Despite big headlines around social media and mobile, email marketing is still the most effective way for e-commerce companies to drive sales online. It is often the central component within digital plans as e-commerce marketers rely on the medium for building relationships and earning revenue. As more consumers check emails on mobile phones, many marketers have begun to test and develop email programs that are executed for mobile.
Direct Marketing News convened a diverse group of e-commerce executives in June for an editorial roundtable discussion, sponsored by Bronto Software, to talk about several facets of email marketing strategy. In addition to rendering emails for mobile, the group discussed issues around deliverability, customer segmentation, preference centers and personalization, as well as the challenges in attribution management across digital marketing channels, how to effectively use behavioral targeting in email, the benefits of automation and welcome email programs. The group also shared creative strategies on how reactivation programs can help drive sales and at the same time clean lists.
Direct Marketing News: How are you embracing emerging marketing channels like social media and mobile?
David Wachter (Jimmy Jazz): We have our Facebook and Twitter pages going and we have a lifestyle blog on our site. But I am really not finding ways to monetize it yet. I’m just in a holding pattern, waiting to see what some of the bigger players out there in specialty retail end up doing. Mobile is our next step. By 2013, people will be using their mobile devices more than their desktop computers. Even though only about 3% to 6% of companies are doing something for mobile right now, there’s going to be a paradigm shift in the next couple of years.
Todd Morris (BrickHouse Security): We’re still looking at a way to monetize social media and a way to monitor and manage it. We’re looking for a tool to profile our customers across Twitter, Facebook, the blog and RSS, and then tie it back to the CRM system. But more urgent is the need to deal with mobile. Every time we send an email, a large percentage of the recipients are reading it on a mobile device.
It is pretty unlikely that they will read it on their mobile device and then read it again on their desktop. If they’re reading it on their phone, they’re going to click it on their phone. You want them to land on a site where they can transact on the phone. That’s a key initiative for us over the next six months.
Bobby Missry (SwimsuitsForAll.com): Our customers are a little bit older, so our percent of mobile users is pretty low right now. The demographic is women ages 45 and older. Because our customers are more mature in age and not really so tech savvy, we’re not really doing much in terms of mobile. We are aware of it but it’s probably more like 2015 when our customers will be shopping on their mobile phones.
Laura Santos (Envelopes.com): According to Google, of all the websites across the Internet, 79% are not mobile optimized. That means there’s a lot of sites, especially e-commerce sites, that are not mobile optimized. I find it a difficult challenge because our product is so detailed. If you’re doing a custom-printed job, there are many things within the operation before you get to the checkout. You’re picking your product, you’re designing it online, you are potentially uploading something and sending something later. That’s the hesitation for us with Envelopes.com.
Jim Davidson (Bronto Software): There are certain consumer experiences where you may want to push them to your site more than pushing them to a mobile-optimized site. Look at your brand. Look at your users. It may be that they’re on your blog, but not on your Facebook. Maybe you have somebody who wants to sign up via Facebook Connect and that’s going to be their optimum method.
Direct Marketing News: What are you doing to personalize your emails?
John Carton (Ashford.com): We are really embracing personalization. We have a membership offer in which customers can inform us which brands they’re interested in. Having customers inform us about what they’re interested in really improves the communication. This is very strategic for us in the next couple of years, really making personal recommendations based upon what they’re interested in.
Missry: In terms of subject lines, we can do pretty simple things to personalize. We do abandoned cart emails and show customers what was in their cart and remind them to come back. We are also doing segmentation, based on user behavior.
We’ll email differently depending on if they opened an email within the past 30 or 60 days, or if they’ve purchased in the last six or 12 months. Customers that have recently purchased are more likely to buy. Every once in a while, we email the non-responders something a little bit more aggressive just to reactivate them.
Santos: It depends on your product and your industry. We’re not doing personalization for the most part. People buy matching products. If they’re buying A7 envelopes, they’re going to buy A7 cards, usually in the same color. Currently, we do a reactivation campaign similar to Bobby’s. If you haven’t opened or done anything in the last 20 messages or so, we’ll send you an offer to reactivate you. Each time we do it, we probably get about 2% back.
Missry: It’s pretty much the same over here. You don’t get a lot of clicks and opens, but the conversion rate is actually pretty good. A lot of non-responders are still not going to respond, but the chance of people that actually do open and click responding to such an aggressive promotion is good. They end up buying something.
Direct Marketing News: How are you using automation?
Morris: We’ve created some auto-triggers. The basic ones are cart abandonment emails sent to people who browsed our site that didn’t purchase. We’ve also got post-purchase emails that go out that are non-transactional. Some of our products are very technical and in order to increase customer satisfaction, we send out an email right after they buy and before the product has been delivered with an “unboxing” video, a manual and how-to quick tips.
Davidson: It’s important to look at your on-boarding program. It’s really the welcome mat for your brand. It’s the best time to collect that additional data, if you didn’t get the questions asked or answered in the beginning. It’s where they’re going to start the cycle. That’s something to think about outside of the purchase activity or engagement level.
Santos: We just kicked off a welcome series. Before, it was just two emails; now it consists of up to 15 emails spaced at various times. You’re still getting your welcome and you’re still getting your matched preferences, but the matched preferences are now coming at the end of the series. You’ll get a top 10 greatest things about our site email, a dedicated customer email, a social media email and so on.
At the end of the series, you’ll get your managed preferences and it will give you a list of questions like ‘How often would you like to receive emails?’ It’s been successful so far. We’ll see where it goes. We’re just playing with the timing of the triggers and looking at how long we should wait in between.
Missry: We’ve been doing a welcome series for a very long time now. They are a huge part of our email program. We have about six or seven emails in the series, introducing the bestsellers, the brands and how to measure yourself for swimsuits. By the end of the series cascade, we have them pretty geared up to buy. If they haven’t bought by then, we’ll send them a promotion.
Direct Marketing News: How are you using preference centers?
Santos: We are using preference centers and email frequency as a segmenting tool.
Carton: We’re planning to enhance our user preference center, enhance our use of automation and expand our segmentation capabilities within the email tool. With a lot of e-commerce systems, there’s more than one area or one system at work. You need to establish a preference and stay consistent with that in order to ensure the user experience is consistent.
Davidson: Marketers are looking at their email programs to see how they can best optimize the experience. It’s not necessarily what happens once they’re on the site, but how can they increase that engagement level with the mobile user. Depending on whether it’s on a hand-held device or a tablet, there are different ways of coding, there are different calls-to-action and there’s different formatting that works better.
You have to ask what representation do you have from people who are going back to their desktop and then making the conversion. Are they carting on their phone and then converting on their desktop? There are ways to monetize it, but at this point it’s really about who the users are. How are they engaging and what steps do we need to take? When does it become worth it to have your creative team design differently for these people versus your desktop users?
Direct Marketing News: Is managing your dashboard across channels a challenge?
Missry: We had a little bit of a hiccup this year in terms of our tracking. We were seeing a lot more conversions than we were really getting from Google AdWords and spending a lot of money because we were using various third-party search partners. It helped us to clean up our data and start tagging everything with Google Analytics. Now, I’m seeing a much easier way of attributing the daily sales and saying, “This came from affiliate. This came from search engine optimization. This came from email.” It’s definitely helping.
Wachter: Are you giving credit to the last click?
Missry: We are giving a double credit right now. It’s very hard. Somebody from email could have come from affiliates first. We are thinking about doing some type of attribution model where you get the lower percent for the last click, but that might hurt our reputation with the affiliates.
Wachter: I just hired a Web analyst and we’re starting to do the same thing and clean it up, and then make sure we move forward with a clean reporting structure.
Santos: I’m looking into affiliates as one of my priorities this year, as far as attribution and placement. Most companies will either do first or last touch and skip everything in between, or if you do everything in between, you’re giving an equal credit, which isn’t necessarily the factual truth. Maybe the affiliate program is doing great, but you really shouldn’t be paying them as much, because they’re somewhere in the chain.
Morris: Attribution is the hot button in the industry, which is, how do you know which channel to credit? Everyone is always raising their hand saying it’s them. We do a paid search campaign and get someone to click. They go to our website, get to the shopping cart, and leave our site to go to a coupon site, and the coupon site takes credit. We are always looking at how we can attribute better.
Carton: We have a similar struggle with attribution management. Especially, going back to tab browsing, it’s very easy for customers in the checkout to open a new tab type in coupons and purchase there. That is where you see such disjointed attribution issues. Customers are just clicking around trying to find the best deal at the last moment prior to purchase and that is significantly causing the double dipping issue with the traditional last click approach.
Missry: Recently, we implemented a strategy to just give them an offer in the shopping cart. This avoids them leaving our site and checking out through an affiliate. It’s really increased conversions by just giving them a minimal offer in the shopping cart, a nice banner that says, “Take 10% off.” If they already have a coupon in their cart from an affiliate site, we’ll suppress the banner so they cannot combine coupons.
Morris: We have customers that will actually get all the way to the shopping cart and then take our part number and go to Google and come back to us through organic, even though they originally got to us through an affiliate or email. It screws up the attribution. There’s always a bit of a fudge factor in the budget for plus or minus this much.
Direct Marketing News: What are your biggest challenges in 2011?
Wachter: Our site is in its infancy. We’re 10 years behind our competitors and probably 15 years behind the industry. Our growth is explosive because we’re playing catch-up. Our distribution warehouse grew three times in the last two years. Right now, it’s just about keeping up with the growth and making sure that my ad budget sees ROI and the cost per action is where it needs to be in every marketing channel.
Carton: Our challenge is organizing the various marketing tools that are available. We have several different log-ins. We still have analytics in one silo, email management in another, social has its own tools, and our retail store presence is a completely different system as well. Integration between these systems is a challenge as we are exporting and importing the data from various systems. There’s definitely a lot of work with managing those systems, and I welcome some consolidation in the market.
Davidson: I agree. You have so many vendors and data is in different locations. You really have to look at your Facebook customers, your site customers, your catalog customers, your in-store customers, your email customers and your mobile customers. It is important to find a way to get those communications consolidated, as well as the data, to get some centralization there.
Missry: Our challenge is trying to maintain growth without bursting at the seams and trying to hire people without over hiring and going over our budget.
Santos: Part of our challenge is to focus a little bit more on the DIYer, and bring in more revenue there. The challenge is presenting the product to them so that they can understand it and not using industry names. If a bride is looking for a wedding invitation, we should call it a wedding invitation and not a flat or a folded card. It’s really just exploring different revenue channels.