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E-mail Marketing Becomes More Customer Oriented

By Mar 01, 2009

E-mail marketing has become more customer oriented, with sophisticated trigger-based approaches replacing the old batch-and-blast. How did it happen? Let’s review past and present e-mail strategies and see where the future may lead us.

BEGINNINGS

In the early 2000s e-mail emerged as a way to reach large numbers of customers efficiently and cost-effectively. E-mail engines were set up to send simple content to large lists. Campaigns were evaluated using simple metrics like open and click rates and conversions.

These days marketers demand far more intricate measurements of customer engagement and interactivity. The e-mail department’s key performance indicator used to be how many eyeballs a weekly blast reached. Now the focus is on the percentage of the marketer’s online base that the program manages to convert.

Analytics of the past centered on deliverability, file size and permissions, with the primary goal to deliver as much content to as many people as quickly as possible. Today life-cycle-oriented triggers such as click recency, Web-site activity and time-to-engage metrics are the standard.

Shopping-cart abandonment “remarketing” e-mails have become a favorite among e-commerce retailers. What better data exists to suggest an item to a prospect at the exact time he or she may be considering a purchase?

The segments marketers use to target content also have evolved. Where at one time the opt-in status of particular products or campaigns ruled contact strategy and frequency, marketers now rely on stated or inferred profiles to determine campaign treatments.

In turn, the data tied to e-mail programs has moved beyond open/click activity to include measures of customer value and demographics. More advanced techniques like data overlays, link/URL classification and recency of engagement metrics are being used to target campaigns. These tried-and-true direct marketing fundamentals make a life-cycle approach possible.

PURCHASE LIFE CYCLE

Marketers developing e-mail programs must consider the purchase life cycle and how it relates to e-mail engagement. For example, an auto manufacturer should evaluate activities taken along the path to a vehicle purchase (viewing a Web site, downloading a brochure, visiting a dealership, taking a test drive) as long-standing predictors of e-mail engagement. Similarly, a financial institution could look to account activity and deposit triggers to understand what services (investments, insurance, mortgages) it should offer as the relationship develops.

CONTENT TIPS

Let’s not forget content. Sure, it’s easy to recommend any number of custom-targeted, personal campaigns, but developing all that original material isn’t easy. Fortunately, there are a few tricks that can help:

  • Think targeting rather than content

    Informed targeting carries marketers a long way toward content development and can drive more than 50% of the lift in campaign response.

  • Take advantage of the content options an e-mail channel offers

    Match the content most likely to be clicked with the subscribers most likely to respond by rearranging the right message “above the fold” — i.e., the portion of a page that appears in a browser window before the user needs to scroll.

  • Recycle “evergreens.”

    E-mail campaign managers often overlook a lot of potentially enduring Web-site content. Take advantage of this strong copy in welcome campaigns and win-back strategies.

TESTING AND BEYOND

An e-mail program can benefit greatly from testing. A/B split testing traditionally has been an effective way to identify winning subject lines or campaign copy. It works like this: The marketer selects a random set of perhaps 10,000 subscribers on its file and sends two separate subject lines and content offerings. After waiting 24 hours to measure initial response, the winner is rolled out.

While this simple test should be done for every e-mail campaign, newer testing techniques are far more rigorous. Enhanced methods like multivariate testing are nothing new to direct marketing but are just gaining momentum in e-mail. Multivariate testing establishes several statistical scenarios that vary content combinations to measure the impact of any one variable in the test as well as the interactions between variables.

Another way to advance e-mail marketing success is by establishing an executive-sponsored “center of excellence.” E-mail requires specific skills and approaches, and a devoted team can deliver key intelligence across any number of a company’s divisions or brands. Top-level sponsorship is essential for securing investment in the resources, training, and thought leadership required to make the channel flourish.


KEVIN MABLEY (kmabley@epsilon.com) is Epsilon’s senior vice president for strategic services.