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Email marketing: How to get started with progressive profiling

I think we can all agree that the batch and blast approach to email marketing needs to change, and it needs to change now. The reasons as to why are many, but as your audience size expands and the age of your list increases, this approach can lead to declining engagement metrics and deliverability problems that make long term success difficult.

So, what's the right approach?

Segmentation and targeting are key to a successful program, which means meeting (and exceeding) revenue and engagement goals. There are varying levels of sophistication when it comes to segmentation, with the ultimate goal being able to target based on a combination of activity, behavior and attitudinal data.

But, let's start simple.

Customer profile data tends to be some of the most accessible data for marketers and can create immediate impact if used correctly.  One of the easiest methods to build out this profile data is through progressive profiling, which means gaining information about a customer‘s interests through their behavior within an email. Two approaches to progressive profiling can be taken:

1. Direct profiling requires asking a question within the email and making it possible for the reader to click on their desired answer. The answer clicked on is then systematically collected and the information is added to the subscriber’s profile.

2. Indirect profiling involves creating a link category for each link within the email and using click category information to indicate interest. Questions are not actually asked in this form of profiling.

So how do these strategies look in action?

Direct profiling:

The objective is of direct profiling is two-fold: drive engagement and collect information that will help create a more personalized email for the subscriber moving forward. Responsys customer, Epson, recently launched and tested a direct profiling initiative to accomplish just this.

Using Dynamic Content Modules (DCM), Epson included survey links in the email content delivered to their high value customer segment. The Epson team created questions that were designed to be engaging and encourage the subscriber to click and answer. Over a series of campaigns, the survey content resulted in significant increases in engagement, with +55 percent increase in total click-through rate while also gaining valuable insight about their subscribers.

You may be wondering why I haven't suggested setting up these questions as a survey online vs. through direct profiling. Well, subscribers are more likely to take action when the request is simple and requires little time. Regardless of how short a survey it is, subscribers are less likely to take action if they are required to click through to a form to view the questions.

In fact, the Epson team not only set out to increase engagement and gain actionable insight on their subscribers, they also sought to identify the best approach for gathering this subscriber data. They found that the direct profiling approach increased response rates by +300 percent over the survey approach. I'd say we can close the book on this question!

Indirect profiling:

The objective of indirect profiling is to boost conversion and revenue by using subscriber's click behavior in a previous email campaign to determine eligibility to receive specific follow up campaigns about certain products or subjects, for example. By consistently assigning link categories within promotional email campaigns, it allows the marketing team to quickly and easily identify what product category, brand, or other information that a subscriber is “in-market” for. A great example of how this could look in action is a recent series of emails that I received from Williams-Sonoma.  In conducting research on indirect profiling I systematically opened and clicked on one link within each of the promotional messages that I had received in a given day.  I waited in anticipation until the following days to review what emails I would receive as a result.

For this series of emails from Williams-Sonoma, the initial campaign highlighted "5 Great Deals You Don’t Want to Miss." Although the highlighted product was the SodaStream Penguin, a systematic click on a secondary module, the Williams-Sonoma Cook Tools, resulted in a follow up campaign two days later with Cook Tools in the hero spot.

Follow-up email:

In general, some of the best opportunities for taking advantage of this strategy align with our larger promotional campaigns, especially when highlighting multiple specials or products within an email promotion. This strategy is extremely valuable when access to web behavior data is limited and/or browse category tagging is only at the product level.

What are some innovative ways your teams are leveraging progressive profiling? Please share in the comments below.

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