How Facial-Recognition Software Will Shape The Future Of Email Marketing

As facial-recognition technology advances and becomes more widespread, email marketers need to latch onto the new opportunities it offers, says columnist Jason Warnock.

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ss-facial-recognition-biometrics-technology-woman-futureMovies and TV have always pushed the limits of our technological capabilities. “Men in Black” has its memory-erasing Neuralyzer; “Doctor Who” features a flying time machine; and Jedis will once again wield light sabers in the world of “Star Wars” when the next film arrives.

While fictional inventions often outpace what’s actually possible, not all technologies featured in popular media are far-fetched. Advancements in software and programming are making technologies like Iron Man’s bionic suit or Marty McFly’s hoverboard possible.

Are Email Marketers Ready For The Big Screen?

So how does this affect email marketing? Well, as technologies move closer to what big-time movie producers dream up, some of this tech will help marketers more effectively reach consumers.

Heading into 2016, one of the most exciting advancements is facial-recognition software.

Just last month, I was in Washington to discuss the future of privacy and technology with one of President Barack Obama’s principal advisors. There are a number of proposals pending, and one at the top of the stack is facial-recognition technology and the legalities that will accompany its popularization.

Facial recognition is no longer a trick reserved for the green screen. It’s an initiative that could see widespread implemention in stores by the end of 2016. This is a future that all email marketers need to prepare for.

How Facial Recognition Will Replace Today’s Technologies

In 2015, we’ve seen email marketers respond to the rise of mobile with strategies like geofencing, which allows brands to send shoppers emails based on their real-world behaviors. For example, some retailers send subscribers deals as they pass by storefronts.

While this is a step in the right direction, email marketers didn’t fully anticipate how easily subscribers could turn these alerts off. When walking past a store, it’s too simple for shoppers to ignore emails.

So not only are consumers missing out on valuable sales opportunities, but brands are wasting marketing spends on campaigns that don’t consistently drive engagement.

Facial-recognition software will replace technologies like geofencing. Why? Because shoppers can’t turn off their faces.

Although there’s a tinge of “big brother” to the idea, this biometric fingerprint offers marketers an ever-present and more direct channel to reach shoppers. And as long as marketers approach the technology from a place of education and convenience for consumers, opposition will be minor as brands demonstrate the value of facial recognition.

With explicit guidelines and published policies, facial-recognition software could offer big benefits to marketers and shoppers in the New Year.

As this technology becomes more readily available, marketers can begin to request shoppers’ head shots upon subscription. Every photo secured will help brands connect the digital and analog activities of shoppers.

This cohesive persona will follow shoppers from desktop to mobile to in-store and help marketers logically tie together their email synergies and campaigns.

The Benefits Of Embracing Facial Recognition For Email Marketers And Consumers

In 2016, email marketers can bank on the development of technologies to advance their digital marketing capabilities. The more consolidated and automated email marketing becomes, the more effectively markets can reach, engage and convert subscribers.

To start, facial recognition will address the following:

1. The In-Store Shopping Problem

As ecommerce evolves, big-name retailers like JCPenney and Macy’s are struggling to drive shoppers to brick-and-mortar stores. The conveniences of shopping online are too persuasive, and the low number of in-person consumers is having a negative impact on retailers’ stock prices.

Email marketers can use facial-recognition software to bring more subscribers into stores. As the technology gains traction and brands develop reputations for using it, email marketers can start to entice shoppers in with literal “deals at the door.”

For example, let’s say shoppers know they can earn promotions when they walk into a store — a deal they can’t get anywhere else. While ecommerce is a valuable component of any omni-channel sales experience, and shoppers may still do their research online, brands can use deals delivered via facial-recognition software to lure consumers back into stores to make a purchase.

2. Targeted Promotions And Deals

Facial-recognition software will also help marketers serve shoppers more personalized deals, promotions and product suggestions. Modern cameras are capable of understanding metrics like height, weight, gender and approximate age.

With ample insights about every shopper who walks through the door, email marketers can create more involved and sophisticated promotions that combine consumers’ physical and digital personas.

For example, when shoppers walk through a retailer’s door, facial-recognition software can identify past purchases from that brand. Maybe a shopper bought a blue shirt last month. Facial-recognition technologies can connect their physical presence with their digital purchases, merging the two features to offer that shopper a similar product with the right fit on the spot.

As more and more brands give shoppers the ability to redeem promotions digitally (with a barcode or QR code), shoppers can immediately capitalize on these deals.

Additionally, email marketers can avoid the hassle of single-use coupons by investing in facial recognition. By designing campaigns around shoppers’ faces instead of individualized coupons, brands can maintain one-to-one relationships with shoppers while eliminating a good deal of the work.

3. Greater Retention Management Analysis

Finally, email marketers can use facial-recognition software to learn more about shopping trends over time. Nurturing long-term customer relationships starts with knowing what shoppers have bought in the past.

However, when customers pay with cash in a store, it’s impossible for brands to track purchases and make educated product recommendations in the future.

Facial-recognition software will help marketers overcome payment barriers by making cash a trackable element. When brands know who enters their stores, they can match-back even the most elusive transactions by monitoring the products that shoppers physically carry out.

Collecting this data, email marketers can see changes in sales traffic and shopper preferences and create a more thorough database on each shopper’s habits. To better retain consumers and increase loyalty, brands can use these insights to offer shoppers more targeted deals with improved opportunities for conversion.

Looking beyond 2016, facial-recognition software has the potential to grow in a number of exciting directions. Who knows? In the future our faces could serve as “credit cards,” and computers could scan shoppers to access financial information when shopping online.

Or maybe drones — equipped with their own cameras — could take facial recognition to a more global and mobile scale, although privacy concerns would need to be addressed.

The possibilities are far-ranging, and many of them are already in the works. While technologies like facial-recognition software may seem like a Hollywood fantasy, advances in technology are moving us toward new digital marketing opportunities.

In 2016 and beyond, email marketers will have to be open to integrating their campaigns with the newest and most beneficial technologies — facial-recognition software included.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Jason Warnock
Jason Warnock is the vice president of market intelligence and deliverability for Yesmail Interactive. A seasoned digital marketing veteran, he spearheaded the development of the Yesmail Market Intelligence tool that tracks the campaigns of competitors across eight digital channels, including email and social media. Warnock has designed and executed successful technology and business strategies for several Fortune 500 companies.

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