Tag archives for personalization

This white paper describes the benefits and challenges of using e-mail marketing as part of a sales and marketing program for “considered purchases,” such as found in the sales cycles for business and industrial products.

E-mail has become a business tool that is almost as important as the telephone because it overcomes many of the communications problems of other media. It’s frequently faster to communicate with someone via e-mail than with voicemail and fax.

Email Provides Flexibility

Business marketers have found that e-mail has the flexibility to deliver a wide variety of messages, and it has the impact of a personal message. Of course, e-mail marketing cannot totally replace other forms of marketing and selling, but it can augment traditional sales and marketing techniques by increasing the frequency of exposure, delivering a high-impact message, and reducing sales and marketing costs.

E-mail marketing is proving its power to support both online and offline sales and marketing campaigns. Forrester Research recently interviewed companies about their results in using e-mail marketing techniques and found that the companies interviewed will triple their e-mail marketing budgets by 2004. It was somewhat surprising that these companies will spend half of their online marketing budget on e-mail marketing, but Forrester found that e-mail marketing is both effective and efficient. Their study reported that sending e-mail to in-house lists cost about $5 per thousand messages sent and that clickthrough rates average 10 percent. This means that e-mail marketing is much more efficient than practically all other forms of online or offline marketing.

While e-mail marketing has proven its value, it does present several challenges to marketers regarding implementation, such as:

  • Who should receive e-mail?
  • What content should e-mails contain?
  • How often should e-mail be sent?
  • How should an e-mail hosting company be selected?
  • What follow-up is effective for sales?

Permission Marketing

Regardless of how targeted, relevant, and informative you think your message is, unless the recipient specifically agreed to receive the information you send, you risk alienating a significant portion of your audience.

You’ve probably noticed that the unwanted e-mail you receive doesn’t come from large, recognizable companies who want to maintain their reputation. But large, well-known companies do send a great deal of e-mail promoting their products and services. So how do they obtain lists of interested prospects without becoming spammers? The answer is to send e-mail only to an in-house list of people who have asked for — or at least agreed to receive — e-mail newsletters and promotions from a company.

One of the easiest ways to implement a permission marketing e-mail program is to allow Web visitors to subscribe to a company’s newsletter. At the same time, visitors can be asked if they are interested in receiving promotions (sometimes called “solo mailings”) from the same company. In addition, a variety of offline techniques can be used to obtain approval to send e-mail newsletters and promotional campaign messages. Salespeople frequently obtain e-mail addresses from their prospects and customers. Other offline sources of e-mail addresses are trade shows, product registration cards, call centers, and other “touch points” where a company’s employees come in contact with prospects and customers.

One thing to keep in mind about permission marketing is that each individual’s permission only covers the type of e-mail explicitly mentioned when asking for permission. For example, if you change the format of your e-mail newsletter to resemble a solo ad or special offer, expect a large portion of people to unsubscribe from your list.

Frequency of Contact

Most marketing and sales executives know it’s important to contact prospects and customers frequently to create “top of mind” awareness. What’s not always clear is exactly why this is true and how to accomplish it.

In general, exposure to a message is cumulative, and each exposure to a message helps a person move above a “threshold of acceptance” where they will take action. However, impressions have a certain “decay rate,” which means that if not reinforced with additional exposures, awareness will fade away over time.

This means that it’s not just the number of exposures — it’s the number of times a person is exposed to a message during a certain time period.

Marketing research indicates that prospects need more exposures before they cross the threshold, while customers — who presumable are directly exposed to the product’s benefits — seem to require less frequent sales and marketing messages for them to remain loyal over time.

This means that it’s important to keep in frequent contact with both prospects and customers. The challenge, of course, is doing it inexpensively. In addition, it’s important to know when to increase the level of contact from primarily e-mail to a more intensive contact, such as a call from a salesperson. Fortunately, e-mail marketing techniques can meet both challenges at the same time.

As potential customers look for ways to meet specific needs, they move from initial awareness of their need through several stages of information gathering, and, hopefully, to product evaluation and selection. Traditional business marketing has called for mailing brochures and catalogs, sending direct mail pieces, and other expensive and time-consuming techniques to hopefully make the prospect receptive to a call from a salesperson. With sales cycles taking from 6 to 24 months, it can be expensive to have salespeople maintain frequent contact while waiting for prospects to become ready for sales calls.

A more efficient approach is to combine an e-mail newsletter and an e-mail promotional campaign with less frequent sales calls. Today, e-mail marketing can deliver a company’s marketing message more quickly and less expensively than many other customer contact methods. In addition, e-mail can accurately track when prospects are ready to hear from a salesperson.

Planning an E-mail Marketing Program

Creating a e-mail marketing program starts with determining the target market and objectives. In other words, who you want to contact, how do you want to help them, and what you want them to do next.

While e-mail marketing can be used to support offline marketing activities (such as calling your 800 number), its best use is to bring people to your Web site by including links to specific pages on the site. This can be done with a short synopsis of an article or a product description next to a link that takes readers directly to a Web page. Clicking the link in an e-mail, called a “clickthrough,” can update each reader’s profile to indicate interest in the article or product.

No other marketing medium compares with e-mail for immediate response to a promotion and the ability to track results.

Measuring Success

While the cost of actually distributing e-mail messages is very low compared to other marketing activities, it’s still important to test e-mail marketing campaigns and track results so you can measure and refine e-mail marketing activities. Even recipients of requested e-mail will only accept a limited number of messages from a company before becoming frustrated — so it is critical to track results to quickly learn what works and what doesn’t.

Most activities related to e-mail and Web marketing can be tracked, and it’s this feedback that makes it possible to determine what works and what doesn’t.

When using an in-house list, be sure to track mailings to customers separately from mailings to non-customers who subscribe to your newsletter. For e-mail newsletters we’ve seen the clickthrough rate for customers can be twice that of non-customers.

Until recently, e-mail messages were delivered in text format only, but that is changing. HTML messages heighten the visual impact of a message by using special formatting and images in newsletters, and many subscribers are choosing to receive HTML newsletters instead of text format. This not only makes newsletters easier to read, it also increases the clickthrough rate.

Relationship Marketing via E-Mail

One benefit e-mail marketing has over Web marketing is the power to deliver each message with personality. Most Web sites are written in “brochure style.” It’s appropriate to establish the size and stability of the company because it reduces concerns about dealing with the company. However, once those initial concerns have been reduced, it’s time to put some personality into marketing and sales activities.

Successful field and telephone salespeople let their personalities demonstrate that they are real human beings. It’s important to do the same in e-mail marketing because recipients are accustomed to receiving e-mail from individuals — friends, family and people with whom they work.

Traditional catalog companies learned many years ago that adding a brief personal message from the president increased response. Create the same impact in direct e-mail marketing by including a message from the newsletter editor, a top executive, or an enthusiastic product manager.

In addition to the choice of writing style, relationships with customers can be enhanced through using “personalization” software. By using profile data about each subscriber, the actual text of each message can be tailored to match the interests of each recipient.

For example, Providence College, Providence, R.I., uses both Web and e-mail personalization in marketing the school to high school students. Profile information supplied by students visiting the Web site, such as their high school and a potential major, is used to provide information on the Web and in e-mails about events near their home. The e-mail newsletter also automatically includes messages from faculty and student volunteers based on each individual’s profile information.

The relationship-building techniques used in the Providence e-mail newsletter are part of an integrated, personalized marketing effort by the school to help potential applicants learn about the people they will meet on campus. This familiarity with the people at Providence makes prospective applicants more comfortable in making a decision about applying.

E-mail marketing techniques can increase Web traffic, gain awareness, and generate revenue at a very attractive return on the investment.

Getting Started with E-mail Marketing

It’s relatively easy to begin using e-mail marketing through the use of an e-mail hosting service. One of the first steps is to select a hosting service that matches your service needs and budget (see sidebar). Then, design a subscription form for use with your Web site that collects names and e-mail addresses. The form will likely be hosted at your e-mail hosting service but will use the graphics and design of your existing site. This maintains your corporate image without having to involve your IT department to add a database or the other technical functions handled by an e-mail hosting service.

In addition to collecting subscriptions on your Web site, you should also involve your salespeople to collect e-mail addresses from existing customers and ask prospects if they can be added to the newsletter list, too.

Then, it’s a matter of developing short articles that show prospects how they can benefit from using your products and articles aimed at customers that show how to obtain greater benefits from products already purchased.

With the help of your e-mail hosting service, you’ll be able to contact prospects and customers more frequently and more efficiently. In addition, you’ll be able to track how well your e-mail marketing helps turn leads into qualified prospects, and how it helps your salespeople turn prospects into customers.

Case Study: Personalization Delivers Personality for Providence College

Selecting a college can be one of the most challenging tasks a high school student faces. From the time a college-bound student begins to think about higher education, brochures and catalogs fill the family mailbox.

When one college library starts looking like all the other libraries, it’s time for a little personal attention to prioritize the options. For Providence College, Providence, RI, personalized e-mail helps them tailor the message to their target audience — students seeking a New England liberal arts experience.

Their personalized Web site collects profile data about a student’s interests, potential major, and other aspects of college life. Then, e-mail messages tailored to each student’s profile help build a relationship as students gather information and make a decision about applying to colleges.

“Our e-mail and Web experience lets us tell our story over time to help them with their application and selection process,” says Brian Williams, Associate Dean of Admission.

When it comes to collecting e-mail addresses, Providence combines the Web with traditional direct mail. “If a student shares an e-mail address on our Web site we send out a personalized welcome e-mail message and encourage the student to sign up for our newsletter and create a personalized profile on our Web site,” says Williams. In addition, e-mail addresses are part of the information provided by outside agencies. Providence uses traditional postal mail to send a form requesting permission to send e-mail to that account.

Since moving to personalized Web and e-mail, Providence has seen the number and quality of applicants increase dramatically. They use the Web and e-mail software in an integrated Web and e-mail environment. “We use a Web-based content management system for the creation, editing, and delivery of our Web and e-mail communications,” said Williams. “Our goal is to allow our entire campus community to participate in creating our newsletter. This lets readers see themselves as a student here and decide if they would be happy here for four years. And, the system makes creation and delivery of this personalized experience an easy, fast process for our admissions team.”

Checklist for Selecting an E-Mail Hosting Service

Each e-mail hosting service has a different set of capabilities and fees, so it’s important to know which features you need to accomplish your marketing and sales goals. In evaluating e-mail hosting services, be sure to ask if they provide the following list of features and capabilities:

  • Maintain a database of subscription and interest data, not individual mailing lists
  • E-mail as many review copies of newsletters to editors as necessary prior to publication
  • Provide personalization based on each subscriber’s interest profile
  • Track clickthroughs in real time to monitor response to articles and offers
  • Provide Web and e-mail survey capability
  • Provide Web product registration capability
  • Enable Web-based management of the service and reports
  • Automatically handle unsubscribes and bounces
  • Provide for both newsletters and lead collection
  • Send both individual newsletters to subscribers and an ongoing campaign of messages to leads

Cliff Allen, cofounder of SureToMeet, president of Coravue

One approach to developing personalized Web sites allows marketing and content personnel to manage the Web site with a minimum of programmer and other IT staff assistance so you can react instantly to your market.

  • Profile your customers
  • Create customized content
  • Integrate the Web into the enterprise
  • Understand customer buying motives
  • Improve customer service

Tailoring Content Based on Profiles  

Your customers are looking for personal attention, and personalization can tailor your Web site for each individual. Providing personalized Web content based on individual needs and preferences helps you create loyal customers by providing extra value for the time spent at your Web site.

The application server selects appropriate content that will appeal to your audience based on rules stored in HTML template files. The template files also determine how content will be formatted, which means that the design of your Web site can be separated from the content creation – making it easier to develop and maintain a personalized Web site.

There is a well defined procedure for creating a personalized Web site that leads to a successful implementation.

  • Create a profile database to store user preferences and other profile information
  • Develop “content objects” that will be used repetitively throughout the site
  • Create a “content database” of material, such as catalog information, that will use consistent formatting
  • Create HTML templates that will provide a consistent format to pages
  • Add personalization rules to HTML templates that select appropriate content for each individual

Profile Management

Creating the profile database for a personalized Web site can be a challenge – not because of technology, but because we may not know how to segment our market. Fortunately, the process can be simplified by starting with the questions your salespeople currently use when presenting to prospects.

For example, if your salespeople usually ask prospects questions about where they use products like yours, preferred quantity in an order, and similar questions, then you are on the road to knowing the types of preferences to store in your profile database. Then, as new questions or types of preferences arise, you can easily add them to the profile database, so that every page in your Web site has easy access to an individual’s entire profile. This means that any page can be personalized based on any answer – from the current Web session or any previous session.

In addition to including questions within content pages for explicit profiling, Web developers can incorporate behavior-based profiling into Web sites. This implicit profiling technique means that you are not limited to form-based responses, but good systems can also observe Web behavior and tailor content.

Whether you need only a few profile characteristics or hundreds of preference indicators, personalization makes it easy for you to create customized content – on any page – with a minimum of effort on the part of your Web developers.

Creating Personalized Content

It is easy for Web developers to create customized content because personalization systems work the same way that sales professionals tailor their presentations. Creating personalized content  is done by defining the conditions when content will be shown, then tags are used to specify those rules.

For instance, you may have a promotion aimed at golfers, and the profile database stores information about their hobbies. While this is a relatively simple personalization rule, it is used frequently by most Web developers because it provides an easy, precise way to tailor content to an individual’s profile.

Of course, not every personalization rule is as simple as the golf promotion. Complex personalization rules are supported with minor variations in this example. In addition, many business rules lend themselves to being expressed in traditional SQL commands. That’s why some personalization systems support a full-range of SQL commands with their parameters. The SQL commands used most are:

  • Select – Choose records from a content database, an order processing database, or a database of special profile information
  • Update – Change existing records in any database permitted to the Web server
  • Insert – Add new records to databases of profile, content, accounting, or other information
  • Delete – Remove records based on a set of conditions, if system permissions allow

Content Management Options Provide Flexibility

The content on large Web sites has grown dramatically, causing a management problem that just keeps on growing. Material can appear on a single page or in a catalog of thousands of products, and all pages need to have a unified look and feel. Personalization systems can draw content from a number of sources, which means Web developers can choose the approaches that meet their needs.

Content may be stored in several ways:

  • Within the template file for use in that individual document
  • Stored in “content object” files that can be included in multiple documents
  • Database records of pure content that can be formatted by the template document

A variety of content management techniques are available, such as transferring content from traditional print-based tools.

In addition, database publishing techniques allow content developers to enter material via forms so they don’t have to use any HTML tags. This makes it easy for authorized people to add content that can be immediately available on the Web site.

Recognize Individuals Automatically

Most people appreciate being recognized, and Web users don’t like to remember IDs and passwords — they just want to be recognized and treated as individuals. Personalization turns static Web pages into dynamic content by automatically recognizing individuals as they move from page to page during a session, and when they return to your site in the future.

This is done by assigning each person a unique Coravue ID that is stored on their computer as a “cookie” and in every bookmark they save on your site. Since most people recognize the value of cookies, they can just enter your URL and Coravue will automatically sense who they are and use their profile to customize the site just for them.

For the people who do not allow cookies to be stored on their computer, their bookmark tells the system who they are, so the site is automatically customized for them, too.

Up-Selling in E-Commerce

There are many ways you can build a relationship with a customer when your site automatically recognizes an individual. For e-commerce sites that store product purchase history, customers who have purchased a popular product can see pages that promote related products, while new customers can be shown the popular product. This avoids the waste of promoting a product to a customer who already purchased the product, and it leads customers to products that complement existing purchases.

Serving Customers Like They’ve Never Been Served

The Web can reduce customer support costs – but only if the customer can find the support information they need.

As the number of products sold by a company increases, the number of customer support pages on the Web site increases – to the point where a customer can’t find the information they need. So, they return to the traditional approach of calling a support center and not only asking for help, but also complaining that the Web site was of little use.

The solution is to automatically recognize customers when the return to your Web site looking for help and display the support information only for products they have purchased. This reduces the time they spend searching for support information and reduces your call center expenses. It also provides you with an opportunity to sell related products to the customer by presenting them with “valued customer” specials based on their purchase history, interests, or Web behavior.

What better way to keep a customer than to solve their problem and offer a special on a product you know they can use!

Self-Paced Training Improves Productivity and Reduces Costs

As products become more complex, customers need more and more training so they can obtain the maximum value from your products. At the same time, your employees need additional training so they can sell and support customers.

A personalized Web site can provide self-paced training by storing in the profile database answers to questions about their understanding of the material that are included throughout the training material. This allows the Web site to adjust the level of training material “on the fly” as the student is learning, which provides instant feedback and direction.

Integrating with the Enterprise

While it’s important to treat your Web guests as individuals, it’s also important for your Web developers to have a personalization system that can be easily integrated with the existing enterprise computing environment. The Coravue Application Server uses industry-standard SQL database technology to store user profile data, as well as data for content, accounting, and control.

This not only means that personalized Web sites respond quickly, it also allows a Web site to be integrated with traditional SQL databases used throughout corporations. By extending existing database applications to the Web, corporations can now deliver applications to customers and employees around the world, and those applications can be automatically tailored in real-time to the needs and authorization of those individuals.

Compare Demographics to Web Activity

The ID is more than a way to personalize a Web site. It’s also a way to track each individual so you can learn how different profile characteristics affect Web behavior.

Personalization includes each person’s ID in a log that shows the date and time every page and every graphic was displayed. This means you can perform tabulations that have never been possible, such as:

  • How many men versus women saw each product?
  • Are different hobbies related to purchase behavior?
  • Is the person’s title related to the length of the sales cycle?
  • Do people with higher education use text links or graphic links more?

How to Get Started

With a good personalization system, it’s easy to take advantage of the benefits of Web personalization because you don’t need a dedicated staff of software programmers – you can begin by having your present Web developers use their favorite HTML tools to add tags to your existing Web pages.

This means there is no expensive re-design, no new dedicated server hardware, and no additional system administrative overhead.

What you do need is a desire to use one-to-one relationship marketing techniques to achieve higher customer loyalty and revenue, while you maintain control over your sales and support expenses.

As you can see, we’re more than a software company. We’re here to help you take advantage of today’s most powerful marketing technology by applying one-to-one relationship marketing techniques with Web personalization.



Personalizing Web and Email Content

The idea of personalizing Web and email content is becoming well accepted
because most of us already personalize the person-to-person communications that
we use every day. However, planning a personalized Web site has proven to be
more of a challenge than many marketers had imagined.

The first step is learning about customer motivation, which makes strategic
planning for personalization much easier.

One of the first challenges that many marketers run into when converting a
static Web site into a personalized Web site is deciding what to personalize.
There is so much personalization possible that it’s hard to determine which
items are actually worth personalizing.

Set Clear Goals

Early in the planning process, it’s important to establish clear goals that
can guide you in choosing what to personalize.

For instance, if the goal of personalization is to increase loyalty, then
adding features to increase return visits would be desirable. On the other hand,
if a company’s customers usually make large purchases that involve a significant
amount of research and evaluation – but customers don’t benefit from return
visits to the site after the purchase – then the personalization focus should
improve the ease and quality of the customer’s decision-making process.

Once the goals for personalization have been determined, the next step is to
look at how customers gather information and make purchase decisions.

Salespeople and telemarketers who talk with customers every day learn from
experience how to gather information and tailor their presentation to match each
type of customer and the stage of the purchasing process. They’ve learned how to
tell the difference between people who are just starting to investigate making a
purchase and those who are on the verge of making a purchase. Sometimes the
difference is which questions they ask. At other times, it’s the order in which
they ask them.

It’s not yet easy to carry on a voice conversation with a customer through a
Web site, so we need to anticipate the various ways to profile customers so a
site can select the most appropriate marketing messages.

Listen to Your Salespeople

One of the best sources of information about the different types of customers
and their motivations are the successful salespeople who are in constant contact
with customers. Visit with your salespeople and product managers, and you’re
likely to turn up some very interesting insights about what customers are
looking for.

Some consumers are brand-conscious and want the reliability and consistency
they associate with the brand – or something about the image projected by the
brand appeals to them. Consumers look for brands they recognize and value, and
are not necessarily looking for descriptive content educating them on why they
should buy particular brands.

Other customers want to be educated about a product category or informed
about specific products. These customers may need to be guided through the
information-gathering process by helping them compare the features, functions,
and benefits of similar products.

Between brand buyers and consumers who want to be educated are prospective
customers with a mix of attitudes, needs, feelings, and fears that we can deal
with using personalization. But before we can implement marketing techniques on
a Web site, we need to know the paths that customers follow as they prepare to
make a purchase decision.

For example, if a company sells to some people who are brand-conscious,
others who are price-conscious, and a third group that seeks the best value,
then messages need to be tailored to each buying motive. In addition, some
people may just be investigating the product category, some know what they need
and are comparing products, while others are making a final decision.

When you take into consideration the three different buying motives and the
three stages of making a purchase decision, there are nine ways to personalize
marketing messages! Below is an example showing the nine different message
themes that would be appropriate in each situation:

Once you have mapped out the different themes that appeal to each segment of
your market, it’s much easier to plan the actual personalized Web site and
supporting personalized email marketing. Then you’re in a much better position
to know just what to personalize on your site, and that will pay off in making
people feel comfortable buying from you.


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