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Customer Retention. Automated

Smart Marketing: Big Data, Personalization, Automation

Posted by Andrew Pearson on Jul 1, 2013 4:02:00 PM
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Last week I attended a webinar by one of our email marketing partners, WhatCounts, titled "Smart Marketing: Big Data, Personalization & Automation", presented by CEO Allen Nance.  I've always been impressed with Allen Nance's ability to frame a problem and solution, and he drove the "Smart Marketing" mantra home particularly well.

Nance identifies a challenge that nearly all retailers, whether large or small, face when approaching their marketing opportunities: constantly waging the battle to drive web traffic and acquire new shoppers, many losing money on the first purchase, and only getting into the black by driving subsequent purchases.  But creating loyal customers is a challenge that web-only marketing has a hard time solving.

Email marketing is by far the best and most cost-effective marketing tool to drive repeat purchases.   Recent DMA data supports the conclusion that it’s more cost-effective to cultivate existing customers than to find new ones. The median return on investment for customer emails was $28.50, compared to a mean customer acquisition cost of $55.24.  (eMarketer.com "Email Marketing Benchmarks: Key Data, Trends and Metrics", 2013)

Enter Smart Marketing.

WhatCounts Smart Marketing Engine and Framework

So, what is Smart Marketing? Nance stated at WhatCounts' Digital Marketing Summit this year that "the goal of smart marketing is to scale well-performing, personalized, email via the right data, content, and automation."  Let's dive into each of the key elements of Nance's description:

The Goal:

Don't forget to start with a goal in mind.  The goal, in this case, is to be a smarter marketer.  In this profession, smarter marketing generates real results, and marketers and their companies reap the rewards. Don't be afraid to put some numbers on the board: X% lift in open rates on personalized and segmented messages; Y # of automated campaigns running by Q4; $Z revenue growth attributable to automation.


This is a key feature of smarter marketing - busy marketers must be able to scale their programs, and the introduction of data is not in-and-of-itself a scalable solution. 


The integration of structured customer, product, and purchase history data, combined with unstructured big data, gives retailers "limitless power" to trigger a huge volume of marketing messages populated with data-driven messaging.  But a cr@ppy message sent using automation is still cr@ppy.   Only a smart marketing approach can reveal insights necessary to identify and hone well-performing messages: you've got to constantly separate the wheat from the chaff.

Personalized Email

Many retailers are still trying to get to the low hanging fruit of first name personalization in their email. But there is real value to unlock from personalization by leveraging order data, content consumption, and demographics.  From product recommendations (think Amazon) to different subject lines for different demographics (think Obama's campaign), personalized messages get results.

Via the Right Data

Many marketers know the value of data, and the first step is often just to get the data in a usable format, available in the marketing platform itself.  You can do anything with it if you don't have it.  But simple integrations aren't enough.  For example, just having access to order dates and dollar amounts in your email software don't automatically tell you who is a valuable customer worth treating like a star, and who is a discount shopper who orders infrequently.  The right data requires ongoing analysis, and an output at allows for instant action based on insights.


I always say that good content is worth the investment, and great content is worth the sacrifice.  In the days of quantity, the gems are rising to the top of the inbox.  Awesome campaigns with relevant subject lines and engaging, personalized content and offers get opened, clicked on, and shared, resulting in deliverability wins that trickle through the whole email list, and create a widening gulf between you and your competitors.


Talk to any email marketer worth their weight in geldings, and they'll tell you that good email marketing takes time, creativity, and dedication.  There are enough steps involved already in cranking out content-to-reach-the-masses, that often times marketers put data-driven email marketing on the back burner. But smart marketing has to involve automation, otherwise the work-load, and pay-off, is unsustainable.  Each automated email is an investment in long-term pay-off, and good retail marketers are steadily building a smart marketing engine - each new automated campaign is like adding another set of horsepower, and over time, the additive impact is substantial.

The Smart Marketing Framework

WhatCount's Smart Marketing framework (chart above) is a helpful visual aid to think about the kinds of data an eCommerce marketer can combine (Windsor Circle can help you with this!) to get to smarter messaging through multiple channels. The ongoing process that powers smart marketing is key to this framework: data informs segmentation that enables personalized, smart messages, and generates insights that help you further refine a data-driven strategy.

It is worth noting Nance's comments on the webinar: "Insights are not the same as reports.  To have meaningful insights, marketers need to ask not just 'what was the open rate on my email', but 'who were the 20% who opened and why? Who were the 80% who didn't open and why?'"

Challenge yourself to stop looking at open rates, and instead find out how to learn from open rates, click rates, and other engagement metrics, to generate meaningful insights about your visitors, subscribers and customers. 

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