Author Archives: Sara Watts

Sara Watts

About Sara Watts

Following graduation from University, Sara Watts began her Direct Marketing career in the motor industry, which soon led to her joining Carsource Ltd, the UK’s first online car portal, as Marketing Manager in 1995.

Over the last 12 years, Sara has played an integral role in the growth and development of Carsource Ltd. Following Sara’s launch of the Data side of the business the business was re named, Data, Media & Retail Ltd (DMRi). Sara has worked at DMR since it was founded and has seen the business grow form a small privately owned business to a large data company which was purchased by DMGT in Jan 2006. In March 2010 DMRi was purchased as part of a management buyout. Sara now works with a team of Directors / owners and is concentrating on making sure DMR is ahead of the game in integrating social media with more traditional online marketing to ensure clients are able to undertake data collections and email marketing effectively and with great results.

Sara has played an active role on the DMA’s email council for 4 years and has is also on the best practice and legal hub. Since completing an MBA in 2006 Sara has also had an academic interest in the industry and strongly believes that it is in everyone’s interest for individuals and companies to share best practice, insight and technological advancements. This approach of sharing of knowledge, combined with sound business knowledge and common sense can lead to marketers and consumers benefiting from excellent marketing.

What is “personal Information” according to the draft EU Data Protection Regulation?

In order to keep up with new technologies and addressing consumer concerns over privacy the 1995 European Data Protection Directive, which was implemented in UK in the 1998 Data Protection Act is in the process of being updated. This can be a good thing because aside from anything else it aims to reduce the red tape, and add more consistency across Europe. However, the draft proposals are missing the mark and not going to meet the objectives unless some additions and changes are made.

The definition of “personal data” is one example of this; it is proposed to be extended so it could cover some IP addresses and cookies;

“a natural person who can be identified, directly or indirectly by means likely to be used by the Data Controller……in particular by reference to an identification number, location data, online identifier…”

The definition makes no distinction between personal data which is not directly identifiable, such as an IP address identifying a device not a person and data which is, e.g. name and address. Furthermore an IP address only identifies a device not a person. This change would make profiling and web analytics much more difficult, if not impossible. This would change the whole way the internet and email marketing works. The easy user experiences and communications users are currently used to from talented marketers would be replaced with either nothing or un-targeted information, a backward step which will not benefit users or business. The updated European data protection legislative framework need to allow the commercial developments to continue, which will allow business to grow and users to have positive relevant information sent to them.

It is imperative that the definition of personal data is revised otherwise the online economy may be severely damaged.

Why don’t you want my details?

Morrison’s have just finished running one of the best promotions I have seen.

For those of you who missed it, it basically involved going shopping and for every £30 you spent you received a pack of Disney top trump cards. They also added in bonus products that when you purchased them you got an additional pack of cards.

This was advertised heavily on the TV and also the kids at school were swapping cards and this prompted my 6 year old to ask to go shopping to Morrison’s. So somewhere kids have been chatting and with the power of TV I swapped super markets (and have continued to go there after the promotion ended)

Benefits to Morrison’s

  • New customers
  • The ability to push the sales of products by just putting a bonus Disney sign on them. The shelves where they were positioned could not be stocked quick enough. Mainly been emptied by a hoard of children who had suddenly decided shopping was fun.

They also sold rather a lot of the collector albums priced at £4.

What’s this got to do with email?

Well not a great deal apart from to highlight a missed opportunity by Morrison’s. At no point did anyone have to register to take part in the promotion, so they had no record of who the new customers were and no way to market to them to keep them coming back.

Once the promotion had finished there was lots of information about how you could get any missing cards by visiting the website. I actually wanted to celebrate the stroke of genius, what a great idea get people to register at the end to claim the missing cards. However when I logged on to see what happened it was simply out sourced to the card company where you can buy the cards for 10p each, and despite having to give my name, address, postcode and email in order to order them at no point was I given the option to opt into receive information from Morrison’s.

When could data have been captured?

Although on a professional level, I sometimes subscribe to things to see what happens, my personal email and details are only given out when I can really see the advantage in doing so. There were so many opportunities to do so here, it was just crying out for someone to do so.

People could have been opted in to a Customer database

  • At the point when you collect the cards? This was done by the customer service desk and a registration process would have only taken a couple more minutes and an extra pack of cards would have probably got quite a high take up.
  • When purchasing the collectors album a reduced price or free folder would have offered an incentive.
  • They could have created a community page on the website for swapping cards, this group of people could then have been used for focus groups and research moving forward.
  • At the point where you can claim any cards you are missing.


An example of a great marketing campaign, but also an example of where a company miss an opportunity to engage and build an ongoing relationship via email. The lessons this highlights it to ensure that email is a fully integrated piece of any business strategy and when appropriate opportunities should be sued to collect information and options from individuals who you can then engage with moving forward.

Red and Yellow Army Men

Sat working in the sun with two five year olds, playing in the shade under the table I was sat on. I was intrigued about the conversation that happened.

Link; “why are these Army men red and Yellow?”

Sunny; “They are funny and would get killed very quickly, everyone knows Army men should be Green.”

The Army men were Yellow and Red because that was the only colour the shop had. The amount of time spent playing with them was slightly more than the green ones, the play was also more imaginative as they moved away from battles in woods to ones on the beach (quite handy if you are Yellow) and Jessica despite hating Army men was persuaded to play for a while (on the condition she was allowed to be the Yellow Army).

On first glance Yellow and Red Army men have very little to do with emails. However it does highlight the fact that you don’t have to always follow convention to get responses. A couple of weeks ago whilst trying to do several things at once I quickly put together an email to send to business people in the land of PR. I wanted to see if the idea had any potential before investing any real time or money into it. The email broke more than one of the best practice guideline (nothing illegal or against the code) but the creative was not that pretty, there was an attachment, the branding or design was poor and the subject line was very long however the response was fantastic with nearly 60% of the people it was sent to responding to it.

The point is that for the majority of the time I believe it is best to follow well tried techniques and learning’s. Follow the DMA guidelines, read and implement ideas from the white papers and guidelines from within your company. However every so often try something a little bit different, brake from convention and see what it does to your response. If it drops through the floor you know to go back to following the more conventional advice. But just as the Yellow and Red Army men got Link and Sunny to engage in a different way with them and gained a new user in Jessica you might strike lucky and gain a positive reaction.

Sara Watts – Data Media and Research

Emails working together with the off line world

It’s not often that anything to do with car road tax excites me but I quite like the fact that 2 weeks before your road tax expires a letter plops through the door with a nice little reminder about how much you need to pay for 6 or 12 months and a unique number for you to type into the website to renew on line and an option for doing it by the post.

A few days later if you have still not purchased your car tax you get the first of two emails reminding you again with a simple click through which takes you to a site which follows the golden rules of

1. Keeping to the point.

2. Clear instructions of what to do.

3. Only asks for the information they actually need.

4. Doesn’t take very long.

The system then goes through a series of checks regarding insurance and ownership and a few days later a lovely new tax disc is sent out in the post.

Nothing ground breaking; no fancy creative’s just a simple example of email being used in an effective useful manner.

Sara Watts Data Media and Research

2008 is the information still relevant today?

After the email council has spent hours in the DMA offices at the monthly council meetings there is occasionally the need to move across the road to the pub where discussions (both email and non email related) can be quite interesting. One topic that came up is how quickly email marketing is still evolving. However it was also noted that some key fundamentals stay basically the same. The article below was first published in the DMA newsletters in 2008 (a million years ago in the land of digital) However nearly all the points still stand today.

When aiming to grow your email database.

1. Only collect people who want to hear from you and will be valuable to you.

2. Utilise all your own internal sources both on and offline to collect data (a recent addition to this is to also maximise all social media for this purpose).

3. When considering Third party data capture or third party list rental only use reputable companies, check the legal bits are in place and test test test.

4. Remember to track return on investment appropriately. The graph in the article below can be adapted to any campaign testing and is so simple but will give you an indication of when you will get the money back you have paid out.

The DMA legal and best practice hub is in the process of publishing a series of White Papers with useful info on all areas relating to Email marketing. I have been working on the white paper for 3rd party lead generation and 3rd party List rental and all the content is brand new and bang up to date. The only historic bit of information that might sneak in is the graph below and the explanation of what you need to consider when collecting data in terms of return on investment and what you need to monitor.

Is this information (from 2008) still relevant or are there different things in 2011 that we need to be considering? -

Third party data capture or third party list rental

Once you are maximising your own customer and prospect data (gathered from your website) then the next step is to look at how to utilise other data to get the full benefit from your email marketing strategy. In order to do this effectively you need to make sure you:

1. Are clear on the target audience; who do you want to receive your email. Look at the profile of your existing client base in relation to what you are promoting in order to ascertain this.

2. Have a clear communication strategy. Are you just promoting your product or service on emails; will the same message be reflected in other marketing mediums; or will the email be followed up by a phone call? In most cases the marketing message you send to your new prospects needs to be different to the one you send to your own customers.

3. Be clear on what you are monitoring. Don’t make the mistake of just looking at the number of people who open or click on the email – the monitoring needs to be related to your key business aims. E.g. people who purchase something or are active on the areas of the website where you need them to be active.

4. Always follow the DMA best practice guidelines ( and be fully aware of where the data you are using has come from, how it has been collected and that the data owners’ privacy policies and data collection statements are clear and legal.

Two of the most effective ways of expanding email marketing from simply using your own data to using third party data are List Rental and Data Capture:

1. List rental – where you send a one off mailing (or if agreed a series of emails) to a selection of people who have given permission on another company’s website to receive emails from selected third parties. This is typically priced at a cost per thousand (CPM).

2. Third party Data Acquisition – where individuals give their details and sign up to become a member of your company’s mailings on a third party’s website or through an off line medium. This is normally priced at a cost per record where the price will vary depending on the amount of information you require, what the user is signing up for and what criteria of people you want to make the offer to.

Which one to use?

There are several factors which will determine which option will work best for your company. Including:

• What your key business aims are

• The type of product or service you are selling

• How regularly you intend to communicate with your prospects/customers.

• How quickly you need any marketing activity to pay for itself

As long as the data you use is of the same quality, a small test for third party list rental will quickly give you an accurate indication of your basic cost per sale (remember to also take into account the additional longer term benefits of brand awareness and increased impacts on other advertising mediums).

Data acquisition has a higher upfront cost but the returns continue over a longer period of time as you can communicate with the individual on more than one occasion. If you continue to make the marketing message effective and the volume and timing of the email sends appropriate, then you will continue to see a more intense return on investment over a longer period of time.

The chart below is based on a (theoretical) company who pay £80 per thousand for list rental and £1 per record for data acquisition. With open rates of 30%, bounce rate of 1% and a conversation rate of 2%. They are emailing the data acquisition customers weekly.

This shows that the cost per sale from list rental is £40 per thousand. The cost per sale from data acquisition starts above a £100 but by week 14 has decreased to £61, and at week 25 it crosses the line with list rental at £40 per thousand. By the end of the year the cost per sale has dropped to below £20.

This hypothetical example shows that data acquisition incurs a higher upfront cost which takes a longer time to pay for itself, however over a longer period of time the value is greater.

This means that some companies, particularly those which need a quick return on investment or where the product or service will be either relevant to an individual or not (and this will not change over time), will be better off using list rental. When using list rental, make sure that the landing page you are sending the recipient to has a clear option to sign up to receive more information from you even if they don’t want what you have to offer right now.

For other companies where the return does not need to be so immediate and customers are more likely to buy into the product or service once a relationship is built up, data acquisition is going to be more effective.

In many cases both methods will work for a company if the targeting and creative are correct. The best thing to do when getting started is to run small tests of both list rental and data acquisition, and continually monitor the return on investment by looking at both the source and type of data. This will help to not only determine which method works best for you but will also help to continually improve the campaigns, thus maximising revenue and profit

What Can Classical Music Teach us about Email Marketing?

Recently the lovely people at East Midlands Trains invited me to an evening of fine food, champagne and classical music (as a result of way too much train travel from Sheffield to London in the last 10 years). Now I like a nice free meal, love champagne and classical music, although not all my favourite pastimes can be enjoyable.

The first part of the evening went well, drinks and conversation flowing. However we then moved into the City Hall to listen to Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius performed by Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus. The evening took a downward turn. Two very long hours listening to two pieces, no interval, just a five minute gap filled with polite clapping. Now although I am risking sounding like an uncultured heathen I had trouble staying awake. I could not escape as I was trapped in the middle of a very long row and my coat and bag had been whisked away earlier on in the evening to be returned at the end. So I filled my time people watching and thinking (always a dangerous pastime).

I observed that I was not alone in my boredom, apart from the odd couple of people who looked to be enjoying themselves and a happy looking small child (who I decided was watching a family member and the happiness was down to the lolly stuck in his mouth as opposed to the music) there was a huge amount of very bored looking people. I felt quite relived that I was not the only person not appreciating the two hour long pieces.

To my surprise after the music had finished all the bored looking people came alive and despite giving no indication during the performance they had even been listening, they had all had an amazing time and were busily talking about how much they loved it and future events. I was amused at just how incorrectly I had judged the responses.

So what’s that got to do with email marketing?

Just that you cannot always judge an email marketing campaign by the initial indicators of opens and clicks as to how well your email has been received.

Poor open and click through rates can often indicate an email campaign has not been all that successful but just as high open and click rates can indicate a successful campaign but this is not always the case. There have been several examples which I have been involved in where initial indicators of success have been dire. One example is a campaign to promote a free DVD giveaway in a national newspaper. The open and click rates were minimal. However the take up of the offer in the postcode areas where the email was targeted increased above the targeted amount so the email campaign despite having poor indicators (in terms of opens and clicks) was a huge success. After further investigation the conclusion was drawn that the message about the DVD was given in the subject line so there was no reason for the person reading the email to open it. Another example was an email for a well known car manufacturer, the open rates were OK but there were virtually no clicks. However, at least 6 brand new cars were sold from the campaign, measured by individuals going into the dealership with a printed copy of the offer.

So the purpose of this post is to highlight that it is important not to jump to conclusions regarding how successful a marketing email is based on initial indicators. As with all good marketing be clear what actual success means (in terms of what the campaign is aiming to achieve) and don’t be tempted to judge an emails success based solely on the open and click rates.

Don’t think everyone acts like us?

The debate between if social media has killed email or not is fairly well documented. However this is mainly done by people who are working in email marketing or some sort of marketing arena that needs email or social marketing. Even at push, users of email and social media in the 30+ age group will enter in to discussions similar to the ones we regularly see. Yes we still use email; yes it still works, etc.

However the debate on how to engage or market to people needs to consider not just what new technologies /marketing platforms emerge but how different groups of people engage with them.

Ask the question – Has social media killed email to a group of teenagers and well apart from not really remembering the world before social media their response is of course it hasn’t. But dig deeper and the way they use their email account is very different. It’s not killed it because they use email in the same way they always have, but this is very different to other generations.

Ask the same question to a group of old people and the answer is more categorically NO. A vast majority are not using social media and if they do they engage in it in a very different way.

Reasons given for having an email account from a random group of teenagers and early 20’s.

1. To register with face book
2. To register with other social media / interest sites.
3. To apply for stuff / jobs/ collage etc

Reasons given for having an email account from a random group of 30 -45 ish year old.

1. To email friends
2. To be promoted to visit facebook because of some activity
3. To order goods

Reasons for having an email account from a random group 50+

1. To see what people have sent / reply
2. To keep in touch with friends and family
3. To access to print receipts/ order confirmations

Just as we would not expect people to list adverts as the reasons they watch television or read the newspaper we should not be concerned that no age group mentions advertising or marketing as a reason for having an email account. However we should consider the way they engage with the medium when putting together our campaigns.

There also seemed to be a clear split with the under 25s having face book on their phone and the over 25 either having nothing or their emails and the over 50’s still thinking texting was a modern move forward (Ok this might be a unfair assumption thrown on the more savey silver surfers, but it’s to highlight a point and looking at a majority).

Will people’s habits change when they move into demographics, well probably a bit with the need to work, apply for jobs, etc but not dramatically so don’t lump all demographics together and don’t just think about the most effective way to market against other methods – think about the audience. Engage with them in a way which makes sense to them. Be aware of how and when they are likely to see your emails.

Sara Watts. Director. Data Media and Research