DMA's Email Evolution attendees debate list-building, engagement and metrics

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What makes for more effective email list-building—traditional online registration techniques or Facebook Connect, the set of APIs that enables users to log onto a corporate website via their Facebook identities? A spirited debate sought to answer that question at the Direct Marketing Association's Email Evolution Conference in Miami Beach Feb. 7-8. For Jai Williams, senior marketing strategist at StrongMail Systems, accessing the sign-in data from Facebook Connect offers plenty of advantages. “With its single sign-in capability using existing credentials, Facebook Connect saves time and is easily accessible to users,” Williams said, during a session titled “Segmentation Strategies Across Channels.” “And it creates an avenue for increased user interactivity yielding actionable, rich data.” But panelist Dave Hendricks, COO at digital display ad company LiveIntent Inc., countered that these benefits not only aren't superior to traditional means of assembling opted-in subscriber lists but in fact present drawbacks for marketers. “Acquiring email users isn't simple, and you work hard to create and position registration forms,” Hendricks said. “But Facebook users are not subscribers, and they're also subject to Facebook's terms of service—which can change at any time.” Hendricks cautioned marketers that “low friction” in building contact lists means “low investment and low ownership by you. If you decide to quit Facebook Connect, you can't take anything but the most basic data with you. But if you get registration sign-ups, you own them and can keep them,” he said. Email engagement fostered another lively difference of opinions, in particular around what metrics adequately signal recipient responsiveness to messages. “Because things have gotten more complex with segmentation, we don't think classic email metrics such as delivers, opens and clicks are worth anything,” said Tim Watson, founder of email marketing consultancy Zettasphere, in a session titled, “What Is Engagement Anyway?” “With these, you can't tell how many customers engage or how many you didn't engage with because you didn't have the chance,” he said. Watson urged marketers to focus on “open reach,” a measure of the proportion of the email database that has opened at least one message over a period of time, and which he said provides a better indication of recipient behavior than traditional campaign metrics. Panelist Dela Quist, CEO of email marketing company AlchemyWorx, urged marketers to also take into account unsubscribes, a metric that can help make databases more efficient and provide a key test of campaign effectiveness. However panelist Kath Pay, principal at email consultancy Plan to Engage, urged a broader view of email measurement. “We need to look at multiple metrics,” Pay said. “Some may be campaign-based, such as what kinds of content is clicked on and downloaded, or those who are opening, clicking and taking you up on offers.” According to Luanne Calvert, VP-marketing and communications at Virgin America, the airline carrier pursues another pathway to email engagement, striving for “emotional connections” with recipients. “In talking about the flying experience, we have an emotional message, which is comfort, joy and entertainment—not points,” said Calvert, in her presentation titled “Monitoring the Digital Heart.” Calvert said Virgin America's email campaigns reuse banner ad images promoting time-sensitive price offerings; promote and extend earned media, such as publicity resulting from a recent award from Travel+Leisure; and highlight the carrier's partners, such as particular destinations, hotels or American Express Co. “Our email campaigns will focus even more on business travelers and retention this year, featuring in-flight Wi-Fi and our frequent-flier program,” Calvert said. The company's email outreach to this segment includes lifestyle elements because “business travel often is a hybrid experience which contains a leisure component,” she said. Attendees also grappled with the vagaries of sending email to different platforms, specifically whether recipients are checking email on desktop or laptop computers, versus smartphones and tablets. Hendricks said LiveIntent research indicated that users of the iPad tablet skew slightly older than 45 and click less often, while users of smartphones are younger with higher click rates. “It's totally appropriate to segment email content by device,” Hendricks said. “They have different performance characteristics.” But Nate Romance, senior director-strategic services at ExactTarget, suggested that tablet users do not reveal appreciably distinct email characteristics than users of other devices. “Tablets users are a lean-back, sedentary audience; I'm looking at my tablet while I'm doing something else,” Romance said. “But tablets also have characteristics similar to webmail and phones in some areas, depending on the context, so it's not unique.”
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