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Designing Email and Mobile Personalization with ESPN and Movable Ink

Designing Email and Mobile Personalization with ESPN and Movable Ink
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As the “Worldwide Leader in Sports,” fans across the country turn to ESPN for live sports, news on their favorite teams, and the best highlights of the day. To deliver the most optimal experience for every fan–whatever their favorite sport or team may be–marketers crafted a personalized email and mobile marketing strategy that transforms zero- and first-party data into informative, targeted, and engaging content.

At Movable Ink’s 2021 (Re)Think conference, two ESPN marketers spoke with Movable Ink Senior Client Experience Manager Andrew Brawley about the design process along with the daily minutia and challenges that can often pop up. ESPN’s Associate Creative Director Adam Wanderman and Senior Interactive Designer Jessica Gardner each shared their experience creating personalized content blocks with the Movable Ink platform in mind.

While ESPN has many properties that cover every sport, Andrew, Adam, and Jessica focused on the email use case involving ESPN’s Southeastern Conference (SEC) College Football Rundown, which is sent every Saturday morning of the college football season to email subscribers that indicated they are a fan of the conference. The goal for the campaign is to drive viewers back to ESPN, the network’s affiliated SEC Network, or the brand’s streaming platform. 

Jessica and Adam spotlight the value of saving time by creating efficiencies through automation. The 2021 season was tough to predict, given the number of delayed or postponed games due to Covid-19 the previous year, and designing an email that required no last-minute rewrites presented a unique challenge for both Movable Ink and ESPN. On top of that, designers and marketers were forced to shift focus away from contextual personalization in light of Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection shortly before the season kicked off. Luckily sports fans have spent years building a relationship with the brand, and marketers had a wealth of zero- and first-party data to design a new strategy.

Transforming Data into Design

To build the SEC email–and create a template for ESPN’s football emails moving forward–Movable Ink and ESPN started with a CSV file funneled into an API data source with logic based on whether or not each game was on schedule, postponed, or canceled. After that, the CSV file, which included information such as game sponsor and the network’s SEC Saturday Night matchup, is transformed into a visual content block that shortens university names to ensure a simple viewing experience. This provides SEC fans with the most up-to-date information on their favorite team and encourages readers to click through to the ESPN website before gametime to read up on the latest news. 

After designers and marketers built the content block, the only weekly revision needed to keep the list current was to replace the games in the original CSV file. This took one brand marketer 10 mins to complete, and resulted in zero email cancellations, creative updates, or post-deployment manual updates.

Jessica and Adam’s Best Practices and Design Pointers

During ESPN’s (Re)Think session, Jessica and Adam shared a few best practices that brands should follow for building efficiency and personalization into email and mobile campaigns.

  1. Understand your data points–The first step is to understand the details of each data point consumers share with your brand. For ESPN it’s a robust API environment capable of activating zero- and first-party data. Whatever your martech stack, there are ways you can transform customer data across multiple data silos into dynamic, personalized content.

  2. Start design with a baseline customer experience in mind–As Adam mentions during the presentation, “if it’s confusing to you, there’s a good chance it’s going to be confusing for your customers too.” Adam suggests starting with a baseline understanding of what’s most important to your customers and designing personalization from that point. He also mentions that consumers are inundated with emails, so that baseline should also stand out in a crowded inbox. 

  3. Find ways to automate and gain efficiency–Marketers are notoriously busy, so Jessica recommends finding automation and efficiency anywhere you can. ESPN used a CSV file connected to an API to easily update their personalized college football emails, which saved them hours of time. Use the tech you have to find those time savers, and help your team focus less on process and more on creativity. 


For more (Re)Think presentations, visit Movable Ink’s 2021 agenda for on-demand talks from some of your favorite consumer brands.

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