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Email marketing is no longer a one-to-many communications strategy. Today's marketers realize that customized, personalized and timely messages are what drive open rates, click-through and conversion. Consumers expect your messages to cater to their unique interests and purchase patterns.

Our experts offer up their best advice to help marketers take advantage of consumer expectations. As JP LaFors, director of client services at Gyro notes: “What's more powerful than personalization? Email allows you to speak directly to your customer by name in real-time.” Stephanie Miller, VP of email and digital services at Aprimo, takes the notion of real-time a step further by advising marketers to “send custom and personal messages timed to the moments when subscribers are ready to engage and buy.” Simms Jenkins, CEO of BrightWave Marketing, suggests marketers use other platforms to support campaigns: “We now can bridge the email and social realm in many ways and data is often that path.”

The five cardinal rules of email targeting:
Kara Trivunovic,
Global director of 

strategy, StrongMail

Relevance. It is what marketers are striving to achieve in their email programs today. But how that relevance is achieved is often answered by “it depends,” which really gets us nowhere … fast. While it is true that targeting strategies for email are often driven by unique aspects of a brand's email program, there are some hard and fast rules that will, at minimum, give you a place to start and something to think about.

1. Time is on your side. Look at the various points of contact and interaction with your customers to identify unique moments in time where you can communicate about that specific event. Consider refills/replenishment, customer ratings, product recommendations, anniversaries, status, etc. Regardless of the trigger point, the goal is to present a targeted and relevant experience based on the timing of the message delivery and content.



2. Consider the entire experience.
It is often customers' experiences on other channels that affect the engagement with your email program. What if you are an airline and lost my luggage? Or a retailer that just delivered a less-than-acceptable customer service experience via telephone? Chances are I am not much in the mood to get sales from you right now. Communicating with these folks via email, with an unexpected message or even an apology could help you turn that negative into a positive, and really turn things around.


3. Pay attention to what customers say and do. Oftentimes what customers say and what they actually do create some discrepancies that can leave marketers scratching their heads. Rather than relying solely on behavioral (think site-side behavior or email engagement) or reported (think preference center) information to drive targeting within your email program, use a combination of both data to achieve the best results.

4. Look for patterns to emerge. Leveraging personas is a great way to target your email communications — but if you don't have the time or wherewithal to go through a hefty analysis process — you may be able to identify some broad-reaching personas based on engagement and behavioral patterns that emerge among groups. For example, do you have a subset of your audience that continuously clicks through on content related to children, or sports, or music? These behavior patterns can point to personal preferences and traits, helping you to gear content to these groups.

5. Find your evangelists. It is likely that you have a subset of customers that are more than willing to evangelize on your behalf — “brand loyalists” if you will. Finding and speaking to these customers differently can create a synergy between you, as well as some gratitude for the recognition of their love for your brand. Drilling down into this information may take you some time, and tracking, but it is completely worth it.

Clearly, the possibilities for targeting are endless and very much driven by the unique characteristics of your customers and your brand — but in order to understand how it is going to improve or affect your business, you need to dip your toe in and give it a go.

Data-driven ways to reach the inbox:
Stephanie Miller, VP, email and digital services, Aprimo

There is only one way to reach email inboxes and increase revenue: Send custom and personal messages timed to the moments when subscribers are ready to engage and buy. You must have a file of active subscribers who engage with messages. If not, ISPs and corporations will block your messages or slow delivery.

Most marketers use data to customize messages. Most send welcome messages or post purchase promotions or renewal reminders. Many personalize salutations, target by geography or include the name of products. Subscribers demand more, or they will restrict their brand interactions to other channels.

Here are four ways to move your program forward:

1. Template with content blocks. Not all customers have the same value, so it's okay that some get more customized messages. Be sure to reflect custom content in your subject lines.

Automation technology helps by giving visually simple methods of identifying segments. Test and learn from the segmentations you choose. Circle back with every automated segmentation you run at least monthly.

2. Think multichannel. Allow subscriber channel preference, response and behavior to dictate the next step. Focus on moments when customers are in market. When the customer is engaged, you can send more messages on more channels to address how they interact.

3 Target within a segment. Start with a manageable number of logical segments, then target content within them for each audience and then personalize messages. For  example, if the segment is “gold cardholders,” then content may vary by gender, recency of purchase and last purchase. Personalize with first name, geography and points earned.

4. Audit content, frequency and value. Are you helping subscribers or just sending batches of similar offers? Are you heeding behavior, or are you blathering on?

Marketers have always known attention and care to email programs is important; we just haven't always taken action.

Four strategies for igniting your email:
JP LaFors, director of client services, Gyro

Email is one of the most powerful one-to-one marketing tactics. However, when done poorly it can make consumers feel as if brands don't understand them. As consumer engagement deepens so do consumer expectations. Consumers expect brands to not only react, but also be proactive with data collected from engagements. That's why email marketing needs to work as hard, if not harder, than other channels.

Here are four tactics to implement immediately to ignite your email marketing efforts:

1. Find out what customers want and give it to them. What's more powerful than personalization? Email allows you to speak directly to your customer by name in real-time. The question is: Are your permissions and preferences keeping pace? As your relationship with a customer deepens, go beyond just asking if you can email them. Strive to find out what your customers' preferences are and address them.

2. Keep it fresh and test it. Email engagement metrics are a great path to incremental improvements. Test subject lines, redesign layouts, mix up messaging, etc. It's all good. Keep it up. There is so much noise in the marketplace. Your message has to be fresh; it has to be relevant.

3. Beef up behavioral data. Engagement metrics are great, but you also need to push beyond them. Dive into behavioral data that reveals customer situations and opportunities. This kind of data includes listening to what's being said on social media. Query customer service and find out who is purchasing what. Gather and use behavioral data to help uncover new email programs that can garner big returns.

4. Learn from your favorite brands. Reflect on the relationships you have with your favorite brands. What would you want your favorite brands to say next in a dialogue with you? What have they been doing wrong (don't do it)? What are they doing right (do it!)?

You're a customer too. Learn from your experiences.

Using analytical insights to drive targeting
Simms Jenkins, CEO,
BrightWave Marketing

Email marketing is all about taking the targeted and measurable approach, at least in theory since many digital marketers are still broadcasting almost exclusively to their email databases. We also possess an enviable collection of deep metrics for each and every deployment. This should mean we are using the rich analytical evidence that we have access to for developing incredibly powerful and relevant messages and elevating our email programs to a higher level.

The reality check is that a large percentage of email marketers are not using much data strategically other than grabbing opens and clicks to show to their bosses. This is a major missed opportunity. Taking individual subscriber and campaign-level metrics to drive deeper engagement, conversions and revenue should be a top line goal of any savvy and ambitious email marketer.

1. Determine your real leads. If you knew 10% of your audience was more interested than the other 90% of your audience, wouldn't you concentrate on this active and qualified sector first? While not a conclusive lead list (email works as a branding and awareness tool, which drives sales without clicks as well), follow up with a more customized email that takes into consideration that these people clicked on a link and tailor it to further drive them into the relevant funnel with custom landing pages, relevant content or a particular offer tied to what they clicked. Don't forget to suppress the subscribers that completed your desired action (or place them into a unique segment) so you don't make them feel buyer's remorse for getting a better offer after they bought.

2. Treat nonresponders differently. Subscribers who have not clicked on an email in six months may be emotionally unsubscribed, or they may be so in tune with your brand that they don't have to click to be a buyer or an engaged recipient. Use this knowledge and email's powerful tools to place these subscribers in different buckets like an automated reengagement campaign or different and more aggressive subject lines or campaign frequency. Carefully track any change in behavior and adapt accordingly.

3. Track after the click. Many email marketers shrug and say their job ends in the inbox.

However, retargeted display ads, optimized landing pages and conversion data (whether online or off) not only paint a more complete picture for your email campaign but arm the email marketing team with important political capital and business metrics that often resonate more to the influential people outside (and usually above) the email team, like CMOs and CFOs.

4. Use data to alter the little things. If you have a profile or preference center, hopefully you are using this to tailor content and offers that are related to user defined preferences. For example, a restaurant that offers up a preference related to catering and special events should personalize content (dynamically  or manually) to accommodate this preference. This can be as subtle as content boxes or creative that drives this opportunity home. Data isn't just what we grab based on behavior but also what our subscribers tell us. Most of us don't use that nearly enough, and the most actionable way is to make creative and messaging changes since those don't (generally) require moving internal mountains or take extensive resources.

5. Leverage additional platforms. If you know 1% of your email database consists of your most active and influential social fans and followers, shouldn't they get a different kind of email? Don't you want them to share and showcase your brand well outside of the inbox? Hey, the Foursquare mayor of your #1 retail location deserves a little VIP treatment as does a Twitter stud with 25,000 followers. We now can bridge the email and social realm in many ways, and data is often that path.

Taking small steps is often the most practical way to make some improvements and prove wins internally, so be sure to plot out risk and reward scenarios in terms of how to proceed in using data to drive a more relevant and targeted email program.

Use your email platform and trusted brainpower to further qualify the best leads. Segment and adapt your messaging differently to those who seem to be ignoring you. It is also a good idea to track the full subscriber experience cycle beyond the inbox. Optimize and customize creative and content based on subscriber data and take full advantage of other platform knowledge, especially social networks, so you know who the influencers are and how to speak to them.

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