How to Leverage a Data-grown E-mail Campaign (1,039 words)
By Steve Trollinger
Many of us are deluged by a proliferation of unsolicited e-mail. It's annoying. Every morning I log in to my e-mail via the Web and delete, without reading, almost every one of the more than 50 messages I received the evening before, then download the messages I do want.
People all over the country duplicate my routine. Like me, they're throwing out perfectly legitimate e-mails from companies like yours, targeted to buyers and information requesters who've opted in to receive them. It's the baby and the bathwater—both are getting tossed.
Not every message gets deleted, mind you, but only those that are most relevant are making the cut. How do you make a message relevant? Look at your data.
Data-grown e-mail campaigns (like data-based mail programs) should address an opportunity or problem in the marketplace. Each piece of this type of campaign—from the offer and tenor of the message to the creative presentation, contact strategy development, target segments and mail dates—should be driven by the data.
So how do we get data-grown e-mail campaigns? Here's how:
1. Collect and organize data.
2. Use the data.
3. Analyze the data.
Collect and Organize Data
Most companies that process online orders request e-mail addresses to confirm the order has been processed or shipped. It's amazing how many companies assume they have permission to market to that customer as well. When collecting data, make sure that an e-mail address intended for solicitation is accompanied by an opt-in for marketing messages.
Once permission is established, make the data accessible. Some order entry systems designed to send out the confirmation e-mail actually will house the address with the order, not the customer. The e-mail address is treated as transaction data rather than customer data, creating problems when it's time to put together an e-mail campaign.
To remedy the problem, e-mail addresses should be part of the customer records, not the transactions. If this is a problem you face, a database reformat is inevitable—and likely expensive.
Although an e-mail address is the only piece of customer data you actually need to do an e-mail campaign, it isn't the only piece of data you use. Also look at customer preferences, merchandise data, promotional history and your current offline contact strategy.
Customer preferences can be managed by a user account system that allows customers to tell you what they want to hear from you and when. This gives them the option to select the topics they're interested in, decreasing the likelihood that they will opt out altogether.
E-mail is a fantastic tool for maintaining customer contact. The medium frequently is used to supplement mail campaigns, particularly with catalogers, who can cut out or decrease a catalog drop in lieu of an e-mail effort. It's the role that the e-mail plays along with the other contact points that makes it so effective. To maximize e-mail efforts, coordinate them with offline promotions and mailings; make them work together.
Evaluate your offline contact strategy along with your e-mail plan so a global plan can be put together.
A comprehensive contact strategy enables you to determine segments, quantities and mail dates. It also allows you to map out a single view of who gets what and when to determine if a segment is being over- or under-contacted.
Look at the data to understand how segments have been promoted to, and to what messages and offers they're most responsive. This will improve the effectiveness of your e-mail efforts. Using the data to test concepts and learn more will make them even better.
Use the Data
Pulling information together to create the best possible campaign can be one of the most exciting parts of the project. Start with a targeted contact strategy that outlines the key elements of the campaign, just as you would an offline mailing. Ask:
What are my goals?
Who is my audience?
What is my offer?
How do I measure success?
Evaluate the merchandise data to know what product or service to offer. Establish a testing and rollout protocol for subject lines, creative formats, time of day and day of week. Let the data drive the decisions you make. If you don't have any other data to start with, look at your offline mailings for direction.
Catalog mailers should use the square-inch analysis from the book tied to online sales transactions to determine primary, secondary and tertiary offers and creative presentations that might work best.
If you've dabbled in e-mail in the past, use what you've learned about how your customers process data and respond to offers to hone your presentation. Examine Web activity reports to spot the day of the week your customers buy from you online most.
Learn as much as you can from every effort you launch, and apply those lessons to each subsequent campaign.
Analyze the Data
You've done your homework, built the perfect plan and pushed a winner. What happens next?
I deal regularly with companies that find themselves so wrapped up in getting the next campaign out that they fail to find out what happened with the last one. The analysis piece or post mortem is critical to understanding what worked and what didn't.
For example: Just because you define a template for your e-mails, doesn't mean you should stop testing new formats against it.
Campaign results are tremendously valuable for crafting subsequent mailings. Open rate, click rates (as a percent of pushed and opened messages), order rates (as a percent of pushed, opened and clicked), sales and average order value are all important. Knowing how many people clicked through to the site is one thing, but how many bought when they got there?
Your creative, message and offer may be great, but if there's a disconnect between the e-mail campaign and the Web site, it might flop. What merchandise sold best? Are there relationships between what customers clicked in the e-mail and what they subsequently purchased?
Built and executed correctly, data-grown campaigns allow you to harvest the intelligence you need to make your next launch as fruitful as possible.
Steve Trollinger is senior vice president of client marketing at J. Schmid & Associates, Shawnee Mission, KS. He can be reached at (913) 236-8988, or firstname.lastname@example.org.