San Francisco | October 2018
Calculate, Defend & Promote the Value of Your Email Program
When your email list has millions of subscribers, communicating to each of them in a friendly and familiar way isn’t simple or easy. It’s a challenge for most email
At Coherent Path’s recent San Francisco Peer Forum, we heard stories about this challenge with digital marketing experts who manage the email campaigns for national brands like Staples, Neiman Marcus, Sephora, Gap and Levi’s to name a few.
The interactive environment resulted in thought-provoking presentations and conversations around what is and isn’t working in the email channel. These top retail marketers shared insights on finding a balance between control and automation, on gaining C-executive buy-in to changing the email production process, and on balancing short-term revenue with long-term loyalty.
By the end of the forum, we’d zeroed in on three key takeaways.
A balance between creative control and automated efficiency is critical for a brand.
As automation becomes increasingly central to personalized email marketing, many retailers find themselves struggling to execute matching the ideal message and creative to every customer, while still maintaining control over their brand voice and image.
To achieve personalization while maintaining control, Rachel Cowlishaw, Marketing Director, Email and Content Strategy at Neiman Marcus, shared how they store all their ‘fully baked’ image files in a content library and allow the software to choose the right image to send to each customer at the right time. The ability to reuse content that their in-house design team already approved, and easily update copy to reflect last minute changes, enables Neiman Marcus to get more mileage out of their valuable creative assets – all while automatically delivering a personalized, on brand, customer experience.
“The future of luxury retailing resides in leveraging data and analytics to create truly personalized, intimate and engaging experiences whenever and wherever the customer chooses to engage.”
Geoffroy van Raemdonck
CEO Neiman Marcus Group
Another conversation around implementing ‘guardrail’ controls highlighted the concern most marketers have about giving a machine total control. All the retailers want to be able to set specific business rules for the software to follow — but some emphasize that setting too many business rules can inhibit the software’s ability to match the right creative and offer to the right customer. The general consensus was that in order to build a customer focused, brand-centric email program, they should test varying levels of control in order to discover what is right for each unique retailer.
How do you get cross-departmental buy-in? Focus on the impressions that matter.
While automated personalization measurably increases revenue — both immediately and over time — the fact that it initially puts products in front of fewer customers can make it a tough sell to upper management. As retailers at San Francisco Peer Forum shared their own stories about gaining buy-in from other departments, they returned again and again to the theme of shifting focus from maximum net impressions to optimally meaningful impressions.
Alanna Vallee, Senior Director Personalization & Customer Experience at Staples, shared how she began the journey to a customer-centric email program with a cost analysis of email unsubscribes. By highlighting the revenue lost when a customer is not emailable, Alanna secured executive sponsorship to focus on customer engagement and loyalty.
Other retailers recommended starting by talking to teams about email circulation prioritization. Instead of thinking in terms of, “How many million impressions can we get for this creative?” the marketers explained, execs should be asking, “How can we put this creative in front of the 450,000 subscribers most likely to convert?” Emails should not be prioritized solely by the biggest, highest revenue categories.
To balance short-term revenue with long-term loyalty, every customer needs a balanced email diet.
Traditional machine learning has done an excellent job with the reinforcement side of personalization — recommending products similar to those that a customer has already bought. The key flaw in this tactic, however, is that it can only optimize recommendations within categories where the customer has already made a purchase and doesn’t introduce the element of surprise and discovery.
Greg Leibon, Dartmouth
With a personalization solution that is a mix of reinforcement and optimization, it is possible to move a customer from their current favorite products to other high-value product categories, in a way that feels natural and personal to them, and is aligned with a company’s strategic goals.
By using every interaction to tailor each customer’s email diet around their evolving tastes, it is possible to create more profitable and loyal customers over time, while achieving short-term revenue lifts.
As the conversations and presentations at San Francisco Peer Forum demonstrate, the path to personalization takes a different shape for every organization. Even so, retailers from highly diverse industries agree that it is important to keep control of their brand identity as they implement automation and personalization into their email programs.
Let us know if you would like to join the next event in our Peer Forum Series, where we’ll find out what new insights forward-thinking marketers are discovering now!