Too many marketers look at email as a conversion vending machine, counting on regular email sends delivering a guaranteed result in the form of sales. But consumers today want more from brands, and that opens up a wealth of new possibilities for building personal relationships with your subscribers.

James Glover, co-founder and CEO, Coherent Path

James Glover, co-founder and CEO, Coherent Path

Even as apps and social media platforms come and go, email remains the most consistent performer of all digital channels. Unique open rates have held steady around 14 percent since 2015—while a full 38 percent of US customers say they’ve taken action as a direct result of an email CTA [call to action].

Top off these stats with the strikingly low costs of email outreach, and it’s easy to see why email remains the most cost-effective channel available.

Yet despite these facts, some retailers remain frustrated by low conversion rates, subpar engagement, and dwindling revenue on the email channel. Although these retailers continue to segment their audiences and carefully time their sends—just as they’ve always done—their tried-and-true email tactics don’t seem to be yielding the same results they once did.

Invest in getting to know your customers—not as members of segments, but as individuals on their own unique personal journeys.

What are some email marketers doing wrong? The answer reveals an all-too-common false assumption about how the email channel works.


Let’s take a closer look at why some retailers continue to treat email as an ATM, or a “conversion vending machine”—creating self-fulfilling prophecies that prevent their email performance from living up to its true potential.

Your customers know when you’re treating them like cash dispensers

In the early days of email marketing, retailers bombarded every customer with the same one-size-fits-all campaign. As data on customer behaviors became easier to collect, however, we left that primitive approach behind, and began to split our audiences into segments—targeting each segment with its own pre-planned series of emails.

Somewhere along the way, unfortunately, many marketers got locked into these segments and using email as only a revenue tool and not a brand-building tool. They assumed email worked somewhat like an ATM: As long as they kept making “deposits” in the form of repetitive product-driven campaigns, their emails would continue to serve up automated revenue until the end of time (or at least for the foreseeable future).

The truth, however, is that customers want more from a brand than constantly being asked to make a purchase. Today’s customers expect more from brands than they did a decade ago—and while this shift marks the end of the “email-as-ATM” era, it also opens up a wealth of new possibilities for building personal relationships with your subscribers.


Adaptive customer journeys can vastly increase your email performance

Consider the following scenario: You’ve been targeting new subscribers with the same general sequence of emails for five years now. In the beginning, this email sequence generated a steady 30-percent conversion rate—but over the past year, that rate dropped to 20 percent, then to only 10… and it’s still plunging.
So you call an emergency meeting. Some team members suggest that maybe email isn’t as profitable as it used to be—but you know that, statistically, this channel’s value continues to hold steady. The only logical conclusion is your campaign has focused too much on making sales, and not enough on fostering healthy relationships with your customers.

To get your conversions back up, you’re going to have to take a step back from yesterday’s way of doing things. Instead, it’s time to invest in getting to know your customers—not as members of segments, but as individuals on their own unique personal journeys. Find out why your subscribers have the interests they have, then serve up content that helps them cultivate progress toward their goals.

Individualized guidance isn’t just some high-minded ideal anymore — it’s the absolute minimum your customers expect from you.


To return to the ATM metaphor, broad-based campaigns will gradually “overdraft” your customers’ trust in your brand, by continuing to make withdrawals on the same old repetitive content—until one day, no more revenue potential remains.

The good news is that it’s easy to make fresh deposits. Instead of repetitively sending the same content to every customer in a given segment, try adopting a machine learning solution that generates individually tailored emails in response to every open and click. Soon you’ll see your conversion rates climbing back to their original highs—and beyond.

Start with your customers’ goals—and build your campaigns from there

One of the retailers’ most common email marketing mistakes is to design their campaigns around internal goals, such as balancing inventory, promoting a high-value product, or clearing out warehouse space. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with goals like these, the problem is that they all place your brand’s sales objectives before your customers’ aspirations.

Those two sets of goals don’t have to be mutually exclusive—in fact, individually personalized email journeys can serve as remarkably effective tools for aligning your customers’ desires with your internal sales objectives.


When you treat your customers’ aspirations as the starting points for your email campaign strategy, it’s easy to see why adaptive personal journeys drive far greater email performance than traditional segmented campaigns. Keep making deposits of fresh, relevant content, and you’ll find that email can serve as a steady source of revenue—provided you manage your customers’ trust responsibly.

Coherent Path provides predictive analytics software designed to surface products and categories that meet consumers’ evolving needs over time.