Free Your Mind: Email Marketing

Too often, the email channel is neglected when organizations think of “optimization.” In reality, a sound implementation of email tracking can actually become the gateway to personalizing your entire digital presence. Given the ease involved in tracking the email channel, there is an incredible amount of power in using that data to build a personalized experience for your customers. 
If one of the following is a statement you can relate to, then 2015 needs to be the year you strategically evolve your email channel to make way for personalization in 2016:
  • You send email blasts to your entire customer list with the same message regularly
  • You don’t currently have the ability to track email attribution within your digital analytics solution
  • You don’t currently track “who” clicks through from an email to your owned channel (web or mobile) and persist that for future visits
  • If you have a CRM, you don’t currently tie that together with your digital analytics and email channels
  • You have a manual process for selecting subsets of your customer base for specific offers
  • You don’t currently use email data to adjust content that your users see on your web or mobile site
  • You don’t currently collect and store the email addresses of your customers when they sign up for your email program within your analytics solution
Stratigent’s first targeted email project dates back to 2007 and since then we have helped over 200 customers generate more value from their email channel.  Our first project was focused on helping an infomercial company who also had an eCommerce presence target a portion of their customer base based upon whether or not those customers signed up for a free loyalty program during the online purchase process. In addition, vendors such as ExactTarget leveraged our partnership and analytics expertise over the years to help build a variety of integrations for their products with the analytics vendors to better enable targeted email and remarketing capabilities.
Throughout the remainder of this newsletter, I’m going to highlight some of our client experiences over the years to spur your imagination on how to better leverage your email program via the following concepts:
  • Unique ID
  • Personalized Content
  • Data Integration
  • Privacy
  • Attribution
Unique ID
Depending upon your analytics solution of choice, there are several methods for collecting and persisting a Unique ID for your customers once they have identified themselves. When it comes to email marketing, there are two ways to identify your customer when they click through from an email:
  • Email Address
  • Subscriber ID
Generally speaking, it is a best practice to use the “subscriber ID” from your email marketing platform instead of including actual email addresses in your query strings. This will allow you to create a “common key” that can be used across any of your online or offline systems and is the backbone for your email personalization program. Persisting this “common key” across all of your digital channels and tying it to the individual for the current and all subsequent visits is critical for your measurement framework.
Personalized Content
This concept can be applied to any situation where a customer provides information about themselves throughout their digital journey. From an email standpoint, you are either identifying that person when they sign up for your program or when they click through from an email as outlined in the prior section. Once you have this information, you can stitch together past visits tied to the cookie of that visitor and you will be able to use that information in all future visits; not to mention you can also use info in future visits to better build the profile of that customer.  
So, what do you do with that data? That’s the question you should be asking yourself and you don’t have to try and build a complex architecture out of the gate. Here’s my advice: start simple. Let’s say you have the ability to see that someone’s last three email interactions came through an offer in your email tied to vacations in a specific area of the world. With that knowledge, you can adjust some of the articles or other relevant content that this person (or group of people) sees to move them to the forefront and try to push that customer to conversion.
Quite frankly, the opportunities are endless; however, don’t get too caught up in trying to build the most perfect interactions. Instead, start simple and measure the effectiveness - learn, adjust, and grow your business over time instead of trying to hit a grand slam every time you’re up to bat.  
Data Integration
When you look to collect information about your customers in one channel, you have to start thinking strategically about how that could positively impact other investments. If your business involves a call center or has a CRM platform in place, there is inherent value in better arming your reps with information about someone’s digital interactions. A strong email measurement framework can be an enablement vehicle for optimized interactions in all of these situations, especially since all of the major email vendors allow you to store hundreds of “other channel” attributes about your customers in their databases.
To provide a more concrete example, let’s look at direct mail. If you are sending out mailers or catalogs to your customers, it would be extremely beneficial to know what type of message has caught the eyes of your customers in the email channel and ultimately use that knowledge to better segment your direct mail initiatives.
A marketing channel, and the investments within it, can’t be discussed these days without someone inquiring about ROI and the overall impact that channel has on the customer journey. If your money-generating conversions happen in multiple channels, then that inquiry becomes even more difficult to answer.  
As you think about Email Marketing, you need to ensure that your campaign tracking framework is solid and that you can identify the role it plays in converting your customers. By enabling the ability to track the click-throughs and persist data points to build a customer profile for each of your visitors, you are well on your way to having a dataset that you can model and analyze to generate the insights needed for improving the health of your email program.  
Taking that a step further, how you track your other investments will ultimately be beneficial for your email marketing program as well. Knowing what PPC ads people have clicked, what 3rd party ads a customer has seen, which offers a customer has used to make purchases, what amenities someone prefers in a hotel, etc. will help you build even more valuable segments for your different email templates and messages.
I would be remiss to not bring up the topic of privacy when talking about customer data and storing personal information for future use. This is one of the reasons I pointed out the best practice of using a “subscriber ID” instead of an email address for your customers. Privacy these days comes down to three things:
  1. Ensuring that you are upfront and honest about what data you are collecting and why you are collecting it
  2. Avoiding liability by collecting information in an obfuscated way such that any IDs you collect don’t immediately identify an individual without some sort of decryption and by ensuring you are not collecting things such as account numbers, credit card numbers, etc.
  3. Dancing the fine line between providing an optimized experience and creeping out your customers
The email channel is one of the easiest to integrate into your personalization initiatives provided you have strategically built a measurement framework that captures the key data points I’ve outlined throughout this newsletter. A strategic email program will ultimately better inform all other campaign investments and interactions with your customers when done right. The goal is to not try and build a complex vehicle right out of the gate; focus on starting simple and build from there as you learn.
By Bill Bruno
About the Author:

Bill Bruno is the CEO - North America, Ebiquity.

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