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Don’t Forget the Basics of Targeting in E-Mail

By Sep 14, 2010

Years of blast tactics and other undirected outbound messaging lacking relevance has made e-mail marketing a much-maligned medium. But the economic downturn has made is essential for find a way to leverage this low cost channel.

Today’s e-mail lexicon is now shaped by terms like A/B testing, multivariate testing, and rules engines, to name just a few. Gone are the days of campaign management, list operations and the more mundane aspects of the customer communication process. While these advancements are certainly needed and welcome, e-mail service providers are leaving out the most critical element of relevancy: customer-based analytics.

As service providers and their customers seek to increase relevance and clickthrough rates, they are bundling capabilities to test different calls to action, creative elements, key message points, and other components to drive response. However, while these capabilities are often used to understand the clickthrough rate of one creative against another, or even across several variables through multivariate testing, they often treat the customer base as a whole or in large segments. At best, the leading platforms offer regional differentiation or segmentation limited to a few small groups. And worse yet, these segments or groups are defined through demographics and often zip code level data.

The estimated 200 billion dollars of total direct marketing spending outside of advertising services is clear evidence that understanding a customer’s unique perspective, relationship status, and share of wallet are all critical factors in a customer’s decision to open or respond to an e-mail. Adoption of these long standing, one-to-one marketing principles are missing in many of the current leading email solutions or at best, are difficult to manage or integrate.

For clear evidence of this, look at direct mail. Too often, many firms with a rich history of running successful direct mail campaigns targeted to specific segments of their audience forget to do this differentiation in their e-mail efforts. Despite all the talk from the service providers, the widely held perception of e-mail being “cheap” seems to almost take the spirit of differentiated messaging out of the marketing department.

One of the most obvious indicators is the lack of integration between e-mail service providers and the customer information or marketing database deployed by many firms. The current landscape of e-mail services is cluttered with talk of API’s (software programming interfaces), integration ease, and cross-channel capabilities—but a deep look past the hype suggests otherwise. The entire concept of a separate marketing database is counter to the concept of differentiated customer messaging. What starts as an integration task to ‘send lists to the e-mail service provider’ quickly gets clouded if a prospect starts asking key questions like “how would I differentiate an e-mail based on any data in my marketing database?”

There are several key questions marketers must ask when they begin the process of creating an e-mail marketing program and/or contracting with an e-mail vendor.
• How are even basic statistical modeling techniques leveraged to drive relevance?
• At what level (base, group, segment, customer) can e-mail be differentiated?
• When I provide unique offers/e-mails with varied content, how do I as a marketer get a handle on the distribution of these offers across my customer base?
• What level of control do I have to integrate my assumptions and perform tests that can be driven by customer level statistical recommendations?

If relevance and results are the primary objective, ensure that the lessons of traditional one-to-one marketers are at least embedded in the solutions of the future. If not, you may find that another significant investment and transition is just around the corner.

Michael Caccavale is the CEO of Pluris Marketing.