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Private traffic: the future of email marketing in North America?

Email use is evolving and brands need to adapt. Is the Chinese phenomenon that is “private traffic” coming to North America and Europe?

Email has been around for a while now and it has not evolved that much, other than getting better and better filters for spam.

We know that the younger generations use email in a very different way than we do, Generation X and up, do, and that could signal a change in brand behavior on how it interacts with its audiences.

Something we’ve been repeating in our content strategy certification courses is that every brand needs to own part of their audience data, either through their marketing technology stack, or simply by being able to collect email (for email marketing), postal addresses (yes, it could still be relevant!), and mobile numbers (for SMS marketing). These data points allow a brand to, independently from any large tech player (Facebook, Google, TikTok, etc.), contact their audiences and interact with them.

And this is where we need to look to try and discover what’s next. How will brands reach audiences and how will it interact with them in the coming decade(s)?

Benoit Giguère, vice-president of content & operations at Brandbourg, recently relayed a great article from Andreessen Horowitz (known as “a16z”, a venture capital firm in Silicon Valley) about what is currently happening in China as through various platforms and tactics, brands are engaging with their consumers in new, unique, and personalized ways more than ever.

In her Why China’s Version of Email Marketing Is So Effective article, Connie Chan demonstrates the effectiveness of the tools available to brands in China and how they are using them to go beyond email marketing.

Using super-apps (WeChat and now DoorDash are great examples), Chinese brands are interacting one-on-one with consumers, but also creating communities on the spot, grouping consumers that have similar interests together so that they can interact to create a better experience with products and services.

This is what is called “private traffic”, “a customer relationship management (CRM) strategy that emphasizes direct communication between brands and customers.” (from Chan’s article)

We often say that what is happening today in China today is what could well be happening here in North America in a few years, and we might. We also know that more and more, consumers expect brands to adapt and personalize their messaging for them specifically.

Will this influence email marketing here in North America? We know we are late, maybe we’ve even missed the boat, on SMS marketing, but can private traffic (either through open architectures and protocols like RCS or super-apps) make a dent in how marketing executives tackle customer relationships? Time will tell, but there is sure a great advantage to having as much direct access to an audience as possible, through owned platforms rather than relying too much on big players and social media.

Super-apps are still gateways that are owned by major tech players, though, so this notion of “private traffic” is not solving all of a brand’s problems and risks, but still it needs to be considered when strategizing the coming years of your marketing plan.

Why is private traffic important for content marketing and branded content?

Content is used by brands to create confidence and build a lasting relationship with their audiences, without pitching a product or service. The notion of private traffic allows them to create a very personal link, to adapt the messaging, to allow a true conversation between your brand stakeholders and your audience.

This is a major breakthrough.

Your brand, its content and its ability to help your consumers have a better experience follows them, in their daily lives, in their pockets, and you are available at their fingertips. That is the definition of a positive customer relationship.

Private traffic as explained by Chan in her a16z article allows you to send relevant content, based on behaviour, questions, interactions, and work on building the relationship through time. A great example she mentions in the article:

Let’s say you go to a store to buy a barbecue set. If the sales rep you talk to recommend a specific grill, they might say, “Hey, after you purchase this, why don’t you add me as a contact? You can message me if you have any questions about installation, or any aspect of using your grill. If I come across cool barbecue recipes or accessories for your new set, I’m going to send them your way.”

“Beyond and in spite of developments in artificial intelligence and automation, it is people who make organizations and brands,” adds Benoit Giguère of Brandbourg.

Private traffic is on our radar and we believe it should be on yours. Email marketing will still be the way to go for the coming years (you can look at some email design trends to make sure you are up to par using this channel) and SMS marketing can also be a great add to your toolbox, but it is never bad to look a bit further over the horizon to see what is coming.

Want to discuss private traffic and one-on-one content interactions with your audiences, be sure to book a meeting with one of our experts and we can explore the possibilities for your brand.