Author Archives: Rupert Harrison

Rupert Harrison

About Rupert Harrison

Rupert provides in depth CRM, Social Media and Data Strategy, which feeds into multi-channel communications plans covering acquisition, retention and on going brand engagement for POSSIBLE (A WPP Digital Agency).

Rupert has 15 years’ experience in Relationship Marketing, Strategy and Data, spanning supplier, client and, of course, agency roles. Prior to joining POSSIBLE, Rupert headed up the data strategy team for EA Games at TBWA\London, having pitched for and won the Pan-European and APAC Social Media and CRM account. He has also worked client side managing Data and CRM Strategy at News International, and previously managed the BT Retail account at Zed Media (part of Zenith Optimedia).

This year, Rupert has been selected to judge the Best Customer Journey category at the DMA Awards. Following a period of co-option, Rupert was elected to the Email Marketing Council in January 2006 and was Chair of the Best Practice, Data & Legal Hub for 3 years. Rupert currently leads the Council’s Client Hub.

EU Data Protection Regulation – The Right to be Forgotten

Continuing with our series of posts reviewing the potential effects of the proposed EU Data Protection Regulation, one of the areas it addresses is an individual’s “right to be forgotten” by a business.  The specific wording is as follows:

“The data subject shall have the right to obtain from the controller the erasure of personal data relating to them and the abstention from further dissemination of such data”

This has clearly been written with Social Media in mind, for example, ensuring that Facebook users are able to completely delete their profiles if they so wish.  However, the effect on email marketers and direct marketers in general could be disastrous.  If somebody unsubscribes, or asks to no longer receive an advertiser’s communications, then clearly that individual’s details need to be held by the organisation in order to suppress them from future comms.  Forgetting them completely, i.e. erasing all their data could have the polar opposite effect from that which the consumer is expecting!  A individuals details need to be held in order for the organisation to “remember to forget”.  Also, industry suppression files, which are there to benefit consumers, could be put at risk by the Regulation.

The problems do not end there.  There would also be an issue with information that has already been passed on to third parties, e.g. via list brokers or through partnerships.  Also, consumers risk being mis-led.  For example, some data in financial services has to be kept for a specific period of time in order to meet with legal and FSA regulations.

In summary, not only does this section of the Regulation risk failing to achieve what it sets out to do, it could also damage consumer trust and increase the complexity and volume of data processing which needlessly increases the financial burden on companies.

In phase one, we’ll dehumanize the enemy by calling them data

It’s not often that I share a “data gag” outside of my circle analyst friends, but I thought this was worth the effort! The title of this post comes from a Dilbert cartoon strip, which, whilst amusing, also made me think that remembering what data really is should be at the forefront of the email marketer’s mind. We all refer to our “email list” everyday, but I’m starting to think that maybe we should abandon the term “list” altogether. A list of email addresses alone has no value whatsoever, it’s the customers, or potential customers that own these email addresses that are truly valuable and the lifeblood of our businesses.

Put data at the heart of everything you do

In my organisation, data, i.e. insight about the customer, sits at the heart of every piece of marketing activity that we run. We’ve all heard that “Data is the new oil”, or personally I prefer David McCandless’ take which seems somehow greener – “Data is the new soil”, but what does this really mean? It’s true to say that we are in a new world of information and have never before had so much detail about our customers likes, dislikes, attitudes, motivations and so on. It is no longer the case that a campaign consists of direct mail pack, followed up by an email, or a one-size fits all email blast. We really do have the opportunity to tailor our communications to the consumer, by harnessing this insight and driving (I know it’s trite) relevance and therefore engagement. In addition to the data that is held in the customer base, we bring together a whole host of data sources including Brand Tracking, Web analytics, Buzz, market research and panel research, to ensure that the offer, the tone, and the messaging are right for each audience segment.

I don’t know my customers well enough

You may not have a huge marketing budget that allows you to set up brand tracking studies, or expensive focus groups and research panels, but there are cheaper ways of learning what your customers want. Let’s say you’re launching a new product…use your buzz analysis (check out free tools such as Social Mention) to find out what customers are saying about the product and concentrate your messaging on the features that are most talked about. You’re probably sitting on a sizeable crowd (new word for list, but more human) of email data. Use this data to send out surveys or polls to help understand the motivations of your customers. This type of communication, when you’re asking questions that are relevant to a customer’s recent interactions with you, can garner impressive and insightful results at very little cost.

So, let’s rehumanize our data and our lists, and by doing so, reap the rewards of more effective email marketing programmes.

A delicious example of email integration

You’ve no doubt seen the little brown boxes packed with healthy nibbles being delivered to colleagues around your office from When I saw a free box offer code on a friend’s Twitter stream, I thought I’d give it a try. On clicking through and signing up on the very easy to use site, you then learn that the offer is better still; first box free, second box half price. This alone must help combat the perennial problem of getting users to give their bank details in order to receive a free trial, particularly when the order value is comparatively low (£1.65 for my half priced box).

Having signed up and chosen my delivery day, my first email arrived. “Your box is on it’s way” read the subject line. It gave me the opportunity to rate the contents of my box and also mentioned a new product range that had me clicking through to the site to see what it was and chose whether I’d like it in a future box. Already, I was impressed – a great example of a welcome/confirmation message being used to drive further engagement.

When the box arrived, the packaging was great and there was a nicely personalized leaflet inside telling me all about the different snacks in my box. There were also little tear-out vouchers to give to friends offering them a free box, plus a £1 discount for me for each friend that took up the offer. Great use of offline paper vouchers being used as an MGM tool to drive people online and the rewarding of desired behaviour.

“Rate or slate today’s box” was the next email to arrive. This invited me to click through to the site to rate each of the four snacks that I’d received. It also invited me to post a free box offer code onto Facebook and Twitter for my friends. Prominent “Get in touch” and “FAQ” links reinforced the feeling of a real two-way dialogue. The next message I received was essentially another welcome message that reiterated the fact that I’d had my free box and that the next one was half price. It also pointed out site features such as the ability to change my delivery day, order additional boxes (nice upsell), browse and rate the range of snacks available and “gift” boxes to other people if I so chose.

Graze’s customer service is also superb. Emailed them a few weeks in as one box didn’t arrive. I had an email reply from a real person (not an autoreply) the same day apologizing and crediting my account with a free box. My only gripe, and trust me I’ve struggled to find fault, is the use of a “noreply” email address. From a company that is clearly up for a two-way conversation with their customers, this needs changing.

All in all, great product, great service and great integration of social media with email and offline promotion that should serve as a model for others to emulate.

Learn from the ones that got away

However engaging your email programme is, there will always be a proportion of people who no longer want to hear from you. I think that it is vitally important that you maintain a dialogue with your customers/subscribers for as long as possible, i.e. up until the final moment they leave you. Much in the same way as I hate the use of dialogue suppressing “no-reply” sender addresses, I really want to understand why people unsubscribe and learn from this to constantly improve my email communications.

It seems to me that we’re missing a trick when simply clicking unsubscribe is the end of the dialogue. We need to give people the opportunity to let us know why they are leaving. I’m not suggesting for a minute that we should complicate the unsubscribe process by forcing people to answer a series of questions before they are allowed to leave, rather that people are given the opportunity to leave feedback if they so choose. I’ve seen several brands lately that are starting to do this. For example, Firebox have a free form text entry box by the final unsubscribe button asking “Please tell us why you’re unsubscribing?”. While I appreciate that this will often be ignored, or filled with nonsense, there will be occasions when a constructive comment will give you an idea that really improves your email programme, plus you haven’t had to pay your agency to come up with it!

If you haven’t the time to trawl through the comments left, then a simple drop down of reasons for leaving will allow you to spot trends in unsubscribe motivations and adapt your communications to address them. The Times does this, with reasons such as relevancy, frequency, no time to read and didn’t meet expectations. Eurostar do something similar by offering a series of tick boxes to select your reason as well as a free form text box for comments.

Relevancy is a constant theme in email marketing, which brings me on to the Amazon unsubscribe process. It might be that the customer just wants to unsubscribe from one strand of your email programme. When I click unsubscribe from an Amazon email, it asks me whether it is just the “Home & Garden” emails I no longer want to receive rather than all. This is a great way to ensure that the consumer is getting what they want and not losing them unnecessarily.

It all comes back to the familiar theme of putting the customer at the centre of everything that you do and truly engaging in a two way dialogue.

Is Email really the new Direct Mail?

If the recent Borrell Associates report is to be believed, then “Direct mail has begun spiralling into what we believe is a precipitous decline from which it will never fully recover.” OK, we’re all familiar with email’s benefits over direct mail…cheaper, quicker, easier to measure, greener, etc. However, before we write off direct mail completely, research that we have carried out indicates that the way forward is really to use email in conjunction with direct mail and to give the consumer the choice as to how they want to hear from us.

Direct Mail is certainly not dead. It may sound trite, but consumers still like receiving Direct Mail and if the piece they receive is relevant, it is not deemed to be “junk mail”. What we may also be forgetting, is that the current UK internet at home penetration still sits at below 70%, so in order to reach as much of our target market as possible, an integrated, multi-channel approach is a must. Marketers selling consumer products need to be speaking to their buyers/prospects in the home environment by both online and offline channels.

Campaign analysis that we have recently carried out has proved that online communications can drive offline actions and that the reverse is also true. Email communications drive newspaper sales, even if the email isn’t asking the consumer to go and buy a paper. By the same token, direct mail and email communications to the same individuals drive uplift yet higher.

So, yes, direct mail volumes are falling, but better targeting and a more complete understanding of channel effectiveness and consumer preference is what we should concentrate on.

Life Story or just an email address?

Having spent more time than is healthy thinking about how much or how little data is the "right" amount to collect, here are my tips on how to gauge what is right for you.

1. Why am I collecting data in the first place? Consider what you are going to do with the data and make sure that the consumer is made aware of what they should expect when they submit their details.

2. Collecting a very limited amount of information will probably increase your sign-ups, but think about how useful this information will be. Even if you’re just starting out, think ahead. Profiling and segmentation will be a lot more straightforward if you have collected a postal address. Also, consumers are not as scared as you may think about giving their details as long as they can see what they will get in return and how you will look after their data.

3. Permissions – I’ve sat in protracted meetings discussing permissions and I concede that they are dull, however they are vitally important. Most channels are opt-in, although postal is still opt-out of course. Does it make sense to ask people to opt-in for all channels? Test it…does positive postal opt-in result in higher quality, more responsive data than relying on failure to opt-out? Am I future proofing my base by doing this? Is one simple multi-channel permission, followed by access to a preference page, less confusing than a jumble of little tick boxes that may confuse the consumer?

4. Consider a "creeping data strategy". Collect a limited amount of information up front, then use this to communicate and build brand trust with the consumer. Over time, collect additional (but only relevant) in subsequent communications.

5. Where do I put the information I’m collecting? It might sound daft, but is there actually a field in your database where you can store the answers to the questions you are asking? It's all well and good collecting "interesting stats", but infinitely more useful if you can add depth to your database and use the new criteria for targeting.

As you can see there isn’t a right or wrong answer, but be forward thinking, transparent and honest and you’re already half way there.

Rupert Harrison

Chair Best Practice & Data Hub, DMA Email Marketing Council and Data Planner, News International

Large list of annoyed people or smaller responsive list?

Once again, my inbox is inundated with marketing messages from various top-named brands using 3rd party email databases.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against 3rd party email lists, in fact I use them frequently in order to recruit new customers, sometimes successfully, sometimes less so. 

The question I want to address is that of choice.  Let me give you an example.  I recently received a B2B communication from a well know small business software provider.  I received two emails from them using two different 3rd party email lists (not great I concede…a little deduping required methinks).  Nevertheless, it illustrates my point.  Given that I work for News International, my interest in small business software packages is limited at best.  Email A simply gave me one unsubscribe option, which was in effect “unsunscribe me from everything”, i.e. not just from the advertiser, but from any further comms from this 3rd party database.  Email B gave me the choice…OK, so I’m not interested in offers from this advertiser, so I have the opportunity to request no further emails from them.  However, I have no issue with remaining on the 3rd party list as I may be interested in offers from other advertisers.  The first supplier has lost me forever for no good reason, the second supplier now knows what type of offers I am not interested in which should help them to improve their targeting in future.

This idea of a two-tier unsubscribe seems like a no-brainer to me.  Yet, I still receive emails through third parties that don’t give me the choice.  I received one recently that only gave me the option of unsubscribing from “this advertiser”, i.e. there was no obvious way to remove myself from the list altogether.  Now, I can see that from the list owner’s point of view, they are thinking that if I can only unsubscribe from the advertiser, this will stop their database from shrinking, meaning they can still sell my email address to other clients.  The point they are overlooking is that my only choice is to click the spam button, block them, or add them to my junk list.  Even if this fails to have the desired effect, i.e. their next email comes from a different IP, my annoyance is such that a sale is out of the question!

There is still a place in the market for rented email lists, but only if the recipient remains in full control of what they receive.

Rupert Harrison
Data Planner News International
Chair of Best Practice & Data Hub, DMA Email Marketing Council