1:1 Marketing is the New Black: 5 tools you need to rev up efficiency and personalization


Marketing Operations is the nerve center for an organization’s outbound marketing and CRM campaigns. Often staffed lean, marketing ops is a business-critical function that ensures all the grand marketing plans get executed. It’s where the rubber meets the road.

Marketing Ops creates the target audiences, executes the tests, builds the content, implements the personalization tags and dynamic content modules that make everything come together to create a personalized customer experience.

They represent the end of the line in the marketing process, so marketing ops often feels the squeeze of deadlines, delays and projects competing for resources. They make difficult decisions about campaign prioritization, resource constraints, frequency control and suppressions across targeted audiences, and deployment schedules.

One of the primary processes that results in a pinch during the last mile of campaigning is the production and approval process for creative assets. The often-lengthy work cycles of creating, testing, and approving creative assets frequently contributes to resource bottlenecks. These last-mile issues must be sorted out by marketing ops teams according to campaign prioritization and resource availability. It is not uncommon for organizations to require four to six weeks just to get an email out the door!

If marketing ops spends all its time putting out fires, chasing down creative assets and approvals, and barely keeping up with production and deployment schedules, they can’t possibly focus on optimizing the relevance and timeliness of each customer touchpoint. This is the stuff that will move the needle over time. Improvements to targeting, triggered messaging and personalization capabilities are core components of sophisticated marketing programs.

Marketing organizations must take a step back from the minutiae of just getting campaigns out the door. At least once a year, they should objectively evaluate core marketing ops capabilities and inventory their tools, with the goals of improving efficiency, adding sophistication, or layering on new capabilities in the marketing stack.

Here are five tools you should consider adding to your marketing ops arsenal that, when combined, create a powerful ecosystem for improving efficiency and moving the sophistication needle ever closer to the holy grail of 1:1 marketing.


Use a No-Code Email Builder and Template Library

If you have worked in email for a while, you have likely realized that a web designer does not an email designer make. Designing and coding for email requires specialized knowledge of coding best practices across major email inbox providers as well as software email clients like Outlook. Moreover, many coding techniques used to design and code websites don’t necessarily work in email.

How an email renders in the inbox is a function of the HTML rendering engine used and might vary across Gmail, Yahoo, Microsoft and other mailboxes / software clients. To work around this, the email industry publishes annual best practices guidelines for designers and coders. Litmus does a particularly good job keeping up with these best practices and publishing annual updates.

Email clients use rendering engines that are more limited in scope than web browsers. One of the primary reasons is for network security. To ensure the best user experience, email designers and coders must adhere to coding practices that web designers might consider “old school.” Web designers don’t automatically understand the intricacies of coding for email and what works and doesn’t work across major mailbox providers and email software clients.

Marketing teams often hire agencies or contractors to design and code their emails.

However, sending each and every email through a "design-build-code-approve" process creates workflow bottlenecks. Not every email needs the creative touch of an email designer, especially if you have developed a custom template library with a few templates for each common type of email.

Leveraging templates and a no-code email builder can eliminate or reduce one of the biggest marketing ops bottlenecks – the creative design and coding process – and enable the team to easily create emails on their own in far less than four to six weeks.

No-code development represents one of the hottest tech trends in recent years, enabling the creation of mobile and web apps as well as full-featured software applications without requiring a creator to write even a single line of code. This is because the codebase has been modularized and embedded behind the scenes of a visual drag-and-drop builder UI.

Dreamweaver used to be one of the only games in town for creating emails besides coding by hand. Several years ago, ESPs and marketing cloud providers began offering more full-featured drag-and-drop email editors. In some cases, these tools might work fine for you, but you could run into limitations or find that they are not full-featured enough to meet your needs. Some I really like; others I have found way too limited and basic.

Search the internet for “no code email builders” and you will find a slew of third-party tools. Make sure the tool you choose supports responsive design templates and a template library. You might also evaluate how it integrates with content management systems (and which ones) as well as your ESP of choice. We will discuss CMS a bit later.

As for ESP support, most of the tools I have found are designed to work with specific ESPs. An “export to HTML” feature can provide a workaround and enable you to use the output anywhere you want.

Finally, evaluate the template creation process to ensure the platform could work for you -- some are easier than others and most require templates to be built within their proprietary system and might not transfer to other systems.

Here are a few more tips to get you started:

  • Group your communication types by template. Plan to design a few template options for each type, so you have ways to keep the content design fresh over time.

  • Evaluate a short-list of no-code email builder tools. Research the tools that might work with your current email marketing infrastructure and work through the process of creating templates, libraries, and content on each one. Most offer free trial versions.

  • Once you have selected the tool your team will use, design, wireframe and code a few templates for each type of communication. It’s important to do this step after you have identified the tool you will use, as templates often must be developed inside the platform and require proprietary steps to create.

Take the necessary time up front to design good templates and wireframes for each type of communication. This ensures you don’t resort to the design-build-code-approve process. Well-designed collections of templates will enhance a no-code email builder's usefulness.

Implement a CMS

Wireframing and developing email templates is a great exercise because it forces you to group the various types of emails you send into categories for templatization. It also forces you to think of your content in terms of modules.

With a CMS tool, you can host, organize, and tag images, html content blocks and text content blocks for use across various channels and campaigns. Tagging is a way to ensure you can easily search for and find the exact piece of content you need. You can also more easily manage headers and footers, track changes and version history of content and ensure you are using the latest versions.

Once content modules are developed in the CMS, it can be as easy as dragging and dropping them into templates using your no-code editor tool. If you can’t get to a drag-and-drop integration between your CMS and your content builder tool, you might be able to refer to content pieces in the email builder by using URLs that will fetch those assets and pull them in.

Some CMS tools might integrate directly with your email builder tool or your ESP. But that will not always be the case. So, it’s important to approach a CMS decision with an eye toward how it integrates with your current marketing stack and the tools you will use to build and deploy your messages.

Many companies still operate content asset libraries via Google Drive or Dropbox folders. That often requires finding and downloading, uploading, and sharing access to the assets required to build an email, manual version control of assets, and many inefficient processes. What often happens is that someone in marketing ops must download the asset and then Slack or email it to someone else – another minor process inefficiency (but multiply it by the number of campaigns the team produces). Cloud-drive solutions work only for images. They are not ideal for text or html content blocks … unless you LOVE to copy and paste endlessly!

Some ESP and marketing cloud platforms offer built-in CMS tools. However, like the built-in email editors, they are usually intended for use within that specific platform and may offer a limited feature set. They also would likely not benefit the larger organization in the same way an enterprise CMS tool would. If you happen to find a great ESP / marketing cloud that also offers a great CMS and a full-featured no-code email builder, then pat yourself on the back!

If you look for third-party options, look for “headless CMS” options. These are content management systems that are not tied just to a website, for example, but can be used to export content out to other endpoints or devices via APIs or webhooks.

Implementing a CMS requires time, planning and money.  You might be able to share the cost with stakeholders across the business who could benefit from the investment. However, you will soon find that the value goes beyond the efficiency of a centralized content repository.

Creating and storing modularized content blocks, when paired with a no-code email builder and smartly designed modularized templates, creates new opportunities for personalization and marketing automation. Content blocks can be pulled into emails dynamically via content targeting rules.

Leverage Marketing Automation

Marketing Automation is another buzzword you have probably heard a time or two. Marketing automation can include recurring or triggered messaging programs, mapping out customer journeys and lifecycle maps, as well as the transformation and flow of campaign-related data elements between systems in your marketing stack. Marketing automation can help improve the timeliness of your communications through advanced triggered and recurring lifecycle programs.

If your ESP does not offer marketing automation tools, look for third-party platforms that specialize in marketing automation. Even if your ESP does offer marketing automation tools, look at third-party specialty platforms to compare feature sets. This will help you determine if you have the tools you will need or if you should consider beefing up your automation capabilities.

Depending on the specific tools and platforms within your marketing stack that may need to talk to each other, consider getting to know Zapier. Zapier is a process automation tool that creates “Zaps,” or integration points, between different third-party apps and platforms.

Zapier creates integration points between thousands of apps. It is also a great example of a no-code development platform – you can create API integrations between tools without writing the code that would otherwise be required.

Many ESPs and CDPs offer customer journey builder tools. These are a great way to get started with marketing automation. Most are easy to use. However, once you get to know the features and limitations of those tools, you might find use cases that don’t fit the mold very well. This is why it’s so important to understand the marketing automation ecosystem and the capabilities on offer by leading platforms before limiting yourself to the tool you already have.


Invest in Marketing Analytics and AI

Companies often mistakenly focus their marketing analytics on only post-campaign analysis. Apply analytics to all phases of campaign development and execution.

Analysts can develop models for many applications:

  • Targeting cohorts of customers by behavior patterns (e.g., at-risk customers)
  • Detecting trends and data signals that might be hard to see in the raw data
  • Matching cohorts with specific messaging that should best resonate with each
  • Modeling customer channel affinity
  • Determining the best time of day to deliver an email to specific customer cohorts
  • Post-campaign evaluation

The purview of analytics should cut across the entire marketing process – from strategy definition to segmentation and targeting, cohort definition, messaging, test design and campaign measurement and optimization. This enables marketers to target new segments of customers that may not be easily targetable using the profile or behavioral data points available to them.

It also enables the discovery of new data signals from customer behavior that may indicate the need for a new triggered communication. It can contribute to the personalized customer experience through content targeting. Finally, marketing analytics creates new opportunities to apply AI or ML technologies to your program, often in automated ways.

This last point might require a bit more thought and planning. Some marketing clouds offer a few built-in analytics “bells and whistles.” They are usually the shiny thing they want you to focus on, but they don’t always live up to their promise.

Test them but also look elsewhere for platforms and tools that specialize in AI, ML and marketing analytics. Ideally, you will want a visual data mining environment that provides an easy-to-use and intuitive UI for mining and modelling customer data, including complex sets of behavioral data.


Deliver 1:1 Marketing

One-to-one marketing has been regarded for nearly three decades as marketing’s holy grail. As business school textbooks in the mid-90s described cutting-edge trends toward mass customization (think, custom-designed Nike or Adidas shoes), the dynamic marketing duo Don Peppers and Martha Rogers made industry headlines with their sensational best-selling book, The One to One Future: Building Relationships One Customer at a Time, published in 1993.

A few years later, as a grad school student studying the mass customization trend, I attended the Association of Business Communicators’ annual conference in LA’s Century City. This was my first business trip, and the conference was headlined by none other than Peppers and Rogers, true marketing celebrities at this point, who delivered the keynote address.  

Their ideas so inspired me that I wrote my first grad school term paper on mass customization as applied to CRM. It was a breathtaking concept then. While you could see in principle how it could work for certain applications, technology available to the average marketer in 1996 just wasn’t quite there yet. Widescale adoption of email marketing was still a few years away, and websites were mostly static online brochures.

One-to-one marketing was an idea ahead of its time. Today, technology has caught up.

Today, we have access to unprecedented amounts of customer-generated data. More data means more opportunities to personalize with content targeted to me.

The key is content modules. Think of each email as a collection of modules, or sections, each with a specific purpose. Within each module, use data to create unlimited versioning by combining direct-personalization with rules-based content and AI-driven recommendations.

Imagine you receive an email from Hulu with the following content modules:

  • Subject line: Here’s what people in LA are watching
  • (Hyper-localization is one of my favorite personalization tactics. Unlike first-name personalization, it is not widely used outside the travel industry. Seeing my city name mentioned in a subject line always gets my attention.)
  • Our Top Picks for Kelly - featuring AI-driven content suggestions based on what shows they think I will like. (There’s that first-name personalization – it doesn’t have to always be in the subject line to be effective.)
  • You Might Also Like – featuring more general suggestions based on my gender
  • An upsell module that dynamically displays the most suitable upsell / cross-sell offer for me

Combining multiple personalization elements across multiple content modules can enhance personalization's overall impact and reinforce the perception of 1:1.

In summary, the efficiency benefits of a no-code email builder and modularized templates combined with the enhanced personalization benefits of CMS, marketing automation, analytics and AI tools, create a powerful marketing ops arsenal that can deliver near-1:1 personalization at scale. The trick is ensuring the tools can work together in a cohesive, integrated fashion.

The marketing ops team might still feel the occasional pinch of being the last step of the marketing process. Integrating tools focused on efficiency and personalization can ease the intensity of crunch times and help marketing ops deliver more, better, faster.

A handful of smart additions to the marketing stack can optimize marketing ops business processes and equip this business-critical team to simultaneously drive innovation and efficiency. Together, these components create powerful personalization capabilities that can enhance the customer experience by delivering more timely, relevant, and personalized emails and cross-channel communications.

Keep your eyes open. You just might discover the marketing holy grail!

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Cover Photo by Clark Tibbs on Unsplash