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Hearst Uses Email Insights to Merge Its Print and Online Worlds

Marketers may have thousands of emails in their databases, but how well do they know the customers behind those email addresses? Hearst Corporation launched its 360-degree customer view Customer Marketing Database five years ago to get a complete picture of them. The database is a data warehouse that contains information about more than 90 million individuals and more than 77 million households. Jim Murphy, senior director of marketing operations for Hearst, says the media company originally built the database to be more efficient in direct mail. And it was. The more complete data set helped Hearst experience a 25% increase in its direct mail response rates and a 200% return on investment within its first three years.

Then the tablet came. People could now subscribe and read Hearst’s publications right on their mobile devices. And while tablet users currently comprise only 3 to 5% of Hearst’s subscriber base, most of whom are young and affluent, Hearst President David Carey is aiming to raise this figure to 10% by 2015, according to Murphy.

This digital transition forced Hearst to communicate with its new reader base differently. “We’re not going to market to tablet subscribers using a direct mail piece,” Murphy says. Converting print readers to tablet readers also helps Hearst cut direct mailing costs. So, Hearst decided to up its email marketing game and go from using email to drive engagement to using email to drive commerce and subscriptions.

Two 180-degree views of the customer

But there was a problem. Instead of having one 360-degree view of its customers, Murphy says, Hearst has “two 180s”: the digital view and the print view. For instance, Hearst only has email addresses for about 50% of its active print subscribers, and it doesn’t have postal addresses for about 40% of its email newsletter audience. In addition, Hearst knows that about 5% of its tablet readers have an active print subscription and that about 15% were active customers at one time; however, 80% of its tablet readers are new subscribers, Murphy notes. So, about 95% of those readers weren’t currently active at the time they made a digital purchase. To link its print subscribers to its digital subscribers, identify inactive subscribers, and better engage its current email list, Hearst implemented Experian Marketing Service’s Email Insights tool.

A possible solution

Email Insights is a consortium in which multiple marketers provide data into one central database, Experian matches and links the data, and then sends the marketers insight based on the matched data, says Kevin Dean, SVP of global product management, consumer insight, and targeting for Experian Marketing Services. 

 “[Experian is] collecting email activity from many different partners, packaging that information back up, and sending it back out to us,” Murphy says.

How Hearst does it

Experian’s Email Insights can identify which subscribers are inactive in one brand but active in another. Murphy refers to this concept as LIGA—locally inactive and globally active. Hearst sends Experian its open and click activity. Based on the data collected in its database, Experian can tell Hearst the last time that subscriber opened or clicked through an email and then assign that email address an activity score that rates the level of activity that email provides Hearst. For example a consumer might not click on Hearst’s email newsletter; however, she might still be active with other brands. Murphy says that LIGA helps him answer to management when he feels the pressure to send out more emails.

“I can start telling management that I’m mailing deeper into the file of those inactives,” he says. “And I can start to grow and reclaim those back into my active universe if they engage.”

In addition, Email Insights can take an email address without personally identifiable information (PII) and see if another brand in the consortium has that email address associated with PII to create a more holistic view of the subscriber, Dean says. Email Insights can then even take that email “persona” and link it to more insight, such as demographic data. For instance, Murphy says Hearst acquires a lot of email addresses online by having people sign up for its newsletters. Experian can then take that email address, see if another brand has the postal address associated with that email address to help Hearst see if a digital subscriber is also a print subscriber. Dean refers to Email Insights linkage capabilities as a “reverse email append.”

The results

Since including Email Insights’ LIGA capabilities into its technology stack, Hearst has been able to reactive about 5 to 10% of its inactive pool, Murphy says. He also claims that Email Insights’ reverse email appends and linkage skill set have helped the brand experience a 40% higher yield. Furthermore, Experian has been able to match 37.5% of the email addresses in Hearst’s database.

But the journey is far from over. For instance, Murphy says he hopes to move out of batch-and-blast mode in the near future.

“I would not call us black belts in email marketing,” Murphy says. “In some ways, we’re very heavily still in a batch-type environment…. Where we’d like to get to, and our road map is [in] about six to nine months down the road, is we want to get out of that batch mode.”

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