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Focus on Individual Consumers, Not Campaigns, in Email

By Mar 10, 2014

By Scott Olrich

Everything marketers do today is based on a model that is fundamentally broken.

Let me explain.

The conventional approach to digital marketing has focused on generating results from isolated interactions with large numbers of individuals. You execute a campaign – for instance, sending an email about tropical vacation destinations during the winter – then, track how much revenue it generates and derive your results from that information.

Historically, the more campaigns that were run, the more money that was made: If you sent out 100 emails and $10 was made, it stood to reason that with 200 emails, $20 would be made and so forth. “Batch and blast” at its finest.

The problem with this model is that it neglects to recognize that there are real human beings on the receiving end of these messages. And those individuals aren’t just receiving your emails; they’re also getting social, mobile and display messages from your organization. And if that wasn’t enough, there are dozens of companies bombarding your customers with similar messages every day. Your customers are feeling under siege.

Over time, they have built walls to protect themselves from the constant barrage of marketing messages. A non-profit Responsys works with found that sending just one additional email per week to its most engaged subscribers cut its retention rate in half—meaning that half of its best customers unsubscribed. When two additional emails per week were sent, retention went down by almost 80%. Similarly, according to WSJ, email open rates have dropped 34% since 2007, while clickthrough rates have dropped 28%.

What’s more is that as much as 80% of many digital marketers’ time is consumed with the ballooning tactical tasks required to send more and more campaigns out the door, each less effective than the last. This isn’t the kind of work marketers want to do so turnover is high—and getting increasingly so.

Unlike the past, what we’re seeing now is that as marketing volume increases, revenues decline – along with customer loyalty and employee morale. We are in the midst of a “campaign crisis.”

Yet, a recent study from Forrester Consulting (commissioned by Responsys) found that nearly 60% of marketers plan to boost funding for untargeted, campaign-centric email marketing and display advertisements in 2014.

There has to be a better way. And indeed there is.

Digital marketers need to focus on individual consumers, not campaigns.

Start by building a thorough understanding of each individual through the development of dynamic customer profiles that allow you to customize messages and be more relevant. A great example of this is online underwear company, Freshpair. The digital marketing team there has built an incredible progressive profiling strategy that allows them to segment customers based on past purchases and behaviors, not just simple demographic information (which doesn’t tell you much about whether I prefer boxers or briefs).

Next, you must choreograph customer experiences to unfold over time and tailor messages based on each customer’s behavior. For example, by individualizing email content based on rich customer profile data and then triggering messages at the right moment in that customer’s journey, Ascena Retail Group has achieved a 250% increase in revenue.

And over time, you should extend this to all your channels like email, mobile and display in an orchestrated way. Responsys recently conducted a consumer survey that found that 50% of consumers are likely to purchase from a brand when their messages are part of an orchestrated experience that unfolds over time and across channels. In fact, when marketers layer display messages with their email programs, they typically see a 70% lift in conversion rate.

The bottom line is this: Consumers now run the show — about when they shop, how they shop and what messages or content they choose to engage with. They want to rub elbows with brands, but on their terms, not yours. The marketers that realize this and adapt to the changing times will thrive, while those that don’t will continue to find themselves trapped in the campaign crisis.

Scott Olrich is president, marketing + platform for Responsys.