We’ve been hearing about the death of email for a really long time now. Given the fragmented media landscape, along with the continued rise of social media and mobile, it’s easy to see how the rumor could have some legs to it. But that’s not the case, says Jeff Kupietzky, CEO at PowerInbox, which brings publishers and advertisers together to monetize email and engage this captive audience.
“The truth is there’s always been continued growth. Email was never dead,” says Kupietzky. “Email is still the most effective channel for converting customers and reaching an engaged audience. It is one of the few channels where publishers can completely control the frequency and content of the relationship with the end user. And, I think because of that, people are rediscovering it. So, it never really went away. It just wasn’t invested in and we forgot how great it was amid all the social media noise.”
When consumers flocked to social media, publishers and advertisers followed them, but soon realized they had no control or ownership over the relationship with their audience.
“Email uniquely allows a direct connection with an end user in a world where Facebook and Google have limited how much traffic to send back to publisher sites,” he shares. “Publishers need a better way to control and capture their traffic. That makes email an important and growing channel because it provides a one-to-one connection completely owned by the publisher. There’s no third party that can get in the middle of that relationship. And, since people are more likely to change their physical address than their email address, this makes them very sticky users.”
Helping advertisers and publishers offset losses from investing heavily in social media is a major focus for Kupietzky and his team at PowerInbox. They recently expanded their technology and biz dev teams to include three new email and adtech experts aiming to grow alternative one-to-one engagement channels that put advertisers and publishers back in control.
I sat down with Kupietzky to gain a better understanding of native and programmatic advertising in email and why email is such a strong revenue option for publishers. (And we’ll learn more about all of this, as well as how adults consume and filter information, at the upcoming Publisher Forum in Miami March 10 – 13.)
LYNNE D JOHNSON: So, with your recent business expansion, what are the top three priorities for the year?
JEFF KUPIETZKY: Our strategy has always been to focus on making email really work at scale for publishers. That means giving them the right level of monetization, the right type of engagement, and providing a good product for advertisers. Our vision for this coming year is to do that by expanding on three fronts.
The other big push is on the supply side — expanding the places that we can place an ad. The world is moving toward additional messaging channels beyond email, like push notifications in mobile and desktop. These are all opportunities for publishers to engage a known user base and draw them back to their website. That’s a very easy technology to implement, traffic growth happens very quickly and there’s an opportunity to monetize that inventory.
The third: as we’ve expanded our supply and demand, there’s become a great opportunity to invest in identities —really the data and user profiles. We’ve built up 150 million unique profiles across our network, and we’re just scratching the surface of how best to leverage that to support targeted advertising or the monetization that our publishers want.
LDJ: Let’s talk about the issues in programmatic that everyone talks about like viewability and ad fraud.
JK: It’s definitely a concern and that’s where a lot of publishers have to invest their resources. Since we are 100% direct, we screen every ad. There’s no self-service on our platform. The only way someone can place an ad inside our network is by going through one of our ad ops experts. As we turn to programmatic, we obviously can’t escape the risk of fraud and quality, so we’ve developed some tools to help. We’ve implemented some automation to help us be more efficient, but we perform manual screening as well. The biggest barrier to programmatic expansion into email is first getting a solution in place that allows for control and screening of ads. Of course, part of that depends on which partners you pick.
LDJ: You talked about user profiles tied to real identities. That’s a topic of interest as privacy regulation ramps up.
JK: Absolutely. We are big believers in that you don’t want to market to a cookie. You want to market to a person, with a known identity. The email address is the best proxy for that. With my email address, no matter which device I’m using, it will know that it’s me–the same identity. So, for an advertiser looking to target a specific audience, that’s really powerful because it allows me to connect browsing activity to a known identity and make sure that the ads are as relevant as possible for that user.
Our strategy on privacy is to hash all the information we have, sort of de-identifying it. I’ll know that the user is unique, but I won’t be able to identify that it’s email@example.com. I’ll only know that you’re unique with different interests from firstname.lastname@example.org that I can market to. Yet, I can’t recreate that email address in my system. That allows us to provide a layer of protection to the individual. And, even if using that data for targeting, it’s being used appropriately.
LDJ: How important is audience segmentation or audience extension to email?
JK: I think ultimately, it’s very important because it brings us to an audience of one. Now, you can deliver the specific content that specific user wanted. But the reality is, it’s expensive to build something like that. Instead, what we find are companies that can generate enough scale to invest in that technology and offer it as a service, so that publishers don’t have to own that whole technology stack internally.
LDJ: There are a lot of trends we’re hearing about with personalization in omnichannel and with AI.
JK: Email is a tried and true channel that’s been around for a long time. It’s very effective and we find engagement rates are relatively high. Where’s that messaging relationship going to move? I mentioned push notifications as one example. I think chatbots are also a very interesting space because it allows a publisher to control when and at what frequency content is revealed to the end user. By using AI, every user will interact with that content differently at different times of day on different devices.
The ideal system would be to deliver the right piece of content on the right device at the right time to the right user. Achieving that is very hard, so you need an investment in technology that allows you to capture all of those behavioral data points—on the web, in email, in app, in chat logs—look at a composite and then recommend a piece of content at the right time over the right channel. I think people have been working in silos because the channels have been so distinct, and now they need a way to bring all of that data together.
LDJ: What about the influence of social media and video on email formats?
JK: Email is now moving into snackable content. People check their email 18+ times a day. Maybe you’re on line at Starbucks, so what should the sender aim to do in just that 10-15 seconds of interaction? Is it better to give the reader a lot of content in one send, or one or two pieces of content that’s really relevant?
If you want them to take action, the correct answer seems to be more frequent sends with a lot less content. As a result, that creates more opportunities to monetize that relationship. This increases engagement because users appreciate a piece of content that’s relevant to them at that moment, and they don’t mind receiving email more than once a day.
Video is a little harder because video doesn’t run natively in email. We’ve tested ways to place a teaser that’s basically an animated gif as opposed to a full format. This seems to be effective at enticing a click through to a browser-enabled full video player. Using rich media in ways that conform to the limitations of email will be a trend that we’ll see grow.
Also, people continue to consume more content on mobile than desktop, so considering the form factor of mobile will change the way you present the content. Publishers who recognize that people are consuming email on mobile more than desktop and create email for mobile-first viewing have a much better engagement rate than those who just took their desktop content and made it responsively to mobile.
LDJ: What should publishers be thinking about in terms of making email work?
JK: There are three big things to consider. First, how much have you prioritized capturing that relationship with your audience, whether on site or through programs to build your list?
Second, you must get to know your audience. Once you have a relationship, look at what they engage with. If you’re sending them five pieces of snackable content and they only consume two, that tells you what they like. Give them more of what they like and less of what they don’t.
Finally, on what other channels do we see that same behavior? A messaging environment? A push notification? Do you do anything with chatbots? Analyzing this integrated data provides even more insight into customer behavior. We’ll see all these things come together in the future as a comprehensive, core approach for publishers to engage with their audience.
LDJ: So, exactly which group of people are most receptive to email and is there a certain time of day that will bring higher engagement?
JK: There’s been a perception that, demographically, older generations use email more. But we have some new research looking at specific age groups and their interaction with email that tips that conventional wisdom a little bit on its head.
We also looked at the best time of day and day of the week for sends, and also discovered an unconventional conclusion that weekends might actually be the best time to send email, rather than during the week when the inbox is more cluttered. When you focus on clicks and not just opens, there are some sharp differences on the weekend vs the weekday.
Get even more insight into best practices for monetizing email and how adults consume and filter information at Publisher Forum in Miami, Mar. 10-13, 2019. Conference passes and hotel rooms are selling out fast!