For most industries, the start of a new year means taking time to reflect on previous quarters’ most successful endeavors, areas of opportunity and gain insight into upcoming trends. In the marketing world, though, it also means already becoming an expert on the “next big thing” and executing a rock-solid plan before the rest of the world catches up.
One company who always seems to stay a step ahead of the consumer email curve is Livingsocial. This week, we sat down with Danny Hsia, Senior Manager of Email Experience at Livingsocial, to chat about some of the brand’s biggest successes last year and what’s in store for email in 2015.
TowerData: Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Danny. Let’s start with last year. What are some of the initiatives you implemented in 2014 that brought you significant gains?
Danny Hsia: I think the biggest thing was, and still is, an even greater focus on personalization. In the second half of 2014, we started rolling out a series of email campaigns where we really focused on engaging with our customers on an individual basis-what people are calling “one-on-one marketing.”
We rolled out a series of campaigns including different inventory and different field types based on customer habits. Users might receive travel based deals, or they may receive emails for deals on live events like concerts or maybe they receive an email for a half-mile run or home services. Each day, our users are scored based on deal categories our models believe they have the highest propensity to engage and purchase with. Based on a series of rules and restrictions, we’ll then send them an interest digest we think is most relevant for that user, on that day.
Prior to the second half of last year, our emails were based on what types of deals subscribers indicated they were interested in receiving, but emails were on a set schedule. Each day was dedicated to a particular email type, which we sent in the afternoon. What we have now, versus last year, is a more dynamic campaign for each individual based on their specific purchase and click behavior. The afternoon email changes daily, so we’re not sending the same deals every day.
The idea there is we shouldn’t be sending someone travel deals if she’s never purchased one, never clicked on one and just generally doesn’t show interest. We’re honoring the preferences for the types of deals we’ve observed users have set in their account settings. Everything we’re trying to do more and more, as often as we can, is personalize.
TD: Moving forward into 2015, what are some of the biggest challenges that you’re facing right now?
DH: Again, it goes back to personalization. Like most eCommerce companies, we still have subscribers on our list who don’t engage with emails as much as we’d like, or engage on a much lower level. Those guys make it a little bit more difficult to personalize because we know less about them. That’s a big challenge.
The “easier” set is the people who purchase regularly. We have a pretty good sense of what they like. But, for the folks that don’t browse or purchase as much, the questions are: (1) How do we get them to engage more? And (2), if they start engaging more, how do we get more information about what their purchase behavior or click behavior is like so we can better tailor our messaging?
TD: What are some of the tools and the technologies that you’re going to be using in 2015?
DH: We are continuing to rely heavily on data. It adds a dimension that is, in my opinion, better than what humans can come up with on their own. As a marketer you can always say, “I think purple will resonate better than green,” but it’s much better when you have data to validate your assumption. So, we try to be as data focused as possible. We have excellent internal data science and business intelligence teams, but we will also work with companies we know have additional expertise that we don’t have in-house.
TD: How has your email program evolved over the year? How has it changed based on the way we consume media?
DH: That’s an interesting question. I was on a panel at the Email Insider Summit in December, and the theme was “the ever-changing inbox.” The way I see it, we’re always going to find a way to write code that does the best job of rendering on whatever device a person is using to view their email, whether it’s a tablet or even a smartwatch.
For example, when Gmail tabs came out last year, marketers in the industry freaked out. What we’ve found-and this was validated across other brands and agencies at the conference-is, yes, there was an initial drop in engagement but, for the most part, everything resolved itself and reverted back to the norm.
I will not be shocked if Google Inbox is the example of how subscribers consume email going forward. Will that change the way we build our emails? Yes. But, I think the best course of action is just stay as neutral as possible. Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL and Google are going to continue to make changes based on what they think is best for the consumer, and we should just accept that and adapt as best as we can.
TD: Can you share an example of how, in the past year, you adapted to a big change?
DH: In January 2014 we tested mobile optimization, but we weren’t as sophisticated with it as we are now. We had to figure out the best, most flexible way to build responsive design. Now we’re using more breakpoints in our code. Once a screen reaches a certain size or resolution, the deal is displayed in a different way.
TD: In terms of new trends, what are you seeing out there? What do you think is going to be one of the biggest trends of the year?
DH: Obviously personalization is going to continue to be a big trend, but also multi-channel communication. In addition to emails, my team is responsible for creating new ways to engage users through the mobile app. The goal is to create a relationship where users can engage with us whether they’re using a desktop browser, mobile web, mobile app or email. We want to be more contextually relevant, including time and location-aware.
Traditionally we are very email heavy, and email will continue to be a major channel for us. Email is one of the oldest channels, and it’s still an extremely high-converting channel. We want to build a better strategy for customers, based on how they prefer to engage, and sprinkle messaging from all different channels.
TD: If you could know one piece of information about your subscribers, or potential subscribers, what would it be?
DH: It would be really interesting if we could somehow-this might be kind of a “fantasy land” answer-but if I could somehow get survey responses from every single customer. It’s very rare to get enough survey response volume to have statistically significant responses. For example, if my question was, “why did you not purchase this deal?”-right now, all we know is they didn’t purchase and, for some small group of survey respondents, we have some anecdotal info.You can make assumptions based on your data, and sometimes you’re very, very accurate. But it would be really nice to know “from the customer’s mouth” why they did or did not make a purchase.
And, I wish we could know more about the people that haven’t engaged with us yet, at all. When a person signs up with LivingSocial, they give us a zip code and city because we want to provide them local deals. That’s usually the minimum we know about the user, but it would be really great to know, right away, that a user likes massages or doesn’t like certain types of restaurants. The truth is, that’s a lot of effort to ask someone to take the time to give you that information.
We try to do our best to try to get people to provide information in ways that don’t take a lot of time. I would love to have that level of info for 100% of our customers. I am a firm believer we should try to personalize everything we can, however we can. The more you know, the better chance you have of doing that successfully.
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