Behaviorally-Targeted Email Arrives at Last

  |  November 16, 2011   |  Comments

One company is making inroads against poor marketing practices that seem to care little about message or relevance.

Like many of my colleagues, this past week I was able to wander the hallowed halls of ad:tech New York in search of new tools and ideas I could share with my clients.

Not unexpected was a slate of vendors hawking new mobile technologies, analytics tools, ad-serving platforms, and ways to increase conversion rates. However, what caught my attention was a visit with email and lead-gen pioneer Silverpop and what it is bringing to the table these days.

I think we can all agree that email sometimes feels like a middle-aged guy in a bow tie trying to get into the trendiest night club. Compared against cutting-edge social media tools, mobile gizmos and applications, and even interactive startups covering the same well-trodden ground, email just seems, well, non-sexy.

However, one of the most incredible things about email marketing is that it generally has amazing ROI (if done competently) and the level of ubiquitous access to consumers is unparalleled. Basically, anybody who matters as a consumer has an email address (or several). That can't be said about any other channel currently where platforms, applications, and competing technologies can all serve to get in the way.

But email can be (and is often) abused because of that ubiquity. The idea of "one message fits all" marketing always makes me cringe and I often wonder just what kind of relationship building the marketers intended when they sent me emails regarding luxury jet rental, oil drilling equipment, and an opportunity to buy yeast in bulk. Oh, that's right…they didn't care. As long as I had an email address, I was just as valid as any other name on their list.

As marketers, we understand the importance of campaign personalization, but let's be frank here, it's often a lot more work and we default to campaigns that use a very broad brush to get a little paint on anybody who might happen to come across the message, relevancy be damned, because it's easier.

According to Bryan Brown, Silverpop's director of product strategy, the company's Engage email delivery system can create message arcs that not only send emails out on a set schedule, but can also dynamically change the content of those emails to reflect the recipient's current relationship with a campaign.

For example, a simple A/B test may show that recipient A received an email message, opened it, and clicked on a link within the body of the email to see a video. Whereas recipient B also opened the email and read it but interacted with nothing. While the email was opened by both recipients, the experience and the retained message between the two is different. This means that sending out a follow-up message using only the criteria of who opened the first message is a partial solution for keeping a meaningful conversation going.

With Silverpop Engage, the criteria for follow-up can be based on specific user actions and behaviors, with point of brand and message contact considered most important. This means that marketers can use the platform to create complex rules so that all follow-ups are based on previous user experiences, brand awareness, and relevant actions. What's most impressive about the tool that I saw was that the emails can restructure themselves at the code level on the fly so that each message is not only personalized to take advantage of direct data like name and email address, but also observed data based on the recipient's previous actions and experience. This may mean that a follow-up has a different video link for one recipient based on previous actions or may be even based on other targeting criteria like IP address geography that can use current weather, events, and seasonal considerations to create a unique message that is more relevant to each recipient and more effective as a way to start beneficial conversations with target clients.

Obviously, any successful campaign is going to need to be based on best practices no matter what kind of technology is placed in front of it. That said, it's still nice to see the inroads being made against poor marketing practices that seem to care little about message or relevance and certainly not about relationship building.

By the way, if you need to buy yeast in bulk, I might be able to help you. I know a guy.

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Rob Graham

Rob Graham is the CCT (chief creative technologist) of Trainingcraft, Inc., where he heads up development of customized training programs for a wide range of digital marketing, entrepreneurial development, and digital media clients.

A 20 year veteran of digital media, Rob has served as the CEO of a multimedia development company; an interactive media strategist; a rich media production specialist; a Web analytics consultant; a corporate trainer and seminar leader; and a chief marketing officer.

When he isn't on the road presenting training workshops, Rob teaches at Harvard University, Emerson College, and the University of Massachusetts - Lowell where he teaches classes on Digital Media Development, Web Store Creation, Software Programming, Business Strategies, and Interactive Marketing Best Practices.

He is the author of "Fishing From a Barrel," a guide to using audience targeting in online advertising, and "Advertising Interactively," which explores the development and uses of rich-media-based advertising. He has been an industry columnist covering interactive marketing, digital media, and audience targeting topics since 1999.

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