Email Marketing Insights
May 16, 2013 | Kara Trivunovic
Here's an article I wrote for MediaPost:
For decades, the evolution of email as a viable and proven marketing channel has been, in large part, directed by the self-regulation of its use by advocates and experts. While trying to use best practices to minimize abuse and maximize effectiveness, we have relied on the successful practices used by others (for others) to drive the program decisions we make on a daily basis. Does this mean we are smart -- or have we just gotten lazy?
As a parent, I recognized from day 1 that everyone has an opinion about how to care for my children (and discipline them, and dress them and cut their hair -- ugh). Thankfully, I also recognized that I can choose to internalize the advice (or not) and apply it, alter it accordingly or disregard it completely – based on my unique situation. And that's exactly the same frame of mind all email marketers should take with the advice they receive about their programs. For every “best practice” statement that is out there, another exists to demonstrate just how inaccurate that statistic is. In fact, best practices became more commonplace, all inbox messages started to look and sound the same.
As easy as it would make things, there are no hard and fast rules about what is going to work for your email programs, your customers and your marketing goals and objectives. In articles like this, authors can share with you what we have seen work with our clients or our programs anecdotally. Still, there are other factors unique to each business that contribute to the success or failure of individual programs.
So, in addition to assessing your cadence, frequency, subject line and everything else you have to think about before you get your email out the door, I would also suggest you fully assess the advice and direction of best practices and experts to determine their fit with your organization. To help you get started, I customized an advice analysis framework from a popular parenting author.
1. Check out the credentials of the person or persons giving the advice or information. It’s important to understand the stance, experience and background of those you deem experts, and align their expertise with yours. Having a firm knowledge of their background and experiences can help you better evaluate their advice. Just because someone claims to be an expert, guru or chief consultant doesn’t mean they are.
2. Look for the underlying reason or issue that this information or advice represents. Everyone’s situation is a little different. Understanding the context of the advice or direction being shared is critical for determining if you are on the same or similar paths or in a different Zip code. You need to understand how the advisor got to the solution, and what the circumstances were that got her there. Only then can you make the call on whether her advice aligns with your current stage.
3. Place the suggestions in the context of child development (er, email marketing sophistication). While we all aspire to be the best email marketers we can be, it’s tough to go from zero to 60 in under three seconds if you're on a 10-speed bike. The reality of where you are on the sophistication continuum has little to do with how widely recognized your brand is, or how many subscribers you have – but instead, with how aligned you are with your data to make your programs more sophisticated. So while we love to talk about achieving relevance in a one-to-one capacity with our subscribers and customers, that goal isn’t necessarily achievable. Considering the evolution of your advisors’ programs and how they got there – in comparison to your program evolution – can really help to put it all in context.
4. Evaluate the advice through the lens of your value system. All the advice you receive needs to be put into the context of the relationship you have with your customers and subscribers. In the end, email marketing is a relationship channel and is perceived as a one-to-one conversation between a brand and an individual. The strength of that relationship will dictate what you can and cannot say and how you should act in the confines of that conversation.
You know what they say: Mom knows best (Dad does, too!)
Posted by: Kara Trivunovic at 12:15 AM
May 10, 2013 | Jason Klein
Spammy, irrelevant and otherwise unwanted emails have been winding up in the trash since the invention of the channel; however, it's only been recently that trash cans have been able to complete the cycle by sending emails on their own.
A recent article by Ubergizmo highlights the $7,000 high-tech, solar-powered, self-compacting rubbish bins that cities are installing to reduce trash collecting costs. How do they do it? Compacting the trash is one factor, but more important its ability to use email to tell the city when it needs to be emptied. Now, instead of trucks continually prowling the cities empty cans of varying fullness, they can only service the ones who need it./
The ability of trash cans to send relevant messages raises the bar for email marketers to make sure they are doing one better by using the data they have to ensure that their messages are wanted and valued – and not headed to the junk or trash folder for immediate disposal.
Posted by: Jason Klein at 10:05 AM
Categories: Industry News
April 29, 2013 | Kara Trivunovic
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
April 19, 2013 | Jai Williams
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
April 04, 2013 | Kara Trivunovic
Here's an article I wrote for MediaPost:
March Madness is in full swing for all those college basketball fans out there. I know this because I think my husband may be the biggest Indiana Hoosiers fan I have ever known (and according to him, they are going to slaughter Syracuse). Of course I've spent many a night with ESPN and their bracketology assessments running in the background -- and have heard more Charles Barkley-isms than a girl can handle. So what do I do to cope? I turn it into email marketing fodder. So friends, welcome to Email Testing Brackets!
Let's get your office's competitive juices flowing -- they all think they know email better than you do any way, right? Give them a chance to prove it. Below, I have provided a pretty standard list of testing elements that you can bracket out to a winner. Clearly there are rules -- there always are.
1. Test one objective in your program at a time. While there is certainly an appetite for multivariate testing (especially among email marketers), for the purposes of our brackets, we are going to need to keep it pretty simple. You can have multiple brackets going simultaneously, as long as the audiences for these tests are distinct and have no overlap.
2. Hold out a control group. For the brackets, we will be testing a variety of progressing elements against one another, but in order to truly determine the incremental impact on the messaging, it is helpful to hold out a control group. This provides a blank canvas for assessment in determining if a customer would have likely taken the action (or not), and the influence the message had on the decision to act.
3. Make it statistically viable. A test is not a test if it is not statistically viable. If I have a sample set of five people out of a pool of 500,000, and three behave in a distinct way, does that indicate that the other 499,995 people are most likely to respond similarly? Nope.
Here is a bracket for you to use for your office. You will need to provide each participant with:
- A goal/objective for the test (e.g., our goal is to increase conversion)
- The 16 testing elements that you plan to leverage (e.g., blue button, green button, button with large font, button with small font, etc.)
- A motivation to be crowned the office Email Genius
Here are some tests that you can consider:
- CALL TO ACTION:
Test the actual verbiage, button treatment and color of the call-to-action. You may find that what you "think" your customers respond to is not the actual reality. That's why we test, right?
It's true that the creative of an email program drives only about 20% of the probability a customer will convert (relevance in audience, offer and channel has a much bigger impact), but it is still the most visible component of your email program. Many, I am sure, have opinions about what should be featured and how it should look; let's give them the chance to prove their theories.
- NUMBER OF OFFERS:
Many brands these days have departments fighting internally over email real estate. I'm sure many of you defend your email templates daily to maintain their integrity. So test them out.
- BUILDING YOUR BRACKETS
Now that you have your tests, you just need to build your brackets. Here's what you are going to do:
First, define the goal, and then align your tactics into two "divisions" for your brackets. Using my example above, on the left side you might choose to test CTA verbiage, and on the right, CTA button treatment -- all with the goal of determining which has the most impact.
Next, determine the eight elements for each division and start building your brackets to a winner!
Go on, get your bracket on!
(AND GO IU!)
Posted by: Kara Trivunovic at 12:15 AM
April 01, 2013 | Kara Trivunovic
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
March 26, 2013 | Kara Trivunovic
Here's an article I wrote for ClickZ:
As a practitioner in the email marketing space, my being truly impressed with an email experience doesn't really happen that often. After all, a brand doing what it "should" is an expectation that I have - because I know they can. But I had a unique experience with a brand recently that I thought would be extremely valuable to share with all of you. You may not deem this an "advanced" email marketing tactic (yet), but the reality is that…well, it is.
Your customers have come to expect and rely upon the email communications they get from you. It is something of a lifeline, or a direct connection between them and your brand. But too often, that direct connection is cut short by marketers in an attempt to simplify their own lives. What am I talking about here? You guessed it: the dreaded "do not reply."
As marketers, we have become complacent with telling our customers to not respond to us. It goes something like this: marketer sends email, invokes a question or a need to engage by the customer, customer hits reply, automated message comes back that says the inbox is not monitored and to not reply. Come on! Is that really the message we want to send customers who we are trying to drive to engage with us?
Recently, I ordered replacement contacts from 1-800 Contacts. I needed to get them quickly and just went through the quick process of reordering since I had done so previously. Hours later, I was thumbing through my email and saw my confirmation message in my inbox (to be clear, it didn't take the company that long to send it, it took me that long to look at it), and it jumped right off the page at me! The shipping address was wrong (we recently moved and I didn't update it on the account). It was my own stupidity and haste.
My first inclination - even though I know better - was to hit reply to the purchase confirmation and beg them to correct the address. I did so, knowing it would be in total vain - but I figured I would try it anyway. Much to my surprise…Kari responded. And she fixed my address, corrected my order, and confirmed my delivery date - all within 15 minutes of my sending the initial message. I was floored.
I'm more convinced than ever that more of us should take a page from the 1-800 Contacts playbook. The advice here is to be more open to receiving feedback and replies from your customers via all of your email touches.
You can really create a smile on the face of a customer and get some seriously great feedback and insights from customers with this simple approach. Yes, it will require having someone (or a team) actively managing your reply address, but if the result is better customer service and loyalty, I would argue it's likely worth the cost. In the end, they have given your email the attention that you requested, and you owe them the same attention to their response - in whatever form they choose to provide it.
Posted by: Kara Trivunovic at 12:15 AM
March 21, 2013 | Kara Trivunovic
Here's an article I wrote for MediaPost:
So it may be a little clichéd, but with March and shorts weather finally upon us, it is definitely time to hit the gym and a diet (for me, at least, it's my annual routine). This led me to spend some time last night re-familiarizing myself with the Weight Watchers PointsPlus system. I figured that by counting points for every ounce of ice cream (uhhhh, fruits and veggies) I put in my mouth, this act should somehow curb my bad behavior.
If counting points works for modifying bad eating behavior, what could it do for email? In order to find out, I am assigning points to email tactics that marketers use every day.
Email marketers get 30 points a month. Engaging in activities you know you shouldn't – but you just can't stop yourself from (like my coconut chocolate-chip ice cream addiction) – will earn you extra points. (Can you believe just a ½ cup of said ice cream is 9 points?!). Track your points this month and tell us how you do.
1 point every time you touch a subscriber with an email marketing or promotional message. This does not include transactional or account maintenance touches (for example, lost password, etc.). If you touch each customer with one marketing message a day, you will quickly reach your points capacity. If you are more selective in segmenting and targeting, you will consume your points on a much slower pace. By exercising some restraint (in the form of systematic targeting and logical offer segmentation), you can create a more relevant experience for your subscribers, which should be the goal in the long run.
3 points every time you send an email that goes full-file. Sending messages to your entire subscriber base is not something that should be done every time you have a message to send, but it is a periodic necessity. Announcements that affect all of your customers, like product launches or mass customer service notifications, are all communication moments that often require a full-file send. However, if you look at your business systematically, you will likely identify clear and simple lines of demarcation that will allow you to communicate more succinctly with a smaller subset of your subscriber base.
5 points for sending a message that doesn't render well on a mobile device. Your email is mobile. Like it or not, a very high percent of your open activity is happening on a mobile device. But if your customers are not able to engage with you then and there, chances are they will delete the message and your opportunity will be lost. So every time you hit the "send" button, make sure your subscribers are receiving an email that will rendering properly -- wherever they may be reading it.
10 points for sending messages with errors in them. Take your pick. Mistakes happen, I know. Just when I think I have seen it all, I am reminded how deep that rabbit hole can go. Incorrect personalization (thanks for the birthday wish in October, but my birthday is actually in May! And by the way, my name isn't Steve -- go figure), broken links, incorrect Subject lines, test language, place holder copy, take your pick. But what's done is done once you hit that send button – so be sure to QA really closely.
Good behavior doesn't go unnoticed. For example, every time I work out, I give myself some activity points. They are extra points so I can eat that pizza on Friday with the kids. And you too should get a reprieve when you are extra good. So, if you demonstrate any of the following activities, you can create a slush fund of points to be used in that month to offset the "questionable" moments in your email program.
1 credit for leveraging data to make your email more relevant. You have a wealth of information at your fingertips about your subscribers, so use it. It can be as simple as using email engagement metrics to further fine-tune the content or cadence of messaging with a subset of your subscribers. You don't have to make it overly complicated – just be smart about how and where you draw the lines.
5 credits for leveraging lifecycle communications to achieve relevant timing. They say that timing is everything. Your email program is no different. There are messages that a brand can send to me that are extremely important to me at a given moment in time -- but if you miss that window, the opportunity to grab my attention may be gone as well. We live in a world that requires immediate gratification, and being able to deliver that with your email program requires some very smart and tight data integration. You deserve credit for that!
Vacation time is drawing near, which means the countdown to lose my hibernation weight is officially on. The art of tracking points has helped me to make decisions about what I eat each day. Maybe it can help you decide if it is really worth it sending an email to a customer who, in the end, may not really care. Happy points-counting. Let me know how it goes!
Posted by: Kara Trivunovic at 9:22 AM
March 12, 2013 | Justin Williams
Here's an article I wrote for ClickZ:
As marketers progress rapidly toward the analytics 2.0 horizon brought on by the ability to collect and store more data, one phrase has echoed through my mind: "It's time to get mature about data."
The opportunities and problems brought on by "big data" are nothing new for marketers. We've always had to deal with information on who our customers are and what they do. Ever since we've realized that "half our advertising dollars are wasted," we've been driven to better understand how exactly our marketing spend influences behavior.
And for the past 20 years or so, we've done alright. We've built systems that track bounces, opens, clicks, unsubscribes, and complaints. We've connected that with on-site behavior to understand conversions. We've linked customer data back to the email to drive dynamic personalization. Well done.
But have we begun to understand statistically how our campaigns that don't drive conversions influence behavior? Do we know which factors out of that set of customer data are better to target when personalizing? And, for these two questions and hundreds more, can we justify our answers using data and analysis?
I'm guessing that for many of us, the answer is no.
Time to grow up.
As the realm of measurement moves out of the purely technical and shares importance with the marketing side of the house, are we in marketing prepared to use this awesome capability that we're about to gain?
Here are five things you can do to create a data maturity growth spurt:
1. Ditch the single channel mentality. Email affects behavior, but so do other channels. Recently, a major company's marketing department presented the revenue generated by each digital channel to their financial leaders. When they summed all the channels, they showed $200 million generated, which made the CFO laugh, since the company had only generated $120 million.
Research the methods and new tools available that make it possible to more accurately attribute revenue and understand better how channels influence behavior.
2. Get better metrics. The fundamentals remain important, but other methods of analysis will provide deeper insights into your performance.
For example, consider building cohort analysis into your reporting practice. You'll get a better idea of how customers gained through different marketing mixes perform over a certain period of time, possibly identifying key insights in lifetime value that could not be had attributing value from the most recent purchase only.
3. Understand the stats. Statistical analysis that used to be seen only in the world of insurance and finance are now being leveraged by marketing departments to better understand big data.
It's unrealistic for most marketers to reach the same level of proficiency that these Masters and Ph.D-level quants have. But that doesn't mean a marketer can't learn enough to understand what methods are being used and how to interpret the results. Learn to speak the language of the quants; be able to ask intelligent questions that a quant can work with; and be able to understand the relevance and limitations of the results she presents.
4. Look outside to find success. Research other companies that are using data and new analytical approaches to understand their successes and failures. Attend conferences, ask colleagues, and read plenty. Identify key takeaways for your business, tools you should consider, pitfalls to avoid, and results to expect.
5. Use it. This principle is as true as it ever was: all of this maturity is worth nothing if you don't use it to test new things and improve.
"The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read." - Mark Twain
Grow up, and join the marketers who are always striving for the next level of data maturity.
Posted by: Justin Williams at 12:15 AM
March 07, 2013 | Kara Trivunovic
Here's an article I wrote for ClickZ:
There is an ongoing debate among email marketers that is focused around the recipients you should either include or exclude from your mailing. There are basically two schools of thought:
1. Get to a 1:1 state
2. Send away
Oddly enough, both have some merit, and are likely the correct answer to a very specific situation within your mailing portfolio, but as a broad stroke approach either could fail on its own. Let's dig into the pros and cons of these very real scenarios.
Email marketing is a very data-driven discipline, and unlike its first cousin (direct mail), marketers are not constrained by cost if you send email to subscribers who don't necessarily meet very specific criteria. The need for targeting and segmentation in direct mail wasn't born out of marketers wanting to do the right thing by not sending offers to consumers who may not be interested; it was a cost-saving measure to generate the highest return on the investment given the skyrocketing costs of printing and postage at that time. This challenge of cost for deployment doesn't exist in email.
Regardless of the cost restraints, or lack thereof, it has been cited and reported time and time again that targeted, relevant email outperforms the shotgun approach. I firmly believe that this is true and have seen it proven thousands of times over the course of many years, but I also believe this to be a tactic that marketers apply situationally.
Pro: Sending a message that is properly targeted - getting the right message to the right person at the right time typically generates higher engagement rates.
Con: Sending a message that is highly targeted minimizes the reach of the offer, therefore potentially minimizing incremental conversion.
A common and simple approach is looking at engagement. If a customer hasn't opened or clicked a message in three months, then she is suppressed from further mailings. This shouldn't strike anyone as an odd marketing practice. But let's look at a real-life example of how this could backfire.
As an online provider of downloadable content (books, magazines, etc.), you send an email to your subscribers announcing the availability of a new book. The book and the fact that it is available are featured in the subject line. A recipient sees this message come through on a smartphone, which triggers her to launch your app and purchase the book. She didn't open the email, she didn't engage in anyway, yet it was the email that triggered her to take action. As she develops and repeats this behavior, the metrics would indicate that she is not email engaged. Do you suppress?
You need to ask yourself some real questions here and dig a little deeper to determine this. Look at the behavior of those who are not engaging with your email to see if a correlation exists between email deployment and conversion. If you see no conversion behavior, in addition to the lack of email engagement, then suppressing them (or better yet, trying to reengage them) may be a better way to go. It isn't as black and white as to say, just suppress them. You could be doing yourself a great disservice.
Keeping in this same theme, you continually send email to your entire subscriber base that features all of the topical content available on your site. This means that you are sending content about "fishing" to those who are more interested in "fashion" and vice versa. Over the course of time, your subscribers become numb to your email because it only rarely includes content that they are interested in, ultimately resulting in list attrition. Do you segment?
Let's face it: depending on your business, not everyone is fit to receive all of your content, nor should they be. The reason companies evolve in lines of business is because the value proposition often appeals to different segments. So you should be doing some baseline segmentation, especially if you are seeing attrition rates that are concerning. The goal should be to provide a relevant experience for your customers - at every touch point, not just email.
Again, in this same theme, you have done a significant amount of segmentation and cluster analysis on your database. You find that you have very distinct personas that evolved based on past purchase behavior, so you arm yourself with this data and create highly targeted messages to these groups that only feature content in the categories you have determined. Are you over-targeting?
It is possible to over-target your marketing message, which leaves an entire audience of potential conversions out in the cold. While you may see that customers are purchasing from very specific categories, it doesn't hurt to expand your reach a little to see if there is interest in complementary categories. For example, I may only purchase fashion content, but I could also be interested in cooking content as well. Be systematic and decisive about how you target; don't make the audience too small, as you may be missing out on potential customers. However, you have to use caution when casting a wide net as well, or you may turn some subscribers off.
There are no right or wrong answers to any of these scenarios, except that you actually need to consider all of these possibilities when determining who is going to get your email communications.