Responsys, a provider of on-demand marketing services, recently released a new feature in its flagship product, Responsys Interact Campaign, that allows marketers to embed relevant recommendations into emails. Partnering with nine recommendation-engine vendors -- a list the company says it plans to expand going forward -- Responsys delivers product recommendations that change dynamically based on information from like-minded customers, Web-site behavior, and real-time results from multivariate tests. Content displayed in the email can be determined either at the time the email is sent by the company or the time the email is opened by the recipient, the company says.
Sophisticated customer segmentation requires the ability to integrate additional data and analytics, which has historically been very cumbersome for marketers. In a July 2008 survey by Forrester Research's David Daniels, email marketers cited the following as their two top challenges:
- not having enough customer data (40 percent); and
- lack of integrated data (33 percent).
Responsys' release aims to ease this burden, but Daniels notes that parntering with analytics vendors isn't unique only to Responsys. Email marketing service provider ExactTarget provides a similar solution in a partnership with Omniture. as well. An Omniture representative explains that while both partnerships exist on its Omniture Genesis partnership ecosystem and have the same access to Omniture products and integrations, the way they choose to deploy recommendations technology in emails is slightly different:
- Responsys sets up the product suggestions in Omniture Recommendations and is able to change content on the site based on the recommendations a customer saw in an email.
- ExactTarget accesses product suggestions via an API, then builds the recommendation internally when the email is built. ExactTarget then ads an adbox to the email in a Test&Target-like integration.
"As vendors make it easier to work with and analyze integrated data," Daniels says, "it will allow marketers to spend more time employing all of the relevancy empowering tactics, including the use of dynamic content."
According to John Berkley, vice president of product marketing at Responsys, any email sent out includes a "block of content." Then, based on what the partnering recommendation engine (e.g., Baynote) collects from the user (e.g., cookies), the content displayed will reflect real-time recommendations at the time the email is opened.
Responsys does not aggregate behavioral data across partner platforms, so marketers select the one partner solution they prefer; the nine recommendation-engine partners included at the time of the launch are:
- Aggregate Knowledge;
- Proclivity Systems;
- richrelevance; and
The goal behind this release is to make building relevant campaigns as easy as possible for the marketer, Berkley says. When marketers are building a campaign, all they have to do is find the template they want to use, click on the right side of the campaign, or wherever the recommendations are to appear, and select "Insert Partner Content Here."
"The user doesn't have to think that hard about merchandizing what should be [in the] email," Berkley says. This process has typically been done manually as marketers decided which products are top sellers and which are best to be featured as cross sell and upsell opportunities, Often times, it was the same offer to a large audience, rather than the individual.
Berkley says that a recommendation engine can be particularly powerful in emails that already have high open rates. Confirmation emails see an average open rate of 70 percent, he adds, which makes it a good place to have dynamic content.
In a survey conducted this past April, Daniels saw a significant increase in the amount of marketers paying more attention to their email click behavior. Up from roughly 40 percent the year before, 51 percent of email marketers using email click behavior as a segmentation attribute. Whether you look at it as a glass half full or half empty, there's still a lot of work to be done.
Adoption, Daniels says, has been hindered primarily due to a lack of freedom marketers have in terms of controlling the necessary resources. According to the same study, 37 percent of email marketers report a dearth in staffing resources. Moreover, marketers are still incentivized based on quantity rather than quality, which dissuades them from investing the extra effort needed to better target these individuals.
The goal, Berkley says, is to "keep giving marketers more control over partner content and data." As technology gets easier to use, marketers shouldn't have to rely on the technology department to create targeted messages. This announcement, he says, "is all about putting [control] in the marketer's hands."
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