In the world of email marketing, the word "relevance" used to be the catchphrase du jour - followed closely by every email strategist's favorite, "it depends." But these both seem to be losing ground to "Big Data." According to IBM, we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day. That data is generated through myriad places - online footprints, purchase behavior, weather beacons, take your pick. We are tracking everything these days - the challenge becomes making it actionable. The issue with big data is not the acquisition of the data elements - it's the digestion and application of them.
Typically catchphrases are just that - catchphrases. They carry very little weight or meaning to the end goal, but big data is actually a pretty meaty topic that marketers and PhDs alike are trying to digest. It's a reality that marketers, politicians, parents, and yes, email marketers need to consider.
For email marketers, where there is big data there is...relevance. There are many phases to the big data challenge, but as we turn an eye to email, there are some additional elements that should be considered and applied to your approach.
Do Your Own Analysis
Analyzing large data sets and learning anything from it is no small undertaking. It's a very labor-intensive task - but for an email marketer the challenge is oftentimes even bigger. Not because we aren't capable, or that we have more data, but because we're often at the tail end of most analytic efforts. The email team inherits personas and segments - so to rally at the front end to drive it can sometimes appear preposterous to internal counterparts. The recommendation here is to stand firm. There are elements that you can leverage from previous engagement (or lack thereof) with your email program that help to develop very effective lookalike models and predictive modeling that can drive long-term success for your email program.
Watch Out for Hyper-Targeting
Achieving a near 1:1 email communication experience has long been the Holy Grail of the email marketing vertical. With the highly dynamic tools and technical capabilities available today, the ability to communicate in that manner is relatively easy to accomplish - the challenge arises when you want to learn what the engagement means to your business overall. Many times, the success or failure of leveraging big data to drive targeting and segmentation doesn't happen because of your ability to do it - rather your ability to measure it. So if you're going to leverage big data to make your email hyper-relevant, be extra diligent on the reporting front. The takeaway here is to make sure you continue to analyze the data, leveraging the engagement metrics associated with each person you communicate with. It's no longer about a target audience but rather about an individual.
Know What to Say
Once you have found your golden child (or children) among your massive data set, you don't just stop there. It isn't about just finding the right audience; you have to message to them in an effective and efficient way. If the messaging appears too "big brother," then you're going to create a "creep factor" with the recipient. Or if you get the data wrong, you may put the customer off entirely. Regardless, it's imperative that the audience you have identified is getting messaging that actually matters to them - otherwise all the analysis of that big data was largely useless.
Whether big data is on your radar as an analytic effort for your marketing department or your email program specifically or not, you are certainly hearing the conversations about it. We all have the ability to be more prescriptive with the consumer today and oftentimes there is an expectation that you "just know" these things about them. Acting contradictorily to their expectations could be detrimental in the long run. After all, you don't want your recipients closing out your email, asking themselves, "Don't they know me at all?"
Data cloud image on home page via Shutterstock.
This column was originally published on October 2, 2012.
A 12-year email marketing veteran, Kara has been actively involved in programmatic email development, execution, and strategy in a variety of senior positions on the client, agency, and provider side. Most recently, Kara was founder and principal of The Email Advisor, a respected email marketing consultancy focusing on email strategy and channel optimization. Prior to launching The Email Advisor, Kara led strategic services for the email division of Premiere Global Services, where she worked with global organizations structuring a variety of custom email education programs, conceptualizing and implementing new and innovative email programs, optimizing contact strategies, and developing staffing and budget plans.
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