Content is interesting, but data will be king in email marketing

By Tim Watson

Big bold creative concepts with integrated campaigns are exciting and sexy. The internet has made the circulation and delivery of content so cheap that everyone is now a publisher. The ability to find appropriate content through search engines, social networks and content curators gives consumers valuable information and entertainment. What’s more consumers expect content at a very low cost or even free. Given the abundance of content, the real demand is for high quality content.

If content is king then why not just focus on valuable email content; the sort of engaging and entertaining stuff that means customers can’t wait to open up your email? Groupon attributes part of their success to the interesting and quirky write-ups about featured deals. They specifically employ copywriters who can create highly entertaining copy. However, this really isn’t the whole picture in the world of email marketing. Sure, when building brand awareness and first capturing an audience, great content is key. Witness the YouTube viral hit of, “Will it blend.” Quite simply at the start of a relationship if you don’t have any anything else to work with, you have to capture someone’s attention with share-worthy content that will be passed socially.

However, as the relationship progresses, you continue to learn more about each other. The customer learns and experiences who you are as a brand and what you offer. They gain of a sense of your culture and values, the quality of your products and the level of your customer service. Equally you learn about the customer and capture that relationship in the data you gather. For brands the relationship is the data.

The sports clothing group O’Neill used social data to target subscribers by interests, locations and age. In one campaign, subscribers that had a high social interest in yoga were sent emails featuring O’Neill’s yoga clothing. Regardless of how good the content was in that campaign, if it goes to people who don’t do Yoga… it’s going to miss. It’s the data that makes the difference.

The rise of social media has created a chorus of people who say the relationship is everything and social networks are all about relationships. That one data point of a ‘like’ does not constitute a relationship. Much more is needed. If content is indeed king then it is data that builds kingdoms. Data is the most important asset in email and relationship marketing.

Think of it this way… when picking the perfect present for a close friend, it’s your knowledge about the person that’s the starting point in the search for the ideal gift. After you consider the person and their preferences, then your search for the right gift begins. It’s the reason why Google and Facebook are racing one another in an effort to gather, understand and leverage all of the data they collect about individuals (yes, you too). That data will be used to define who we are so Google and Facebook can monetize the information.

The amount of data collected and available is increasing rapidly. This is being driven by two factors that show no sign of slow down. First, the relentless march of technology… the processing power and storage capacity continues to increase while the cost points decrease. Second, the fusing of the online and offline worlds is causing a historical division to disappear. The idea of going online as a discreet activity is no longer true. The experience becomes pervasive and continuous through our smart phones, tablets, internet enabled TVs and computers as the world becomes enveloped by the cloud. These devices know who we are, what we like, who we like, where we go, when we go and more. The data collection points become ever richer, as we let our devices know more and more about us.

Data itself is of little value unless it is turned into information, this gives true customer insight. There is a real problem with an abundance of data, potentially not seeing the forest for the trees. Too often terabytes of data are giving kilobytes of information and the gold remains locked and hidden in the data. Taking detailed data and using it to provide simple segmentation misses the point and will look increasingly crude in the future. For a brand to earn continued acceptance of its emails in the consumer’s inbox requires those emails to be sufficiently relevant and valuable.

Traditionally one of the main tools to gain relevance has been to empower the customer. Give them choice and let them choose what’s right by offering a preference center. This is a noble and well-intended thing, but far from ideal. It’s well understood that what people say they will do and what they actually do are not the same. Additionally, people change over time, their needs and interests change. We all suffer from a lack of time and we have little desire to keep updating preferences. When was the last time you updated your interest and preference information? How many brands even have your preference information? This relationship is only with the brands that you trust and truly value.

Understanding our customers through their behavior is considerably more powerful because this is both accurate and current information. As an example, the online travel group Orbitz tracks which device you’re using as one data point in determining your relevant offer. Here’s an interesting data point…. did you know that Mac users reserve a higher and more expensive class of hotel?

Since all businesses are looking to drive revenue and profit, the starting point for customer insight should be purchase behavior because it’s some of the most powerful data that’s readily available. Enriching the transaction data with added customer data enables marketers to work backwards to understand the types of transactions that are linked to specific customer behavior. Questions that need customer insight provide answers such as:

• Who are the highest revenue customers?

• Who provides the most profit?

• What impacts customer lifetime value?

• What defines a potential high value customer?

• What are my best acquisition sources?

• Which customers are value shoppers and who are look for premium and quality?

Answering these types of questions is the key to a well-defined and successful marketing strategy. The answers will allow marketers to turn new customers into regular customers, or cross sell and upsell to existing customers. Customer intelligence enables the marketer to discover the segments that occur in their customer base rather than defining and imposing their own view of the segments.

Customer intelligence and insight is about discovery and drilling down. Initial questions are just a starting point. In some cases it’s not even clear what the right questions might be. It’s likely that every answer will spawn more questions. A classic approach of asking ‘why’ five times to get to the real truth. Customer intelligence needs tools that allow such rapid thinking. If gaining the answer to every question requires a two day delay for the IT department, then the whole process becomes costly and slow.

With abundant choice, consumers are more demanding and they expect brands to talk to them correctly. If someone is not providing them with the right offers, value and relationship… they will quickly switch to another brand. The key to success for marketers is not in the content; it’s in the intelligence and actionable information that comes from customer data.

About the author

Tim Watson is Email Marketing Consultant at Emailvision.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s