime in the near future. Sure, there’s been a rise in other forms of messaging. But e-mail communications are more important today than ever before, and the medium still remains the most effective means for communication among businesses and their communities. There’s no need to go into all the reasons – the Wall Street Journal’s Christopher Mims summarized them quite well in this piece from last year.
However, email has changed. Gone are the days where we use our CRM systems to simply “blast” out messages to our entire database at one time. Today we use software that leverages artificial intelligence and a different kind of user experience to maximize the impact of our email campaigns.
One example of this is ActiveCampaign, a Chicago-based company who this week announced a $100 million series B round of financing. Understanding why ActiveCampaign was able to raise this amount of money will help understand how smart companies are using email more effectively.
“When we looked at the biggest needs of emerging businesses, we knew that we needed to solve the hardest part of what was missing – personal connection at scale – in a way that was accessible to every business,” Jason VandeBoom, the company’s CEO, wrote in a blog post. “Consumers expect their business relationships to be one fluid conversation. They don’t want to get an email from marketing when they’re in the middle of filing a support ticket, and they expect businesses to know what they need next based on the purchases they’ve made and their personal preferences.”
The company, which has grown to more than 550 employees and sales of more than $90 million, is one of many competing in the $1.85 billion campaign management market and its competitors – which include firms like Pyze, Clari, 6Sense, Appier, Highspot and Panoramic – are changing the way businesses are using email as a way to engage both customers and prospects.
This change is all about personalization.
For as little as $49 per month, ActiveCampaign enables even small businesses like mine to build ongoing campaigns that leverage the data in my CRM system to not only do broadcast emails (like newsletters) but also to trigger individualized messages based on the personalized information of each and every member of my community, including their buying patterns, their preferences, their demographics…basically any data that I’m keeping about them.
Using its proprietary AI algorithms, contacts get their own unique experience. Responses are then tracked and automatically funneled so that a marketing team can better analyze needs. The platform – like others in its category – offers tools for performing tests of various types of email communications to subsets of contacts in order to gauge conversions, opens, clicks and views and determine which messages are most effective. It has contact and lead scoring, event tracking and predictive analysis capabilities and integrates with CRMs like Salesforce.
The company calls this “customer experience,” but really isn’t this just about making the customer feel like they’re not just a number? This is not “blasting” generic, spammy messages. It’s about creating a finely-tuned communications process to automatically send unique message to individuals based on their needs and preferences.
So yes, emails are more important than ever, particularly if they’re personalized and focused on user experience. But there is one caveat to keep in mind: Powerful applications like ActiveCampaign come with a cost and it’s not just their monthly fee.
Tools like this only work best in the hands of a good internal marketing person that is given the time and resources to learn it. Sure, there’s automation. But that automation relies on good data, testing and oversight and those functions depend on a smart, human marketer. For it to really work well, you’ll need to invest in that resource because even good applications like ActiveCampaign can only do so much on its own.