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How to use behavioural targeting

Loren McDonald
How to use behavioural targeting Loren McDonald
The noise has never been louder. As marketing budgets continue to be closely scrutinised more marketers are turning to email to drive results and improve ROI, adding to already crowded inboxes. The need to make your message stand out is great. While creative content, a strong call to action and an enticing offer are all important elements to an award-winning email, none of this matters if your audience finds the message irrelevant. In fact, it is a lack of relevance that is the most common reason why recipients unsubscribe from email marketing programs. 
Marketers now clearly understand that their messages must be welcomed, even anticipated, by recipients in order to truly be effective and they are taking the right steps to make this goal a reality. They are asking subscribers to share their preferences during the registration process, incorporating surveys into their campaigns to collect (and then actually use) pertinent data and initiating lifecycle campaigns that deliver the right messages at the right stages of their customer relationships. But too few marketers are taking advantage of the high level of relevancy that can be achieved by delivering content based on subscriber behaviour, and even fewer are doing so in real time.
To be fair, delivering web content based on site visitors' actions (such as pages visited, past purchases, demographics and preferences) is now commonplace. However, according to a survey conducted by Silverpop in November 2009, only 28 per cent of respondents said that distributing email messages based on recipients' past open, click or website actions was among their successful tactics last year. The good news is that some of those who were not quite ready to embrace this strategy in 2009 said they planned to do so this year -- with 27 per cent of respondents indicating their intent to target based on behaviours for the first time in 2010.
These marketers are on the right track. Integrating email with web analytics and other behavioural data will lead to more relevant emails and increased conversion rates and provide a much desired boost to the bottom line. In fact, a Jupiter Research report found email messages that leverage click-stream data can return nearly nine times the revenue of a standard broadcast email campaign.
One way for email marketers to effectively use behavioural data in their email campaigns is by incorporating dynamic content.
Dynamic content in real time
Integrating content into email messages based on recipients' recent website activity, purchase history or other similar attributes leads to highly targeted, personalised and timely email messages -- the kind that customers crave. 
A particularly effective technique is to deliver product recommendations tailored specifically to each recipient based on their recent interests. Why does this work? Consider this scenario: when a customer who usually visits a store to buy men's shoes is today browsing children's clothing, the salesperson isn't going to try to sell him a pair of boots. Delivering action-based dynamic content in real time enables online marketers to create that same individualised experience for customers. Three different people on a list may receive an email highlighting a blue sweater, a black jacket or a brown handbag respectively based recent interactions with that company's site. These highly personalised messages are incredibly relevant, engaging and credible. And by leveraging partnerships between email service providers and optimisation and content providers, this is easier than it may seem. 
Through many of these same partnerships, marketers can also leverage multivariate testing capabilities to monitor message performance in real time and then automatically optimise future content. These solutions deliver test emails randomly throughout your list and then track actions on the messages. As recipients open and act on the emails (or do not), the software determines which message performed better based on your criteria. Once a desired confidence level has been reached, the winning image is then served to the remaining recipients when they open the email, rather than relying on the results of previous outreach to test segments. This cuts the lag time between testing and optimisation to hours rather than days. Imagine how that could have improved the last campaign you sent where the results didn't quite meet your expectations.
To be successful in this new era of engagement marketing, marketers must listen to their customers at least as often as, if not more than, they speak. There are many ways to find out what interests and appeals to your subscribers. Sometimes they tell you directly, other times you must infer. By taking advantage of sophisticated behavioural targeting techniques, you can reach your audience on a much more personal level, nurturing your relationship with them by providing content that is truly helpful.
Loren McDonald is vice president of industry relations for Silverpop


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