CRM & Media Together At Last Means an Expanded Role for Email Marketers

For as long as I’ve been in the marketing industry, media and CRM have been entirely separate disciplines; different departments with their own teams, distinct objectives, separate budgets, unique metrics and specialist agencies.  However, I believe this will be the year they finally get together.

Ten years ago, my attempts to bridge this divide were unsuccessful. Though it seemed to me that there were really good reasons to cross the aisle, the gulf was simply too wide. But that was then… this is the year it will change and the implications are enormous.

You may already be seeing the thaw between these two disciplines. For example, email is increasingly being used to enable ad retargeting. This is a powerful capability, but just the tip of the iceberg for what’s really coming.

Let’s take a step back and fill in the blanks. As advertising has grown online, it has moved from being broadcast to individually addressable. To enable this addressing, companies use web bugs (tracking pixels) to follow users around the web and build profiles. These profiles can have thousands of data points for a single individual. As the scope of these profiles have grown, an entire platform category has emerged to manage them.

Turn, for instance, holds 1.2 billion profiles and 6.6 trillion attributes, but all of it anonymous. The opportunity of these platforms is, in the words of one, “the ability to stitch together all audience data (online, offline, mobile, etc.) to give you one actionable picture of your target customer. (Who they are and what makes them tick.)”

CRM was always individually addressable and individually identifiable, but as it moved online, it became far more trackable. Email marketing has enabled companies to build accurate customer and prospect profiles through the use of profile forms, behavior tracking and data appends. These profiles are not anonymou; they identify specific individuals by name and address, but they are generally fairly limited. The behavioral response dataset tends to be quite small and limited to one or two channels.

What is changing is that these two data sets (identifiable CRM data and anonymous ad tracking data) are being cross-pollinated.

By placing a tracking pixel in a marketing email, advertisers can connect the dots between that recipient’s CRM identity and their often numerous anonymous advertising profiles. While the capability to do this has been present for some time, only recently have the major players in the advertising world become interested. The recent industry consolidation with Oracle, Salesforce and Adobe all creating consolidated marketing hubs will cause 2014 to be the year that it takes off at scale. And that has serious ramifications for everyone.

As mentioned, there’s email retargeting. or the ability to follow up on a banner click with an email. There’s also the converse, the ability to follow up on an email click with a banner ad. Also to display a banner based on a website impression or send an email following an abandoned shopping cart, even if the purchaser didn’t sign in and numerous other ways to enable advertisers to follow consumers across channels and locations. Even TV will not be immune.

But even that is not the heart of it. On the back end, individuals’ multiple anonymous profiles that once upon a time were specific to individual websites (and later individual networks) start to become consolidated and connected to their real-world identity (their physical address and social security number) and across channels and activities.

Facebook activity can be connected to web searches to browsing histories to email responses. All of the behaviors that used to be anonymous cease to be. Remember the goal to “stitch together ALL audience data (online, offline, mobile, etc.).”

In the short term, there will be a backlash. There is already a significant conversation going on around third party cookies, do not track and advertising. Some are saying it will be the end for cookie-based tracking but I’m not so sure. If history is anything to go by the concern will die down and most of what is being done today will continue in the future.

What this means for email marketers is that we will no longer be a highly profitable marketing backwater, but an integral part of the wider advertising world. That’s a great opportunity, but it’s going to mean a whole lot more complexity. We must be prepared to understand and utilize data from a wide range of channels, create and run campaigns that truly cross media and learn the languages of display, search, TV and even offline advertising.

While we’re doing this, we must be good stewards of a rapidly growing set of customer data and navigate changing attitudes to privacy and tracking. We must understand what’s considered icky and invasive, versus what’s relevant and helpful. No doubt, there will be some high profile mistakes with accompanying hue and cry, but these lessons will be quickly learned by successful marketers.

This is a sea change in advertising and marketing. A fundamental shift in how things work. I think it’s going to be a wild ride and can’t wait to see how it pans out.

How about you?

Related reading