Customer engagement vital to email strategy

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Kissinger: We look at revenue. Since we're publishers, we're out there sponsoring the newsletters, so there's a direct revenue. Then we look at all the engagements when people come to the website and how many pages they consume, how many videos they consume,  because there's advertising in all of those. We can track that.

Direct Marketing News: We are sort of dancing around this idea of pulling data from other areas in your businesses. How are you doing that? Are you able to achieve a single customer view?

Berol: Our sales cycles can be anywhere from three months to eighteen months.  It's never, “hey, somebody just bought a record.” That's not how I prove ROI. I don't know if you're ever really going to truly get to individual personas, but you'll get to the psychographic segments that are moving through the [enrollment] process. The more that we can drill down based on the psychographic personas, the more effective the whole trail is. [Email] is one piece of the pie.

Ray: We can't track everyone's revenue on every possible interaction they could have with NHL, but we can track them on more than one. If there is revenue associated with it, we use that to extrapolate a lifetime value for that fan.

We have some pretty big numbers as far as people who are worth a lot of money and are only using a few of our revenue channels. The biggest thing we do is combining of sources. If someone came in through one channel, they are generally only worth this amount, but if they've interacted on four or five of the channels that we actually bring into our database, then they are proven to be a lot more valuable.  We use that in our segmentation, and then the analysis is the type of thing that we take to our executives.

Direct Marketing News: What are you doing with your automatic, behavior-triggered emails? 

Berol: We are trying to do less and less automated, purely because it's a really personal decision around doing education particularly in the adult market where you have a lot of folks who are fearful about going back to school. To make it impersonal works against us. We do have a traditional CRM chain where they get the information they need to get, but that is always followed up by a human being. It's always playing off the automated with the real.

Colleen Sugarman (Healthy Directions): We're now developing our contact strategy to do more around the trigger. We are trying to look at engagement and behavior and break out segments. Who are our new to file and what does that on-boarding strategy look like? We want to really engage with the consumer early on, before we just start blasting them with content and product. As they stop buying, how do we then win them back? We are developing a win-back strategy; we definitely want to move more towards triggers. We know that you've got a one-month supply of our vitamin supplements. We want a trigger knowing that that's about to run out to give you a refill reminder. 

Wasserman: We look at our emails in terms of three buckets: it's acknowledge, it's promote and its dialogue. The transactionals for us are acknowledgement. When you come in, we want to send you a welcome and say thank you. When you submit a product review, we want to acknowledge that and say thank you. The idea there is to really just let them know that you are listening. 

Kissinger: We are definitely looking to increase triggers. We are not really doing that at all right now. Our fan base wants certain things from us, so the fan of Paula Deen [for example] wants to know when a new Paula Deen recipe is put on the website. The fan of Candace Olson wants to know when we put a new room of hers up on the website. It's getting those things in place that our fans normally engage with, the things they love about us, then broadening out to the topics they might be interested in. We see this as a huge opportunity to really increase that engagement with the fans that like certain things about us, and then we can super serve those things they want from us. 

Deutsch: What's happening on the consumer side is a lot of ISPs that our recipients use are starting to make decisions for the consumer in terms of what's important and what's not important based on engagement and how frequently they open. I think what we are going to start seeing is the trigger audience now is going to be more important than just making it easier and faster and more relevant.  We have to make sure that our consumers are engaging … with our mail, because if they don't, we are going to get dropped down to the bottom of the priority inbox in Gmail, or in Yahoo's similar program.

Direct Marketing News: Let's talk about the impact of the recent Epsilon security breach? What does this say about the security of your programs?

Berol: We are a highly regulated industry much like hospitals as far as personal data is concerned. I don't have an answer, but it does make us nervous. I think there is a growing concern about a certain CEO from a certain website named Facebook who is more than willing to throw your data out there, and I think that is making people nervous. I don't know if there is going to be a backlash from that.

Jackson: There's a true fear. We had a site outage two weeks ago and the first thing that all of our customers started freaking out about was: were you hacked?  That was immediately where they went, not the million of other things that cause site outage, so I think security is key. We [sent] a letter from our CEO that we posted in email that explained in as much detail as we could share as to what exactly happened.  From a technical perspective, I didn't truly even really understand it myself, but they wanted that understanding because they wanted to know what happened.

Deutsch: I think the really scary part about this data breach was not the data breach itself, but on the front page of The Chicago Tribune yesterday in the business section was an explanation of email phishing. The entire front page explained to consumers what email phishing is, how people just with your address and understanding that you are part of, say, Citibank's email program … can now target you with a phishing scam. What this does unfortunately for the entire industry is it lessens trust in the channel. It will be very interesting in the next couple of months to look and see, in the general promotional emails streams, what is happening to click though rates and engagement due fear caused by this.

Wasserman: I'm not quite sure what the impact of this is going to be.  I think it's still TBD. Most consumers don't have any idea who Epsilon is or what they do. I think if it's just limited to your email address and you don't see an increase in spam or phishing activities, then you're not going to remember that this even happened. However, I do think it points to a longer term solution which is verified sender programs. I think that is something the industry as a whole is going to have to address.

Scheiman: I see the potential impact from this being more along the legislative and privacy aspects. We have this incredible tension right now in marketing where consumers absolutely want all of the benefits that accrue with giving out their personal information. At the same time, they are very concerned with privacy and this is going to heighten that concern because they know that people can't be trusted to keep the data secure. I almost wonder if in addition to potentially a verified sender, some of the things that banks are doing now where they have little boxes with last four digits of card number thing or even a version of TrustE, for personally identifiable information, if some things like that are going to start to come together, in order to forestall some fairly draconian legislation that is poised to happen.

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