Four Ways to Use Behavioral Data in E-mail to Reach Your Marketing Goals

Apr 11, 2007 8:57 PM  By

Behavioral data are just what they seem—data that reveal the buying behavior of our customers and prospects. They generally are associated with Websites where companies capture and analyze the clickstream of visitors. The data show what pages and products the visitor viewed, how long he stayed, how far he progressed through the checkout process, and more. But you can also find behavioral data in e-mail marketing and transactional records, for example. All of this is valuable information for a marketer.

And it makes sense for the e-mail marketer to use the information. Using behaviorial data can boost e-mail-related sales by as much as nine times over, according to analyst firms.

Yet JupiterResearch reports that the majority of marketers fail to use the behavioral data available to them. For example, fewer than one-third of marketers use click-through information for audience segmentation even though it will greatly improve campaign relevance by enabling you to target engaged subscribers differently.

The trick is to make behavioral data actionable and put them to use while they’re fresh. E-mail provides an ideal way to do this because of its recognized advantages—fast, inexpensive, measurable, and provides the ability to segment, publish dynamic content, and automate—and because it lets marketers connect anonymous Web behavior with individuals through a variety of identifiers, such as cookies, Website registration, and transactions.

For example, if you learned that an identifiable visitor to your site had visited twice within a few days, spent all his time looking at a certain product and its related links, but hadn’t purchased, what might you do? I would figure the person probably was competitively shopping for that type of product and fire off an e-mail containing a compelling offer to complete the purchase now.

So imagine my surprise when shopping for a pickup truck (not exactly a trivial purchase) and visiting the Websites of multiple truck manufacturers, drilling down to inventory availability, I didn’t get a single e-mail touting truck deals. There were truck promotions on TV and offers in the newspaper, but not one manufacturer bothered to send me an e-mail. Wait, I take that back; one sent me a generic message that wasn’t even vaguely about trucks.

In 2005 JupiterResearch predicted that adoption of Website behavioral clickstream data as an e-mail targeting tactic would almost double by 2007, with 41% of promotional e-mail marketers deploying it. The use of behavioral data in e-mail certainly has increased since then (although the pickup truck manufacturers clearly aren’t doing it), and 85% of marketers using Web analytics with e-mail have seen campaign performance improve as a result. So what are you waiting for?

How to get started: the chicken-and-egg dilemma
You start with behavioral data by defining your marketing goals, strategies, and tactics. Ideally you define your strategy and get the data you need to execute it. Often, however, marketers start with the data they can readily get from their existing e-mail marketing, transactional records, and Web analytics. Once you know what those data are, you can align them to one of four typical marketing goals:

1. Increase repeat purchases. Offer cross-sell and upsell suggestions based on purchase activity (obtainable without Web analytics) into purchase and shipment confirmation messages; inform customers of related products and new arrivals from the same lines as previously purchased items.

2. Encourage a first-time purchase. Send an alert about new products in the same categories as recently browsed or searched items; further educate customers about recently browsed/searched products, especially those that may require a longer decision-making process; send user ratings or product reviews; include a compelling offer/incentive to buy now.

3. Increase customer retention. Segment your list by e-mail responders and nonresponders; segment frequent visitors from those whose frequency is declining; target appropriate content and updates to each group to encourage the behavior you want.

4. Find revenue in abandoned shopping carts. Send follow-up messages that reinforce the benefits the visitors will receive from the purchase; include a discount and/or another incentive; describe new products similar to the products in the abandoned cart (in case the shoppers re still searching for the perfect item); remind them of the limited time to take advantage of the offer; and reiterate your e-commerce security features and privacy policy.

A few caveats are in order: First, whether you are overwhelmed by the abundance of behavioral data or worried that you don’t have enough, the key is to start simple. Just transaction history is enough to work with; a step better is e-mail open and click-through data; and ultimately, identifiable (not anonymous) Web browsing details give you the best profile of your customers. Second, the ability to query, analyze, and segment these data into useful audiences will help you organize and track behaviors. If you can take this a step further by integrating data from other channels such as retail, all the better. Third, you need the content assets, workflow, and messaging infrastructure in place to dynamically publish relevant content based on these data while they are still fresh. Fourth, you must perform proper testing, reporting, and measurement to see what’s working.

As with all other good targeting tactics, making use of behavioral data takes effort, resources, and budget. But it also delivers up to nine times more revenue than broadcast mailings, according to JupiterResearch. And despite additional campaign costs, such mailings increase net profits by an average of 18 times more than those of broadcast mailings. That makes a compelling case for e-mail campaigns driven by behavioral data. Oh, and your customers won’t have to work as hard as I did to find the right dealer for my truck.

John Rizzi is president/CEO of e-Dialog, an e-mail services provider based in Lexington, MA.

Other articles by John Rizzi:

Four Ways to Grow Your E-mail List: Get Offline Customers to Go Online

Borrow a Page from Your E-mail Playbook

Four Ways to Improve Marketing ROI Through E-mail

Customer Data: Protect Your Assets

Breaking the Abusive E-mail Habit