Author Archives: Matthew Simons

Matthew Simons

About Matthew Simons

Matthew Simons, is a marketing and business consultant with extensive experience developing world class multi-channel CRM programmes, having worked with clients such as HP, Nokia, BAA, & Diageo to help them acquire, engage, retain and grow customer relationships. Matthew is a frequent speaker at industry events, a regular judge at the DMA awards and has served on the email council since 2008 where he has been an active member of the Benchmarking Hub.

November: The World of Email

In our now regular slot we started the monthly council meeting with a round-up of the latest happenings in email marketing that the council members had come across. As ever there was a mixture of cool, useful and the slightly odd and I have shared the highlights below.

First up news from RPost’s, whose focus is on high value confirmed email delivery. They believe that it has the patent on the very commonly used practice of tracking email opens. According to various ESP sources they have started to receive notifications that RPost are looking to enforce these patents and requiring licencing for future use and reparations for past use. It is unclear yet how many of those ESPs contacted are going to respond, and it is obviously beyond the remit of the council to offer legal opinion but given the nature of how RPost acquired the patents and against a backdrop of a wider backlash against patent trolling its definitely a case of watch this space!

While not just limited to looking at email, the US DMA / DDMI commissioned a ‘Value of Data’ study and the headline figure is that the Data Driven Marketing Economy (DDME) added $156Bn in revenue to the US economy!! Yes, I did type that right – $156bn. It would be interesting to see a similar figure for the UK/ Europe but it certainly should be a very sobering number to those involved in developing regulation that effects the data industry. I think it brings very clearly into focus the need to balance consumer privacy concerns with those of the legitimate data driven marketing industry otherwise the potential and perhaps unintentional  economic impact could be enormous. An infographic with some of the other headline findings and numbers from the study can be found at;

Following on from my blog last month on the renaissance we are seeing in people’s attitudes towards email, its effectiveness in actually driving sales and that social has not yet killed the email star (supported by the findings of DMA research such as The H2 Benchmarking Survey & The National Client Email Marketing Survey), another interesting article appeared this month. Josh Aberant, Twitters postmaster and the man tasked with making real ‘Twitter’s view, ‘it’s (Email) the lifeblood of a social network and the company sees emails as a driving force to help further its growth’. This just adds further to the positive story for email. The whole interview can be found here;

The release of the new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) that will see the number of domains going from the current 22 to potentially over 1400. This poses a couple of potential challenges for the email marketer.  The first thing is to ensure that your email data capture validation rules are updated to accept the new gTLDs and that if you are using any type of email address corrections it is also can cope with these domains. The other major change with the new gTLDs is that while Internationalised Domain Names have been available as second-level domains and country code top-level domains (ccTLDs), it will be the first time non-Latin characters can be used in a gTLD. This raises the issues of the ability to store these type of non-latin characters in databases and email systems. Although more of an issue for those involved in international emailing, given the multi-cultural nature of the UK and especially London I am sure we will see these type of addresses cropping up  quite regularly in your email lists and you should be prepared.

Downrightnow – – is a website that ‘monitors the status of your favourite web services, combining user reports and official announcements to tell you when there’s service trouble’ Since the service includes the pages of the major web based email services such as Gmail and Yahoo mail it can be used as a resource for a quick check before you launch that very important email campaign to ensure your not going to be experiencing domain level deliverability challenges.

The US company DMI have launched a service called Engine 1 Music. This will allow marketers to add music to their emails. The company will help with licencing issues and while some may see it as a gimmick it does offer the opportunity to utilise the strong emotional hook music can provide. This would be especially effective for brands that already have a distinctive music track or style attached to their marketing, perhaps from a TV ad or in store music tracks, it’s an interesting way to extend that aural experience to email.

Finally and possibly one for the future for email marketers,  however a new service from US company Square, called Square Cash, allows people to pay for things by simply sending an email, cc’ing Square Cash and putting the amount in the subject line. Currently only available in the USA and intended to operate peer to peer it does however raise the prospect of consumers being able to reply and buy directly from an email, especially for lower value products. Email is already a great channel to drive sales but a new mechanism like that would only re-enforce emails pre-eminence in this area.

So that’s the round up for  this month,  but if there is something you’ve spotted then please don’t hesitate to comment below or let the council know and we can discuss it at the next council meeting and you could well see it in next month’s Hot Topics. Happy Email Marketing!

Benchmarking H2 2012 Report: The Email Renaissance?

Against a backdrop of headlines such as ‘Email Is Crushing Twitter, Facebook for Selling Stuff Online’* that can recently be found across the marketing press the DMA has just published the latest National Email Benchmarking Report for H2 2012. The positive coverage for the channel is not only very welcome after many years of “email is dead” reporting but highlights what regular Benchmark report readers already realise, that far from becoming an obsolete channel compared to its cooler digital cousin social media, the returns from email for generating measurable direct sales are unrivalled. This success would certainly seem reflected by the increasing numbers of email being sent,with a rise of more than 25% over the same period in 2011

The report does question if the direct sales focus is going to hinder development in the use of email to fulfil wider marketing objectives and harm the adoption of integration across channels, both trends seen in the last couple of years’ benchmarking reports. I believe if organisations can implement an effective planning, testing and agile deployment environment then the benefits of direct response revenue can be realised while developing email as a key component of broader consumer engagement. How is this starting to play out in the benchmark data? Take a look at the report to see!

Beyond the increase in emails sent some of the other report highlights for me included:-

  • The number of campaigns managed and customer contact frequency both increasing in H2 over H1 2012, somewhat expected given the success in direct response but also greater interest in more targeted and behavioural driven email helps in explaining the 35% rise of monthly campaigns managed.
  • The increase in the use of segmentation, especially in the mid level (4-6 segments) and while individualised communication remains challenging for many companies, due to lack of timely and complete data, it does again highlight the generally increasing sophistication of email campaigns
  • The increasing use of social media to collect email addresses. This is a simple, practical but effective example of ‘integration’ across channels, and helping contribute to the 36% increase in the number of email addresses that ESPs maintained from Q1 to Q4 2012
  • Deliverability continues to be a challenge and that’s before the effects of new smarter mailboxes, such as the Google tabbed system, really come into play. From Q2 2012 to Q4 2012, average delivery rates fell by some 3% for retention emails to about 94%. Over the same period, and despite contentions from the ESPs that Inbox delivery was becoming easier, the average inbox delivery rate fell to 90% in Q4 down 4% on Q2).

So just some of  the highlights, but with email marketing continuing to be such an essential aspect of a company’s successful marketing its worth checking out the full H2 2012 Report, and see how your programs and plans compare. Happy reading and please take the time to comment, it is always great to receive feedback and share opinions across the wider email marketing community!

* July 2013

EU Draft Data Protection Regulation – Data Portability

The next topic in the blog series on the new proposed EU data legislation looks at the area of ‘Data Portability’. Firstly let me clarify what that phrase means. The DataPortability Working Group defines it as “the option to share or move your personal data between trusted applications and vendors” – it’s really about the ability for people to be able to control their identity, media and other forms of personal data. You want to leave Facebook and use Google + but what about all those photos, the places that you checked in, data portability means there should be an easy way to move all this data.

As we increasingly put more of our lives online, we are putting that data at risk. After all who knows if those companies will be around in 5, 20 or 50 years and so it is possible that chunks of your online self could disappear, or the converse when those photos of your 21st birthday remain in a system you haven’t used in 15 years, which is where data portability’s legislative cousin ‘right to be forgotten’ comes into play.

I have a fundamental belief in privacy and transparency around personal data use and will always support the rights of the consumer to control their own data. It is your data, your persona, the challenge is to balance those noble principles with legislation that does not create a legal and regulatory environment that stifles the next Facebook or Flickr, by introducing solutions to problems that market ingenuity would be better placed to develop.

With my commercial practitioner’s hat on, there seems to be two main areas where I believe that the draft Data Protectuion Regulation needs to be more carefully understood.

The first of is the cost to business. A case study in the DMA’s Response to Ministry of Justice Call for Evidence on the EU Data Protection Regulation, (link here) , shows that for a data services provider to the retail sector the costs to implement data portability and right to be forgotten could be up to £100,000 for one off system development. In an already fragile economic climate is this additional burden really needed or helpful?

The second area is in the draft Regulation’s desire to try and set technical standards that would underpin the interoperability of systems. FEDMA (Federation of European Direct and Interactive Marketing Associations) believes that Article 12 (b) of the existing European Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC)) already covers this area in a technology neutral manner. Again, do we need more rigid legislation? After all it may be a surprise to some that since 2010 you can take all your data from Facebook using the ‘download your information’ function under account settings.Is it not in the commercial interests of other social network service providers to be able to make it as easy as possible for people to join their service and take in the data downloaded from Facebook? And to do that in innovative ways legislation would never be able to dictate?

The consumers’ right to control their personal data is already enshrined in the existing Data Protection Directive so the question to me is do we need to augment this with a more prescriptive approach? This Regulation could shape our industry for the next decade and so this is your opportunity to get across your perspective and be a part of the debate. I would encourage you all to comment here or reach out to an Email Marketing Council member or the DMA Legal Team,

Reactivation – 9 Tips to re-engage with your email list

No matter how successful an email program, how engaging, relevant and timely you think your communications are, over time all email programs will have consumers who no longer want to interact with your brand. Some research suggests that up to 60% of the average consumer list will become inactive after 6 months. What you do about this is a matter of quite hot debate within the email community.

Do you stop sending to the truly disengaged? From one perspective having inactive on your list distorts engagement figures and can have negative impact on the impression of success within an organisation and potential deliverability problems but on the other hand there is a branding effect that is seen when even supposedly disengaged customers have greater engagement with the brand because they see the email in their inbox

The reasons that consumers churn according to Marketing Sherpa range from lack of relevance & too much email at the top through to change of circumstances. The varying reasons will require slightly different tactics to deal with. So here are some top tips in creating a successful reactivation program

1. The first issue to deal with is who to actually reactivate. There is no black and white definition of lapsed customers, however by undertaking some basic recency-frequency (RF) analysis you should be able to see a pretty clear drop off in opens and clicks and put a stake in the ground around what is lapsed for your particular population.

2. As a more advanced tactic I would recommend adding, where possible the monetary element. Logic would dictate that if someone used to not only be engaged with your communication program but was also one of your highest spenders then it worth more effort to get them to re-engage.

3. Also remember that you should always split out those that have never engaged vs those that are truly lapsed since the methods of reactivation and indeed the value to your organisation will be very different

4. Stop sending regular mailing to the reactivation segment. In this way it will be clear that if these people do start to respond it is due to re-engagement activity

5. Unfortunately there is also no hard and fast rules for getting a particular population to re-engage to it will require you to test various techniques to see what works for you. Promotion / giveaways, increased value exchange, garnering feedback are all valid and useful techniques.

6. Testing a variety of offers as well as approaches is also recommended. 2 for 1 offer / or X % discount / additional gift with purchase) have all been successful for a published client because within the target reactivation groups there was quite a wide variety of different profiles

7. The reactivation process should be built around highly interactive experiences – Sun Microsystems for example drove their inactives to a highly interactive and personalised preference centre (see my previous DMA blog article on tips for developing a preference centre) other clients to exclusive online content. It is a chance to renew the value exchange promise with the customer.

8. In thinking about goals and measurement. Firstly ensure that you have a control cell so that you can accurately measure any incremental lift from the campaign. From an expectation perspective it is should be considered incremental rather than step change. In our experience 5% reactivation should be seen as a good result

9. Email lists need a holiday – temporary suspension or resting – can sometimes offer excellent results as shown across a number of clients. One client for example suppressed a group of non clickers for 4 weeks and then when that group received an anniversary sale email they outperformed the control cell by over 5%

Email addresses are a very valuable asset that you spent lots of money collecting, permissioning and building engagement. Not withstanding the long held belief that it costs 5-10x to acquire new customers as to retain existing customers can you afford not to focus on reactivation?

8 Tips for developing the successful Preference Centre – Part 2

In this second part of tips for successful preference centre’s I explore what data should be collected and discuss the potential benefits and pitfalls of using modeling to help drive relevant communication.

6. Start simple and Get the Basics, Then Ask Detailed Information

  • When brands require more than three or four preferences, separate opt-in from preference election, first get opt-in with minimum of data such as Email address and Key subscriber data necessary to drive basic customisation (e.g. name or location).
  • Also use field validation to standardise and check entries for consistency and even accuracy and asking users to re-enter a critical value like email helps the accuracy of those fields.
  • Hitting submit opts in the subscriber then follow up with preferences on next page. Although if you can avoid the words submit and go for something more action orientated and clear such as; ‘Yes, sign me up!’ ‘Update my preferences!’ or ‘Yes, send me email!’
  • Also remember that for many companies the objective of an email / multichannel program is to engage consumers in a long term relationship. Like any relationship the more comfortable you are the more you are likely to share. This is just as true of a brand / consumer relationship and so make ongoing data collection a fundamental part of the program. Either by making prominent use of the preference centre link in email or by using softer methods such fun quizzes are a great way to collect and keep data fresh . Keeping it simple or put another way making the data actionable is also one of the key reasons to use preference centre data above behavioural data that may have been collected.
  • Which bring us nicely to the debate between explicit and implicit information. The preference centre deals with explicit preferences but often you will see data not necessarily represent reality. At one cinema client you often saw preference data of art house movies and thrillers whereas the booking data shows all animated kids films and ‘Rom Coms’ in these scenarios using models can help you more easily see and target based on these realties.
  • The downside for models is that they can be more difficult to implement and require a more sophisticated eco system to capture, analyse and operationally execute. When developing a preference centre marketers should ask themselves the question, “What can we most efficiently determine from models and what should we ask the customer directly?” Of course, any given marketer might have an easier time implementing some models than others. For instance, a next logical product model might be easier to develop than a cadence model but some marketers might lack even rudimentary analytics capabilities. I am a big advocate for ensuring that an email program should be evolutionary and whatever you do don’t get caught up with analysis paralysis, small actions are better than no actions and from studying our clients results you will see the benefits of targeting long before you get to any nirvana state of relevance.

7. Use Welcome and Thank-You Communications to Enhance Preference Election

  • On confirmation page, give subscribers the opportunity to correct preference elections immediately.
  • Use confirmation and welcome emails to drive preference elections for those who do not do so at opt-in.
  • The further removed preference election is from opt-in, the less successful it will be.

8. Make your preference centre an acquisition tool

  • Adding an invite a friend link and allowing the person social links – letting their networks know they have signed up, may not drive dramatic numbers will create a more integrated feel to your wider multichannel communications strategy.
  • Making sure you have a share to social link on the page to encourage people to share that they have signed up.

The preference centre gives you a great step forward in helping understand and engage with your consumer so go and review your pages now and make sure they are delivering as much value to your business as possible.

8 Tips for developing the successful Preference Centre – Part 1

Long term sustainable email programs need to be relevant to their audience or else consumers will be less inclined to interact or even cut off communications altogether. The need for relevance becomes even greater when the email program is a core part of a true multichannel engagement strategy, but how do you know what will be relevant? The latest trends and advancements have been around tracking behavioural data but there are privacy and technical challenges involved in this approach and as I point out later some inherent challenges using this data. So the often undervalued Preference Centre / Subscription Management Pages (SMPs) need to be a core element of a successful email program.

The preference centre helps address a few other issues facing today’s digital marketer

  • Users can keep their information up to date, and given people’s changing needs combined with the number of people that change email address each year, around a 1/3 according research, it is imperative that consumers have an easy way to update personal info. Freshness of email addresses will also help with deliverability and reducing churn.
  • The consumers increasing concerns around privacy and the expectation that the consumer has control. For me the preference centre is a key plank in building and maintaining trust between brand and consumer.
  • For a number of our larger multinational / multi business line the introduction of a central preference centre can also help centralise corporate control over communications and streamline from the consumer’s perspective.

So in this 2 part blog I have highlighted 8 tips to help create a more successful preference centre

1. Give sign up prominent real estate on your web site

  • You can have the best preference centre but obviously if your customers can’t easily find it then it’s not maximising potential acquisitions and data gathering. Giving the email sign-up exposure on the home page greatly enhances acquisition potential however do consider that many consumers will go from search engines to deep within site, so ensure that email sign-ups also permeate through the site.

2. Only Ask What You’re Prepared to Deliver

  • It is very tempting to ask preferences and information for things that might come in handy some day but by asking for data then you are setting the expectations of the consumer that this data will be used in some way and so if you don’t use it you will disappoint your customers and so best to ask only for what you need.

3. Don’t Confuse Preferences with Market Research

  • It follows that preference election pages should not be used to field market research questions. Keep the information gathering short and remember that Consumers selecting preferences have an end-goal in mind—more relevant email.
  • Non-essential questions suppress completion—about 5%, in our research, per incremental question—and increase the risk of getting bad data from consumers, so again only collect what you need and will use.

4. Only Ask Frequency if You Can Deliver.

  • This is also a controversial one since many proponents will say don’t cede this control because it can have a negative impact on your program since most people if asked would prefer less email, but consumption and engagement with your program may suggest otherwise and the preference centre is certainly not the place to figure out optimum frequency.

5. Tell Subscribers What to Expect and why they should give up personal information

  • There should be a clear benefit statement/ value exchange why the consumer should give up this info or even better show the consumer what they will receive. One great example I worked on with HP allowed the consumer to make dynamic choices around the type of content they would like to receive and the latest edition would dynamically display. This drove not only actually opt ins but also more complete profiling because they consumer could really understand what they would receive.
  • Another important factor in the trust relationship with the consumer is transparency and the use that a consumer’s data will be put to. This is particularly relevant to the privacy policy. Of course there should be an easy way to review the entire policy but since these tend to be monstrous and lets be honest pretty dull documents a best practices should be to ensure highlights (especially if you are doing anything that would not pass the Daily Mail test) then make it clear, make it explicit and you would be surprised what consumers will allow you to do if you are open and upfront.
  • Make the unsubscribe and update processes clear, obvious, and intuitive again builds trust and the consumer feeling of control.

In the next part I explore what data to collect and how models can be used to drive relevant communications.

Don’t forget to ask nicely…The preference centre revisited

‘Relevancy is king’. I’m sure many of you share this ethos when it comes to your email marketing, because it is absolutely key to driving greater engagement between your customers and your email program. The more targeted and relevant content is, the higher the opens and clicks. In studies of our clients’ programs at Acxiom we found that relevancy can create 50%+ uplifts. This is the kind of performance enhancement we would all like to achieve.

The foundation of generating relevancy is to have the underlying data to understand your customers. A good way of gathering this data is through a preference or profile page where your customers can enter information about themselves. This article looks at some of the pitfalls to avoid so that the data can be collected to maximum effect, and without causing harm to the brand.

1)    Make the preference centre relevant. The more questions you ask, the less likely users are to enter their information. In our experience, each additional question will reduce completion by 4-5%.  An email program is at its best when you create a long term relationship with the customer so if you are doing things right you will have the opportunity in the future to gather more information from them. Especially if your bear in mind the following points you may well be able to collect deeper level and more sensitive data. For example I won’t give up my kids names / details unless I really trust a brand and there is a real benefit in providing the information.

2)    First define your strategy, then focus your data collection. You can only ask a limited number of questions so make sure they count. Understand which data will produce the biggest impact and how this relates to your organisation’s marketing objectives. Understand how you will use the data in your email program. One of our clients, a large banking organisation, decided that for maximum impact they should prioritise channel preferences in their data collection. They then focused their preference centre questions on a simple choice between email, mobile and direct mail.

3)    Privacy, Privacy, Privacy. Be very clear about what you are going to do with the consumer’s data once you have captured it. In terms of best practice, we recommend our clients go beyond just the required privacy policy and have a simple, clear (this is not a job for your legal team!) statement on the same page where the data is being captured. I really believe that transparency is paramount to reducing public concerns about legitimate online marketing. Do not risk damaging your brand, be clear, be transparent, be a responsible marketer !

4)    Strike while the iron is hot. The best time to get people to declare their preferences is directly after they’ve signed up to the email program. Engagement levels are highest at that point and will drop off sharply after the first two weeks.

5)    Set expectations. Clearly articulate the value proposition for your customer in giving up their data. This is a value exchange like any other and the consumer should be clear as to how it will benefit them when they give up what can be quite sensitive private information.  You should also be clear in your copy that preference choices are not hard rules. Do not allow the user to think that he is opting-out of non-selected choices.

6)    Meet expectations. If you state that by giving the data then you will send the customer relevant offers, or allow message cadence to be altered, and then you send untargeted email and they selected daily and you can only send weekly,  this also leads back to point 1 only collect the if you can action it otherwise your consumers will very quickly become disillusioned and unengaged with you brand

7)    Don’t ask the question if you don’t want to hear the answer. I had a cinema client who gathered peoples film genre preferences in order to send their customers information on similar genre films. From looking at the data you would be forgiven for not asking why ‘art house’ films were not shown more widely . When you compared individual preference centre data to booking data you saw why. Those same people who declared their interest in the Art House genre were more likely to be booking Toy Story 3! Whether this was deliberate attempt to look smarter or just the realities of having children is not clear but it does show the importance of not just relying on explicit data. To be really effective there needs to be an element of behavioural data (eg: from transactions or web activity).
The preference centre is never going to be the silver bullet for knowing everything about your customers you need to,  but do it right and it’s the foundation for a great email program