Many thanks to Matthew Seeley and the Experian CheetahMail team for participating in this installment of the Bazaarvoice Partner Interview blog series.  As Matthew details below, Bazaarvoice and CheetahMail have collaborated with a number of shared clients, like Bath & Body Works, to leverage customer word of mouth in email marketing programs.  Matthew's perspective on our industry is especially insightful given the unique assets CheetahMail can bring to bear for their clients via their relationship with marketing innovator, Experian.  Enjoy this partner interview and don't hesitate to comment or contact me at brant@bazaarvoice.com with your suggestions for partner interview subjects and questions.

1. Email remains one of the highest ROI online marketing activities – it generates almost $60 of revenue per $1 spent (Direct Marketing Association).  With better analytics, content, and targeting, can email marketers expect even higher rates of return?  

Absolutely. The more that marketers use this channel responsibly the more effective it will become. No other channel provides this type of quantitative and qualitative data — leading marketers understand the inherent value of email marketing and recognize that its metrics provide the keys to delivering relevant communications. In addition to being a great channel by itself, email marketing combined with web analytics and advanced tools like Bazaarvoice enables marketers to identify customer purchase triggers and channel preferences.  Specifically, we’ve seen many clients attribute in-store traffic and revenue to an email campaign.  The direct effect that email has on the other channels is far greater than anyone ever anticipated.

Another valid point here, aside from the relevance factor, is that because email is so cost efficient, marketers aren’t as motivated to invest the same amount of analytical strategy into it as they do with catalogs or direct mail as they tend to carry higher costs for the marketers.  However, I do see more and more leading marketers becoming increasingly responsible with email and utilizing the tools available to develop highly relevant and response-driven marketing programs. These are the marketers who ultimately deepen customer loyalty and build positive brand equity.

2. As a best practice, Bazaarvoice recommends that our clients use email to capture customer word-of-mouth, often in the form of post-purchase review solicitation emails.  This essentially kickstarts a two-way conversation between our clients and their customers.  How do you see the brand-customer dialogue evolving over email and other messaging systems (SMS, etc.)?

We see post purchase reviews as yet another great way to engage your customer.  This type of campaign strategy not only benefits the organization but allows the marketer to show they value them by providing  an opportunity to evaluate the product or service.

This type of dialogue is evolving quickly, and we’ve seen very positive results with many of our large retailers that send post-review confirmation emails to all customers who have submitted a review.  We also have a number of clients planning to deploy post-purchase emails to recent buyers to solicit a product review. We promote this concept to many of the mutual clients we share with Bazaarvoice because it seems clear that there is a much higher long-term value to customers who are very engaged with their brands.  This, in turn, should result in better response to future emails and marketing campaigns.

3. Relevance is a constant focus for advertisers trying to reach consumers in an ad-saturated environment.  As part of Experian and through investments in tools like SiteClarity, what unique advantages does CheetahMail offer to drive increased relevance for your customers?  

Relevance is definitely the key, and one of the many advantages of being a part of Experian is the availability of rich data mining tools like Mosaic and TrueTouch for advanced consumer segmentation. Having access to the world’s largest data center and highly innovative data management tools coupled with the deep reporting capabilities of CheetahMail, ensures that our clients have the opportunity to send emails as individualized as their customers.

Additionally, web tools like SiteClarity give CheetahMail clients an advantage by allowing them to deploy web-based triggers (such as shopping cart abandonment messages) regardless of whether or not they’ve undergone a complete integration with a 3rd party web analytics provider.  The tags are very small and easy to set up so clients can choose to use them alone or with their existing analytics provider like Coremetrics or Omniture.

4. Our clients have seen remarkably higher email clickthroughs and conversions by marketing top-rated products and including compelling customer reviews in their email programs.  Any personal theories on why this works?

This works for the same reasons that running such reviews on-site should increase responsiveness – the credibility of the offer is enhanced by seeing actual ratings by other users.  The authenticity of reviews by consumers vs. marketing spin is incredibly powerful because these reviews put the power directly into the consumers’ hands. User reviews are one aspect of the overall social networking phenomenon we see everywhere now, and its power and uses are still being discovered.

5. As trust continues to rise in “someone like me”, consumers expect even more personalized and authentic content and offers.  UGC may play a leading role in this next wave of personalization.  What is CheetahMail’s strategy to support this trend?  

Our creative services team is examining different ways to include user ratings and reviews in email creative to test response levels. Several of our clients have taken the lead on this initiative and have already begun incorporating this level of authentic content. We are reviewing these programs very closely to identify commonalities in what works (and what doesn’t) in an effort to create strategy guides for our clients in this area. For example, does simply putting the number of stars a product or service receives fare better than including actual snippets of customer quotes? Is there a point at which too many reviewed items in one email dilutes overall effectiveness? We are still framing these questions and need more response data before we can accurately provide answers. 2008 will be a big year for these types of programs — testing standard “Marketing-speak” against versions of the same offers featuring more customer voices.

6. Can you share an example or two of well executed email campaigns that feature customer word of mouth or other “viral” content or offers?

A great example of this would be our client Bath & Body Works. For example, in mid-November we deployed one of their emails that featured “the sweetest, softest nap blanket on earth” – an actual description pulled from a Bazaarvoice review (see the first review listed). The email included the handle of the customer (“GRITS”, from Charleston, SC!) and an additional quote that highlighted some very compelling features of the product, followed by 5 red stars. In an analysis of one Bath & Body Works email campaign featuring ratings and review content, average order value increased more than 10%, session length jumped by 13%, and sales per visitor also saw an 11% increase. Since then, Bath & Body Works has continued to innovate with a variety of approaches featuring user-generated content.  

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