Personal and Relevant: Targeting With Email

There is a powerful tool available to marketers, and its name is email. But targeted email is a far different animal from the junk mail known as Spam.

Let’s take a specific look at how targeted email campaigns work and the sorts of results they can offer.

What’s the Buzz?

Among those who are on the Net, email by far is the most popular activity. According to a GVU survey , email is the number one “indispensable” Internet technology.

What else? Email is cheap. We are talking a few cents instead of a few dollars. The folks at 1-800-Flowers say that communicating with their customer database via email rather than snail mail offers a 75 percent cost savings.

Email is also measurable. When a customer signs up to receive your newsletter, you know you have a reader. A failing email effort is immediately apparent, as users bail from your list. And with the ability to embed HTML tags, you can now measure via clicks when recipients respond.

Finally, email is enormously adaptable. You can offer a straight text message of a full-color mailing that looks exactly like a web page, making for a slew of variations with both advertising and content.

The key piece of information is this: email works. Information Week says it has achieved more than 40 percent response from its Information Week Daily email news.

Relevant and Useful

In addition to adopting a “Spam-free” policy, you have two techniques that will get customers to actually read and respond to your email marketing — targeting and opt-in. Step into your customers’ shoes for a minute. If you elected to sign up for an email list you are interested in and received email messages that contained content that reflected your unique interests, wouldn’t you read the email?

I delete Spam before I read it. But I take the time to read emails that I have requested and that are talking directly to me. But don’t just take my word for it, take a look at these examples.

SciQuest — is a web site that matches buyers and sellers of scientific products. The SciMail system allows users to locate products, suppliers and information. According to Peyton Anderson, buyers like the system because it saves them time, and the suppliers enjoy receiving highly qualified leads. When a buyer enters a request, the email is sent to appropriate vendors based on the buyer’s product interest, zip code, state and country.

Digital Impact — provides targeted email marketing services. Overall, it has created over 1,000 email campaigns. DI has found that targeted emails provide increased response rates versus broadcasting the same email to everyone. In one campaign, a client achieved a 21 percent lift in response using one-to-one targeting (no two emails were the same) versus sending minimally targeted emails. (In the latter case, the email was personalized with a user’s name, but everyone got the same offer.)

Travelocity — One of my favorites and a pioneer in personalized email, Travelocity is a popular travel site that offers a personalized email service called Fare Watcher. Subscribers sign up to monitor airfares in five specified locations based on price fluctuations (plus or minus $25.

How It Works

With the ability to include HTML tags within email messages, email can now be targeted more precisely. For example, if you were sending email to 1,000 users, you can now send out 1,000 unique email messages that contain various mixes of advertising, offers, editorial content, and so on.

Says Ray Kaupp, vice president of marketing at Digital Impact, “You can send out emails based on one simple targeting technique such as product affinity. When Sharper Image sends out an email order confirmation, they also include product recommendations based on what the customer just purchased.”

On the other end of the targeting spectrum is collaborative filtering, which allows you to send emails with relevant offers based on information about a particular user’s prior purchases, incorporating other users with similar purchase patterns. Part of collaborative filtering would also be using demographics and domain names to target emails, and targeting the email message based on which email program and version the customer uses.

Such technology allows a marketer to know, for example, if a user’s email program supports HTML tags. In that case, a message that includes HTML can be sent. If the user’s email program only supports text, then the end user will receive the text-based message instead. Kaupp says that HTML-based email that includes graphics and formatted text pulls two to three times more response than text email.

The beauty of targeted email is that it is highly measurable. In the case of Digital Impact’s service, every email message contains a unique, trackable URL that uniquely identifies a user.

In addition to measuring performance results at the end of an email campaign, you can measure before you even start. Kaupp advocates the “test and invest” theory where you test your email campaign with a subset of customers. With 85 percent of the responses from most email campaigns coming within 48 hours, you will know quickly what works and doesn’t work before you blasting out emails to your entire customer base.

No Taste For Spam

Of course, we marketers think this email thing is the best thing since sliced bread. Unfortunately, our online audience isn’t quite as enamored with it.

At least, they are less than enamoured by unsolicited email, which is less affectionately known as Spam. No matter how well you have written those email newsletters, and no matter how you personalize those email message, users won’t bite if they think it is Spam.

According to the 7th GVU WWW User Survey, 61 percent of respondents said they deleted Spam without even reading it. So why waste your time and money creating email campaigns that turn people away? If you would like to increase your email response efforts, an opt-in email marketing strategy is the only route to travel.

Next Week: Web personalization is the most well-known application for targeted and precise marketing. Up next is a “behind-the-screens” look at delivering personalized content.

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