At one of the most anticipated sessions of our annual Insight user conference, SparkPost CMO Steve Dille was joined by a panel of SparkPost customers—all savvy email marketers—to discuss how they are using big data, transactional and triggered email, and SparkPost to reimagine how email drives the entire lifecycle of individual customer engagement with businesses like Zillow, Etsy, and CareerBuilder. Here are some highlights from the discussion of “A Segment of One.”
Data-Driven Email Marketing and User Engagement
Right out of the gate, it was clear that these data-driven marketers approach email a little differently than more traditional, campaign-focused organizations might. CareerBuilder’s Scott Burdsall noted that his team thinks about email from the perspective of the customer’s inbox. That point of view is crucial, he said, because customers don’t react to discrete marketing programs in isolation from one another; rather, their experience is the sum of all messages he or she receives. For his business, email is the primary source of user traffic, and it’s driven by job seekers wanting to find the right job, right now. By combining information about job openings, individual user interaction patterns, and third-party economic and other data, the company seeks to get that right message in front of the right customer at the right time.
Zillow’s Tara Clark agreed that email is her most important driver of bringing people back and driving reengagement with the site. And, like CareerBuilder, Zillow relies heavily upon a combination of proprietary and third-party data to trigger messages at key points in the home-buying lifecycle. She also sees significant opportunity in identifying what data indicators reveal when a potential seller is about to become active on the site and to use that information to develop a seller-specific messaging strategy.
At Etsy, email marketer Matt Sperling looks at site and transaction behaviors, email engagement patterns, as well as interactions with mobile app push messages to guide his strategy. One challenge for his business is the global nature of the Etsy marketplace—data signals and contextual cues aren’t necessarily the same in every part of the world.
Personalization or Segmentation?
All of this data-driven email led SparkPost’s Steve Dille to ask if one-to-one personalization was necessary, or if more classic segmentation was enough to be successful. At CareerBuilder, Scott Burdsall noted that one-to-one is the nature of the job-seeking business, but that broader segmentation can be an effective approximation for identifying factors like message frequency and content that might be relevant when a user is no longer an active job seeker, for example. Zillow’s Tara Clark pointed out that the very best email programs have room for all types of content: one-to-one, segmented, and bulk marketing, and Matt Sperling of Etsy observed that using segmentation as a means of testing is also an important building block for true one-to-one personalization.
Do You Need Big Data?
As all three marketers noted: data helps! Big data science can lead to unexpected learnings. But, they also reminded us that even the “small data” of listening to individual customers and knowing your audience can be a very good beginning of that road.
What Metrics Are Important?
Although these three businesses are in very different markets, they each reflect variations on a marketplace business model. That commonality leads to some shared metrics for measuring the success of their email programs: revenue, of course, but also crucially bringing buyers and sellers to the table; by driving buyer/user engagement, they create demand for the seller or professional side of the transaction. As such, key metrics for all three include engagement, frequency, conversion on various steps in the lifecycle, and so on—and which in turn help to tune the email cadence, content, and calls to action. (By the way, that virtuous cycle of data, email, and user engagement is something that stands out in most of the successful data-driven marketing examples we’ve seen repeatedly among our customers.)
Challenges, and Looking Ahead
Etsy’s Matt Sperling observed that getting message frequency right is one of the most challenging things for marketers, and that identifying what signals the right frequency for each member has a very large impact on the lifetime value of that customer. And, as both Zillow’s Tara Clark and CareerBuilder’s Scott Burdsall noted, there can be points in the customer lifecycle where the metrics “go dark.” Getting explicit as well as inferred insight into those moments is a key challenge going forward for their businesses, and data-driven marketers in general.
It’s no wonder the ballroom at the conference hotel was jam-packed for this Insight session. The audience was treated to an eye-opening discussion that showed just how far the state of the art has evolved from old-school, bulk email marketing. Plus, it’s clear that the sophistication and respect for their customers’ needs these experts conveyed set a high bar for marketers in every industry.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be digging deeper into the intersection of data-driven marketing and email. Until then, what’s worked (and what hasn’t) for your business when it comes to data-driven marketing? I’d like to hear from you.