May 11, 2009

E-Mail Marketing, Search, Matchback, Attribution

One of the mysteries of marketing in 2009 is the concept of attribution, a process where we matchback orders derived in one micro-channel to the advertising micro-channel that drove the order.

For whatever reason, the e-mail blogosphere and vendor community fails to capitalize on this opportunity.

My Mutichannel Forensics projects repeatedly indicate that e-mail marketing and search marketing play a unique micro-channel role. E-Mail marketing is a "love" channel, if you will. The 10% to 50% of your twelve-month buyer file that subscribes to e-mail marketing "loves you" more than the average customer. These customers have better "RFM" characteristics, not because of e-mail marketing necessarily, but because the customer is a good customer who wants to learn more.

And then we have search, which works in the opposite direction. The customer who "loves you" doesn't implicitly trust you. As a result, she wants to make sure that she's getting the best deal possible, the best combination of merchandise and value.

When you have customers who want to see your e-mail campaigns and then want to use search, you have a classic micro-channel combination that must be tabulated in your database, and analyzed going forward.

At minimum, we need to run matchback algorithms for e-mail marketing. Catalogers have been running matchbacks for the past fifteen years, taking credit for orders that were not necessarily driven by catalogs. E-Mail marketers, however, have been exceptionally slow to embrace attribution and matchback programs. I don't understand why.

It's a fairly simple process. Say you deliver an e-mail marketing campaign on a Tuesday. Take all customers who ordered on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, and match them back to your e-mail campaign. And by the way, make sure you have a holdout group, a group who did not receive the e-mail campaign, and do the same process --- subtracting the difference between mailed and holdout group for true incremental value.

Now, any orders that are generated by search marketing are matched back and attributed to the e-mail marketing campaign. And here's where we need to make an adjustment ... we need to make a guess at all of the unconverted searches that were caused by e-mail marketing, and allocate the cost of those unconverted searches back to the e-mail marketing campaign. If the typical search conversion rate is, say, 3%, you have to multiply converted searches by 33, and then multiply that total by the cost-per-click, in order to get at the right advertising cost.

Two things usually happen, two things that are highly relevant to e-mail marketers.
  1. E-Mail marketing causes search activity, and that search activity results in orders that are normally credited to search and should be credited to e-mail. This can result in e-mail marketing being more productive that usually measured to be.
  2. E-Mail marketing causes the "search audience" to do a bunch of unproductive searches. As a result, the "search segment" is actually unprofitable --- causing the e-mail marketer to withhold e-mail marketing campaigns to customers who search all of the time.
The latter point is worth noting ... the e-mail marketer should be creating segments in the database of customers who utilize search on a frequent basis ... electing to develop a different contact strategy for the "E-Mail / Search" micro-channel combination.