Oh, behave!

Mar 01, 2008 10:30 PM  By

In the not-so-recent past, marketers treated e-mail as an electronic version of mass media, blasting the same message to their entire audience. If marketers had demographic or preference data, they would then send more targeted communiqués to different segments. But little thought was given to how people might benefit from receiving differentiated formats.

That’s not smart. Consumers are increasingly fed up with spam, and opt-in permissions are harder to win — and keep — than ever. Today’s e-mail demands relevancy and easy-to-access content, plus incentives that are simple to deliver in the interactive medium.

The best way to do this is by implementing online behavioral targeting — which combines personalized advertising and messages based on how individuals use Web, e-mail, and search — with information about the lifecycle stage of the customer.

Technology has made this easier. Web analytics vendors, for example, offer tools that track unique site visitors rather than aggregate page view logs. So online browsing behavior is now available to target messaging one-to-one based on previous behaviors such as pages browsed, products purchased, pages abandoned, and more (assuming the posted privacy policy provides the needed disclosures to do so).

E-mail vendors can also integrate with Web analytics systems to append individual site browsing activity to existing customer profiles. Such information might include messages delivered or bounced, open rates across campaigns, clicks across campaigns, incentives printed or redeemed, and products purchased along with frequency of purchase. It may include insights gained from integration of similar data culled from offline behavior.

Some providers also enable real-time triggering of e-mails to individuals, rather than simply in bulk as a single broadcast to segments. Moving from scheduled segments to some, to triggered segments of one, is really about optimizing customer relationships, one at a time.


To make behavior-driven messaging practical, marketers need to look at several areas of automation.

Data organization: Identify customer contact points and channels based on the tracking data gathered from Web activity, message response, and any offline behavior. These interaction points must be assigned and organized for each stage of the buyer lifecycle, from prospect identification to loyal “best customer” retention (or reactivation as necessary).

Take steps to consistently organize these into customer profiles so that a lifecycle messaging process can be fully automated. As customer activity occurs, use a real-time (or batch scoring) method to identify which message templates to use.

Creation of a universal tracking method: Establish a universal customer ID to track behavior across digital and offline channels. Ideally, IDs are an automatically assigned a number that will never change. But some cases call for a system with a unique user name, account number, telephone number or other existing identifier. (Social Security numbers, financial account numbers, and other sensitive data should never be used for this.)

Use a consistent approach to campaign tracking, with campaign IDs tracked across channels by embedding tracking software or incentive barcodes for offline capture. Since customer activity is typically tracked to measure lift from specific offers, creative, frequency and other variables, you need a standardized method for identifying campaigns.

Development of pre-stage digital message templates: Using the contact points defined, a marketer can then create digital message templates for e-mail, RSS, mobile, and other channels. These are designed to move the customer from his or her current lifecycle stage toward conversion and “best customer” status. Each pre-staged template should contain replacement tags for customer name and insertion, and at least one dynamic content zone to deliver content based on each customer’s profile.

Definition of behavior-targeting rules: Once the customer lifecycle data profiles, cross-channel tracking methods and personalized content templates are in place, establish a set of rules to read current activity data for each customer as it occurs and to select the proper template to use in triggering a follow-up message.


The final step is to begin delivering real-time messages to each customer as he or she interacts with the Website, e-mail, place of business or any other tracked venues. Here are a few examples:

  • Customer browses a Website, visits the electronics category, and then leaves. Trigger an electronic product offer.
  • Customer abandons a shopping cart. Trigger a package offer for same or similar product.
  • Customer purchases a product. Trigger an order receipt with related cross-sell or upsell recommendation.
  • Loyalty member purchases a product. Trigger a rewards notification and redeemable certificate.
  • Customer has not visited site in two weeks. Trigger a “We miss you!” message with personalized incentive.
  • New product upgrade becomes available for a previously purchased product. Trigger a follow-up message about this and include cross-sell recommendations.

Glen Hartman is managing director of the digital practice at Harte-Hanks, a direct and targeted marketing company based in San Antonio, TX. www.harte-hanks.com


Are you getting the most out of your e-mail contacts with customers? We know of two retailers who got more from their e-communications by giving more back.

One business sought to lower costs and improve customer experiences by offering online fulfillment of rewards certificates as part of its loyalty program. The existing delivery method was by postal mail. The marketer’s goal was to offer customers an instant alternative to postal mail — the choice to receive certificates via e-mail and print the rewards themselves.

Secure delivery and print constraints were necessary to avoid high-value certificates — potentially worth hundreds of dollars — from being posted on free sites and distributed around the Internet. And synchronization with codes recognized at point of sale to eliminate the potential of fraud and multiple redemptions was essential.

The marketing team developed an automated fulfillment solution that met all security and antifraud requirements. Triggered daily from both online and offline purchases, this included single print limits; synchronization of valid codes; automatically barcoded certificates available in multiple denominations; e-mail delivery management; and tracking of the entire process.

Since inception of the system, an estimated 20% of members have been converted to digital rewards delivery, saving about 90% in postal costs. The print rate for digital certificates averages 85.4%, creating a high level of customer service and follow-through. The operating cost? Less than 10% of physical fulfillment.

Another large retailer had been triggering a variety of order status and customer service e-mail messages based on online transactions and customer service requirements. Since the average open rates for these types were consistently higher than opt-in broadcast e-mail campaigns, the retailer sought to use them as a marketing channel while remaining compliant with CAN-SPAM regulations and industry best practices.

The marketing team proposed a dynamic cross-sell product recommendation, embedded as a sidebar into the retailer’s e-mail order receipts and shipping notifications. These cross-sells generated an average 3.2% clickthrough and became an important new source of revenue.