Does Synergy Always Mean Opportunity?

Too much candy is just not good for you. As appealing as that big bowl of M&M’S looks right now, you know that if you get even an inch into it, you’re going to regret it.

The same can be true in marketing. Working with a marketer who is merging three email programs onto one campaign management application, we realized very early that there was huge opportunity for synergy of content as well as cross-selling and promotion between the three brands. We were very excited about the possibility of managing the programs in a true CRM-driven fashion – only possible once the programs were generated off the same database and integrated at the subscriber level. Until now, the best this marketer could do is run separate promotions with similar offers and try to compare the impact on revenue and unsubscribes after the fact. Never were there very promising results.

With everything managed in one solution, the field is open for new approaches. A quick diagram of the combined customer base by brand showed a very slim overlap between them. At first glance, that feels like an upside – what a great opportunity to expose each brand to new, known audiences! It’s a big bowl of untouched, delicious chocolate!

Synergy situations like this do create opportunity. That can be very exciting. Before you get too swept up in dreaming big, however, consider how important it is to prioritize those opportunities. In marketing – as in candy bowls – chasing too much opportunity can produce nothing more than paralysis, or at best, a dilution of the effort when it’s spread too thinly.

Consider these factors to help prioritize the opportunities before you:

  1. Permission. Never assume permission. Period. Never. First, it may be illegal depending on the countries where you market. Second, it’s bad marketing. There are plenty of cross-sell opportunities along the existing permission grants that you own today. At the same time, encourage subscribers to sign up for more types of messages from other brands in your preference center. Lest you falter in your steadfastness, take this tale to heart: we had one marketer recently suffer a big drop in sender reputation and inbox placement. We traced the high complaints to a few campaigns promoting retail partners. Even though it was the marketer’s brand, template, and from line, customers thought the messages were actually from the partners like Walmart and Staples. Complaints were very high, even when the partners were trusted brands themselves. Subscribers knew they didn’t sign up for email from those brands, and didn’t stop to check to see if was a cross-promotion. They just clicked the spam button. Even if you own the partner brands, don’t assume customers know that. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to gain permission, and earn it with every message you send.
  2. Audience profile. You don’t have time or resources to tackle every possible cross-promotion opportunity, so focus on the two to three that have the right criteria: reach, revenue, and strategic importance. This latter one is sometimes hard to gauge, but it usually involves business drivers, high-value customers, or high-visibility projects. Balance those factors out in a spreadsheet so that you have real science behind your discussions. Make sure that every test has an actionable learning so that you can continue to improve and optimize.
  3. Brand affinity. Just like in social marketing, customers who already trust you are the ones most likely to take your advice on cross-promotional purchases. Therefore, segment not just by permission status, but also by the likelihood of brand affinity that will encourage cross-pollenization of the brand(s). For example, free online members may have a very low brand affinity, and thus are the least likely to welcome cross-promotions. Those paid members who have purchased recently, or have more than one product, will be more likely to welcome up selling offers (and not complain).
  4. Sales channel preference. A factor that became more important than we initially considered is sales channel; for example, those who purchase at retail vs. online. Not only are there demographic differences between the two, but there are also differences in the way email is utilized. For example, in this case, email was not very successful in encouraging retail customers to purchase online, but it was effective in generating store traffic. Seems obvious now that we see the results, but of course, the magic is in the discovery!
  5. Customer lifecycle. This is perhaps the most important factor. I have found time and time again that we marketers are way too confident in our assumptions about how interested customers are in our offers. In fact, we have to start way back in the lifecycle for cross-promotions, just as we would with new prospects (which, of course, many of these people are!). Nurturing has to start with discovery and exploration. Too many times, we hit prospects with offers well before they have established our credibility, or before they even acknowledge their own needs.

What have you learned from your efforts to create new revenue and customer satisfaction opportunities through data integration? Please share ideas in the comments section below.

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