Email, Relevance and Big Data

Prettied up and ready to packIn fewer than twenty years, doing business online has developed similarly to the rise of a celebrity discovered in the morass of obscurity and thrown into the limelight. Put the trajectory from Cool Site of the Day (founded 1994) to omni-channel marketing in perspective; that’s pretty meteoric growth in the big scheme of things. The upside is a meteoric rise to fame. The downside is a meteoric rise to fame.

Using the internet as a venue for conducting transactions, many businesses and consumers alike have gone from guarded skeptics to full-blown enthusiasts. But in the middle of the enthusiasm lives an oft-overlooked truth: people are humans. They have preferred ways of interacting with the world, and they have individual needs. For marketers, this is the fly in the ointment.

Back in the old days when many online businesses were trying to find solid ground, email marketing was the rage and high-performing lists were the grail. In short order, ‘personalization,’ with the goal of creating emails that made customers think the company looked upon them as individuals, became the imperative. Still, content was targeted to a segmented though nevertheless large audience, not to one person.

That level of customer attention offered a significant conversion boost over direct-marketing-esque emails. But it hasn’t had the staying power companies hoped for. A recent survey shows respondents favor ‘older-fashioned’ ways of interacting with a company, at least when it comes to learning of new products. Even conventional print catalogues out-perform current darlings like social media, sometimes by two hundred percent.

Intro to Product
But anymore, customers aren’t terribly interested in personalized email. They want customized email: recommendations for products they might like; content that is specific to them. And when they are on the company’s website, customers want tailored content. (Sounds as though they want the Amazon experience in all their online encounters with businesses.)

What is the common denominator in these desires? Customers want relevance. This should really come as no surprise. Customers have always wanted relevant experiences when they make purchasing decisions off- or online. Who among us isn’t a customer? Who wants to give over precious time to stuff that doesn’t matter in the least to us? If we are in control of what we do with that time, we’ll head for the relevant experiences every time.

Conversion rate marketing should be about giving customers what they want so businesses can get what they want. Conversion rate marketing has always been about providing relevance to customers. So, if conversion rates are greatly improved when communications are customized, then customization needs to be a marketing priority.

Send one customer an email that no other customer receives and do this for all your customers? Big data technologies make it possible to do exactly this, even when your customer base is large. But few companies today have the ability to use data at that scale when creating relevant experiences for individuals requires a lot of data, a lot of processing and a level of technology many companies do not have and cannot afford. In reporting results from the above-mentioned survey, Ayaz Nanji writes,

  • Almost half of marketing executives surveyed (45%) indicated that they lack the capacity for analyzing “Big Data.”
  • 50% of marketing executives said they have inadequate budgets for digital marketing/database management.
  • Only 24% of marketers always use data for actionable insight. This limited competency in data analysis is viewed by 45% of executives as a major obstacle to implementing more effective strategies.
  • Only 27% of the marketing executives surveyed said they always integrate customer data from different sources into a centralized customer database.

These are not cheery statistics.

The downside to any online business’s continued (or improved) success finds its expression in an inability, sometimes an unwillingness, to participate in the trajectory of technological developments. Budget constraints cannot be minimized, neither can colleague and leadership resistance. However, no company can afford to overlook one of life’s basic tenets: people want to be treated as individuals not as masses. Delivering what individuals really need is critical. Providing relevance has never been negotiable, and, increasingly, big data technologies allow businesses to take advantage of and relate all the data they collect to offer relevance to each customer.

Today, the money is in the data. It’s time to regroup, even if it takes small, incremental steps such as starting to customize emails. Time to remember what’s important and offer it at whatever scale you can accommodate. Time to consider whether outside providers can do for you what you cannot (currently) do for yourself.

Time to meet the challenges inherent in an industry’s meteoric rise to fame.

photo by: lisaclarke
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