Email Marketing: Overcoming Challenges To Achieve Personalization At Scale

On Sept. 11, 2018, DMN welcomed Epsilon’s Kara Trivunovic, SVP, digital solutions and Judy Loschen, SVP, digital analytics, to share their insights leveraging personalization to improve email marketing campaigns. Here are some of the biggest takeaways from the web event.

Want to check out the full presentation? Click here to view on-demand.

The roots of personalization

The concept of personalization, Trivunovic said, actually stems from the days when direct marketing was dominant.

“Personalization really started as a way for marketers to cut cost with direct mail by identifying the customers who would respond to marketing materials with the highest ROI,” Trivunovic said.

As email, and other digital channels, become more mainstream, the same personalization principles are applied — and expected by consumers. A recent Epsilon study notes 80 percent of consumers prefer communicating with brands that provide more personalized experiences.

Within the email channel specifically, preferred messaging includes:

  • Recommendations based on personal preferences
  • Coupons and discounts
  • Customer service
  • Convenience of information (manuals, tips, fact sheets, etc.)

The difference, Trivunovic noted, is applying a blend of different tactics to transform the narrative from the traditional “how can I sell you?” to “how can I help you?”

But why aren’t we there yet?

Achieving personalization is easier said than done. According to Trivunovic, there are five main challenges marketers face when achieving personalization today:

  • Aligning and activating data
  • Timely decisioning
  • Content creation and management
  • Channel alignment and optimization
  • Holistic measurement

There’s also the issue of difference in data, and how email falls in line within a total omnichannel experience.

“With email, it’s one digital channel where we do not have the luxury of understanding someone’s intention,” Trivunovic said. Intent data is aggregated in real-time. You can track this data easily from website or mobile activity. But with email, understanding intent can be more convoluted. 

To supplement this, intent data needs to be pulled from other channels to support email, and place these communications in context within the omnichannel journey.

“We need to not just look at individual tool sets — we need to solve the holistic problems,” Trivunovic said.

Achieving personalization

“Personalization is not a one size fits all for any marketer,” Loschen said. Different brands are in different phases of model maturity, and vary in terms of need.

One common problem, Loschen said, is brands having “too much data, with too little insight.” Larger organizations also run the risk of being siloed, with different teams using different data points to measure results.

“There has to be…representation from each of those different silos, to bring together the full omnichannel experience,” Loschen said.

Loschen offered a few tips for marketers looking to better identify the right data they need, and cut through the noise:

  • Focus on the outcome or objective
  • Identify the data you need to achieve your goals
  • Refine how data will be used to connect with prospects, and what relevant data is necessary (or, not relevant) to paint a full data picture
  • Define how data will be used within the marketing ecosystem
  • Optimizing your email marketing program

Combining data, strategy, and teams, is the goal to achieve email marketing optimization on a personalized level.

“A centralized omnichannel marketing playbook provides a comprehensive go to marketing blueprint for a customer segment with recommendations on how to engage strategically and tactically across the customer lifecycle,” Loschen said.

Testing is central to finding the right formula for personalization at scale. Loschen suggested testing across the whole customer journey, mixing and matching different assets with appropriate channel delivery and cadences. Some factors to consider:

  • Marketing to different types of audiences
  • Experimenting with different offers, media channels, and creative design
  • Optimizing timing, cadence, and frequency
  • Crafting ongoing messaging that consistently reinforces why consumers should be engaging with your communications

The power of AI

AI can be a power player when modeling a personalization strategy, due to its ability to achieve high levels of data processing in extremely short periods of time.

“The tools now are incredible from a personalization perspective,” Loschen said “Implementing machine learning is not as complex as testing across channels.”

The key, Loschen said, is to start small.

“Identification of just one campaign or one program is a great way to start,” Loschen said.

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