Chicago | October 2019
Spark Brand Loyalty Using Human Nature & Numbers
The Chicago Peer Forum was held at the Museum of Science and Industry, where we had the opportunity to see some of the latest advancements in technology – from the Spider Sense suit to help the visually impaired, the Stress Dress that responds to your emotions, and the self-lacing sneakers that adapt to your feet, it is apparent that innovation is happening in the world of retail. It was the perfect backdrop to bring together leading innovators in email marketing, giving them a place to discuss the tactics they use to drive customer obsession via email.
The event brought together top-performing retailers like Groupon, Crate & Barrel, True Value, Mars, and Trek Bicycle, along with our own Greg Leibon, a Dartmouth PhD in Mathematics who’s dedicated to discovering new ways of optimizing customer journeys. Forrester Research’s Shar VanBoskirk, who specializes in helping CMO professionals, also joined us and shared her vision on why you should use email to create customer obsession, not just delivery. She discussed how email can sometimes feel like an outdated channel — but the truth is, it’s not email itself that’s outdated, but the ways in which many marketers utilize it.
As the experts and retailers dialogued about the real-world challenges they face every day, we all gained new insights — and came away with new perspectives on our approach to email personalization. As we wrapped up our day of learning, we’d zeroed in on three key ways of turning email into an innovation-leading digital channel:
1. Instead of accepting below-average email performance, it’s crucial to search for new approaches.
When it comes to email tactics, attendees shared how they run the gamut from bombarding the customer with promotions, to segmenting their audiences and sending targeted campaigns — to a forward-looking few who build responsive journeys for each individual customer. Sending more email is no longer an option for most retailers so marketers are looking for ways to change the messages.
In our first interactive session, many marketers expressed excitement about the possibilities email has opened up to building brand loyalty — while others expressed frustration about the outdated mindset of using email as a “supporting” channel, being expected to comp last year, and assuming that email performance isn’t going to change much.
Through dialogue with Shar VanBoskirk, these marketers converged on the solution that email can be so much more than “just another promotional channel.” In fact, when used adaptively and intelligently, many pointed out that email can serve as the most powerful channel in a retailer’s toolkit.
The key, VanBoskirk explained, lies in thinking about email the same way we think about our favorite apps: as a source of community and utility that actively adds value to subscribers’ lives. Instead of simply “accepting poor performance because it’s cheap and easy,” forward-looking marketers should “hack their email programs” — starting from the goals they want to achieve, and working backward from there.
2. Promotional content isn’t always the most effective “wedge” into customer obsession.
Greg Leibon, our Dartmouth Mathematics PhD, expanded on VanBoskirk’s points with a wealth of his own data. Instead of thinking of email as a simple promotional tool, Leibon explained, retailers should be thinking about how to reduce the number of promotional messages they send — and swap those messages out with emails that build deeper rapport with each customer.
In fact, Leibon pointed out in this session, there’s a big difference between a “good promo” and a “bad promo” and it’s important to learn the value of each promotion. A promotional message sent to customers that have an affinity for promotion can close a sale — but a mis-timed promotion can actually disrupt a customer’s journey and lead to lower engagement. The ideal mix of promotional and non-promotional messages differs for every customer — and the only way to learn the right balance is to listen to your customers.
Leibon shared how to create models that actively learn from each interaction with every customer, discovering how that customer responds to each type of content. Combining those insights with your company goals, it’s possible to engineer a balance of promo and non-promo emails for each individual that serves as a “wedge” into lifelong customer obsession.
3. Promotional email is just one ingredient in the “email diet” — and sometimes, no promo is better.
One key point that both Leibon and VanBoskirk emphasized is that promotional email is only one ingredient in each customer’s overall content diet. To drive customer obsession, a brand first has to become obsessed with how their customers think, what they want, and what they aspire to.
VanBoskirk pointed out four key principles of customer-obsessed companies:
- They’re customer-led — the stories they tell and products they build are driven not only by brand goals, but by their customers’ goals and aspirations.
- They’re insights-driven — not necessarily by sheer volume of data, but by who has access to that data, and how they’re empowered to act on it.
- They’re fast — so fast, in fact, that they don’t need to deploy a perfect campaign every time, because they’re constantly learning and adapting around customers’ evolving tastes.
- They’re connected — not just throughout one campaign, but across the entire enterprise. Even a little data can lead to big insights if it’s shared throughout the organization, and if new approaches are welcome.
A number of our attendees agreed that promotions are only one ingredient in the overall content diet — and sometimes, the best promo is no promo at all. For example, a customer who loves to take their dog on hikes isn’t always in the mood to purchase new pet products — but they may love a non-promotional email recommending pet-friendly hiking trails in their area. By pinpointing where that customer is on their journey and providing content that matches their needs, it’s easy to use email to spark magical moments of connection.
Our morning was focused on how to use email to drive customer obsession so it was enjoyable to wrap up with an exploration of the Museum of Science and Industry. Recapping our takeaways as we strolled through the exhibits, we all agreed that we’d gained some fresh perspectives on innovations in email and beyond.
By bringing email marketers together to discuss their most complex challenges, our Peer Forum Series events give retailers a day full of opportunities to directly dialogue and learn from one another — and take home hands-on tactics that have proven to work for other brands. We’d be delighted to welcome you to our next peer forum in New York City, where you’ll see firsthand how the marketing world’s elite are solving tomorrow’s challenges, today.
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