business team standingMany organizations these days collect customer data left and right. Gathering the data is not a challenge. Deriving meaning from that data and putting it to use, now that’s a challenge for many, but it’s one email marketers must overcome.

In a thought-provoking article on data published in Chief Content Officer magazine, Robert Rose points out that Big Data can be a big problem if you can’t put it to the use for which its intended, meaning developing more targeted marketing and messages, the kind that will deepen your relationships with your customers. He also points out that marketers should move beyond using that data solely for increasing sales and use it for deepening customer relationships too.

That’s where technology can give email marketers a big boost. Email can be hyper targeted and relevant, unlike any other marketing channel. All you need is email content driven by data.

What is data-driven email content? Simply email delivered to a recipient based on the behavior of or what we know about that recipient.

At its most basic level, data-driven email content would be the welcome email. It is sent to a subscriber after they sign up for emails. The signup is the targeting behavior. Another example is the order confirmation email, delivered after a customer places an online order.

But data-driven email messages can get much more targeted. And that doesn’t come from simply collecting data. It comes from deriving meaning from that data. If you can’t make sense of your data, it doesn’t matter how much you have.

To make Big Data small again, avoid collecting data for data’s sake and overcome the two biggest hindrances you’ll likely face as you strive to make that data usable:

  1. Silos of information that aren’t integrated and informing each other
  2. A lack of strategy for collecting, analyzing and using data

Overcoming data silos
In his article on Big Data cited above, Rose states:

In a recent study, the CMO Council found that two-thirds of both marketers and IT executives now feel Big Data can surface customer-centric business opportunities. But, simultaneously, half of both groups believe that functional silos still prevent the accumulation of data, and therefore hinder any kind of customer-centric strategy. (emphasis added)

It is surprising how many marketers we work with at ClickMail who can’t access customer sales information, and that’s just one example of data being in silos, inaccessible and not integrated.

It is possible to say “so long” to silos. This first hindrance is overcome when you have an email integration in place that integrates your email platform with your various business systems, like your ecommerce, web analytics, social media and CRM system. With this kind of integration in place, you can know someone browsed a particular type of product on your website but didn’t buy, for example, and you can target that prospect with an email related to the products they looked at.

Developing a strategy
The second hindrance (lack of strategy) is overcome when you develop a strategy for not only collecting data, but also for putting it to use. This strategy should start with questions such as:

  • What are you trying to accomplish?
  • What data do you need?
  • What does it look like?

You should also ask yourself:

  • If it’s not actionable data, why are you collecting it?
  • If it’s not actionable because you lack the resources to make it so, do you need to bring in email experts to help?

An example of data-driven content
One of our clients at ClickMail—a news organization with subscribers—wanted to do something sophisticated with their content, to ensure their subscribers were getting information personally relevant to each of them. After working through the questions above and developing a strategy, we built a customized email technology solution based on ExactTarget that integrates different data sources and operates based on subscriber behavior.

Now this news organization delivers content to subscribers with each subscriber’s own preference shown at the top of their own version.

The system recognizes when subscribers show an interest in a particular kind of content. Then the next time the newsletter is delivered, any content related to a subscriber’s preference shows up at the top of the template under My Headlines, while other articles appear below. That means each subscriber is receiving a newsletter with the information they’re interested in at the top of the email. The client can over-ride it to put articles at the top of the email if necessary. But for the most part, “above the fold” is reserved for each subscribers’ personal preferences.

The result is a highly personalized, highly relevant newsletter that is much more likely to be opened and read, because subscribers know they will immediately find an article of interest to them. In addition, this deepens customer relationships because the recipients know they can trust this news service to provide information they want. And the other result is a compelling competitive advantage that differentiates this news service from others.

That is data-driven content: relevant, targeted messaging that strengthens your customers’ loyalty to your brand.

To learn more about data-driven content and how it can work for you, contact us.

Published On: October 31st, 2013Categories: Enterprise email marketing

About the Author: Sharon

Sharon Ernst from is on a mission to improve the business and marketing writing skills of today’s workforce with her blog, newsletter and online classes. Her newest class on intermediate email copywriting covers 19 tips and techniques non-copywriters can put to use right away for better results. The class has real-life examples and before/after comparisons to make the lessons stick. Find her class at When she’s not busy helping employees, managers and marketers master their writing skills, she and her husband are busy raising pigs, cows, chickens and vegetables on their 20-acre farm.

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