The Holy Grail of Connecting With Customers: The Email Address
With the effectiveness and ROI of print media, ads, and batch-and-blast email campaigns in decline, the marketing landscape is shifting away from mass, push-based marketing towards personalized, one-to-one communications with consumers. In a perfect world of people-based marketing, personalized messages would always go to the right person, on the right channel, at the right time. But for most marketers, coordinating messaging across channels is an arduous task that becomes even more difficult when the messaging is personalized.
Every marketer knows that integrated data is essential to a solid cross-channel marketing strategy. But if you peel back the layers, what you’ll find at its core is the email address – this is what enables data integration across channels (cookies don’t cut it). Marketers who embrace the email address to identify consumers and deliver messaging – be it through website, email, social, display ad, or the mailbox at the end of the driveway – are much better poised to succeed in their cross-channel efforts. Marketers chasing personalization with cookies instead of establishing identity will only set themselves up for failure as omnichannel personalization becomes the new standard.
First and foremost, it’s essential that your identification technology, which links a consumer to an email address, is the highest quality. There are far too many sub-par identification technologies out there, resulting in sub-par email addresses (i.e. dead addresses, addresses associated with the wrong person, etc.). The place to start is your website, where the right technology links a web visitor to the right email address (note that no technology will identify 100% of your visitors, and quality is better than quantity). With this link in place, it then captures and stores data about each consumer’s interests, preferences and tendencies (for privacy concerns, this can be done anonymously through a “hashed email” identifier). It also acts as a repository for linked data including physical addresses, mobile phone numbers, device IDs, customer IDs, loyalty numbers and the ever-growing and changing collection of cookies picked up in browsers.
Once a visitor is identified and linked to previously captured and stored data (which happens in microseconds), personalized messaging can start immediately. Since identification takes place as the website loads, you can start by customizing the browser to alter each user’s experience. Does this person usually shop for fishing gear? Then the graphics that load on your home page can be fishing gear. Once the user starts navigating through the site, lightboxes and unobtrusive engagement bars can display personalized, dynamic product recommendations, offers and other content relevant to each shopper.
Content can also be personalized for new visitors, such as a percentage off in exchange for opting-in to your email list, or free shipping on your first purchase. It should be standard practice to invite any web visitor who’s not already on your email list to sign up. If you’re not doing this, you’re throwing away the most valuable thing you can gain – because email address isn’t just for email, it’s the key to tying together all available data about a consumer and marketing to that consumer effectively. If you’re worried about being obtrusive, engagement bars are a great option that let the user minimize the sign-up invitation to retrieve later, after having an opportunity to look around.
Batch-and-blast email is losing popularity as open rates decline – a decline that feeds on itself as email providers like Gmail send your emails to spam when a customer isn’t engaging. As such, it’s increasingly important to personalize the content of batch emails, which can be automated using data captured during website visits. It’s also increasingly important to deliver these emails when the user is most likely to open them. This can be accomplished through innovative email triggers that “fire” to each recipient individually, when that customer is most receptive to opening the email. Personalized content combined with individualized timing turns batch-and-blast into batch-and-personalize, getting your emails opened and your products purchased.
Triggered email should also be a standard practice for any online retailer. If a shopper puts something in the cart and leaves without following through – which happens about 77% of the time on retail websites – getting them to complete the sale often doesn’t take much. If you generate a triggered email reminder in the next few hours, between 10-25% will typically make the purchase (free shipping or dollars off will move you toward the higher end). Triggered emails cover a wide spectrum of opportunities to re-engage the customer and drive them back to your site, ranging from abandoned cart reminders that are delivered within a few hours, to new arrival notifications based on customer interests that are triggered when you add new merchandise. When online retailers implement triggered email, email revenue typically increases dramatically.
Linking email addresses to home address opens up direct mail opportunities that are driven by online activity (and vice versa). For example, like triggered email, triggered postcards can be personalized to feature browsed or carted products, as well as include dynamic recommendations and offers based on algorithms applied to each shopper’s activity. They’re great for prospects who visited your site, and for customers who aren’t engaging with email or who visit your site often but aren’t making a purchase.
At the same time, website visitation data can provide hotlines for any direct mail campaign. There are no better new prospects than shoppers who recently browsed products on your site, yet this trove of opportunity is often left untapped. Digital hotlines should be integrated into your mail stream to ensure these browsers receive your next mailing, and it should take place right up to the mail date. Additionally, ultra-recent add-a-name pools derived from website visits can simultaneously decrease postage costs while increasing response rates. Moreover, mail-to-visit association technology can attribute website activity to a direct mail campaign, and demo codes linked to email address can automate coordinated messaging across print, website, email and apps.
In-Store Apps, Kiosks and Wi-Fi
Thanks to all the advances made in the digital marketing world, in-store identification can now unlock sophisticated, real-time personalization that’s seamless with communication across other channels. In-store apps and kiosks should always use the email address (or an identifier linked to email address) for sign-in. This instantly enables the same real-time data that powers personalized out-of-store content to power personalized in-store content.
With nearly 60% of shoppers using their mobile phones in-store to look up product information and prices, Wi-Fi based identification approaches are also gaining traction. When linked to an email address, a Wi-Fi user accessing your website in the store can receive recommendations and offers that are both personalized and store-based (i.e. that blue top you looked at online is in aisle 5, available in your size).
Social and Display Ads
Ad platforms allow you to define your own custom audiences, and the email address is the key to determining who should be in each audience. Custom audiences let you maximize the effectiveness of your ad spends because decisions can be based on attributes known only to you. For example, if a customer who abandons a cart is opted-in to your email, you can send them a triggered email and don’t need to incur the expense of an ad for this customer.
In addition, defining your own custom audiences enables measurability that the ad platforms don’t provide, addressing a lack of accountability that is a big problem with ad spending today. When you determine who is in each audience and measure results compared to control groups, you get visibility into true performance.
The quest is over!
The Holy Grail of omnichannel marketing may not be as shiny as expected, but the trusty email address is what enables personalized cross-channel marketing, fueled by real-time insights, across a wide and growing spectrum of channels.
Bob Gaito is CEO of 4Cite, a consumer identification and data insights company that uses web visitor identification technology, data and analytics to identify previously unidentifiable customers and influence purchasing activity.