Computers and artificial intelligence have come along at an exponential rate over the past few decades, from being regarded as oversized adding machines to the point where they have played integral roles in some legitimately creative endeavours.
While there have been many predictions of email’s imminent demise, the communications platform remains a mainstay for marketers across most brands.
For family-run Australian gift business, Identity Direct, regular email communication with its global customer base has been a key driver of sales, particularly in the lead-up to major seasonal gift-giving occasions, such as Christmas.
But in January 2014, it became apparent that something was very wrong with the return Identity Direct was getting from its efforts. According to its ecommerce director, Jodie Dunkley, an increase in the frequency of communication in December was met by an alarming drop-off in response rates for its first campaign in the New Year.
“The system was saying that 99 per cent had been sent, but we knew we weren’t getting the click-throughs,” Dunkley says. “When we look at email marketing, deliverability is the must-have. If you don’t get that right, you can’t go ahead and attack the next building block.”
The company called in email specialists, Return Path, to audit Identity Direct’s delivery processes, and found technical issues had caused inbox penetration to fall to as low as 80 per cent, and down 20 per cent in some countries.
One glitch in the email automation platform meant none of Identity Direct’s emails had been going into the inboxes of Yahoo! users for at least 18 months.
“Return Path came in, verified the problem existed, and helped focus us on getting it fixed,” Dunkley says. “The major change was a technical change in how our domains were set up. Then it was really about making sure we keep day-to-day operations on best practice.”
Vice-president of corporate marketing at Return Path, Tami Forman, says it is not uncommon for new clients to have been unaware of the true penetration rates of their email campaigns.
“They tend to see it in the response rates, because if they are not using a system like ours they won’t get that inbox placement report,” she says. “They will see the downstream effect of it, rather than what is happening.”
Many of the problems experienced with email-based campaigns are often the result of the tactics of the emailers themselves, as some ISPs will interpret overly-frequent mailing as spam.
“There are often times with some clients where we have to tell them they are being a bit aggressive and have to pull back,” Forman says. “But the opposite can be true. If you don’t mail enough, it can feel ‘out of the blue’, and some customer will hit a spam button.
“It’s about finding that right amount; by segment, by market, by where you are, and sending the right amount of mail – not too much, not too little.”
Segmentation the next step
Greater confidence that Identity Direct’s emails are getting through has enabled Dunkley to focus on making better use of the company’s data to create better segmentation and behaviourally-driven campaigns, with different content for customers who might not have been opening messages, or opening them without converting.
“And inside each customer’s email we have recommendations and personalisation based on what we know about them,” Dunkley says. “It is only based on transactional data at the moment, but we are moving that to include pages they visited on the website as well.
“We want to be the gift-giving bible, and the only way we can do that is with really good customer data, and more detail around the customer lifecycle and occasions. We need to know when everybody is going to be giving a gift so we can provide the right information at the right time.”
For Identity Direct, email remains at the heart of that strategy. Forman says when she started at Return Path 12 years ago, she was told of email’s imminent demise, primarily because teenagers weren’t using it.
“But the teenagers 12 years ago are now 20-somethings or young 30-somethings, and guess what, they use email, because they went to work like the rest of us,” Forman says.
“People have moved to things like Facebook and texting for talking to their friends, but they don’t necessarily want to get commercial messages there. But where you see the drop-offs in email communication is more in-personal communication.
“Consumers love email and sign up for it every day, but they are also overwhelmed. So they want messages that are relevant and that have deals that they want in them.”
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