Roundtable: Inbox success driven by data integration

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Kara Trivunovic

Click image above to hear a podcast featuring Kara Trivunovic, senior director, strategic services at StrongMail, along with Scott Keating, senior director, CRM marketing, at ESPN, Peter Westerman,SVP, audience marketing, Ziff Davis and Stephanie Miller, VP-global market development at Return Path. Participants chat with editor-in-chief Carol Krol about the latest trends and challenges in e-mail marketing.

Marketers deal with many moving media parts today. E-mail, with its low costs and sophisticated segmentation capabilities, is often at the heart of the media plan. DMNews editor-in-chief Carol Krol and associate editor Dianna Dilworth brought a group of e-mail experts to the table, including marketers, service providers and industry experts, to discuss the challenges inherent in this popular, constantly evolving channel. Our thanks to StrongMail Systems for sponsoring this lively roundtable discussion.

DMNews: What are the major trends in e-mail marketing today?

Stephanie Miller: The same three things that have always been really important to e-mail marketers are still really important to e-mail marketers: Response, deliverability, and list growth. What I'm hearing is the investment is really coming in the database. Getting the data to be of good quality, but also to get it to talk to the other systems and being able to track a conversion all the way through to lifetime value.

Peter Westerman: We're coming off a year of trying to find out where data has been, in fits and starts, and it has been a little painful. Now, we're starting to look at, what do we do with it now that we feel better about the quality? What kind of triggering systems do we need to have in place? Deliverability, for us, has been a huge challenge over the past year.

We probably had 30% churn 18 months ago. I think we're around 50% now. We're finding a lot of our resources devoted to block and mtackle: deliverability, keeping the lists clean; that kind of thing.

Scott Keating: In the past two years, we've done a ton of investment in bringing together various sources of data throughout our company, whether that is our registration data or our transactions from some of our online products. We've taken the Omniture source data with those internal types of registration and product purchase behaviors, and we've integrated that all together against a single user. You can't do that without having all of those data pieces integrated. We do a lot of modeling segmentation based on the content that you're viewing on ESPN.com.

Sal Tripi: As a 50-year-old marketing company, we had an enormous amount of data on a lot of people we had been accumulating over years and years. We migrated online 10 or 15 years ago. It was just offline and then e-mail. We never really put those two together. Now we have multiple online properties.

Add Facebook into that and Twitter. Bringing all of this data together is an enormous exercise.

Kara Trivunovic: We're working with a number of clients who are undertaking data integration.

They're looking at it from an understanding of the customer from all sides, being able to have one view of the customer, and being able to better understand how their programs are performing. So, it's kind of a performance exercise. The other side of it really is trying to segment and target. I'm finding that a lot of the clients I've been working with, once they get it all in one place, they're overwhelmed by the sheer volume of it.

Jason Scoggins: We're in the process of trying to pull all of our systems together so that we have a single data source. We've had in-house e-mailing for the last 15-plus years, and have just gone with an ESP [e-mail service provider] 12 months ago. All of a sudden, we now know who's opening; clicking.

As people in the company are learning the value, all of a sudden e-mail has come to forefront in a lot of people's minds.

DMNews: Is deliverability still a major issue?

Emily Christner: Absolutely. You know, 2009-2010 has been a transitional time for us; switching e-mail providers, completely switching our e-mail strategy. With the old strategy we really were struggling for months and months with deliverability issues.

We were trying to understand from our ESP what was going on and why this was happening. I think a lot of it has to do with all the issues that everyone has already mentioned. As we build our new program, how do we do that? We went from a newsletter strategy and now we're moving to more of an alert strategy and more transactional messaging.

ST : Consumers are getting less tolerant of unwanted, stale, generic mail. They're more apt to hit the “report spam” button and to unsubscribe. ISPs, appropriately, are raising their standards as far as what's going to make it to the in-box and what's not. As we move more towards domain name reputation, it's not going to be as easy for people to hide behind a new block of IPs or to continually migrate. We're continuously monitoring the trends.

PW: It also requires a huge amount of resources. I think one of things that surprised me when I came to Ziff was the amount of time that we had to spend focusing on deliverability, because you have to be so vigilant.

ST : What are the key metrics that you focus on when looking at deliverability trends?

PW: We have a very simple KPI dashboard. You know, inbox delivery, the various kinds of complaints, abuse blocks, blog bounces, soft bounces, hard bounces. We're now centralizing all of the data that we're getting from our ESPs in one place. We've done that with our other data. But it's just recently that we have all of that logging information coming back from various places.

DMNews: Is that true for other folks?

SK: From the resources standpoint, certainly. We haven't had too many issues with deliverability. That's not to say that it's a technical issue. We've really put some heads against it, so we've dedicated resources to actually take care of it.

DMNews: How do you handle frequency management?

JS: Some of our mailings are very much set by a schedule. Our scheduled fare sales go out on Tuesdays. If you're flying, you're going to get an e-mail four days prior; you're going to get one 30 days prior. You're also going to get a welcome home e-mail two days after you've returned. We're trying to put a priority over which e-mail you are going to receive. If you're purchasing a ticket, you want your receipt and we're not going to hold that back. But there are other messages that maybe can be delayed a day or sent early.

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