How Email Stacks Up: A Q&A With Toluna's Janice Caston

Toluna has what you might call a double-sided view of email. On one side, it conducts research about what consumers think about products, serving large CPG brands, and it uses email for that. On the other, it deploys email on its own business side. As for its service offering, its solution can be integrated with clients’ tech stacks.

To gain perspective on what’s working in email, MediaPost spoke with Janice Caston, VP of global marketing of Toluna. 

Caston: Marketers are still using email, but it’s a bit more intelligent even than a year ago.

What we’ve seen is smarter targeting of individuals: marketers using technology to make sure they’re speaking to the right population based on where they are in the customer life cycle instead of sending a blanket newsletter. The reporting with most platforms is so rich that marketers in general are benefiting from that to make better decisions.



MP: How does Toluna utilize email? 

Caston: With surveys, we want to keep the consumer engaged, so we’ll vary our approach. We will send a survey, and next there might be a data snippet.

The goal is not to have a relationship that’s solely based on email — we always want to bring to bring the consumer back to our website or our app, and have them engage with the platform. And we want to make sure we’re sending an email with a specific objective. It’s all about making sure that all touchpoints are optimized to provide a great experience. 

MP: So email is only one part of the media mix. 

Capson: We’ve always realized that email is a one-way communication, whereas a website is two-dimensional. We’ve always used email to drive engagement instead of just pushing communications. Most emails are received on mobile device, and you can click to a browser and apps very easily. 

MP: Why do some consumers dislike email?

Caston: Email was getting a bad rap because emails were being sent that were non-targeted and were not actionable. You’re never going to have a high level of engagement with blanket sending of a newsletter — you get that by sending to smaller groups, with more variants.

For example, Target batches materials for me on a weekly basis. I’m sure there are other options — some might get it daily. My average open rate was probably weekly.

MP: Can timing of emails be personalized?

Caston: Yes, we aim to do so with our panelists. The rule of thumb for consumers was mailing on weekends when they had time to read, and for businesses from Tuesday through Thursday, and maybe a little on Friday. Those rules no longer apply, and they differ by business. For some survey respondents, we typically will email at night.

MP: What are people doing wrong?

Caston: If they’re not adopting a platform that allows for segmentation and are sending blanket email. Also, if they don’t take personalization into account based on how the consumer engages with the brand. You never want to get an email that says “Dear customer” if you’re not a customer. 

MP: Who’s doing it well?

Caston: Big brands are getting smart about it — Amazon, Target. In B2B, you see them needing a little bit of improvement.  

MP: Is it difficult dealing with Gmail and the other inbox services?

Caston: If consumers don’t engage over time, Gmail and others will put you in non-deliverable email — not bouncing email, just typically a clutter folder or some other gated folder.

There’s a little secret here — when people are ordering from Amazon and opening confirmations, that improves the deliverability of Amazon’s messages. If you’re not engaging people, that’s when you’re mostly likely to go to clutter.

MP: Is the GDPR having an impact? 

Caston: Most businesses that rely on customer data — like ours — are aware of and compliant with data protection practices. For many businesses, it does have a material impact.

Companies have to adapt a different view of the customer database. The idea of having a database for ten years that is very deep and has information that is not really relevant or too personal — that’s gone.

MP: What’s next for the email channel?

Caston: We’ll start to see refinement of email in all categories. We’ll see brands use more advanced technologies — we will see better segmentation and profiling, universes of one. And it will be automated based on ad-smart criteria.

We’ll also see more personalization throughout the body of the email. AI can assist here — you can use it in some cases even to craft email content or text that is seeming to come from an individual but based on the customer profile. 

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