Behaviorally Targeted E-mail Communications, Part 1

  |  October 11, 2007   |  Comments

How to get a behaviorally based e-mail program up, running, and measured. Part one of two.

ClickZ's e-mail marketing forum confirmed e-mail remains a strong marketing communications tactic, despite increased challenges. E-mail marketing is still the form of marketing with the highest ROI (define) because most of its costs are very modest once you've captured a prospect's e-mail address. Promotional e-mailings drive measurable sales results, so marketers are often tempted to add more scheduled mailings, despite risking negative consequences.

A calendar of regularly scheduled e-mail promotions and newsletters is by now a part of most marketers' plans. As e-mail marketing continues to evolve, more marketers will add other types of e-mailings targeted by relevance, timing, and personalization to take full advantage of this attractive medium.

E-mail Targeting

Providing more targeted, personal communications that meet readers' needs helps marketers break through inbox clutter. As with direct marketing, targeted e-mail messages are segmented based on customer behavior and other audience interest preferences. This helps marketers break out of the price-driven promotional mode while making mailings more relevant to readers.

It's important to assess a segmentation strategy and behavioral targeting at the top level to determine areas of greatest opportunity. Consider the following and think in terms of how these categories may interact:

  • Offering. Assess whether product lines attract different types of customers or fulfill different categories of customer needs.

  • Customers. Consider your house file in terms of psychographics and behavior as well as demographics, since customers may make buying decisions and tradeoffs based on nonfinancial factors. Assess whether your customer base is homogeneous in terms of its approach to your offering or has distinctly different needs. Do some customers buy for personal use while others buy for work needs, for example? What factors attract customers to your product?

  • Events. Think about events that drive purchase timing beyond the calendar (which are most likely part of ongoing marketing plans). Take into account past purchases and customer needs.
  • Behaviorally Targeted E-mail Series

    While behaviorally targeted mailings may not have the same reach and sales as promotional marketing messages, they meet customers' needs with personalized, relevant information. Often, these communications are triggered at various points in the purchase process and customer lifecycle. These messages may be part of a longer series aimed at building relationships beyond just one purchase. The objective is to create the kind of communications that are so relevant they break through inbox clutter and are read and acted upon.

    When looking for areas that provide opportunities to develop a targeted series of e-mail communications, examine the following:

  • Welcome e-mail. A welcome e-mail can jump-start buying. Many e-mail marketers take advantage of this highly read messaging. Depending on your product, tailor an offer that engages prospects. The initial e-mail must build the relationship with users. The idea is to get prospects engaged while they're still excited about your offering.

  • Purchase-related e-mail. As part of the purchase-confirmation process, provide customers with a series of e-mail messages to ensure the product has arrived and the customer can get the most out of it. Include references to information on your site or blog providing product and customer support. Use these communications to sell related products and services, such as coordinated clothes or warranties. Airlines and hotels send reminders that aid trip planning while providing other related services, either their own products or related suppliers.

  • Post-purchase e-mail. Product purchase is a trigger for future communications. Think like a direct-response TV marketer who uses an initial sale to promote related products. This can work in a number of ways, such as selling more ink for a printer. Or you can make recommendations based on past purchases, as Amazon does.

  • Purchase-behavior-related e-mail. Take a cue from traditional direct marketers who segment customers based on past buying behavior. Communications to consider:

    • High-value buyers. This group is the core of your customer base and must be handled with care. Assess their potential based on past purchasing. Look at the type of product they buy as well as the dollar amount and frequency of purchases.

    • Low purchasers. These customers and prospects may no longer be interested in your offering. Consider ways to either reengage them or eliminate them from your e-mail list, because at some point they may consider your communications spam.

    • Gift buyers. These buyers may only be interested in your offering at the next gift-giving event that's relevant to the recipient. If you can determine this, provide a reminder; but don't clutter their inboxes with ongoing, irrelevant e-mail.

    • Gift recipients. These folks are your target market and probably like your product. Consider ways to add them to your house file.

  • Reminders/calendar-related e-mail. Consider the marketing calendar from a customer perspective. Take into account personal events, such as birthdays, anniversaries, and vacations, or business events, like conferences and budget season. Brainstorm relevant personal events and position reminders as a service. Help customers plan ahead and provide them with useful, relevant information. The more information customers share with you, the less likely they are to buy from competitors. Shopping with your firm will be easier.
  • It's critical customers view your e-mail communications as personal and relevant so they continue to receive them and respond to them. Using customer interests and behavior to target your messages will help your e-mail program achieve these goals.

    In part two: a checklist for behaviorally targeted e-mailings and outline of the relevant e-mail metrics to track.

    Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.


    Heidi Cohen

    Heidi Cohen is the President of Riverside Marketing Strategies, an interactive marketing consultancy. She has over 20 years' experience helping clients increase profitability by developing innovative marketing programs to acquire and retain customers based on solid analytics. Clients include New York Times Digital,, CheapTickets, and the UJA. Additionally, Riverside Marketing Strategies has worked with numerous other online content/media companies and e-tailers.

    Prior to starting Riverside Marketing Strategies, Heidi held a number of senior-level marketing positions at The Economist, the Bookspan/Doubleday Direct division of Bertelsmann, and Citibank.

    Her blog,, was nominated as a finalist for Top Social Media Blog of 2012 by Social Media Examiner.

    Heidi is also a popular speaker on current industry topics.

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