ADOTAS – According to independent industry research firm Forrester Research, “Marketing organizations have historically acquired point solutions to fulfill specific pain points. This technology accumulation strategy has a critical downside: Managing disparate technologies not only drains resources, but eventually becomes an obstacle to optimizing customer experiences and accountability.”
Nowhere are the downsides of channel silos and their corresponding point solutions more apparent than with email marketing. When email took off in the late 1990s, organizations developed new email marketing teams. These email teams had separate goals and responsibilities from the existing direct/database marketing teams, which continued to manage existing customer relationships across multiple offline channels, such as direct mail, outbound call centers and others.
Email service providers (ESPs) emerged to support these fledgling email marketing teams, who used ESPs in the same way they used mail shops for direct mail or call centers for outbound telemarketing: as a convenient external service for outsourcing message delivery and fulfillment. Since email marketers at the time hadn’t progressed beyond the “batch and blast” mentality, it was relatively easy to cut a list and then use the ESP or call center to broadcast a campaign.
However, the technological silo created by ESPs served to reinforce the functional silos. Customer and campaign performance data sat in different silos, making it progressively harder to integrate email with other channels, and making it nearly impossible to deliver a relevant and consistent cross-channel customer experience. Further, a specific set of metrics was devised to measure and analyze email marketing performance — again, completely separated from how results across other channels were quantified, further exacerbating the problem.
Although the mail shop and call center continue to serve their respective channels well, savvy marketers have begun to take a hard look at ESPs. They recognize several disadvantages of ESPs, stemming from both the inherent qualities of email (compared to other channels) and limitations with the systems themselves. Let’s examine some of those limitations further.
ESPs Limit Email Marketing’s Full Potential
Unlike channels such as direct mail or voice, email is real-time, interactive, trackable and customizable. Unfortunately, ESPs prevent marketers from taking full advantage of these inherent qualities and realizing greater marketing ROI.
For one, their limited data model and targeting capabilities reduce personalization options, and they often force marketers to perform list selects in a separate customer and prospect database, and then upload the files to the ESP. The required additional steps, along with multiple systems and GUIs, significantly slow down go-to-market time, preventing email from being truly real-time.
Although ESPs generally track email interactivity, this behavioral data remains trapped on their servers and can’t be incorporated into an organization’s master customer and prospect database. Thus, the true value of this data remains unrealized, as it can’t be used to increase message relevancy and personalization.
Behavioral Data: Unlocking an Untapped Enterprise Asset
Because of its interactivity, email creates a tremendous amount of data and insight into customer behavior, before, during and after the click. With an ESP, this valuable behavioral data is trapped on the ESP vendor’s servers — a silo over which marketers have no control. While they usually get the output/visualization of this data in the form of reports, they rarely have access to the raw data, and thus can’t bring it into the master marketing database in order to enrich customer profiles and execute more targeted, relevant campaigns. The result is less effective marketing.
According to Forrester’s “The Road to the Online Marketing Suite” report, “Without centralized access to data, marketers are limited in their ability to understand their customers and execute compelling multichannel campaigns. The growing number of data sources like CRM databases, search marketing,website clickstream, transactions, display advertising, email and other messaging campaigns remain confined to disparate applications.” The goal, the report continues, should be to incorporate “insights and data from online and offline channels to support an enterprise-wide approach to segmentation, planning, and customer experience.”
A cross-channel campaign management platform allows marketers to implement such an enterprise-wide strategy by establishing — or leveraging, if it already exists — a central database of record that encompasses all known and inferred customer information, including contact information, socio-demographics, transactions, computed data, expressed interests and preferences, behavioral information, aggregates and scores. These profiles are typically updated in real time with the very latest behavioral and response data. Because all channels are natively integrated into the platform, this insight can be leveraged for progressively better targeting and offer selection across all channels, not just email. In this way, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts, and marketers reap the benefits in the form of greater campaign results and revenues.
Market to the Customer, Not the Channel
One of the largest systemic problems with ESPs is that they breed a culture of marketing to the channel. Each marketing team is narrowly focused on the goals and performance of the channel for which it’s responsible, with little or no regard for the overall customer experience. With multiple point solutions, it’s incredibly complex to coordinate campaigns across channels in order to establish and maintain a positive, relevant and personalized customer experience. Instead, with channels managed in silos, customers suffer from inconsistent and poorly-targeted messages, contact fatigue and frustration
A cross-channel campaign management platform allows marketers to holistically manage their marketing campaigns — and the customer experience — from a single interface, ensuring they’re always marketing to each individual and his or her interests, needs and preferences. By focusing on the customer experience, marketers will not only improve the performance of each individual channel, but also overall marketing ROI and corporate revenues.
Create Seamless Experiences across Outbound and Inbound Channels
One of the most crucial aspects to providing a seamless, cross-channel experience is achieving inbound/outbound fusion: seamlessly delivering the best marketing offers across all interactions in the customer conversation, regardless of the channel. While coordinating outbound channels alone can drive greater results, the real payoff comes from incorporating real-time inbound interactions initiated by customers via the web, call center or point of sale (POS). Study after study concurs that inbound visitors presented with a relevant offer are much more inclined to respond, compared to recipients of one-off, direct outbound communications.
Although many ESPs have begun expanding into the web channel, they are unable to truly unify outbound and inbound marketing strategies. In reality, they offer only basic capabilities for creatinglanding pages tied to specific email campaigns. While these pages often mirror the design and contentof the email, they are not personalized in real time, based on each individual visitor and his or her behavior — not only within the email, but on the web and across other channels. Moreover, ESPs lack integration with other key inbound channels, namely the call center, POS, or kiosk.
Leading cross-channel campaign management vendors, on the other hand, have made inbound marketing capabilities a native component of their platforms, seamlessly blending them with traditional outbound campaign management. Regardless of the specific channel, all known and inferred information about each visitor is used to select, personalize and deliver the most relevant offers in real time. In addition, all offer recommendations and outcomes are centrally tracked in order to enhance future interactions and the overall customer experience.
With inbound/outbound fusion, all the rich behavioral data created by email informs offer selection on inbound channels, and vice versa. If a customer ignores a specific offer delivered via email, the platform can automatically suppress that offer from other channels, so it’s not presented when that person visits the website a week later. The way a customer interacts with a specific email can even drive what content they’re presented when they click to the web just seconds later. A sophisticated platform can also dynamically insert the most relevant offers into an email at the moment of execution — e.g., they may have just declined an offer on the phone — as well as personalize an email each time it’s opened to ensure it always reflects the very latest customer information.
Break Down the Silos to Develop a True Cross-Channel Customer Experience
Customers today are more informed, more connected, and more fickle than ever. They not only control how they interact with brands, but when and where. More than ever, customer experience has a direct impact on a business’ revenue and profitability. Because of the viral nature of social media, one bad experience can quickly spread in all directions, weakening a brand and its sales.
Consequently, marketers can’t afford to continue managing their channels and campaigns in silos, perpetuated by point solutions like ESPs. This siloed approach only leads to customer fatigue and frustration. Organizations that can tear down these walls and deliver a relevant, seamless, cross-channel customer experience will be rewarded with share of mind — and wallet.