7 From Seven: Featuring William Park of Digital Impact

The last two quarters have been good to Digital Impact, as the hot email marketing sector sizzles ever more intensely.

Since October 2001, the email marketer has grabbed 30 new clients, including United Parcel Service, Physicians Mutual Insurance Company, Sharper Image, Skymall, and PlayStation.com. Additionally, a couple dozen existing clients have renewed or expanded their contracts, including Hewlett-Packard, Eddie Bauer, and Priceline.

The company also released a new product in February that represents a widening of its scope. It released an ASP version of Impact, the firm’s in-house analytics and campaign management software. According to CEO William Park, offering a hosted version of its software would aid Digital Impact’s penetration of Global 2000 companies (its target client base). Flexibility was key. After creating a self-service option, the company could provide outsourced services as needed.

“There’s no easy definition for a Global 2000 firm,” Park said. “They’re successful because they’re unique. Some companies will want to outsource everything. Some will want to do it all themselves. Most are going to fall somewhere in between.”

In this 7 from Seven installment by Zachary Rodgers, Park talks about the state of email marketing and his plans for the company. Along the way, he discusses which stats he believes are most indicative of email’s future growth rate, ponders the elusive goal of personalization, and explains why he doesn’t mourn the death of his personal life.

  1. What’s the industry’s biggest challenge at this moment?

    Email marketing is growing, unlike other formats. Businesses like it, customers like it. However, email is misunderstood and often not well planned. Email marketing is more important than most companies realize; it’s far more effective when it’s done well, targeted, and when there are clear metrics associated with its use. It’s a joint effort that should be shared between departments. If companies take a “try it till it dies” approach, email will die, and it won’t be because of the medium but because of the way it was applied.

    Also, in other categories of enterprise software, you’ve seen many applications that deliver on the business’ operating goals. Marketing is a hard one, because it’s very distributed. I see a need for true marketing operations software. Marketers need to be able to analyze what’s working, to create a campaign based on what those numbers are indicating. To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a true, robust marketing coordination product. At Digital Impact, we think we have the groundwork for this type of system.

  2. Where do you think email marketing is headed? What predictions have you seen, and what do you think are the most reliable indicators of growth?

    There are two approaches I like for trying to understand the state of email marketing. One is looking at other media growth rates. I’ve looked at TV, billboards, and cable. From years 5 through 10 after their appearance, these three grew on a compounded annual basis of anywhere from 25 to 50 percent. Where they fall in that range depends on business cycles and economic factors, which come and go. Email should be aligned with that.

    The other indicator I like to look at is traditional direct marketing. Direct mail in the U.S. is a $55 billion industry, and you can certainly expect large parts of that to go online. If you are Eddie Bauer and you issue 10 catalogs a year, you’ll at least want to consider reducing that number to, say, 4 catalogs while shifting the rest of the marketing online. The same thing applies to telemarketing. Could you replace some of these telemarketing phone calls with an email? If it’s more convenient for your customer and it’s cheaper for you, why wouldn’t you do it?

  3. So why release a self-managed software application now? What advantage does Digital Impact see in this shift?

    First, marketers are getting more savvy. Over the last year or two, marketers have been inundated with increasing demand or, alternately, the same demand but reduced resources. This allows them to get more done. The outsourced model fit in with what they were seeking.

    The other piece is that the needs of the marketer have changed and are changing. In the past, marketing was often a one-person activity. Now, marketing has become decentralized. A company might have field marketing pros and agencies and salespeople, all trying to reach the same customer, and there’s a lot more coordination required. You don’t want 20 calls going to the same person.

  4. What’s the profile of a typical Digital Impact client?

    We’re targeting the Global 2000, and there’s no easy definition for a Global 2000 firm. They’re successful because they’re unique. That’s why flexibility is important to our offering. Some companies will want to outsource everything. Some will want to do it all themselves. Most are going to fall somewhere in between. We want to support any choice or combination of options.

  5. Personalization has turned out to be more elusive than many in the industry first predicted. Do you agree? What factors have kept personalization from meeting the expectations the industry has for it?

    I think that’s true. I think two things have prevented broader personalization: technology limitations and expertise limitations. There’s a lot of customer data out there indicating what you should be doing, but many lack the technology to do it. There was a gap between the insight and the action.

    Also, just because you’ve got the analytics software, that doesn’t mean you’re going to know how to analyze your customers. Giving someone the tools doesn’t mean they’ll be able to build a house. The Internet is wonderful in that it’s an incredible data capture system. That’s not the hard part. The hard part comes when you try to make sense of that data. A lot of our clients rely on us to help them unearth the gold nuggets from that mine.

  6. Spam is expected to get a lot worse before it gets better. However, efforts to fight spam have recently been stepped up. How do you feel about legal efforts to stop unsolicited email? Can the industry be trusted to regulate itself?

    I wouldn’t mind seeing it regulated, though I think the responsible marketing constituents are self-regulating. It’s in their best interest not to anger customers.

    I’d like to see some regulation in the case of inappropriate messaging. Customers have to be able to unsubscribe, and they have to be able to trace an email back to the sender. You don’t want to get so punitive that a marketer accidentally types the wrong address into the “Send” field and is accused of spamming.

  7. Could you share “a day in the life” of William Park? What’s your workday like? What about outside of work?

    I usually get in pretty early, around seven o’clock. About 50 percent of my time is internally focused and 50 percent external. Right now, I’m doing a lot of fiscal planning. We’re finalizing our budgets, and I’m heavily involved in that. The external piece involves talking to clients, investors, and other stakeholders. I keep especially close track of our top clients, making sure they’re happy.

    A lot of my personal life has had to take a back seat to the work stuff. By the time I get home, there isn’t much left. I burn it hard during the week, and on the weekend I just try to keep the cobwebs clear, exercising or whatever. I don’t mind, though. It’s a rare thing that you get to work with the best people within the company and the best marketing minds outside the company.

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