June 25, 2008

E-Mail Marketing Gurus: Your Thoughts On Williams Sonoma

The e-mail marketing blogosphere has been buzzing lately, suggesting that we minimize campaign based blasts in favor of targeted, relevant, personalized messages that the customer eagerly anticipates. Sounds good to me!

And then a few weeks ago,
Williams Sonoma mentioned that they have eighteen million opt-in e-mail addresses, across all of their brands.

So my question to all of us who share a belief in relevant, targeted e-mail marketing is this: How would we accomplish this feat for eighteen million unique customers who have multiple relationships and multiple e-mail addresses across multiple brands and multiple channels and multiple stated preferences?

And if we can answer the question effectively, how do we do this when we don't have the systems infrastructure to do what we want to do? It's really easy to blast big brands for their silly practices. How would we solve the problem when faced with real life constraints?



  1. I'll let the technology gurus answer that. But I think one issue here is that there is a lot of unexplored ground on the "relevancy" spectrum.

    Most of those selling high-end solutions paint a very advanced picture, where you expect each outgoing email to be precisely targeted to the exact preferences and previous behavior of the individual recipient.

    That's a tough job to implement. But there's plenty of potential to start small and build from there. Ever bit helps, even if it's just splitting your list by gender so the new handbag promotions only go to women.

  2. Anonymous8:33 AM

    I think Mark's right on the money.

    Let's not get so caught up in the quest for the "perfect" email marketing program - the kind that those "real life constraints" inhibit - that we cast aside efforts to make our existing email programs incrementally better. It's not an all-or-nothing proposition!

    Remember, email already works as a marketing channel - we're not fixing something that's broken. We're trying to make it work better.

    And in my opinion, it's not about technology. It's about how you use it.

    Technology just gives you the mechanisms to see what subscribers are doing and to deliver email campaigns to them. It doesn't decide what those subscriber actions mean, it doesn't sit down and decide how to group people, and it doesn't come up with email creative.

  3. I wouldn't get caught up in the "18 million" number, either. I doubt seriously that W-S is going to e-mail everyone at once.

  4. Thanks folks for suggesting to keep things simple.

    Outside of splitting the list by Gender, what else would you do when faced with a list of 18 million customers across multiple brands and channels?

  5. Anonymous10:26 AM

    I don't know much about W-S' channels/brands, but just looking at their website I see a few email possibilities:

    1. Segment by brand purchased - if they've bought Chicago Metallic baking pans before, maybe they want to augment/complete their set. Send them an email encouraging them to do so.

    2. Send anniversary reminders to people who make purchases through the wedding registry. ("It's been a year since you helped get John and Jane off on the right foot with the ______ you bought them, now...")

    3. Looks like they have a section with recipes. Segment people by what recipes they viewed and email them information on the products needed to most easily/effectively make those recipes.

    4. Similar to #3, people who buy food should get emails about the tools/appliances/serving pieces related to cooking/serving that food, and about recipes that those foods can be used in. Not to mention emails asking them for feedback on the food (which can be used to decide whether or not to email them about re-ordering that food later).

    Not sure if that's the kind of stuff you mean Kevin but that's what jumps out at me.

  6. Sure, that's all good stuff.

    The overriding challenge for a big marketer (my e-mail list at Nordstrom was around 3,000,000) is to be careful not to be lured into the law of large numbers.

    In other words, 3,000,000 * 0.10 > 300,000 * $0.80. Blasting something to the entire list generates more revenue than targeting to a smaller but relevant audience.

    So that's the challenge when thinking about a list of 18,000,000 individuals. Do you go for the big bucks, or do you leave money on the table to do something more appropriate for the customer?

    We all say we'd like to do the latter. The former is hard, HARD to resist, especially when you are given financial incentives to do the former.

  7. Anonymous10:55 PM

    While 18million opt ins seems like someone misplaced a zero or two, lets get back to the point of how to conduct a tailored email campaign.
    First off, what is W-S strategy with email campaign---grow the retail, web or both? If both, segment the list with a campaign specific to that goal.
    Then look at usual gender, location, past purchases, etc. Add segments slowly as you grow campaign.
    If retail is a goal, work with associates in local store to add personal touch in email to prospects in their region.
    Here's a twist----let your vendors design a promotion for past purchasers of their products(info controlled by retailer). Vendors sell their product every day, and often know ins and outs better than retailers. That's why HSN and QVC see spikes in sales when they have a good sales person on from the vendor(not everyone good in front of TV) as passion for product comes out.

  8. Anonymous3:11 AM

    Re-reading your post, I thought I might add--if weekly you add to a segmentation or two, what you could do is a weekly/biweekly/monthly newsletter style email(let users decide which to receive). Have several topics(as seen on website)/sales pitch zone laid out for each segment, and use a formula based on each user to add the segments they qualify for or opt in for.
    As noted before, continuously adding segments and topics keeps it fresh and tailored.
    Personally I find newsletters great, even when I know pitch is in there, it is usually much more subtle if they are covering a topic I am interested in. Sort of like brand placement in a movie---if Angelina Jolie holds a coke bottle in a movie I ain't gonna mind the subtle pitch.

  9. Thanks for the comments, folks!

  10. Anonymous12:26 PM

    Another way to start sending more targeted emails to these 18 million customers is by looking at what they've clicked on in the past and tailor future content accordingly.

    By using dynamic content they could build rules like:

    - if customer clicked on product category X, Y and Z then feature product A, B and C from these categories in the next email.

    - if customer recently visited webpage X, Y and Z then feature product A, B and C from related categories in the next email.

    - etc...

    Next to this, throw in some predictive modeling and figure out which products these customers are likely to buy based on their past purchase behavior and feature those as well.

  11. Yup, those are good ideas, thank you!!


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