However effective an organisation's customer analysis, segmentation and targeting, online direct marketing campaigns are fundamentally constrained by the limitations of creating relevant and timely email content. As a result, whilst many organisations are now maximising the customer experience with optimised landing pages and web content, they have been unable to follow up that experience with relevant email messaging created on the fly.
Yet optimised email creation enables organisations to respond to a customer's online behaviour in real time, combining the valuable customer analysis and segmentation information with on-site web activity, including links to the landing page, to create a far more relevant marketing message, without the manual overhead.
This timely response to real-time customer activity enables organisations to deliver highly effective, integrated online marketing for the first time and maximise their significant investment in online customer acquisition.
With declining marketing budgets, organisations simply cannot continue to invest huge amounts in the intensive customer acquisition campaigns that have defined online marketing in the past decade.
As the cost of customer acquisition continues to spiral in the face of escalating competition, it is now time to refocus activity and look to gain far greater value from every customer interaction. Certainly, over the past couple of years a growing number of organisations have achieved a significant increase in online conversion rates by dynamically optimising web content. Indeed, average uplift is around 27% in recent months — quite an achievement in a challenging economy.
However, despite the sophistication now applied to changing web content to reflect customer behaviour, email marketing techniques remain slow, highly manual and less-than-scientific.
And while email marketers acknowledge that changes to graphics, the location of call to action buttons and campaign text have a significant effect on conversion rates, there is little scientific evaluation. Indeed, today, the typical approach to testing an email campaign is to send out two, maybe three, different emails and wait a few weeks to compare the conversion rate results.
This highly unscientific approach is simply not producing results. It fails to reflect consumer behaviour in real time and hence potentially misses time sensitive opportunities.
While the creative work carried out for online campaigns is increasingly sophisticated, most marketing departments have little or no way of accurately assessing performance or, critically, feeding results into future campaigns. In reality, most marketing departments are increasingly overwhelmed by the amount of information now available from a raft of performance measurement tools but they seldom offer clear, actionable steps towards achieving the marketing objective.
However, the technology now exists which enables organisations to test multiple versions of an online direct marketing campaign simultaneously. Performance is measured against a variety of criteria in real time and the email content optimised according to the results.
Typically performance is gauged on initial click through rates to the web site or landing page; but the measure can be extended to include product selection, final purchase or, in the case of a product comparison site, click-out to another site.
Taking this a stage further, by combining email optimisation and web content optimisation techniques, marketers can actively manage their conversion rates through creating a highly sophisticated, integrated online marketing process that tailors every aspect of online interaction to reflect customer attributes, behaviour or expectations.
Marketers can now segment content by many attributes, from time of day or day of the week, to referrers driving traffic to the web site, and even customer behaviour. Content can be dynamically changed to reflect the frequency of customer visits to the site or, using geo-targeting, customer location.
This approach turns a web site from a flat, static brochure that delivers 'one size fits all' content, to an interactive, highly relevant environment that also enables organisations to create an integrated marketing strategy with consistent online and offline content.
Take the example of a television advertising campaign — web content can be automatically tailored to support the campaign with content changed at the specific times of day the adverts are running, to reinforce the campaign message. This tailored approach ensures the web site is far more relevant to visitors, driving people deeper into the site to achieve greater brand interaction.
This highly interactive environment combined with real-time performance measurement — from web content to email — enables marketers to improve current processes and transform the quality and relevance of customer marketing activity.
Using this real-time feedback mechanism, organisations can cost effectively drive marketing innovation. Indeed, those organisations that are using content optimisation to manage their conversion rates as a standard component of the marketing strategy are now actively encouraging employees to volunteer ideas. Multiple concepts can be tested concurrently, with prizes allocated to the idea that delivers that greatest increase in conversion rates.
In addition to fostering creativity and innovation, this low cost approach drives up conversion rates and ensures that everyone is focused on the same marketing effort, creating a far more joined up team in the process.
As marketers face up to the pressure of decreasing budgets and demand for accountability, there is a pressing need to attain more value from each customer. Now is not the time to be experimenting with emerging yet unprofitable areas such as mobile marketing or chase the increasingly expensive routes to online customer acquisition.
Instead the focus must be on the use of proven, scientific techniques that deliver a measurable conversion uplift by presenting campaigns, content and information that reflect what customers want, tracking performance and using that insight to drive future marketing strategies.
Organisations have begun to use web content optimisation to drive up conversions and maximise the customer base. It is a natural extension to use email optimisation to gain greater value from existing customer databases and close the loop to create highly integrated marketing processes.
Not only does the customer value increase but organisations also achieve far slicker marketing processes that will deliver even greater value when the economy — and budgets — begins to improve.• Mark Simpson is the managing director of conversion management and content optimisation specialists Maxymiser.