ThinData gets the message out

Her name is Mary Smith and she’s interested in theatre and poetry. She subscribes to Mirvish Production’s E-Stage service. She may not even be real, but if she were, the tall young woman standing with a smile on the home page of ThinData’s

revamped Web site would be exactly the kind of audience marketers want: she’s willing to read your e-mail.

The Web site launch is part of an effort to reposition ThinData as a permission-based e-mail marketing expert. The Toronto-based firm is backing up its branding with a number of customer wins. Last month, for example, Aeroplan, Air Canada and said they would be using ThinData’s E-mail Marketing System, version 3.0 of which is also rolling out.

Pipeline recently spoke with Wayne Carrigan, vice-president of client strategy, about ThinData’s recent success and how e-mail is gaining more respect from enterprise marketing departments.


Pipeline: You just launched a new site and a new brand where you call yourself “”the e-mail authority.”” How did that come about?

Wayne Carrigan: We did a review of the marketplace and where we’re having success, and where we felt the market was lacking. So when we looked at our differentiators and strengths, it was market expertise, best practices and the product features, customer service. When you look at the bulk of those, it’s the marketing expertise and best practices that we’re bringing to our clients that make us a trusted leader, so that’s “”the e-mail authority.”” When you look at the customer service the personality of our business, second part of the tagline, which is, “”give us your permission,”” is that we’re going to work with you.

The history of ThinData is that we started off as a Web developer about 10 years ago, and in 2000 entered the e-mail space. Over the last four years, our product, the network we send e-mail from, has matured such that we’re winning business against the large American companies. For the Aeroplan business, the incumbent was Doubleclick. So all of a sudden we have a technology that is tier one, a solid mature product. You combine that with the fact we are customer-centric and we are really focused on making sure we’re maximizing reach and educating our clients, and you have the background to our positioning.

Pipeline: What’s the demand been like?

WC: Everybody is doing e-mail, and if they’re not, they’re planning on it. We’re really starting to see over the last year e-mail moving from being a second priority in a company’s marketing department to something that is a high priority. We’re also seeing that the discipline of direct marketing being applied to e-mail marketing. Two years ago you would have a junior staff member managing your newsletter. Today you have a senior marketing executive who’s managing your integrated communications and your CRM, and they’re leading with e-mail. Before it would just be about delivery, now it’s about measurement, control groups, ROI, those types of things.

Pipeline: When you’re finding yourselves competing with the Doubleclicks of the world, how are customers making their final decision about what firm to choose?

WC: There’s always product, but a lot of the products tend to do similar things. The differentiator is at what speed can you move, how well can you integrate your product into their existing technology or their existing business process, and then how smart are you? I always use the analogy of, you could give somebody Microsoft Word, but that’s not going to make them an award-winning novelist. You can give them the tools, but there needs to be something else that supports that. When it comes to price, we’re doing flat-rate pricing. A lot of our competitors have per-e-mail fees and then there are hidden fees. We’re finding marketers and particular agencies don’t like surprises after the campaign. But price is always secondary in a marketer’s decision of which company they’re going to work with. It’s always return (on investment), expertise, demonstrated ability, customer service. Those are the things that you’re putting ahead.

Pipeline: You already mentioned the Aeroplan account, and you also recently won a deal with G.A.P. Adventures. Are these customers actually seeking out third parties to help with e-mail campaigns, or do you still have to do a lot of prospecting?

WC: Some of the lower-end products that might have had a stronghold over the last few years have just not been able to meet the needs of the marketplace. An example would be GotMarketing, where it’s pay-as-you-go. The concern that we’re seeing from clients that came from using GotMarketing is because they allowed anybody on their network — because it’s just put in your credit card and away you go — they’re having issues with blacklists. And it’s not just isolated to GotMarketing — if you know what you get when you buy GotMarketing, then it’s a pretty decent product. But it comes with its own issues. Our value proposition is a little bit different. We don’t allow just anyone on our network. We only work with ethical, permission-based marketers. Our network’s clean. You’re going to pay an extra half a cent with us than you will with a GotMarketing, but that’s why. We’re going to teach you how to do it right and we’re going to make sure we’re doing everything we can to maximize the reach of your campaign.

Pipeline: As permission-based e-mail become more a part of direct marketing, what kind of results are people expecting?

WC: That’s the million-dollar question, right? I think the appropriate answer is, every company’s unique and every business objective is unique. What we tend to do is a lot of testing up front and get some baseline, then try to work on improvements from there. But one company is trying to sell shoes, and another company is trying to create customer loyalty over a 12-month period. They’ll have different metrics. As a general rule, I would say that if you’re not getting 50 per cent open rates and you believe you have a good, loyal, permission-based list, then I’d say there may be something wrong with that campaign.

Pipeline: To what extent are you having to reassure marketers who worry their audience might be turned off of e-mail because of all the spam out there?

WC: I don’t know if we’re reassuring them. It’s a fact that spam has a negative impact on permission-based marketing. We’ll do everything we can to combat spam and to differentiate our client’s e-mail that’s going through our system so that it’s not mistaken as spam. With Sender ID and domain keys that will be coming out in the next few months, I think it will have a positive impact on reducing spam. And I think that the best practices, while we haven’t seen a lot of enforcement in the States and although there is no anti-spam law in Canada, I think having guidelines and rules set for legitimate marketers have also helped consumers differentiate spam from legitimate e-mail.

Pipeline: It seems like a lot more firms are using e-mail to do surveys and special offers, beyond just sending out an ad.

WC: It’s now about really understanding your clients and getting real metrics. Those people with data warehouses or CRM now realize they have this great channel. We’re running programs for clients just to do data appends. What is that one piece of information that you really want to know about your clients such that you can better serve them? Well, you can collect that information in a lot of different ways, but e-mail is one of the cheapest, if not the cheapest.

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