Increase the Effectiveness of Your E-mail Campaigns With Rich M
You can achieve nine times the revenues and 18 times the profits of a broadcast e-mail campaign simply by targeting your customers instead of treating each of them the same, according to a report released earlier this year by Jupiter Research. While Web analytics can give you the information you need to segment your customers, how will you get your more relevant message to them? Rich media may offer the solution.
Doug Mack, CEO of Novato, Calif.-based rich media solutions provider Scene 7, and Sheila Dahlgren, senior vice president of marketing for Scene 7, spoke with the Target Marketing Group about this growing content solution and how marketers can use it to send targeted, relevant e-mails to their customers.
Target Marketing Group: Could you define rich media?
Doug Mack: Let's start with what it's not. We're not talking whiz-bang Flash movies, video, audio files or what have you. By rich media, we're simply talking about something that is visually compelling. It's an image; it's a graphic. Maybe it's an image that's been personalized to the customer or a combination of images that means something to her. Imagine when you open your favorite magazine, let's say Rolling Stone for instance, and Polo Ralph Lauren has a gorgeous image of a beautiful model in a fantastic outfit with a perfect tag line over it. It causes you to pause and take in that advertisement. Rich media really focuses then on images, graphics and a strong visual presentation. People sometimes think rich media means video, and that's not the case here. Our definition of rich media is a bit more narrow.
Sheila Dahlgren: We offer rich media video and other types of rich content. We have done that in e-mails, but often that type of media gets blocked. Our dynamic content that Doug is describing, which is dynamic imagery, fonts and graphics that are personalized and targeted in terms of messaging, is much more pervasive and impactful from a delivery standpoint, both in terms of open rate and response rate.
TMG: In what ways can rich media be employed to enhance multichannel marketers e-mail campaigns?
Mack: The answer is very straightforward. To make the e-mails relevant and engaging to the customer. Consumers are absolutely overwhelmed with the amount of e-mail they're getting. Because for the most part, retailers and e-tailers find that it pays to send e-mail. It's very inexpensive to send them and send a lot of them. You generally get a return for each campaign. The problem is that consumers are inundated with e-mail. I was sitting in front of my Yahoo! account with my wife last night and I said, "I don't know how this happened, but all I get is retail e-mail in my Yahoo! account." So now I've turned the security levels up on that account, and I'm bulk deleting the stuff. And why rich media and personalization in e-mail matter is because you need to stand out from the crowd and actually make the consumer watch your e-mail and view it as valuable content. So if I get an e-mail from a trusted retailer that I see above the fold an image of something that compels me and a message that's relevant to me, I will begin to think this is a thoughtful company that has selected something that is of interest to me. I'm going to read what that company has to say now because I've been visually grabbed and engaged.
Dahlgren: And frankly we push HTML e-mails more than just plain text e-mails because of the aspect of being visually engaging. Adding rich media to that HTML e-mail makes it even more engaging.
TMG: How is rich media accomplished in e-mail? Is it an image that's served to the end recipient? How do you deliver this experience?
Mack: It's very important when executing something like this to stay within the industry-standard approach. One, from the execution perspective of creating the e-mail, and two, from a delivery perspective, to make sure there's nothing embedded in or created as part of the e-mail that feels funny and makes it more difficult to get through to the consumer. It's actually fairly straightforward to institute rich media. You continue on with your standard HTML template, and within that template you have an area that into which an image can be called. You do that via a URL string, which is a very typical way for a file system to call for an image. You can then call for rich imagery, which may be an enhanced image; one that has your name inscribed in it, one that may have a graphic overlaid on it via that URL string that can be dynamically called up by the Scene 7 server. So for the person who authors the e-mail or for the person who receives the e-mail, it's just like any other HTML e-mail out there. The magic is that real estate that's allocated to the imagery and graphics is dynamically generated and personalized for the consumer.
TMG: The difference, in effect, is serving up a distinctly different image or set of images to each individual consumer?
Mack: You are then able to vary that dynamically.
Dahlgren: And to take it beyond that, because some people will say they vary the content already. What makes Scene 7 and rich media different is that you can vary print quality fonts. Take all of the advertising fonts you would utilize in a print ad or catalog and utilize them in the imagery or graphics or any part of that HTML e-mail to make the entire presentation more like the printed version. You can serve different images to different segments in an e-mail campaign, but each separate e-mail is unattached. Each e-mail is part of a different wave of e-mails. You're limited to Web style fonts. What rich media does is deliver that high style messaging in e-mail that you couldn't do before. We've gone as far as changing the pattern, fabric or material on apparel models in an e-mail. You can change all of the colors and fonts, as well as monogram onto a blouse a person's name.
TMG: How is that accomplished?
Dahlgren: We can pull that personal data from a spreadsheet or from the e-mail provider's CRM data.
The customer profile usually in the e-mail vendor's files includes first and last name. We just take the dynamic URL string and include it in the e-mail and tag the first and last name from the system. It's the same workflow you'd do if you simply were personalizing the subject line. You're just pulling the graphics and images from Scene 7's servers.
TMG: That makes sense for the personalization of a name or monogram. How does it work when you're serving different textures or sizes or types of products? Where is that information coming from?
Dahlgren: If we were going to do dynamic fabrics and surfaces or change the view of a product, those images come from out servers as well. Materials, graphics and the information we need to pull those images together would come from our servers. We'd overlay them dynamically onto the imagery and serve it in the e-mail via the URL string.
TMG: And the retailer provides you with the customer information that's used to create that dynamic imagery?
Dahlgren: That's right. They'll create the business rules. Typically how you'll start a personalized e-mail campaign to begin with is by deciding how you want to segment. You decide which products and services you want to deliver to those segments. Based on that, if Scene 7's servers are needed to deliver that content, the marketer gives that information to us and we put it all together.
TMG: How widespread is this? What's your sense of how many e-tailers, catalogers and marketers are using rich media?
Mack: At this point, it's really only the visionaries who are doing it. It's high-level stuff. I think the broad set of retailers are taking the lowest effort path now. They're sending more and more and more e-mail. And that can work for a period of time to increase sales. But because everyone is doing it, it's going to accelerate the demise of that sort of behavior. It's like what happened to banner ads in the late 1990s. They were popping up everywhere, and they weren't that relevant. Consumers began to screen them out, and click-though rates went from 5 percent to fractional.
Dahlgren: Jupiter Research released some information about this. Of the top 175 retailers only 5 percent were personalizing the name, and they were just sending out mass campaigns. It wasn't in a rich media fashion either. It was just in the subject line. And there was just one big HTML graphic.
Mack: With that being said, while many people are not doing it, therein lies the opportunity. Those that are doing it are seeing a dramatic lift in response. Some of our clients have seen as much as 50 percent more effective. Imagine doing the same number of e-mails that you do now, but they're 50 percent more effective. What if you could do fewer, better e-mails? What if you could spend less for more relevant content that your customers value? There's a long term impact. Other companies clutter customers' inboxes, but your company garners attention because customers are anticipating your e-mail. Very few people are doing this as an ongoing strategy. And the people who are are seeing phenomenal returns.
TMG: How long does it take to set up and launch a rich media campaign?
Dahlgren: The workflow is the same as creating a normal HTML e-mail. If you were going to spend the time to do segmentation and personalization, that same time is what it takes to decide what the business rules and offers are in a rich media campaign. Nothing would change. The only incremental change is that we have to build a special URL string to embed into the HTML to do the personalization piece, which takes no more than an hour. The actual creative piece is quite simple. It doesn't take much time. The thing that takes the most time is getting retailers to focus on wanting to do personalization and figuring out how to segment. Retailers know they should it; they just aren't spending the time or resources to get it done, yet. Catalogers are the most analytical, for instance, and on the print side they spend a tremendous amount of resources on measuring and testing. And if a cataloger could allocate just one person from that print group to take on the e-mail piece and do the same measuring and testing, they would have far superior e-mails being delivered.
TMG: Are the companies doing personalization with you going very deep with it? Going beyond just the name and playing with different textures and products?
Mack: Where companies are going above and beyond are in picking out personalized product. One of the most successful campaigns was one by Lenox during the 2004 holidays. They had an ornament on which you could inscribe your initials. You'd actually get an e-mail with the hero product, the ornament with your initials on it, above the fold. There was very little copy. You'd see exactly what that product was going to look like before you bought it.
Williams-Sonoma did a similar thing with a Mother's Day promotion with your name stitched into an apron. It goes beyond the power of a burst or a graphic overlay or something else that typically draws the consumer's eye to a promotion. They actually varied the product attributes so you got a product that was of interest to you.
There's another example I use that was done by Illuminations. They have a pretty straightforward product line. You wouldn't normally think of the line as something that would blow you away physically. What they did was launch an e-mail campaign related to a primary product in which they thought you'd be interested. They may know that you like lavender candles, for instance. They'd also show you accessories, like candle holders. The kicker is that they showed you only candle holders for candles which you've purchased in the past. They put an assortment of images above the fold. And they knew what kind of shopper you were as well. Were you online shopper, a store shopper or a catalog shopper? They would then vary the graphic related to the promotion you were getting in the e-mail. This was a very powerful way to create relevance; the customer was given an assortment of products that were selected specifically for her. Each consumer arguably got a different set of images, depending on what was most relevant to them.
All of these examples didn't involve a ton of work, but they did result in at least a 50 percent increase in the effectiveness of the e-mail. Plus the immeasurable return of making consumers more loyal and comfortable with you. And the reason catalogers and e-tailers aren't thinking about personalization in a meaningful was is because they're not looking far enough ahead. What happens in 2007 when your e-mails are half as effective as they are now because you haven't become more relevant? You can't just send twice as many e-mails, because that will just accelerate your demise. Relevance will help you stand apart from the crowd.
TMG: Getting the e-mail to the end consumer is certainly one of the most important things. Once it's there, relevance is key. Is serving these images through outside links any more likely to be blocked or trapped by spam filters?
Dahlgren: Not really. Our delivery rates are fine. It's just like sending normal HTML creative. It just pulls the content from someplace else. It's just a URL string. Versus a Flash video, which easily could be blocked, creating deliverability problems.
TMG: How much does this cost?
Dahlgren: That varies by the number of e-mails sent. We like to work with the client to come up with a year's worth of personalized campaigns. But you can also call us up and do a one-off campaign if you want. Ideally it works just like any other e-mail solution. The cost is higher per piece if you're just doing a one-off campaign than if you sign up for one in a series. It depends on the number. It's priced per e-mail, with tiers depending on the number of e-mails planned to be sent.
To contact Scene 7, e-mail Sheila Dahlgren at email@example.com.