Conference Call: Sephora and Acxiom Digital

Partnering with interactive agency Acxiom Digital since 2005, Sephora has developed its Beauty Insider loyalty program from the ground up. Tiffany Lei, marketing director at Sephora, and Tim Suther, SVP of digital marketing services at Acxiom, recently took part in a conference call with DMNews’ Mary Elizabeth Hurn to discuss the successful partnership and the challenges of bringing in-store experiences to the Web.

Tell me about the Beauty Insider program.

TL: When [the consumer] first signs up, whether in-store or online, they get a welcome e-mail that reminds them of their benefits and also prompts them to update or fill out a complete profile. After that they receive one to two e-mails per week. They also receive Perk Alerts which are Beauty Insider-specific offers: exclusive products, early access to products, special promotions. That goes out on average every other week. Also, when you get your shipping confirmation we’ve applied some of the dynamic personalization tools there as well.

TS: Every retailer seeks out a halo effect. They would do that in store via visual merchandising and other techniques. [Sephora] is building upon that and including the next best product or a helpful tip, which is a beautiful extension of the brand experience that Sephora has established for itself. They are treating e-mail as an extension of the brand as opposed to simply another technology to message with.

Why was Acxiom a good match for Sephora’s digital efforts?

TL: We had been doing all of our e-mail campaigning in-house and were facing some limitations with the functionality. We were also developing our loyalty program, Beauty Insider. A key component of that was personalization and serving up recommendations and content based on information we knew about our clients. We were looking for software that would really help us be able to do that. We wanted to dynamically insert products or content based on business rules rather than us having to manually create all these different versions. We [also] wanted to be able to do it self-service to maintain that control. Acxiom was just coming out with the newest version of their Impact [software], which allowed us to do both.

TS: [Sephora is] a brand that requires high level of customer intimacy for it to work. It’s very difficult to replicate the cosmetic experience and environment online. We required the technology to be able to tune the offer to particular circumstances of the customer’s beauty profile. I think it’s a fascinating application that the store has put in place.

What were some of the challenges you’ve overcome together?

TL: The program was set up as self-service account. We weren’t expecting a lot of support needed on the Acxiom side. We soon recognized we were trying to push limits of the tool and see how far we could take it. Acxiom was very supportive and really worked with us to see what we could to do to push it. We realized quickly that we needed full service support. So now we have a blended model where we do most of the execution of our day-to-day campaigns ourselves. But when we’re looking to do sort of newer, better, cooler things or we take advantage of some of their other functionality like viral e-mail campaigns and developing personalized landing pages, we partner with Acxiom and really take advantage of our account team.

TS: There’s no shortage of great ideas with marketers today. Often what stands in the way is the availability of skilled digital resources to turn cool ideas into running programs so that’s reflective of what we see with lots of digital marketers.

Can you speak a bit about taking the Sephora experience online?

TL: When the loyalty program was developed, we were expanding the in-store experience and rewarding our best clients. But how do we take that online? How do we talk to them so it’s relevant to them and they don’t have to dig through the 12,000 skews that we have? How do we make their shopping easier and more fun? That’s when the idea of personalization came in. [Customers] answer 14 questions so we can get more information about them such as eye color, skin tone and skin type to really help us serve up information, tips, content and products that are much more relevant to them. The more relevant we can be, the more interested the client is and the more willing they are to open the e-mail and shop with us.

TS: Because you wouldn’t do that in a store would you? You wouldn’t [try to sell] every single product to a customer. You would take the time to understand their needs. Using technology in an attempt to mimic that is just a really clever use of the solution.

How are you hoping to grow your offerings in the future?

TL: We are always looking at new things we can do. [Our account team makes] suggestions knowing our business and we come up with ideas internally. It’s been very symbiotic. With the holidays coming up there are some viral programs and we’re looking into to help build our replenishment reminder program. And when the tool first launched we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if from the e-mail we could have landing pages that mimic that personalized dynamic that drive the e-mail campaign?’ Lo and behold, we now have that.

TS: Acxiom Digital will continue to invest in the program — not just with e-mail and mobile but also other types of digital marketing and advertising solutions. We’re looking to more tightly integrate the display advertising world as well. Now we have a pretty good offering that allows customers to reach out to specific lifestyle interests across the Web.

Any final thoughts?

TL: Acxiom has been a great partner in helping us to build our ability to make the Beauty Insider program a success and being able to communicate with clients in the most personalized relevant way possible.

TS: I’m really impressed with cleverness in the way they utilized solution and how tightly aligned with brand and it stands out stands out in comparison to other retailers I’ve seen.

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