In many of my discussions with marketers — especially around content strategy — we inevitably end up on the topic of integrating external data to make email smarter. If you’re an e-commerce retailer, it manifests in a program like shopping cart abandonment that plays back SKU details to customers that didn’t quite pull the buy trigger. Or if you’re a manufacturer trying to drive leads to local retailers, it means gathering demographic and scheduling data and then effectively delivering it to the right spot in the channel.
Either way, the communication stream becomes considerably more intelligent by leveraging the data points provided by your customer — and the response rates go through the roof almost immediately when you play back hyper-relevant information in the messaging.
The Power of Relational Tables: The CARFAX Story
This data isn’t always ABOUT your customer. It can just easily be a critical piece of data you think (or know) that your customer would find valuable. For example, long-time Silverpop customer CARFAX uses technology to intelligently deliver updates to its used car reports when new events appear on the record. By maintaining a post-purchase relationship with auto owners, CARFAX delivers a great free service that cements its core value proposition and serves to remind buyers they should always utter those magic (and revenue-generating) words: “Show me the CARFAX.”
Most truly extensible marketing automation platforms have a feature that allows external data to be tied to existing user records without taking up massive amounts of space in the primary data structure. At Silverpop, we call these “relational tables,” and they’ve gotten progressively more intelligent over the last 12 to 18 months. For example, our users can now query these relational tables and drive dynamic content based on the values — which brings us to how to integrate content like record updates.
By using the VIN number as a unique identifier, CARFAX appends incoming reports to each vehicle — think of it as record update in a traditional database sense. Once the system recognizes the update, it can then examine whether the vehicle’s owner is opted in to receive these updates. If yes, then a program-based message is populated with that dynamic content, and it’s delivered straight to the inbox. No human intervention needed. (Read the CARFAX case study.)
Shooting for Greatness
I know this sounds like complicated stuff, but it’s important to remember the hard work of behavior- and data-driven campaigns is simply a front-loaded effort. And yes, it may require some assistance from someone more technical in your organization, but consider this a good relationship-building moment.
The interesting thing is few of us blink at spending two to three hours per campaign to get a single batch-and-blast message out, but I’d suggest marketers can be much more efficient (and a ton more impactful) with a series of automated campaigns versus a series of one-off messages.
And let me be clear, no marketer transforms themselves into behavior-driven machines overnight. This is the epitome of the old Wayne Gretzky adage: “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”
Where Do I Start?
Begin by delving deeply into your campaign metrics to define an accurate baseline for recipient interactions — not just opens and clicks, but deeper metrics like directly attributable sales and website session times following the click-through. Once you have a solid number, begin to test more data- and behavior-driven campaigns. If your experience mirrors most of our customers, the quantity and quality of your interactions should increase dramatically.
And don’t be afraid to experiment! Sustainable lift more often comes from new approaches than small tweaks to existing campaigns. And absolutely think about it from the user’s perspective — wouldn’t it be amazing to have received a CARFAX notification of a manufacturer’s recall the week before your entire family piled into the car for a summer vacation? Remember, you’re competing for mindshare with every other message in your recipient’s inbox, so be bold!