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How AI Is Helping adidas Boost Its Personalized Email Marketing Game

See how adidas uses personalized email marketing to help millions of global customers receive content and offers that match their interests.

adidas VP Robert Lochrie

This post is part of our Moment Makers series, which takes a deep dive into how marketers use technology to build data-driven customer experiences that are natural, relevant, and right on time. 

An interesting trend has emerged over the past few months. With people stuck at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people have gotten motivated to move more, especially to stay healthy. A Kantar study from June revealed more than half of respondents globally were trying to increase their daily exercise. Even as temperatures drop in pockets around the globe, interest in exercise hasn’t slowed down.

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the world’s fitness interests are top of mind for adidas. In 2019, the global sporting goods company produced more than one billion units of footwear, apparel, and athletic hardware. Since no two wellness regimens are alike and everyone moves and achieves at different rates, adidas aims to capture active people’s attention by sharing personalized content that helps customers achieve their goals.

Personalization is a must in today’s all-digital world. In Salesforce’s State of the Connected Customer report, 52% of respondents said they always expect personalized offers. adidas’ digital strategy focuses on personalized experiences across the consumer journey; an increasingly crowded inbox made this even more critical in 2020. 

We’ve been able to expand our personalization in other emails with minimal effort.

Robert Lochrie, adidas

Building a foundation for real-time personalization

While consumer behaviors shifted during the pandemic, adidas’ interest in personalized email marketing started long before this. Two years ago, the company’s digital team kicked off a project to incorporate dynamic content in its email marketing campaigns. 

The team’s goal was to use data points like language, location, and product interest to match subscribers with the most relevant content. They also wanted to leverage the expansive content available to encourage consumers to discover new products or sports. 

“Whether it’s a running consumer, lifestyle consumer, or a parent, we want our communications to add value to their lives. As a brand we create so much compelling content, but our challenge is getting it in front of the right consumer at the right time,” said adidas Vice President of Digital Products Robert Lochrie. 

The team also knew it needed to automate these programs to run and maintain them more efficiently. “We didn’t have personalization capabilities that crossed every aspect of our business, so we were initiating separate campaigns for every country and product category. It was really a significant overhead,” Lochrie said.

To increase their email personalization capabilities and do it at scale, adidas needed a more advanced technical solution. The company already used Marketing Cloud, Commerce Cloud, and Service Cloud within Salesforce Customer 360 to create connected experiences for their customers. Taking it up a level for its email marketing was a next natural step.

adidas worked with Salesforce to develop an intelligent and automated dynamic email solution that addressed its concerns. The end result? A new content service powered by  predictive intelligence that would select the best content for each customer and automatically populate a branded email template. Once set up, adidas could send emails with personalized content to millions of customers in more than 20 countries within a single campaign.

Better still: The company saw an average 40% cost reduction moving from its standard email process to the dynamic solution, and dynamic newsletters saw an 8% year-over-year increase in channel contribution (2020 vs 2019) for key markets.

“We’ve seen good engagement and open rates and much greater operational scalability,” Lochrie said. “We’ve been able to expand our personalization in other emails with minimal effort, bring relevant stories to our subscribers, and configure content at the market level.”

female athlete on phone

Personalizing email content even after the send

A win for adidas, the partnership’s outcome also benefited Salesforce. It used insights gained from implementing adidas’ solution as a starting point for a new artificial intelligence (AI) product for the Marketing Cloud suite. Einstein Content Selection (ECS), which launched at Dreamforce 2019, uses AI to personalize content from a standard template and select the most relevant asset for each email section the moment the email gets opened. This allows marketers to choose different hero images for the same promotion, select content that will resonate with each subscriber, and much more.

Meanwhile, adidas drew value from the dynamic email pilot, but wanted to build and add more value. Using ECS would introduce new customer attributes and behaviors into its data set and offer real-time content optimization and performance analytics previously unavailable in Marketing Cloud. The company would capitalize on that technology to create unique campaigns for subscribers around the world.

For example, adidas could tailor messages to runners in the United Kingdom with an interest in yoga and French soccer players within the same email campaign — increasing relevance and reducing email fatigue for subscribers through a process that was easier to manage. 

For these reasons, adidas began using ECS for its personalized email marketing program in October 2020. Once adidas transitions all of its pilot campaigns, ECS will optimize emails for millions of subscribers around the globe. 

“It’s so easy for an email message to become irrelevant minutes after it’s sent,” Lochrie said. “Imagine if you received an email two days before a major holiday, and when you opened it on the actual day, the content reflected that moment in time? ECS allows us to be far more connected to our customers — adapting when we speak to them and what we’re speaking about to meet their needs.” 

Marketing Cloud offers solutions for digital marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, customer journey mapping, marketing analytics, marketing automation, and B2B marketing to help you personalize customer communications across every digital touchpoint — from anywhere.

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