What's Next When Email Doesn't Work

A hundred emails are sent, and 95-98 of them get delivered.  30-40 are actually seen, 10-15 of those on a mobile device.  5-15 of those that received it will click through and if you are lucky, 1-2 will buy something.   This process, repeated weekly over a year, can add up to a lot of effort to reach less than half your audience.  Do you know what your aggregate reach is for this email audience?   If so, what are you doing with the other half that just don’t engage, or engage infrequently?

Is behavioral retargeting the answer? Over the years, there’s been many cases of 10X performance to traditional targeted advertising, even with the increased 2x-3x cost. 

You may ask why everyone isn’t doing this today. It seems logical, when you send 100 emails and only 1-2 buy something.  Why not retarget the other 38 who are on another website, or even simply retarget those with intent – those who have clicked through?  



Taking this a step further, you have companies that specialize in delivering inventory within publisher emails, so in practice you can retarget your customer with your ad in someone else’s email.   

It would seem this is a perfect world.  We can maximize intent, timing and context all driven from outbound email, and ending with a conversion.

What about the other 50% whom you can’t reach or the 70% to 80% that doesn’t buy from you through email?  

Here are some of the gaps in CRM thinking when it comes to retargeting:

1.   You don’t do cross-attribution.  Since you only know last-click, single-channel (email) conversion, you really have no measuring stick to substantiate trying this outside of a pilot or special promotion.

2.   You struggle with real time.   Email marketing operates in a static campaign world, and to make retargeting work perpetually in scale, you need to optimize the targeting criteria and performance very fast.

3.  Media and email teams just don’t mix.    They operate differently, they measure differently, and they spend differently. 

So what does a CRM person do when half her audience doesn’t engage through her most cost-effective channel? 

1.   Send them a direct-mail piece?   Sure, if you have the budget, time and brand engagement.  But again, expect 1% response at best, and you’ve only fractionally solved your problem.

2.  Wait for them to visit your site, and then maximize conversion?  “Wait” and “marketing” are two terms that just don’t seem to get along.  This will solve another few percentage points points, for which you will likely not get credit (unless within your attribution window).

3.  Facebook and Twitter must be the answer?  Good luck trying to convert with conventional tactics through social channels!

4.  SMS must be the answer.  Sure, if more than 5% of your database have mobile addresses and have them permissioned. Yet 160 characters doesn’t have the creative flair we love.

Imagine if you could use that audience (email addresses) of known people who have registered on your site, and you could reach them at the individual level on Facebook, on a TV cable network, or any third-party media network/site?   Imagine if you could do this programmatically (which means economically) for all non-responders or non-converters, and do it episodically as your campaigns run?   That would get your blood pumping again, wouldn’t it? 

Operationalizing customer engagement cross-channel is here, it’s now, it’s real-time. We have to  reach out past our email programs and campaigns and think of ways or driving value to our business in a coordinated manner.  Take your pals that run media for your company to lunch and start with, “How can I target these customers in another channel?” Get them excited about what a valuable asset you have (an email database) and begin exploring how to make cross-channel work for you.    I bet your perspective on  messaging, cadence and email deliverability will change drastically.    Think fast, act faster!

5 comments about "What's Next When Email Doesn't Work".
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  1. Serena Ehrlich from Business Wire, April 15, 2013 at 7:12 p.m.

    Of course, I love the mention of SMS - but brands today can easily use MMS - full text + multimedia to engage with fans. And the fact customers opt-in helps brands build a a mobile database of super fans. A great fit for such an action-oriented device. -Serena

  2. Bob Sacco from Travel Ad Network/Travora Media, April 16, 2013 at 11:04 a.m.

    Interesting article David. Though, I'd like to add that I like your premise, it does not play all the way out.

    Your premise is that you are working with your own 1st party data (your customer email address plus any other data you have collected). The problem is that you abandon any privacy concerns when you make the jump to leveraging your (private customer 1st party data) into 3rd party channels (Facebook, Cable TV network or any 3rd party media network site). Bingo, you've just sold out your customer's privacy.

    David, not only is this not best practice it is not necessary today because we have better tools. Let me make a suggestion for a solution.

    Instead of selling out your customer to 3rd parties, why don't you employ predictive marketing analytics to your existing 1st party customer data. This would allow you to score your customers, fill in the blanks about them and identify which customers are most likely to buy from you in the next 7 days and/or which customers are your "whale shoppers." If you take this approach, your "re-targeting" efforts will convert at a much higher rate and lift your ROI. You will be sending the right messages to the right customers and in effect double-down on what's working when you apply your A-B testing. Currently, there are predictive marketing analytic companies that offer simple -to-use and very inexpensive pay-as-you-go tools to achieve this solution. This is a better path when starting from a CRM 1st party data perspective.

  3. Dave Hendricks from LiveIntent, April 16, 2013 at 12:45 p.m.

    @Bob - not sure I totally agree with you here. A/B testing and optimization of the kind you advocate is pretty old-fashioned by now. It worked really well, but now it is more expensive than all the other parts. And it doesn't learn fast enough.

    "sending" is THE PROBLEM. You can employ all the pre-send hocus-pocus you want. But if they don't open, it doesn't matter. People have tried timing, increasing frequency, and now are using silly 'emoji' to get people's attention.

    Retargeting using customer data is neither 'selling out' your customer, nor is it an invasion of privacy anymore than showing ads to users on your own properties. What it is, however, is effective.

    Predictive analytics is now available in real time, at the time of open. It's much more effective and cost efficient than trying to cut a segment, create creative, and send to that segment.

    LiveIntent does this with our Predict engine. We decide what offer gets shown to the email opener when they open, not when the email was sent. This way, no more badly geo targeted offers. No more expired offers. And you can do this is your own newsletters, or across our exchange of thousands of newsletters.

    It's time for real time, not old time marketing.

  4. Bob Sacco from Travel Ad Network/Travora Media, April 16, 2013 at 1:07 p.m.

    Is this editorial an ad for LiveIntent?

  5. Dave Hendricks from LiveIntent, April 16, 2013 at 1:46 p.m.

    @bob - no, i wish it was! If it was, it wouldn't have buried the interesting part so far down.

    What David is referring to is probably Facebook Custom Audiences...and what if you could do that in email. Well, as it turns out, LiveIntent can do that sort of thing. So I took his idea and tied it to what we LiveIntent is doing.

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