Personalized Emails Cross the Finish Line

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Personalized Emails Cross the Finish Line
Personalized Emails Cross the Finish Line

“Email is a very large component of our digital business—a big revenue driver and a main traffic driver.” That's how Reed Pankratz, senior digital brand email strategist at Finish Line, contextualizes the sneaker and athletic gear retailer's email marketing strategy.

The multi-faceted approach is not all about driving conversions. Pankratz points out that email is also an important channel for non-sales communications relating, for example, to events, Finish Line's loyalty program, and rewards. Nevertheless, there are two “key arms,” as he puts it, to the brand's email marketing.

A staff of about six people supports email marketing, part of the digital marketing team mostly based in open-plan offices in Boulder, Colorado. Pankratz describes it as a “start-up” type environment, with all his team members within a stone's throw. Of course, creative and brand input extends to other teams, including staff members at the corporate offices in Indianapolis.

Finish Line also runs an affiliate marketing program directly in-house, not through an agency, but otherwise works with several partners to streamline its email marketing efforts, including the following:

Experian Marketing Services is the ESP, responsible for the “nuts and bolts” of the process, including segmentation, lists, and distribution. The company also provides email campaign metrics, which “help steer the [direction of the] program,” Pankratz says; although, it's also influenced, of course, by external analytics relating, for example, to business trends.

Movable Ink enhances personalization of emails, not least through dynamic content—that is, content which refreshes and renews each time an email is opened. It also provides some support on physical coding. Pankratz estimates that around 20% to 30% of Finish Line's emails incorporate some kind of dynamic content. “We're exploring it more and more,” he said “because we're seeing great uplift.”

A Movable Ink-powered email from Finish Line let recipients vote on sports results, with the score refreshing each time the email is opened.

They also reach out to Certona for personalized dynamic content support, to Fluent for help with customer acquisition via email, and to Criteo for help re-targeting customers outside the network who visit the Finish Line website.

Finish Line, founded in 1976, has almost 1,000 retail outlets in the US, primarily in shopping malls or inside Macy's stores. Its main digital retail outlets are finishline.commacys.com, and for mobile m.finishline.com.

Two main types of email marketing

First, there are the “evergreen campaigns.” These messages offer a “consistent cadence for sales and markdowns,” as well as notifications about newly arrived and top-trending merchandise. Brands which consistently perform well for retailers also tend to be highlighted. Pankratz emphasized that these email campaigns drive not only digital purchases, but also foot traffic to stores.

Second, Pankratz says, “there are triggered, recurring emails running in the background.” These are the personalized emails that re-engage customers based on their activity and their known preferences. This is part of the email program which, Pankratz says, has grown significantly.

Content and targeting

In terms of creative, evergreen campaign content is refreshed seasonally to reflect the time of year—“running in spring is different from running in winter," Pankratz says—as well as business priorities among products. Finish Line works with brands and merchants to time these changes. As for the triggered emails, personalized creative is displayed dynamically based on user activity and shows footwear or other products related to the user's search activity. This is an automated process.

When it comes to targeting, Finish Line has the capability of generating what Pankratz describes as “a vast number of lists,” based on indicators like engagement score and brand or product affinity; however, he didn't make available overall numbers of recipients. As for frequency of mailings: “We're not blasting entire lists every day, but we're constantly in the market, trying to be relevant and engaging.”

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