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Custom Email Marketing Reports: A Huge Step Toward Better Results

Here's an article I wrote for ClickZ:

The challenge for email marketers has always been to send the most effective message at the most effective time to the right group of people.

For most of the past two decades, the limiting factor in this optimization was technology. It was simply too difficult to create content, segment lists, send messages at key times, and report on the numerous variations that resulted. The tools have, of course, progressed over that time, but the marketer's vision exceeded the tool's capability - until about four years ago.

That's changing. Today's leading email service providers allow more personalization and reporting capabilities than an email marketing team could possibly exhaust.

For example, most leading email service providers (ESPs) have a method of sending triggered emails based on lifecycle events on an ongoing basis that can accommodate thousands if not tens of thousands of content variations.

Traditional email marketing teams and reporting methods cannot handle this level of complexity - and they shouldn't try to. Eighty percent of the benefit to be gained from such personalization can be achieved with 20 percent of the effort.

So, the challenge for today's email marketer is not how much can my software handle, but rather how much can my team handle and what efforts will result in the maximum return?

In other words, I believe email marketers know what types of changes will drive better performance, but they don't know which segments to focus on and apply those changes to.

The answer to that question comes (in part) from the skilled application of custom reporting. Knowing where to apply your efforts requires you to know where the opportunities lie.

I believe that email marketers have been able to get away with generic, high-level reporting for a long time for a few reasons:

  1. The set of things that can be directly measured from an email are limited: delivery, opens, clicks, complaints, unsubscribes, and forwards. These interactions are easily measured, so it's easy to focus on them.
  2. Email performs better in return on investment (ROI) terms when compared to other channels. This could be because an email is usually given full attribution of any conversion it generates, or it could be because emails actually perform better - it's tough to tell for sure. Because it performs better, however, email marketers haven't traditionally been challenged to create better reports.
  3. Email marketers don't have the skills to report at a more detailed level, historically due to the limitations mentioned above. As a result, the custom report simply wouldn't get made, or the email marketer would rely on a separate team (business intelligence, analytics) to manage the process.

The problem with traditional reports is that it is difficult - if not impossible - to identify opportunities with a report that has only email metrics, is based on single sends, or templates and is unsegmented.

Here is an extremely simple framework to build and use a custom report that will help identify opportunities in your current programs:

1. Identify the Question to Be Answered
What additional information would help you identify a specific segment that is being underserved or a trend that is hidden in the aggregate? Would it help to know how previous purchasers respond compared to those who have not purchased yet? How about whether the people that joined in December were more likely to convert from email than those who joined in January?

Traditional email marketing reports fail to be helpful, I believe, because they don't answer any specific question.

One thing to remember: Your experience with your company will help guide you to a question that helps, but you may not get something valuable the first time. That's fine. Keep trying until you do find something interesting.

2. Build a Report That Answers the Question or a Similar Question
Be quick. Leverage the new reporting capabilities available to you. Learn how to use them.

If you can't answer the question you're asking because you don't have the skill level, find someone who does, or increase your skill. As an email marketer, you'll need to be able to use these kinds of reports regularly.

If you can't answer the questions because of the technology, answer a similar question. For example, say you're question is "Do men convert more often than women leading up to Valentine's Day?" but you don't have access to conversion data. Instead, find out which segment has more clicks, and use that as a substitute, albeit a poor one (it's better than nothing). Also, follow up and find out what needs to happen to get conversion data.

3. Implement a Change, Test It, and Iterate
Don't just report. Once you've identified an opportunity, act on it. Create a test to show whether the change improves performance.

Don't let history, mindset, and lack of skills prevent your team from finding those hidden email marketing wins. Start building custom reports that answer better questions and drive results.

The challenge for email marketers has always been to send the most effective message at the most effective time to the right group of people.

For most of the past two decades, the limiting factor in this optimization was technology. It was simply too difficult to create content, segment lists, send messages at key times, and report on the numerous variations that resulted. The tools have, of course, progressed over that time, but the marketer's vision exceeded the tool's capability - until about four years ago.

That's changing. Today's leading email service providers allow more personalization and reporting capabilities than an email marketing team could possibly exhaust.

For example, most leading email service providers (ESPs) have a method of sending triggered emails based on lifecycle events on an ongoing basis that can accommodate thousands if not tens of thousands of content variations.

Traditional email marketing teams and reporting methods cannot handle this level of complexity - and they shouldn't try to. Eighty percent of the benefit to be gained from such personalization can be achieved with 20 percent of the effort.

So, the challenge for today's email marketer is not how much can my software handle, but rather how much can my team handle and what efforts will result in the maximum return?

In other words, I believe email marketers know what types of changes will drive better performance, but they don't know which segments to focus on and apply those changes to.

The answer to that question comes (in part) from the skilled application of custom reporting. Knowing where to apply your efforts requires you to know where the opportunities lie.

I believe that email marketers have been able to get away with generic, high-level reporting for a long time for a few reasons:
The set of things that can be directly measured from an email are limited: delivery, opens, clicks, complaints, unsubscribes, and forwards. These interactions are easily measured, so it's easy to focus on them.
Email performs better in return on investment (ROI) terms when compared to other channels. This could be because an email is usually given full attribution of any conversion it generates, or it could be because emails actually perform better - it's tough to tell for sure. Because it performs better, however, email marketers haven't traditionally been challenged to create better reports.
Email marketers don't have the skills to report at a more detailed level, historically due to the limitations mentioned above. As a result, the custom report simply wouldn't get made, or the email marketer would rely on a separate team (business intelligence, analytics) to manage the process.
The problem with traditional reports is that it is difficult - if not impossible - to identify opportunities with a report that has only email metrics, is based on single sends, or templates and is unsegmented.
 
Here is an extremely simple framework to build and use a custom report that will help identify opportunities in your current programs:
 
1. Identify the Question to Be Answered
What additional information would help you identify a specific segment that is being underserved or a trend that is hidden in the aggregate? Would it help to know how previous purchasers respond compared to those who have not purchased yet? How about whether the people that joined in December were more likely to convert from email than those who joined in January?
 
Traditional email marketing reports fail to be helpful, I believe, because they don't answer any specific question.
 
One thing to remember: Your experience with your company will help guide you to a question that helps, but you may not get something valuable the first time. That's fine. Keep trying until you do find something interesting.
 
2. Build a Report That Answers the Question or a Similar Question
Be quick. Leverage the new reporting capabilities available to you. Learn how to use them.
 
If you can't answer the question you're asking because you don't have the skill level, find someone who does, or increase your skill. As an email marketer, you'll need to be able to use these kinds of reports regularly.
 
If you can't answer the questions because of the technology, answer a similar question. For example, say you're question is "Do men convert more often than women leading up to Valentine's Day?" but you don't have access to conversion data. Instead, find out which segment has more clicks, and use that as a substitute, albeit a poor one (it's better than nothing). Also, follow up and find out what needs to happen to get conversion data.
 
3. Implement a Change, Test It, and Iterate
Don't just report. Once you've identified an opportunity, act on it. Create a test to show whether the change improves performance.
 
Don't let history, mindset, and lack of skills prevent your team from finding those hidden email marketing wins. Start building custom reports that answer better questions and drive results.

Posted by: Justin Williams at 12:00 AM
Categories: email, email marketing reports, results

100 Years of Email Marketing Success with These 2 Timeless Tips

Here's an article I wrote for ClickZ:

‘Tis the season of marketing predictions. Now that 2013 is over, what will 2014 bring? Next year, once 2014 has passed, the question will become: what will 2015 bring?

While I respect the importance of looking ahead and thinking about what's next - and the natural tendency to do so around January 1st every year - too many marketers are still missing the strategies that are core to effective campaigns. These strategies will make email marketing effective not just in 2014, but for the imaginable future. Here are the two most important evergreen strategies that will stand the test of time.

1. Make Your Messages as Relevant as Possible

The more a message triggers the motivations a customer has at any moment, the more likely that customer is to take action. This was true when the first billboard was rented in 1867, it's true now, and it will be true in 2114.

Relevance means understanding:

  • Customer history
  • Customer profile information (age, geographic location, etc.)
  • Current customer needs
  • Current world context (weather, stock prices, etc.)

Being relevant means leveraging all of that information intelligently to present your goods or services and communicate how can they help that person in his or her specific situation at the moment.

Advances in technology allow us to be more relevant, but they don't force us to be. Marketers must still focus on driving relevance for new tools, channels or approaches to have any meaning.

Note: This doesn't necessarily mean you should make your email marketing messages as personalized as possible. It's possible to make your emails too personalized. For example, an email that says, "Hey, we noticed you came into the store or Oak Ave, looked at those 38 in waist dark wash jeans, then decided against them. Would a $5 coupon change your mind?" is much too personal, almost creepy.

Put another way, compare the two following scenarios:

Scenario A: Your significant other gives you a book for Christmas that you've had your eye on. He says, "I thought you might like this."

Scenario B: Your significant other gives you a book for Christmas that you've had your eye on. He says, "I went on your phone's browsing history and noticed you look at this book four different times over the past month. I thought you might like this."

No matter how desirable the result (the book), the presentation matters. Scenario B is too personalized.

2. Know Where to Reach Your Customers

In the 1950s, Brownie Wise was responsible for marketing a product to family women who, at the time, were primarily responsible for the home. Rather than simply placing the product in another shelf at another store, Wise knew that her customers' opinions were largely formed in the very homes they managed. So she came up with a new strategy, one that was largely responsible for the growth and long-term success of her company-Tupperware.

It's not enough to have relevant messages. A marketer must know which channels are the most influential for their customers. This was true in 1950, and it will be true in 2150.

These days, it seems like every year brings a new potential "channel" for marketers to leverage-Snapchat, Pinterest, Instagram, etc. Many marketers are attracted to the sheer newness of each new channel, throwing messaging in as quickly as possible. But it's not the newness that matters. What matters is your customers' use of the channel.

It's not the oldness that matters, either. With each new channel, a slurry of proclamations herald the death of this or that "old" channel. Email marketers are fond of poking fun at all those who have repeatedly proclaimed email as dead, but are we equally contemptuous when someone suggests that radio advertising or direct mail are dead?

While the percentage of total marketing spend has decreased in those channels, they remain. Why? Because, for some customers, that's still the place where they make up their minds. (A client recently revealed that their catalog sales are still their number one source of revenue. If you worked with this company, would you try to convince them not to mail catalogs, just because it's "old"?)

So enjoy the reviews of 2013. Enjoy the predictions of 2014. But then get back to the task of sending relevant messaging in the channels where your customers are influenced most.

Posted by: Justin Williams at 11:27 AM
Categories: email marketing, tips, email marketing success

Seeing Green: Get More From Your Emails This Holiday Season

Here's an article I wrote for MediaPost:

Want more out of your email marketing programs this holiday season?  As we are in full swing, there are a number of low-hanging-fruit opportunities to increase ROI of your email initiatives. We can also use the end-of-year holidays to envision opportunities for your next big campaign.  So let’s get down to it. Here are some advanced approaches to holiday email marketing:
 
Home in on the buyer’s contextual state. Consumers are not all alike. Working parents may shop before work and from their devices – which is an opportunity to adjust the time of day the email is sent, while keeping these individuals engaged with mobile optimized messages.  Then there are last-minute shoppers who are more likely to need inventory status and reminders of what specials are still running (e.g., when free shipping ends, if they can get free gift wrapping in store on Christmas Eve).  Similarly, you may have a group of early birds who purchased this year well before Black Friday. These individuals may be more receptive to additional holiday messaging before the rest of your audience – which is a great insight for your next big holiday campaign. Target those who purchased early this year with more messages, earlier on.  In short, knowing your buyer’s contextual state presents a unique opportunity to message differently – and to get that extra hit of revenue from your holiday email marketing efforts.
 
Use engagement to drive the campaign experience.  Whether it’s email opens, web pages visited or purchases made in the store, use the customer’s interactions to modify her campaign experience as it progresses. This will require you to develop a handful of campaign paths that address key actions or milestones.  Some tactics can still happen in 2013. For instance, if your customer made a purchase during a “today only sale,” send another “today only sale” email later that same week to that individual.  Other tactics will need more planning – such as Radio Shack’s approach to change the email creative at the moment someone opens the email, so the consumer is always aware of the most current deal or inventory status.  Dynamically rendering content at the moment of open could be an interesting test to execute, and continue to drive sales after the holidays.
 
Use mobile marketing to connect with the consumer during key moments of consideration. David Baker’s recent Email Insider, “Holiday Weekend First View,” reports that 68% of smartphone owners will use their devices to shop this season. Knowing that your customers are connected with their mobile devices, here are some ways you can target them via applications, SMS and mobile-optimized email to support the consumer buying cycle:

  • Special deals for social media check-ins
  • Detailed product information when someone scans a SKU from your mobile app
  • Real-time shipping status via text message
  • Geo-targeted deals while in-store
  • Email receipts during in-store check out
  • Post-purchase feedback and other suggested products via mobile app

While many of these tactics will require planning beyond 2013, consider using knowledge about consumers’ mobile usage to better capitalize on important buyer moments and enhance their shopping experience.
 
As we march toward the end of 2013, I wish you many profitable approaches to holiday email marketing!

Posted by: Amanda Hinkle at 12:00 AM
Categories: email, email marketing, holiday emails

What Do Marketers and Acxiom’s Aboutthedata.com Have in Common? Big Data Growing Pains.

Acxiom Corporation, a kingpin of the consumer database marketing industry, caused quite a stir this past month with their launch of AboutTheData.com.  The website lets consumers view (and correct or suppress) some of the profile information that Acxiom collects and sells about them. Acxiom’s objective in launching this service appears to be two-fold:  first, to act proactively in the face of proposed legislation by the Federal Trade Commission that would require data brokers like Acxiom to give consumers access to information collected about them. Second, to provide an avenue for consumers to correct inaccuracies or holes in their records, thereby increasing the value of this data to marketers who purchase from Acxiom.   

So far the site's beta launch has been plagued with technical issues.  Many visitors have been unable to log in or have found significant inaccuracies in their profile data. According to Scott Howe, Acxiom’s CEO, these challenges stem from the fact that the company’s consumer profiles are generated by gathering and integrating data from a number of disparate sources.  Further complicating matters, some customers were unable to view their full profiles due to connection failures between Aboutthedata.com and the disparate sources that the website pulls consumer data points from (a technical complication that was likened to dealing with a clogged water pipe).   

The fields of big data, analytics, decision sciences and the technologies supporting them are costly, complicated and new – the kinks are still getting worked out. Acxiom’s launch of AboutTheData.com has shone the media spotlight on the technical big data challenges that marketers have been dealing with for a while now.

For example, it’s common across industries for customer data to reside in disparate, disconnected sources, often resulting in data that contains duplicate and/or inaccurate information. Enterprises have invested millions of dollars in building enterprise data warehouses and implementing CRM and marketing automation systems. Despite massive investments and promises of integrated, real-time cross-channel marketing campaigns, industry analysts concede that marketers have largely been unable to progress beyond single-channel solutions.  This is due in part to inadequate technologies that make marketers dependent on IT resources and technical staff to gain access to the data and extract the insights hidden within - which can be a slow and cumbersome process, as anyone who has used such systems knows.  By the time marketers get the desired customer data from IT, it’s likely that the opportunity to execute timely customer engagements based on those interest, trend or life event insights will have already passed.

So is big data really the key to the holy grail of modern marketing – the ability to engage customers based on a real-time understanding of their individual interests and needs? The short answer is yes. One main reason is that big data offers marketers access to a new and dynamic source of customer data: customer interactions (think web searches, email opens, Facebook likes, etc.).  Customer interactions can be used to enhance static profile data consisting mostly of demographic attributes to create a more state-aware profile of the customer.  However, this requires profile and interaction data to be brought together, reconciled and analyzed.  Which again brings us to the same sort of “clogged water pipe” technical challenges that AboutTheData.com has been facing. 

So what are today’s marketers to do? How can they keep up with customers who are constantly connected, channel agnostic, demand instant gratification and have ever-increasing expectations from their favorite companies? (Other than continue to shoot arrows in the dark and hope that some of them find their target).

Stay tuned to find out.  In my next post, I'll share the attributes of an effective analytics platform that marketers can use to overcome these shortcomings and get closer than ever to that holy grail of real-time marketing. 

Posted by: Syed Mahmood at 2:14 PM
Categories: Big_Data Data_Analytics Industry_News Digital_Marketing, real-time marketing, real time, right-time email marketing

Three Real-Time Email Marketing Mistakes To Avoid

Here's an article I wrote for MediaPost:

As one of the biggest topics of discussion in 2013, real-time marketing has been given several definitions -- among them providing “dynamic personalized content across channels” to “developing quick response to mainstream event" to "offer[ing] management,” according to a recent DMA and Neolane survey.
 
Regardless of which definition of real-time marketing is adopted, many marketers are still struggling to determine how or where to get started.  Understanding that this strategy should be leveraged across all channels and media, email is one channel in which marketers can begin deploying real-time marketing messages. Here are three tactics to avoid:
 
1)    Assuming Real-Time is the Right Time.  There are times when some real-time responses can be extremely creepy and may cause privacy concerns.  Consider the man who just bought a new suit and immediately receives an offer for new shoes and a belt.  Even though the offer is relevant to his purchase, it’s too soon to try to convert him again.  Tactics like this can raise customer concern over how much and what types of personal data brands are capturing and leveraging in their real-time email marketing campaigns.
 
On the other hand, reactive, real-time marketing is extremely effective when a customer needs immediate service or information.  Consumers who engage with a brand directly are seeking assistance and expect real-time responses.  In such situations, it is vitally important to respond in real-time to provide a higher level of service to improve the consumer experience.
 
2)    Failing to Integrate Real-Time Responses with Existing Lifecycle Messaging. It's very important to balance real-time messaging against any automated or customer lifecycle messaging that is currently in place.  Failure to do so may cause confusion and demonstrate an obvious disconnect.  Marketers need to design a balance of reactive vs. proactive messaging at specific points in the customer lifecycle to support and influence the next step in the customer journey. For example, if you have a current email win-back campaign in place to reach out to customers who haven't engaged within the past six months, you will want to make sure you have controls in place to suppress the program should a purchase be registered via any channel. If your win-back program is only keying off email or single channel data, you may find yourself trying to win back a customer who you already won back.
 
3)    Not Using the Contextual Data You Have. Data availability and latency are two of the biggest challenges to harnessing real-time marketing.   However, at a minimum, marketers still have basic customer, Web and purchase information that could and should be leveraged.  Consider the customer who just bought a new light fixture for her bathroom at a local store and then subsequently receives a promotional campaign with an offer on lighting.  This happens because the store didn't recognize her latest purchase to either suppress the promotional message completely, or send content with cross-sell opportunities to accessorize the customer's most recent purchase.   In this scenario, the store could have known that this subscriber was a customer, not prospect, that she was interested in home improvement, and that she has a preference to purchase in a specific store and location.  By leveraging this contextual data, marketers can determine the next best message and inform content versioning to drive this customer back to her preferred purchase channel, which is her local store.
 
Context is Key to Real-Time Marketing
Real-time marketing has become synonymous with generating new creative content very quickly, based on the context of a customer situation to ensure relevance.
 
What are you doing today to capitalize on the consumers' context to meet their demand of relevance with real-time marketing?

Posted by: Katrina Conn at 8:51 AM
Categories: real time, email marketing mistakes, email

Are Your Emails Easy to Act On?

Here's an article I wrote for ClickZ:

Let's face it: sometimes we find our brand to be way cooler than it actually is in the mind of most customers.

Marketers who think too much about their brand - and not enough about what their brand offers - can easily find themselves caught in the trap of creating messaging that is heavy on the "aren't we great?" and light on the "here's how I can help you."

I believe the best way to build loyalty with a customer is to help her do what she wants to do in the fastest, friendliest, easiest, and least expensive way. Does your marketing do this, or does it focus on how cool the new line is, how great the most recent offer is, or how smart you as a company are?

The announcement of Gmail's inbox actions should remind us that our customers come to us to get something done - the easier, the better. Faced with a technology like Gmail's, how would you shrink your marketing message down to just a few options?

Rather than promoting a 20 percent-off coupon, the brand new product you just released, and your free shipping offer (along with your header and other frills), why not simply promote the 20 percent coupon? Subject line: 20% Off Now Through Friday. Button: Shop Now.
You can use a similar approach for an abandoned cart program. Subject line: We Noticed You Left Something in Your Cart. Button: Return to Your Cart.

With this approach, the body of these emails can still have your standard branding to make your brand recognizable, but it should keep the focus entirely on the main point of the email. No extra promotions, no site navigation. Just the main call-to-action.

You won't be able to do this with all your messaging. You'll still need to educate with some emails, offer a variety of products with other emails, and build your brand. But for those messages where you want your customers to do just one thing, make it as easy as possible for them to do it.

Step out of your marketing shoes for a moment and think about what it's like for a consumer to shop at a store. At one store, when you're ready to check out, you have to stand in line and wait for a cashier to be available. At another store, clerks walk around with mobile devices that allow you to check out wherever you are in the store. No need to wait. Product offering being similar, which store would you frequent more? We have the opportunity to provide a similar convenience and build better loyalty by making our messaging easier to take action on, just as the second store above makes it easier to check out.

Some messages you send will be ones that convince the customer to come to you. Some may be telling the customer about new things you have to offer. But a lot of marketing messages are just trying to get repeat business. A customer who sees a coupon or offer on a specific product is going to make a very quick decision whether or not to take advantage of it. Making it easier to redeem the offer is going to be more effective at driving conversion and building loyalty than wonderful creative or presenting other offers. Make it easy for your customers, and they'll reward you with loyalty.

Posted by: Justin Williams at 12:15 AM
Categories: email, email marketing

Cross-Channel Marketing Video Tip #5: Use Mobile to Get New Subscribers

How can SMS be used to increase your email subscribers. View this latest entry in StrongView's Top Tips video series to find out. 

 

Posted by: Jason Klein at 2:58 PM
Categories: email marketing, mobile

Email Subject Lines...Say What?

Here's an article I wrote for ClickZ:

Subject lines have been an email marketing topic of conversation for more than a decade, yet we still don't seem to have it figured out. In speaking with marketers, the actual act of composing a subject line is often one of the last elements considered and sometimes even just "slapped" on by the email manager as it goes out the door (confessed to me in confidence by a brand…but a secret is a secret). I imagine this is true at a number of brands - you just don't know it or don't want to admit it.

Consequently, it's an effective subject line that initiates an interaction with your recipients and should receive its due. So today we are taking advanced email marketing practices back to basics, providing some insights into elements we should all consider about the subject lines of the messages we send.

1. Write your subject line first. Like writing a good story or thesis, you need to have a clear and succinct objective. Your point needs to be clearly stated, and when it comes to your email program, the subject line serves as this statement. Too often, ample time is spent on the creative and copy that is contained within the email itself, leaving the subject line largely overlooked. Your subject line is critical to driving engagement and ultimately setting the appropriate expectations for your customer.

2. Why say it in five words, when you can say it in 55? You can find all kinds of advice around the proper length of a subject line. It's anecdotal at best and should be leveraged by brands as a rule of thumb - not a definitive guide. Realistically, if you don't follow rule one, then this is really moot. If you have nothing important or inspirational to say, it matters little how many actual characters you use to express that nothingness.

There are things to consider as it pertains to subject line length though. The number of characters that render in different email clients, on varying smartphones and tablets does limit the insight into the message. So do make sure that you are conveying the most critical information at the front end of your subject line. If you are testing percent off or dollar off offers, consider placing it at the front end of the subject line to best ensure it is going to render for most (if not all) of your recipients.

3. Say what you mean. Be direct in what you are asking the customer to do - tell her what you want her to do. Leverage some sense of action verbiage to drive the engagement you are looking for. If there is time sensitivity - tell her. If she is getting a great deal - share it. Whatever you do, make sure you mean it.

I spoke with a consumer once who acted on a "Last Chance" email because she didn't want to miss out. Two days later (after she converted), she got another "Last Chance" email from the same brand with the same offer. Needless to say, she felt duped. If it really is the last chance, make it so.

4. Carry the voice of your brand. Companies and brands all have different personalities and different voices. If you have a racy or fun brand, be sure to carry that voice and character through in your subject lines. It is typically that demeanor that the customer resonates with, so there is little reason to hide it inside the message. But be sure you are true to that voice.

5. Don't stop at the subject line. This is why starting with the subject line is important - it is where the conversation starts. It introduces the main idea of your email, and you need to make sure you provide the supporting content when the message is opened. Your subject line makes a promise to your recipient of what can be found inside. If there is a disconnect between the subject and the actual content, you may see great "open rates," but you may also find that the recipient doesn't follow through with the desired behavior. Be sure to deliver on that promise from start to finish.

6. Test your subject lines in real time. Subject lines are an element that work really well at a moment in time. Depending on what each recipient may have going on when they see that email will determine whether it resonates or not - right then and there. What works for a single consumer today may not tomorrow. So developing a methodological approach to composing a subject line may not be effective in the long run.

This all may seem something of common sense to you, but it is a critical piece of your email program and its success. I am finding that many marketers are squarely focused on how to innovate the channel, loop in video, optimize at the point of open, and on and on - but we are losing sight of the basics. I still only see 36 characters on my iPhone when I am triaging my email, and if those characters are - "Today Only. In Stores Only - Try Bea" your point may be missed because 1) I am busy today, 2) I have no intention of leaving my house for an in-store only offer, and 3) I don't even know what I am to be trying. Message deleted. Opportunity lost.

Posted by: Kara Trivunovic at 11:09 AM
Categories: email, email marketing, subject lines

3 Steps to Build Customer Relationships

Here's an article I wrote for Multichannel Merchant:

As brand marketers place more time and effort into making their email marketing communications more effective, the importance of getting as close as possible to a 1:1 connection with consumers becomes readily apparent. The key to establishing what I like to refer to as a “real” connection with your consumer goes beyond indiscriminately dropping your consumer lists into existing marketing campaigns.

In order for connections with consumer audiences to be effective, these connections have to be viewed as relationships.  These relationships have to be nurtured and constantly developed over a period of time.  The best way to establish a strong relationship with consumers is through a brand’s lifecycle messaging.  Lifecycle messaging at its core is more digestible when broken up into a phased approach, knowing that over the course of a member’s journey with your brand your members and brand advocates go through varying life stages.  In this piece, we dive into how exactly to get there – appropriately.

The one critical moment that a brand has to establish or create a lasting impression, develop a strong brand identity, and create awareness about their brand with the consumer starts at the very beginning: with the first message.  That first message should in fact be the Welcome message.  This is a phase that I aptly refer to as the courtship.  Using email as one of the most intimate touch points of customer interaction, let’s outline some steps in cultivating a successful welcome experience.

Step 1 – Identify the Challenge
Maybe your email marketing program has a welcome message.  Maybe it doesn’t.  In the event your program does in fact include a welcome program, examine just how effective it is.  Does that program only consist of one message before then folding your program’s recipients into the remainder of your marketing messages?

Step 2 – Create a Solution
When developing your welcome program, be sure consider the following advice:

ü  Treat Your Welcome Program as an Onboarding Process

Retailers that don’t make the assumption that their audience knows everything about their brand and offerings tend to have better performing welcome programs.

ü  Develop a Series of Messages

Create a culture of learning by developing a series of messages that specifically caters to new customers. A series of succinct messaging can be very powerful in reinforcing a brand’s unique value proposition.  It can also help establish and educate those members of the audience who will ultimately grow to become loyalists or brand advocates.

ü  Seize the Opportunity to Reinforce Your Branding

A welcome message is an excellent way to emphasize your product offerings and cross-promote your family of brands.  When a member signs up for your loyalty rewards program or requests additional information, take the extra step to ensure that the overall messaging reflects where the recipient likely discovered your brand.  A hotel chain could easily accomplish this by adding its property’s brand logo in a prominent area of the message.  By doing this, you’re not just welcoming the member to your loyalty program – you’re reinforcing and cross-promoting visibility of a property that is familiar to the recipient.  As a retailer, this is easily done by incorporating your family of brand logos in the messaging, keeping in mind the varying or tiered price-point offerings,  e.g. Banana Republic, The Gap and Old Navy (all within one family of brands, offering like quality products).

Step 3 – Acknowledge the Results
Understand and treat your metrics from these types of communications with the same level of weight and importance as you would with any other messages in your marketing program’s portfolio.  Scrutinize and proactively test those items that correlate to your program’s performance and deliverability.  Proactively think of ways that your team can ultimately promote cross-channel marketing for new members based on your retail brand’s visibility in different channels.

As stated at the beginning, the beauty of the courtship lies within the nurturing of the consumer relationship with your retail brand.  By going the extra mile and making an effort in positioning and proactively exposing your brand’s unique value proposition, you open the door to not only creating a great experience for your new member audience – you create a lasting impression by cultivating a culture of learning and a strong brand identity.  It’s a win-win.  Doing some or all of these things will take the level of your programs up a notch and also create new advocates who will be invaluable in extending your brand to new audiences.

Posted by: Jai Williams at 12:15 AM
Categories: email, email marketing, customer relationships

Three Big Data Strategies for Email Marketing

Here's an article I wrote for Figaro Digital:

Big Data. It’s a hot topic and it’s being debated by direct and email marketers alike. Some argue that the concept has been around for years (they aren’t wrong). Others have concerns about big data providing marketers with the mechanisms to flub their results. (They aren’t wrong either). Still others believe it is the solution that drives a more one-to-one experience between the marketer and the customers (and it could).

The big data discussion is becoming a very real business initiative for companies across multiple verticals. This leaves email marketers concerned about the implications this discussion will have on their channel. What will you do with the few quintillion bytes of data generated every day? It’s a good thing email is a dynamic and flexible channel, but that doesn’t mean email marketers must scramble to adapt to this unprecedented paradigm of lots and lots of data today. Do the increasing volume, velocity and variety of data spell doom for seasoned email marketing practices? Not really.

Leveraging data is nothing new – it’s core to the practice of marketing. What the big data initiative means for email marketers is access to the data they have wanted for years but haven’t been able to get their hands on. But be careful to not overthink it. The goal is to be smarter marketers, providing a more relevant and meaningful experience to the subscriber. Don’t lose sight of the fundamentals of email marketing; rather, enhance your capabilities with a newfound wealth of information.

Targeted, meaningful interactions

It is the data, not the intuition, that makes marketing programmes successful. Being relevant is something we have discussed as an industry since its inception. We prefer not to batch and blast; instead, we strive to create unique and optimal engagements with the customer to drive desirable behaviours. And it is the ability to leverage data in order to make informed decisions and drive relevant offers that helps to achieve that reality.

According to the 40/40/20 rule of email marketing: 40 per cent of a programme’s success is determined by getting the right message to the right person (data); 40 per cent of the success is delivering the message at the right time (data, again). The remaining 20 per cent is how it is delivered. The creative element associated with the message – and determining the right creative envelope can also be born out of, yep, you guessed it, data. It is important to keep your focus on turning the dials that are most impactful first. After all, with all this data at your fingertips, it wouldn’t be unusual to find yourself diving down a variety of data-mining rabbit holes.

Start by leveraging the insights you gain to determine what the right message is for your audience. Years back I worked for a loyalty agency, and we always started with the ‘who.’ Understanding an audience or a segment is the first necessary step in determining an offer. If you don’t know who you are trying to appeal to, how can you ever be relevant? Once you have the audience, start looking at historic behaviour. Past offer performance will help determine what to offer (or better yet, what offers to test) to the defined audience. Next, you need to determine the proper timing of the offer. (Is it seasonal? Is there a product or buying cycle to consider?) Finally, but just as important, is identifying creative for delivering this carefully crafted message. Don’t be afraid to step out of the box and have a little fun with it.

Find the offers that drive ROI

Email marketers have been running tests, comparing results and measuring lift and incremental behaviour since before email marketing was a channel. This is a practice which direct mailers really perfected – largely because of the increasing costs to print and mail offers, but whatever the reason it drove significant relevance. With the flexibility of email, these tests are easier and more effective (and leveraged less often) than before. Get back on the testing bandwagon – strive to be a more relevant marketer. The more data consumers generate, the more relevant they expect you to be; don’t lose sight of the importance just because it is cost-effective to send email.

You need to get your testing methodology defined and implemented with the data you have access to today because as more data becomes available (and your ability to analyse it speeds up) you will need to be in the practice of testing as an organisational culture. You should also start looking more closely at your metrics for success. Be prepared to move beyond conversions to bigger concepts like ROI and lifetime value.

Keep striving for greater gains

We’ve come a long way from the days when marketers could say “I waste half my advertising dollars, I just don’t know which half.” Advances in cross-channel tracking and reporting enable email marketers to build detailed reports for follow-up. Still, most of these reports have been limited: either in detail or timescale. For example, a detailed report is given about a specific mailing or programme, but only aggregate-level data is available over a quarter or entire year. This has long been a reality of data storage limitations associated with system performance, and that is one big challenge which the big data effort is addressing. The ability to store, process and analyse mounds of information is making many reporting geeks extremely happy.

What’s exciting for marketers is the promise of a data structure that can store and make available highly detailed information on what emails/campaigns/ promotions users have received, how they’ve responded to those and how that behaviour has changed over a year or longer. How will personas and strategies change when such detailed data over such a long period is available so quickly?

So, the principles of marketing will remain unchanged as big data becomes reality. Data, and how it’s used, remains core to a marketer’s strategy.

One thing may change: analysis. As the sets of data become larger, methods of analysis beyond the experience of most marketers become necessary. I’m talking about statistical modeling and predictive analytics - the types of things quantitative analysts do for a living. Some larger organisations, in parallel with tech changes to accommodate big data, have created teams of quants to service different business units (including marketing) with this type of analysis. Marketers must learn to speak the language and ask the right questions of these people as they become a part of the marketing process.

If you’re experienced in the ways of marketing, big data shouldn’t be something that keeps you up at night with anxiety. Although you may lose sleep thinking about all the opportunities it provides for creating more relevant and effective programmes.

Posted by: Kara Trivunovic at 12:18 AM
Categories: email, email marketing, data, big data, strategies