E-Mail Marketing: Behavioral Targeting by Default?

What better way to identify, develop, and nurture relationships with ideal prospective customers? In a variety of forms, behavioral marketing has the proven ability to extend campaign reach and to drive sales and conversions.

But though the online advertising world has heartily embraced behavioral targeting, e-mail marketers are still wary of it. Privacy lessons learned the hard way in the e-mail world over the last five years or so hold valuable warnings for behavioral marketers.

E-mail, which has at times been touted as the most successful marketing channel of this age, has its obstacles as well: spam, spoofing, phishing, and other fraudulent practices continue to plague the medium. Consumer trust in e-mail is frayed, and smart e-mail marketers know better than to mess with the trust that remains.

Behavioral targeting has a similar consumer trust issue. The idea of being followed around the Internet by marketers doesn’t sit well with many surfers. Combine that with the fact e-mail addresses are personally identifiable and have been used in the past to extract personal information, and any potential union of e-mail with behavioral targeting seems dubious.

At its core, the e-mail marketing model is behavior-based. As the relationship between user and sender evolves, the actions and the response of the user, even that user’s stated preferences, allow e-mail messages to grow smarter and more relevant with each interaction. Automated optimization programs, much like behavioral media programs, exist to inform e-mail messaging and frequency and to change offers and landing pages based on consumer response to prior e-mail messages. This type of give and take can and should be leveraged to target consumers by their e-mail behavior, with all the associated cross- and up-selling opportunities.

According to JupiterResearch, marketers who target e-mail campaigns to specific behavioral and demographic characteristics see 18 times the ROI (define) of traditional e-mail messages.

By their nature, e-mail transactions allow a deeper level of personalization. Behavioral targeting feeds off that personalization, leading to stronger relationships, higher conversion rates, and increased customer loyalty. Since the rise of spam and tightening of e-mail filtering processes, e-mail marketers have adhered to a philosophy of relevance to increase deliverability rates and strengthen consumer trust in the channel. Behavioral targeting is the surest way of providing the highest relevance to a wide array of individual users. The catch: how do we keep the targeting anonymous and, more important, assure consumers of their anonymity?

Consumer Education Is Key

Consumer education is a key component of establishing and maintaining trust in behaviorally targeted e-mail. We can’t just talk about safeguards; we must demonstrate them — consistently. Online shoppers have legitimate privacy concerns. They’re wary of allowing anyone, particularly a new marketer, into their world. It’s vital to provide e-mail users with proof of anonymity and recourse if that anonymity is breached. E-mail and advertising technology, such as flagging and opt-out links, exist to assure customers no personally identifiable information is extracted and any unscrupulous parties who would breach that privacy are monitored and subject to sanctions.

Not only must opt-out policies be honored, but it’s paramount all information gained via e-mail for behavioral targeting is on an opt-in, permission basis. Federal CAN-SPAM regulations are an added incentive, as all behaviorally targeted e-mail must be compliant. The best way to be assured of that is to operate on an opt-in basis and know for sure your customers want to hear from you. Privacy policies may need a thorough review and possible revision. Like any change in program, this work should be scrutinized for overall revenue impact. Do we gain more revenue from the insights provided by behavioral e-mail or do we lose potential customers due to privacy concerns?

Both behavioral targeting and e-mail are channels used with increasing frequency by multichannel marketers. The two are hardly mutually exclusive. Rather, they’re mutually beneficial. The hitch is rich e-mail relationships can exist between customers and marketers, whereas behaviorally targeted media messaging is anonymous. Consumers are much more likely to provide permission to a company they already do business with, but valued brand names can create confidence in the absence of a prior relationship.

Commercial e-mail content can be tailored in accordance with information gleaned from behavioral targeting tactics, and behavioral targeting can be fueled by behaviors observed from e-mail practices. It’s a match made in heaven, so long as users get the requisite prenup.

Join us for E-Mail Marketing, the first in the new ClickZ Specifics conference series, October 24-25 in New York City.

Want more e-mail marketing information? ClickZ E-Mail Reference is an archive of all our e-mail columns, organized by topic.

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