I am looking for a new car and a friend suggested that I consider a BMW M3. I was told the M3 is an awesome car because it allows the driver control over every aspect of the driving experience.
I knew moments into the test drive that this was not the car for me. It asks me to do too much. I don't care enough about driving to enjoy the customization or really understand how all of the potential settings impact my driving experience. As I walked away from what is admittedly a terrific car, an analogy occurred to me.
As I work with large enterprises to develop their marketing strategies and tactics, I find that many of them have chosen the equivalent of a BMW M3 as their email service provider (ESP). They have bought and installed far more capability than they or their organization knows how to use. As a result, most ESP implementations have been reduced to big blast engines-intake a list, associate creative, use the ESP as a big send button.
The true power of modern email service providers is that they give you the ability to configure business rules that move a prospect or customer from one campaign to another, learn more about your customers as they continue to interact with your creative, and score them as they move across the buyer journey from awareness to conversion.
Why are these powerful engines used so ineffectively by big enterprises?
Organizational Decisions Are Complex
The decision to deploy a new campaign or tactic is one that isn't taken lightly by an enterprise company. The marketing team must work through many layers of process and approval for every new initiative. By the time the decisions are made around creative, target audience, and expected outcomes, there is very little attention paid to programming the ESP for anything more than making sure it supports the most basic functions of simple email delivery. And simple email delivery isn't that simple, considering the growing number of endpoint devices customers are using to view emails.
Information Isn't Centrally Stored
The information that companies collect, especially about their customers, is rarely stored in one system. It exists in a myriad of siloed data stores with few bridges between. Without a central source of truth, an enterprise is less likely to trust or utilize the built-in advanced features the ESP contains. Instead, they must find ways to check and double-check every campaign before they send it out to ensure compliance and protect their customer list. Relevant, accurate, and timely prospect and customer data is the key to unlocking advanced ESP personalization tools and launching truly targeted campaigns. Centralizing customer data through the implementation of a unified customer profile or through preference management is an effective way to collect, maintain, and share customer information and overcome this common challenge.
Marketing Is About Conversion
The number of people that unsubscribe from an email campaign or register other complaints are often just a footnote in post-campaign analysis. This is because marketers are judged by "number of units moved" first and experience second. If their tactics are moving the needle, the challenge of customer attrition becomes the next guy's problem after the current marketer has moved up in the organization. What is missing from the equation is a true evaluation of attrition. And the only way to understand attrition is to view it across all of the company's outbound marketing tactics. Otherwise, the opt-out challenge only grows across multiple generations of marketers, compounding with each and every campaign.
ESP Functions Threaten Established Positions and Power
Some of the functions built in to the ESP are representative of an existing position or department within an enterprise. Objections to using these advances functions will immediately surface when this threat is realized. A smokescreen of procedural reasons why the ESP can't possibly be programmed and trusted to its fullest capability will surface once the affected teams start to feel the threat. The only way to get around these barriers and use an ESP for what it is truly meant to do is to start having conversations across the enterprise about how the company should holistically approach the customer-not how the company is internally constructed, but how the customer views the company from the outside. The introduction of governance to support the sharing of customer data naturally leads to a better outcome for customer outreach.
I didn't buy the car because I won't make use of the functionality it offers. It was an easy decision. Marketers and technology decision makers who abandon the fuller functionality of their ESP for similar reasons will encounter far more serious consequences.
Eric Holtzclaw is chief strategist at PossibleNOW, a provider of preference management and marketing solutions.