Innovative Partner Interview: Merkle

As part of our Innovative Partner Interview Series, we’re bringing you real world email marketing insights from Jose Cebrian, VP, General Manager of Email and Mobile Messaging at Merkle.

Jose talked to us about why he thinks email should be the backbone of any digital marketing program, the potential of Schema and more.

Jose, how does email marketing fit into the larger digital marketing picture?

I really think email can (or should) serve as the backbone of a digital marketing program for several reasons:

  • If you have someone’s email address, it’s because they’ve given it to you in an exchange, whether that was a purchase or a sign up for email offers – it’s a direct line of communication they’ve opened for you.
  • Email address is the key digital currency and can be used to find and target your audience on other channels (Facebook Custom Audiences, Twitter Custom Audiences, Google Customer Match, etc.) and having an email address associated with a cookie or other device ID can help you tie together customer actions across platforms so you’re able to better craft messaging and experiences that are tailored to them based on their very specific place in their customer journey.
  • Email is (relatively) inexpensive and highly personalizeable at scale. It’s the latter part that matters. I’ll be the first to say that setting the foundation (sourcing the tools, data, content, etc.) is a complex and daunting project. But if you think of how many hours you spend creating batch and blast campaigns that are mildly successful – really, add up that time and cost – then compare that to getting a system set up where you can leverage user data, templates, content libraries, etc. to make a more tailored customer experience (in less time!) and how much more effective messages like that are. For most medium to enterprise sized companies, the financial case is evident.

 How have you seen email greatly impact your business?

Since I manage email for an agency, email IS my business, but I’ll take this from the perspective of some of our clients. How about seeing a client’s B2B program go from generating less than 10% of the company’s overall revenue to it generating an expected 40% in 2016? Or how about an international company leveraging email templates to cut down production time by over 35% and reduce errors by over 30%? Then there’s a client we drove over 2.4 million app downloads for in a single year. And those are just a couple of examples on the email side. When email is linked with other channels, the results are compounding and it’s really exciting to see clients get results from trusting us when we tell them that cross-platform is doable and then letting us to take them to that next level.

When is email data most critical to your efforts: During the planning process; while you’re executing a campaign, so you can change course or allocate more resources; or afterwards, to measure your success?

We’re a data-driven company and always have been. That’s really what sets Merkle apart from other agencies. In fact, when we were evaluated for an industry review, one of the things that really won over the panel was our focus on analytics. They called this out, saying, “Merkle did a good job of differentiating themselves with a relentless focus on analytics and creative.” We believe that capturing, organizing, analyzing and applying data are all critical to a marketing program’s success. Otherwise, you’re just doing things haphazardly. Data is critical at every step.

 What do you see as the single most disruptive force coming to the world of email marketing?

I think that as email service providers continue to develop their platforms, we’re seeing email get close to websites in the functionality that’s available and, as a result, the experience we can provide. We’re about to launch an email with an interactive hero image. That means someone can tab through different pieces of information within an email without having to bounce out to a website or scroll past the hero image.

We’re also doing more sends with Schema tags – the ability to make email even more functional, by pulling out relevant content in a tool like Google Now or on an Apple Watch, or allowing a user to take an action within the inbox without having to even click inside the email – I expect adoption of these coding techniques to grow over the next few years and I’m excited to see what additional functionality Schema will bring. I feel really good about email technology’s ability to keep up with and enhance user experiences as people become more connected through things like IOT and augmented/virtual reality.

What excites you most about leveraging contextual marketing as a part of your strategy?

In short, the most exciting part of about leveraging contextual marketing is that I can make email work like a mobile app. I can provide real-time information unique to the user like rewards balances, the latest information on my owned media (social feeds, site), or leverage environmental data gathered at open, such as location, device, time of day.

I was trying to explain in really simple terms for non-email folks, what the evolution of email over the past few years has been like. Here’s what I think resonated the most: Email’s goal is to get the (1) right person the (2) right content in the (3) right context. Think of it like a slot machine. When email marketing first came around, everyone just pulled the lever and hoped for the best – success was pretty much random.

Then things evolved and we were able to segment lists to target the right people. That helped us win in one column. Time goes by, technology gets better and we’re able to start creating personalized messaging for people. Now we can win in two of the columns. But the third one – understanding where a person is at the very moment they open your email – that was pretty much left up to chance. But with the advent of tools like Movable Ink, we know we can deploy an email with the best fit for person, content and context.

Merkle helps brands transform their marketing organization using data, analytics, and technology to create meaningful, personalized customer experiences that deliver competitive advantage.