Boston | June 2019
How to Drive Customer Obsession with Email
Sometimes the best way to formulate a clear email personalization strategy is to see what’s worked — and what hasn’t — for leading organizations in the retail space. Coherent Path’s Peer Forum Series gives digital marketing experts the opportunity to do exactly that, by walking through hands-on case studies and dialoguing with top innovators in the field.
At our June Peer Forum in Boston, we joined digital strategists from leading-edge digital retailers such as Neiman Marcus, Wayfair, CVS Health, TJX, Vistaprint, New Balance and Talbots, in conversation with an analyst from Forrester, as well as our own mathematics Ph.D., Greg Leibon. Each of these experts brought their own unique perspective to the challenges of email personalization — and we all came away with practical tactics to implement over the coming months.
As our day of learning drew to a close, we agreed that three key points resonated throughout the presentations:
1) Obstacles to effective email personalization are often internal as much as external.
Rachel Cowlishaw of Neiman Marcus dove into the details of how she transformed this luxury retailer’s entire approach to email personalization. Cowlishaw recognized that individual personalization was critical for building closer relationships with Nieman’s email subscribers — but at the same time, she also realized that internal decision-makers dreaded “franken-emails” that combined inappropriate creative and messaging.
Her innovative approach was to implement Coherent Path’s machine-learning solution which allows retailers to maximize the value of their creative assets and automate dynamic, curated email. Retailers can specify which zones of each email template can be populated with personalized content, and which zones must remain unchanged. By specifying “guardrail” rules in advance for creatives and templates, Cowlishaw explained how she is able to deliver hundreds of on-brand emails daily that look like they were handmade.
Our operations have become much more efficient. Before we were creating maybe five to 20 different variations of e-mails a day. Now we have up to hundreds of thousands of variations of e-mails that we’re sending because we’re able to keep content in the library longer, increasing the lifespan. As well as our template allows us to have more real estate to show a variety of content.Rachel Cowlishaw, Director of Personalization, Marketing Innovation at Neiman Marcus
This approach has enabled Cowlishaw and her team to build loyalty-driving customer-centric experiences at scale — while also keeping Nieman’s aesthetic tastemakers firmly in the driver’s seat. The results? A 27 percent decrease in ESP service costs, a 58 percent increase in click rate, and a conversion rate lift of more than 40 percent.
In short, a solution like Cowlishaw’s can overcome both internal and external challenges around advanced email personalization. All it takes is a little out-of-the-box thinking, and a willingness to align new approaches with your brand’s long-held values.
2) It’s crucial to understand the unique trajectory each of your customers is following.
Greg Leibon, our Dartmouth College Ph.D. in Mathematics, has been known to dive very deeply into the numbers when he gets excited about a discovery he’s made. But although some attendees said his mathematical analyses went slightly over their heads, he made a very strong impression with his concept of the “email diet.”
The diet, Leibon explained, is simply a sequence of emails personally tailored to each customer’s tastes and aspirations — which, of course, change and evolve over time. When executed with precision, a balanced email diet can seamlessly guide each customer through the product catalog, getting them excited about entire product categories they might never have explored on their own.
Along the way, Leibon demonstrated how each subscriber moves through the product catalog on their own trajectory, at their own unique speed. To highlight this point, he threw two blankets to attendees: one at a “fastball” pace; the other slower. When you understand each customer’s journey, he explained, connecting with their tastes is as easy as catching a flying blanket.
Success comes down to paying careful attention to the cues each subscriber gives you, while keeping a close eye on the trajectory they’re following. This might not sound easy to achieve at scale — but with the right automation solution, it’s entirely possible to use customer trajectories to generate immediate revenue, while delivering ongoing value to the customer, as well as long-term ROI for your organization.
3) To keep your email program cutting-edge, you’ve got to keep innovating and iterating — and never stop.
Shar VanBoskirk of Forrester launched her presentation with the story of “Mad” Mike Hughes, who built a homemade rocket to prove the Earth was flat (and barely survived the resulting crash). VanBoskirk explained that, like Mike, all of us can be held back from our marketing goals by a variety of commonly held beliefs.
For example, many marketers assume that email’s primary purpose is to promote new products and services. In a similar way, most marketers believe that clicks and opens are the most crucial indicators of an email program’s success — and that if engagement is dropping, greater segmentation and more dynamic content will solve that problem.
The truth, though, is that nine out of ten email programs fail simply because marketers fail to understand their true purpose. Email’s real value, VanBoskirk explained, lies not just in promoting products, but also in building relationships of trust that drive ongoing customer obsession.
Building an obsession-driving email program demands a critical shift in thinking: instead of only allowing internal goals and benchmarks to drive campaign strategies, successful marketers build their email programs around customers’ ever-evolving needs, desires, goals and aspirations. The results are stronger engagement and far greater lifetime value from each subscriber.
By providing a forum for digital marketers to dialogue about how they’ve achieved this crucial shift, our Peer Forum events provide a wealth of concrete case studies, straight from the trenches. We’d love for you to join us at our next Peer Forum, where you’ll see firsthand how forward-thinking brands are approaching email marketing in qualitatively different ways — and how you can execute similar tactics within your own organization.
Don’t pass up the next opportunity to talk through your toughest email challenges with the marketing world’s elite. Our next forum will be in Chicago and you can request an invitation here.