As the challenge in digital marketing has moved on from influencing customers and prospects to actually tracking whether those messages are turning into sales, email is sitting pretty. One need only look at the deal struck between Facebook and Dunnhumby to underline how important email is — and will continue to be — in tracking customers from digital channels, such as Facebook, to the cash register in-store.
For data specialist Mark Ash, managing director at Teradata Interactive International, it marks the end of the days of email being seen as the “ugly duckling” in digital marketing and promotion to its rightful place at the epicentre of any brand’s plans.
“Email is now the linchpin to our clients as they look to identify people moving from digital marketing’s cookie to in-store purchasing,” he says.
“The Facebook and Dunnhumby deal is fascinating because it proves the point. You need to be able to identify people and link what you’ve shown or offered them online to what they did in your store. Email is at the centre of that.
“We’re now finding that clients are focussing so much more than before on getting bigger email lists of clients and prospects because they realise if the customer produces a loyalty card in-store, has an app installed on their mobile or accepts a receipt being emailed to them, they can find out a lot more about each customer and track the customer journey in far more depth.”
For Ash, it was always a mystery why email became what he calls “the ugly duckling” and is “only just again starting to be recognised for the vitally important medium it truly is.” A medium that relies on consent from customers or prospects and gives permission to talk to them directly to build a relationship surely has to be more valuable than a banner, he has always reasoned.
“I’ve been dumbfounded why everyone goes so mad for banners yet email never seems to be added as part of a media plan. I can only assume it’s been talked down because agencies can’t monetise it as easily as media campaigns but if you’ve been given permission to talk to a customer or prospect, I can’t think of any better medium. When you think it also allows you to identify a person cross-channel, then it’s hard to think of it as anything other than a vital linchpin.”
Own The Relationship
Ash’s main advice is that while a lot of clients are considering using social ID, i.e. a Facebook account, to identify a person on digital and then into a store, as offered by the Dunnhumby tie-in, brands just might want to go their own way.
“We’re impartial in this because we’re not an agency or a publisher but I’d typically advise that someone needs to think about owning the relationship,” he says. “It can appear easier to do this via a social-media giant but it surely has to be better for a brand to own the relationship with the customer directly rather than get their ID through Facebook, interesting though the Dunnhumby deal is.
“If you own the relationship you can do so much more and never have to pay Facebook for the privilege. That’s why we’re finding our clients are pushing hard to get bigger lists direct. There can sometimes be problems with “data-decay” buying lists and using any third-party data. You have to think about what you can offer in return for the address, but we’ve found people are very willing to give it to you.”
For a retailer, this relationship can then mean a person is identified when they produce a loyalty card in-store or agree to receive an e-receipt to their corresponding email address. There is also work in progress to allow brands and retailers to recognise customers through their mobile phone via iBeacons, if they have downloaded their app.
It is all “early days” for cross-channel marketing but taking prospects' email addresses and dropping cookies on them so you close the loop between digital marketing and in-store behaviour cements email’s position in bridging digital and the cash register. Anyone, such as Ash, who has always thought of the channel as vital can finally feel vindicated.