Leveraging Offline Data for Online Customer Retention: Williams-Sonoma & Epsilon Comment

While we all want to understand how to better integrate our digital channels in our grand-plan marketing schemes – some of which may have been around for a while, i.e., catalogs – 2010 has taught us that direct marketing fundamentals still apply digitally and should be leveraged to improve ROI and online customer retention.

Mike Lund, VP, Online Sales, Epsilon, explained in his panel at eTail West 2011 that 2010 presented proof that lots of channels are growing in success. Display ads, for one, showed a particularly high percentage growth. However, as much as that channel has developed, the conversion rate is still very low, thus presenting a very tough challenge for marketers. To approach this and all the other challenges that come with creating a comprehensive offline/online marketing strategy, Lund urged that we not lose site of two facts: 1) We’ve learned a lot, and 2) The fundamentals of direct marketing are still relevant.

Angela Caltagirone, VP, eMarketing and email Marketing, Williams-Sonoma Inc., presented with Lund and agreed that customer retention online hinges on the same fundamentals on which customer retention offline depends.

“Even in the online world, what we found is that [success] is rooted in multi-channel expertise and customer data,” said Caltagirone. “We had to prove to ourselves that yes, the catalog is driving people in store – old school is really new school. We’ve done the same to understand how our online business is driving our retail business.”

Caltagirone stressed the importance of leveraging offline data, and how retailers should not forget the value of that data as it’s often times more relevant than we might think as we try to build our online customer retention strategies. At Williams-Sonoma, which also owns the Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids and West Elm brands, catalogs are a core part of the business. The company has gleaned an invaluable pool of data from its years marketing through catalogs, and it would be a massive misstep to lose that data or not take advantage of it in building a digital strategy for marketing, conversions and customer retention. Her four points to keep in mind when trying to do it:

1. Valuable offline data holds the key to better online campaign performance.

2. Align your database and remember, offline principles transfer to online.

3. Cross-channel attribution maximizes the value of all marketing channels for greater return.

4. Personalized customer experience is not only possible, but expected.

Caltagirone admitted that she and the company do not have all the answers about where to invest to next dollar in terms of multi-channel marketing, but they do realize how important it is to personalize, keep track of data, build relevancy online and look at long term value.

According to Lund, in order to close the circle of multi-channel marketing that leverages offline data and fosters customer retention for years to come, the following direct marketing fundamentals must be considered:

– Use all types of data, third party, email, site behavioral data

– Re-purpose marketing data

– Create well-defined segments; multi-channel data enables the building of personas, clusters

– Continually add data for the customers you do know

– Invest in a sophisticated multi-channel framework in order to deliver the reach needed offline and online

– And create consistent experience across channels

Whether your business originated as a multi-channel retailer (like Williams-Sonoma), or you are just entering other channels and hope to keep your brand voice consistent, keep customer retention up and deliver on conversions, it will help to keep these core fundamentals of marketing in mind. And remember that the data you have can be priceless, so always work on improving and refining it.

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