New York City | March 2019
Keeping Your Brand in the Driver’s Seat of Email Personalization
When it comes to delivering personalized, customized email marketing, different customers need different approaches. That’s why, at Coherent Path, we’re so interested in hearing from a wide variety of different brands through our Peer Forum series, which gives us an opportunity to share knowledge from top digital marketers with retailers of all kinds—and vice versa.
At our latest event in New York City we were fortunate to have warm weather and great attendance, including top marketers from companies like Bloomingdale’s, ANN INC., Bath & Body Works, CVS, Stein Mart, and Victoria’s Secret. It was a day of sharing and learning not only among fellow retailers but from experts in email marketing and machine learning, as well.
By the end of the day, we had identified three key points that came up time and again in all kinds of markets.
1) Don’t Fret the “Franken-email”
What is a “Franken-email?” Betsy Laurin, email marketing manager at Orvis, defined it as that unappealing, off-brand email that marketers are always afraid will be delivered if they allow automation to take over. She went on to describe how Orvis, a company that has been in the sporting industry for more than 160 years, struggled at first when it came to integrating automation and dynamic content into their email program, due in part to fear of unknowns like the “Franken-email.”
Using a conservative approach and introducing new ideas in phases, Betsy detailed how Orvis was able to evolve from a product-centric to a customer-centric marketing strategy without losing the unified and consistent brand image that had served them well since 1856.
How did she do it? Starting with content strategy, she described how she built alignment within the organization to think of each piece of content as its own unique module. Once each piece of content could stand on its own, “personalization machines” could begin to take over, creating custom content from a robust content library. This allowed the development of a customer-focused contact strategy.
“With Coherent Path the e-mails that we’re sending are a lot more personalized. We’re personalizing every content block in our emails so customers feel like the e-mail is made for them.”Betsy Laurin, Email Marketing Manager at Orvis
By trusting AI rather than relying on past segmentation strategies, Orvis has moved toward unified email sends that allow for better cross-category personalization. The result? Increases in all email metrics, less effort spent getting an email out the door, and a relevant, on brand customer experience—all with no “Franken-emails.”
2) Good Personalization Combines Reinforcement and Content Optimization
What is great about a real personal shopper?
That’s the question with which Greg Leibon, Dartmouth Ph.D. Mathematics, opened his presentation. Greg, who is an expert in machine learning algorithms, then set out to explain how machine learning models can actually replicate the benefits of a human personal shopper.
Personal shoppers are good at mixing reinforcement and inspiration. They know what you like, and have an idea of what may inspire you in the future. Of course, the only way they can know any of this is by learning their customer’s unique tastes and personality. Greg pointed out how sophisticated machine learning models behave in the same way, learning from customer data in order to mix reinforcement and inspiration.
Greg explained the differences between reinforcement machine learning and content optimization; his ultimate point being that both forms of personalization fall short when used separately. Just like a real personal shopper, good personalization from machine learning is a mix of reinforcement and content optimization, with an eye toward the customer’s needs in the long term, not just today.
3) Email Marketing Can Be Your Wedge into Customer Obsession
Everyone wants to foster customer satisfaction. But why stop there when your business can be customer-obsessed? That was part of the message presented by Shar VanBoskirk, VP Principal Analyst at Forrester Research. According to Shar, email marketing hasn’t evolved much in the past 20 years, and she encouraged marketers to “hack their email programs” so that email marketing could become a wedge into customer obsession.
What does a customer-obsessed business look like? They are insights-driven, highly connected, and led by customer input. According to Shar, the best place to begin implementing customer-obsessed principals is in email marketing, since email is already ingrained, inexpensive, and intimate.
From there, she showcased ways in which businesses like Staples, L.L. Bean, Neiman Marcus, Target, Bloomingdale’s, and The Gap have been thinking outside the box to make email more than just an ad medium, develop a holistic digital experience, and foster customer curiosity.
A successful event requires engaged attendees and insightful presentations. Fortunately, our participants agreed that the New York City Peer Forum had a great combination of both. We’re thrilled by the positive feedback from attendees, who said they were inspired to think differently about some of today’s marketing challenges.
By engaging with each other in an open and collaborative environment, we believe that these Peer Forum events offer an opportunity to sharpen all of our skills as customer-centric marketers. Want to get involved in the Peer Forum community, where you can share your own challenges, gain insights into trends, and hear how other brands are doing things differently? Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn and engage with your peers in email marketing – our next forum will be in Boston and you can request an invitation here.