The Fine Art of Building Inbox Anticipation

Anticipation, according to our friends at Merriam-Webster, is “a feeling of excitement about something that is going to happen.” Most of us enjoy the anticipation of something that will bring a fun new experience or value to our lives, such as a vacation, dinner at the hottest restaurant in town, getting birthday cards in the mail, or even a smooth morning latte at the local cafe.

So, let’s consider anticipation in the inbox. Is it possible to create a feeling of excitement and anticipation via email messaging? This may seem like a stretch, given that many of the messages landing in the inbox still dwell in the one-size-fits-all zero contextual relevancy zone.

Even so, there are lots of ways we can begin to enhance the inbox experience with elements that drive anticipation and action. So, I won’t keep you waiting and anticipating any longer – let’s dive into the fine art of inbox anticipation …

Set the Stage

Setting the stage with clear expectations is critical at the point of opt-in and throughout the relationship with consumers. Most retailers kick things off with the incentive of a discount off a first purchase. They do it because it works! Consumers want that discount, and it helps generate the first purchase retailers are hungry for. As time goes on, it’s challenging to get the second, third, and fourth purchase conversions. The stage was set for a discount and now what?

The true task at hand in the early activation stage is getting to know the consumer via data gathering. Not the old data gathering form fills of the past, but new visually appealing and progressive ways to gather implicit and explicit data. Overtly trade the value of a discount, sweepstakes, or other incentives as an opportunity to gather data. Most marketers don’t capitalize on this opportunity well enough, but there are entirely new business models being fueled by overt data gathering and delivering value (Uber, StitchFix, TrunkClub, Fabletics, and on and on).

Ask and you shall receive data. Data drives experience, and experience absolutely drives anticipation.

Be Consistently Inconsistent

After we set the stage and make promises to consumers, those promises need to be met and exceeded. If you promise a monthly newsletter, make it the best monthly newsletter possible (more on that later). If you are about deals, do what Amazon and zulily do and make the deals as consistently relevant as possible to build anticipation around the latest and greatest offerings.

At the same time, it’s important to mix things up to build anticipation. Use a special offer, a sweepstakes, a half birthday message (Ben & Jerry’s style), or even a made-up holiday for your brand to support the cause (how many of you celebrated #NationalPizzaDay on February 10?). Leverage the occasional surprise and delight approach to keep consumers anticipating what’s next.

Deliver Visual Impact

Email is becoming a more visual medium with video and GIFs in emails enhancing the experience. Use these elements to create intrigue around what will hit the inbox next. A flickering candle, a ripple on the water, or different views of fashion in motion can be inspirational and lead to consumer action. GoPro’s Video of the Week and other campaigns curate the latest video content to inspire consumers.

Yes, beauty is in the eye of the beholder and email can deliver some beautiful visual experiences for consumers in motion, across all their devices.

Deliver Content Impact

Content has always been king, but when content and context pair up things really get exciting. Today, marketers can offer real-time content that relates to the consumer situation. This may be in the form of fresh news, sports scores, or stock prices that refresh at the time of message open. Or, a weather report that aligns with the reader’s location. A countdown clock can bring a sense of urgency and value to consumers that don’t want to miss out on something. We can personalize in new and innovative ways, such as a monogram image that’s specific to the recipient’s initials.

With email opens on mobile devices climbing every day, the impact of contextual content is stronger than ever and needs to be fine-tuned to recipient, time and place.

Create Community and Collaboration

Most marketers have untapped potential to drive anticipation related to community and collaboration. There are entirely new business models being driven by this theme, such as Airbnb, Puddle, Uber, and more. And, TripAdvisor sends emails with subject lines personalized with a friend’s name who have just returned from a fabulous resort – and now I get to read their review.

Opportunities abound with user-generated content, such as ratings and reviews, voting, surveys, polls, and more. Something as simple as a Y/N button option in email can generate valuable segmentation data. Consider email one of the key data gathering channels and put that data into action to drive anticipation.

So, this is your cue to stop anticipating email innovation and begin using these elements to drive inbox anticipation. As with any good marketing process, you’ll continue to test, learn, optimize, and measure as you go, to get the right mix of elements and build inbox anticipation. Start early and build a valuable and contextual experience with your brand, then sit back and anticipate a great outcome for your business.

Image via Shutterstock.

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