Reaching the Masses One Person at a Time

Article by:
Scott Dorsey, EO Indiana
Scott Dorsey
EO Indiana

Scott Dorsey, of EO Indiana, is President and Co-Founder of ExactTarget, an email marketing service provider. Founded in 2001, the company now has more than 5,000 customers using its web-based, trackable, permission-based email marketing software. ExactTarget, an EO Global Affinity Partner, was named to the 2006 Inc. 500 list of fastest grow­ing companies. Scott can be contacted via email at scott@exacttarget.com.

There’s been much talk lately about one-to-one marketing. The idea is to provide a unique product or service for each customer based on preferences or needs. True personalized marketing is not as difficult to attain as it might seem. One of the easiest ways to implement one-to-one marketing initiatives is permission-based email.

The advantages of email are that it is simple to use and makes it easy to target individuals with relevant information. Since email is inexpensive, it can be used by both large and small organizations to create closer relationships with constituents, whether they are prospects, customers, members, partners, investors or employees.

The Scotts Miracle-Gro Company is a good example of how personalized email can work. Their gardening newsletter delivers customized lawn and garden care advice from a single email template to nearly 750,000 customers based on geographic, climate and horticultural needs. Scotts dynamically generates thousands of individual recommendations based on the customer’s address, grass and garden type and variables such as weather and local growing conditions.

JamBase is a niche music marketing company that provides tour dates, information, concert reviews, articles and links for thousands of improvisational bands worldwide. JamBase integrates their subscriber database with online marketing software and sends 10-15 specialized email communications each day to fans who count on them to provide timely information on concerts and events in their particular area.

The engine that drives one-to-one email marketing is called dynamic content. With dynamic content, marketers can create a single email template that delivers unique, personalized emails to subscribers based on demographic and other information gathered from the customer.

It all starts with the data to feed dynamic content. Marketers need good customer data. Capturing data can take place over time through surveys, commerce data, customer service data, opt-in forms, user profile pages, etc. The simplest and most widely used data collection method is to ask for information directly from email subscribers when subscribers register for your email, at point of purchase or via a survey. This information includes:

  • Contact information, such as email address, name, physical address and phone number
  • Basic demographics, such as gender, age and occupation
  • Preferences, such as interests, frequency and best time to contact
  • Attitudinal information, such as survey responses that reflect viewpoints and opinions

Although it is tempting to collect as much information as possible from the subscriber immediately, this can backfire. Subscribers value their personal information. If too much information is required, people either lie or simply abandon the registration or purchase process.

It’s best to start with three or four data points: email address, name, title (Mr., Mrs., etc.) and geographic location. Requiring these elements usually does not impact completion rates but helps unlock key insights, such as gender. Following the registration process, this information can be used to append additional data attributes or to organize follow-up emails with surveys or additional questions.

Each time your subscribers interact with your website or email program, you have another opportunity to learn additional information. Certain types of information can be valuable in driving relevant content but may be difficult to get unless appended, for example, number of children, income and home value. Only a few data points — typically name and physical address — are needed to append comprehensive demographic data to your file.

If all this seems overwhelming, you can make great gains just by starting small — simply inserting a person’s first name into an e-mail can increase open rates by as much as 10 percent.


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