Views Vary On Executing Customer-First Email

"We are no longer an email team, but a push team," says Brent Christensen Overstock director of database marketing, during the opening panel at MediaPost’s Email Insider Summit in Captiva, Fl.

Christensen underscored the importance of the message and execution over the specific channel, as part of the summit’s overarching “customer-first” theme.

Visa director of performance marketing Manali Gupta and Virgin Holidays CRM executive Charlotte Pink joined him. While they agreed with the theme, they also represented three different categories developing cross-channel approaches to email messaging.

Visa's "highly manual" process increases its relevancy by incorporating partner data — merchants, issuers, and customers — along with Visa's internal information, says Gupta. She adds this is shifting Visa’s role from driving that transaction to enhancing the experience instance.

Visa may also deliver information about possible restaurants the traveler can visit while in the city, weather conditions and currency exchange information, she suggests.

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Data is also critical to understanding the customer mind-set at the time of purchase. The panelists diverged over how they gather this information.

For example, Overstock’s Christensen noted the company is testing several different models as it evolves from an in-house automation system.

Virgin Holidays, by contrast, has partnered with Adobe, among others, to grow its network.

Visa is “taking baby steps” as it adjusts to the best model that currently collects data from its various sources and then manually partners with internal teams.

Ultimately, data's attribution enables brands to measure inputs to better inform customer profiles.

For example, some customers use abandoned carts as a placeholder, while others use it as an expression of their transaction, like their unhappiness about shipping fees. And then there are those that now realize they can receive additional discounts from brands if they leave things in their carts, which Overstock's Christensen jokes is why his company refuses to offer abandoned cart coupons. "We offer discounts for nearly everything else," he says.

Still, it is challenging to shift the perception that email is often the channel of last resort when sales are lagging, say panelists. Virgin Holidays' Pink jokes that when tourism is down in the Caribbean, members of her team will ask her to spam everyone with sales messages.

Pink will send targeted messages to those that have previously expressed interest in the region, but mass emails are not — and have never been — an effective strategy, she notes.

This reality is why it is important to educate the entire business about email-marketing strategies. Both Visa and Virgin Holidays host internal road shows to help people in different departments to understand why they are directly tied to the end product. “It is still a work in progress,” says Gupta.

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