Hard Wired: How Brands Are Using Data To Power Email Engagement

Want to generate opens, click-throughs -- and sales? Send personalized emails and follow some longstanding direct marketing rules. Those were among the points presented by Roger Barnette, CEO of MessageGears, in a Webinar for the Data & Marketing Association last Friday: “How Brands Are Using Data to Drive Better Email Engagement and Higher ROI.”

This is a “a particularly challenging topic for enterprise email marketers with larger data sets and perhaps more stringent privacy concerns,” Barnette said. Customers should feel like “the brand is doing you a favor, as opposed to feeling like you’re being pitched.”

But that’s not easy to achieve, judging by a study done by Ascend2 for MessageGears. When asked to list their email marketing goals, 54% said the most important one was to improve email personalization.

Barnette was not surprised by this. He noted that improving customer retention (cited by 46%) and increasing the engagement rate (41%) were secondary and tertiary goals, but added that “if you improve your email personalization, you’re going to have better retention and increased engagement.

Here are the most effective email personalization tactics: 

Behavior triggered emails — Cited by 44%, these are emails based on a particular trigger or event. “The customer is actually waiting for the email and will open it to make sure that their item was shipped, or that their credit card went through,” Barnette said. They include welcome emails, order confirmations, flight updates, unsubscribe confirmations and loyalty updates. But here’s a reminder: If marketers fail to see this as an opportunity to sell product, they’re “wasting one of their most engaged moments with the customer,” Barnette said. “Now the opportunity should be relevant. It should be free shipping on the items in the cart that was abandoned, or for a life status update, a car rental opportunity.”

Individualized Email Messaging — This is deemed effective by 42%. Barnette commented that “Behavior triggered emails are reactive to an event, and extremely timely, individualized emails, while personalized, are more proactively sent by a brand. For example, Orbitz might send flight suggestions based on likely destinations that a customer has flown to with them in the past. 1-800 Contacts will send offers based on the specific lens prescriptions if they’ve filled out a form.

Email List Segmentation — Audience segmentation, in which you drill down to send more relevant email, is celebrated by 41%. What does it consist of? Let’s say you’re selling fishing products. If it’s late February, your offer is going to depend on the location. “If you’re in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan, you’re going to be fishing on ice, but in South Florida you’re going to be in shorts and out in the ocean,” Barnette said. “So just targeting user based on fishing will not get the job done.” The content will be “wildly broad.”

Responsive email design — Listed by 40%, this is a “fundamental strategy that sits underneath of the types of emails we just described,” Barnette said. He noted that 56% of emails opened are opened on mobile devices, and that 80% of users say that if email is not pleasant to look at on their mobile device, they’re “going to delete it — outright. So all the hard work that went into getting your data and targeting your message is gone.”

Self-Managed preference center — Barnette stated that this should be obvious, but “too many brands don’t have self-managed preference centers.” How true: Only 35% described this as an effective tactic. But a study by Email Monks found that 46% of the respondents when they get too many emails. It’s the main reason by far – the second is that the email looks like spam, but that was cited by only 17%. 

Localized Content — This especially important for global brands. The Localization Industry Standards Association (jokingly referred to by Barnette as LISA) reported that “for every dollar you spend on localized content, you get $25 back,” Barnette noted. And localization is about culture as much as it is language. “If you’re selling chips in the U.S., people think you’re selling potato chips,” Barnette said. “In England, they think you’re selling French fries. “Potato chips are called crisps there.”

Engagement Data — This is “first-party data, data that you have, on a property you own,” Barnette observed. He urged listeners to “understand the browsing behaviors of customers on your site, the types of products they're interested in buying, and the types of things you can infer based on what they've searched for on your Web site.” It’s especially powerful when you tie into the data in your CRM — for example, where they live and what they’re interested in purchasing. You can make an offer in your brick-and-mortar location.

OK -- we have studied the major choices, but the lesson isn't over. Barnette went on to describe core tenets of a data-driven email strategy:

Be consistent across all channels — Some brands put content on Web sites that’s different from what they send in emails. Why? Because the channels teams don’t work together. When they do, it makes everyone's job easier, Barnette said.

Test and Learn — “It sounds kind of trite,” Barnette said. “But it is a fundamental part of your DNA, especially in a data-driven environment. There are so many variables to test. Thomas Edison said, “I haven't failed 700 times, I've succeeded in learning 700 ways this won't work.”

Follow the Rules  Barnette reported that “too many firms run afoul of the rules.” And he advised marketers to observe the appropriate rules for email deliverability, to follow can spam, to not buy lists and to “make sure you are doing what you need to do to get into the consumer's inbox.” You may not be doing anything nefarious, but if you're not careful about following deliverability rules, you might get blocked anyway,” he warned.

Make Peace with IT — “You need access to data and IT owns the data,” Barnette said. At the most successful brands, IT and marketing work hand-in-hand, and “sometimes they sit on same floor in same room,” Barnette continued. They have the same goals, and are accountable for their joint progress, he added.

Before class is dismissed, here are a couple of other stats from the MessageGears survey, starting with the biggest barriers to email marketing success:

  • Enrich contact data quality – 50%
  • Improving email personalization – 44%
  • Increase engagement rate—41%
  • Reducing marketing costs—39%

Now here’s the most valuable data for achieving ROI, from a survey by MessageGears and the Relevancy Group:

  • Demographic – 28%
  • Customer Sat Survey – 25%
  • Customer LTV – 25%
  • Customer Spending – 23%
  • Purchase Behavior – 22%

Thanks, Roger. Despite the challenges, you make it all sound achievable. 

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