If you ever feel like you send too many emails, just pause for a minute and compare yourself to Montreal-based e-tailer Beyond the Rack – it sends on average between 2 million and 2.5 million email messages per day, according to Kevin Murphy, senior director of business intelligence & CRM for Beyond the Rack.

The members-only flash sales site features tons of different products from designer brands, offering everything from shoes to kitchen organizers to tablets at a steep discount. With different stock on sale from day to day, members hunting for a bargain keep up to date via daily email messages. To make these messages more effective, Murphy and his team try to send products they think members are most likely to be interested in – based on past browsing habits and purchases, for example.

About two years ago, the team was relying on Austrian email marketing software Emarysys to help it send these messages. The process involved getting its technology group to run a SQL database query to build a list of members to target, then creating HTML emails and running tests before sending an email to that list.

“We were pretty tied down to how long that process took, it was very manual and not very efficient,” Murphy says. “It was painful and involved a lot of heavy lifting. We were just treading water.”

Beyond the Rack also uses ExactTarget to push out messages to its mobile app.
Beyond the Rack also uses ExactTarget to push out messages to its mobile app.

So Murphy made a change. He brought in the ExactTarget marketing suite from the Indianapolis-based team that is now owned by Salesforce.com Inc. and the brand-name label on its ExactTarget Marketing Cloud service. Murphy chose ExactTarget because it was one of the top two vendors in the space, he says, and provided a holistic view of how all his digital marketing pieces came together. It broke down his data silos so he didn’t have to run SQL database queries with the technology team any more and he could segment members into categories with even more granularity using a drag-and-drop interface.

“We can really get that granularity that we didn’t have before,” Murphy says. “Now we can build much more complicated lifecycle messages.”

Today, the ExactTarget Marketing Cloud is billed by Salesforce as “the world’s most powerful 1:1 digital marketing platform” and as it’s name suggests, is designed to help marketers build customer segments and then send them email messages attuned to their preferences. Acquired by Salesforce in June 2013 for $2.5 billion, it was the largest acquisition made to create the marketing cloud the vendor offers today. It joined earlier acquisitions social media publishing solution Buddy Media and New Bruswick-based social listening software Radian6, now sold as a one-package digital marketing solution or on a piecemeal basis.

What it amounts to for Salesforce customers is a single view of the customer, says Marcel Lebrun, senior vice-president and general manager of Salesforce’s Radian6 division, and the former CEO of Radian6. Tying in data from multiple digital channels and pooling it into one place allows marketers to do sophisticated segmentation without the need to do complicated database queries.

“What you’re doing as a marketer is you’re modelling the journey the customer goes through and you’re increasing the value of the messages as they move from one point to the next,” Lebrun says. “Rather than one-to-many, it’s one-to-one. How do you get one-to-one at scale? You have these designed points along the customer journey.”

Rather than being campaign-oriented, chief marketing officers (CMO) can now set up messaging based around what actions a customer or potential customer is taking. The messages are designed to nudge that customer along the path from window shopper to customer, then on to a loyal customer and even an advocate if things go well.

At Beyond the Rack, the push to sign up for membership comes quickly – any click off the home page brings you to a form to fill out to sign up. That provides the young company a base-level profile about the customer such as gender and location (Canada or the U.S.). From there, the product browsing – clicking on those Ray Ban sunglasses or Orly nail polish – done by the customer feeds into ExactTarget’s predictive analytics engine about what they’re most likely to buy.

From there, Beyond the Rack scales up the process for its 12 million customers and targets 6.5 million of them every day. To do so via e-mail, Beyond the Rack features 25 different products in each message and ExactTarget can determine what products out of the thousands of products it should display to an individual customer. The marketing team just has to cue up a single e-mail blast, writing its calls to action, image descriptions, and subject lines, and then select the areas it wants ExactTarget to choose what dynamic content to display.

“We take the 5,000 to 8,000 products that are going to be offered at 9:00 AM tomorrow morning and line it up against the user profile and determine the best order and best priority products and target the most appropriate audience based on that,” Murphy explains. “It’s just one piece of content that goes out. Within that’s where all the magic happens within the database itself.”

Beyond the Rack was featured in this ExactTarget case study video:

In its testing to find the best techniques to get the most out of its emails, Beyond the Rack finds this personalization results in a a 15 per cent lift in revenue when compared to a control group not getting personalized messages.

The personalization also goes beyond email. Beyond the Rack also uses ExactTarget to send out push messages via its mobile app on iOS. About 60 per cent of the iOS app users choose to see the notifications, and their browsing habits in the app can effect the email message content they receive too.

Even if a marketer sends an email to a customer and they don’t open it until later in the week, ExactTarget’s algorithms can do the personalization data crunching at the time of opening to show the most relevant content, Lebrun says.

“This is really powerful. I’ve sent you an e-mail on Monday and you don’t open it until Thursday, but you’ve taken an action on Wednesday that informs the predictive analytics engine about what to insert that’s relevant to you,” he says. “The more data we have, the more relevant the message to you.”

Lebrun says ExactTarget goes beyond just e-commerce use cases. It has customers in every vertical, across business-to-consumer and business-to-business scenarios. He likens the software to customer relationship management (CRM) software in the late ’90s and early 2000s. As the software became common use at sales organizations across different companies, it created a common language for the profession.

“It was a black art that became much more of a science,” he says. “What CRM did for sales is exactly what we’re about to do here with marketing. Now there’s a common language across the job of the CMO.”

Ask Murphy and he’ll tell you that the cloud software is best suited for medium to large enterprises as small businesses would likely find it expensive. ExactTarget’s website identifies four different levels of subscription service, but doesn’t associate prices with them because different customers will pick and choose different aspects of the software to use.

ExactTarget is a key piece of Beyond the Rack’s marketing strategy that drives about 60 per cent of the revenue to Beyond the Rack’s bottom line, Murphy says. That amounts to an annual spend in the seven-figure range as the firm has purchased the ability to send a whopping 3 billion emails per year with the cloud service.

Now that’s a lot of email.

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