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Secrets & Lies: Behavioral e-mail targeting

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Last month, a hearing held by U.S. House of Representatives' Subcommittees on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection and Communications, Technology and the Internet questioned whether marketers were collecting too much information about prospects—information that those marketers may be using to conduct behavioral marketing. While there's no verdict yet on whether a privacy bill will be introduced as expected, those e-mail marketers doing behavioral targeting should make sure they are doing it right.

Stefan Pollard, senior strategic consultant at Responsys, a provider of e-mail and cross-channel marketing solutions, reveals one secret and exposes one widely believed lie about behavioral e-mail targeting.

Secret: Actions speak louder than words.
Information that prospects give you directly via surveys, preference centers and polls might seem like the perfect fodder for your next e-mail campaign, but that's not always the case, Pollard said. “Marketers focus so much on what people are telling them; but what they neglect to do is use the information available to them based on what people are actually doing,” he said. “Someone might be clicking on Web pages or e-mail links that have nothing to do with what they told you in your preference center.” A better option is to use everything you've got at your disposal to create campaigns.

You'll want to pay attention to the questions you're asking prospects and customers, as well as where they are clicking on your site and what they've purchased or expressed interest in, including your offline communications, he said. Also, don't make the mistake of following every minute piece of data. If someone has expressed interest in a topic in the past but doesn't sign up for your latest webinar about the subject, they may have had time constraints or been out of the office at that time.

“Follow up with them after the fact with a, ‘thought you might be interested in downloading this recording,'” Pollard said.

Lie: Prospects like knowing you know all about them.
It's a marketer's mantra: Show prospects you know them and understand their needs, and you will be rewarded. But prospects might find it creepy if you show you know too much about them. “It all depends on how aggressive you are,” Pollard said. “If someone took the time to research articles about something but didn't download a white paper about it, sending them a link to the white paper is probably fine as long as you don't make that hard-line connection between his or her previous research and the paper.”

You can provide a little buffer zone by being timely without appearing that you're stalking them, he said. “Everyone always says that e-mails must be timely and relevant, but you don't need to send an immediate response unless someone takes action and requests that white paper. Otherwise, you can take a day or two to follow up.”

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