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Choose Your Own Adventure: Tips for Engaging Marketing Campaigns

Garin Hobbs January 13,2017

Let’s face it, marketers have a tough job. They’re constantly anticipating the needs of millions of customers on a daily basis. They’re always leveraging data and learnings from prior campaigns and conversions, often times throwing darts, hoping something sticks at the right moment. Sometimes we find the mark, and sometimes we don’t. Either way, there’s one group of decision makers that will always hit the mark, the customer.

I’m proposing that 2017 is the year that marketers let the customer drive their own marketing programs. I’m sure for some, this conjures mental images of pillars of smoke, blaring alarms and things exploding, however, there is (probably) nothing to fear.

To varying degrees, marketers do this already, with triggers, browse/purchase-based product recommendations, and multi-variate testing. Such machinations are not usually exposed to the consumer, and it’s even more rare for them to be the primary engagement factor. In my next few blog articles, I’ll be detailing a few ideas to dress up existing email capabilities to drive more innovative and personalized experiences.

Growing up, my imagination was constantly seeking the cerebral delights that undoubtedly lay just beyond the borders of my rural mountain town. When I was a young sprat, I read everything I could get my hands on, seeking knowledge to aid my eventual escape. Books, magazines, ads, even the back of product packages. By far, my favorite things to read were the Choose Your Own Adventure books. Aside from being fun reads, I LOVED the idea of being able to make choices that would change the direction of the narrative and eventual outcome. Do I walk down the dark hallway to investigate the eerie light coming from the parlor, or should I go upstairs to explore the spooky sound coming from the attic? I was deeply invested in the story because I was driving it and the fun part was having dozens of potential stories in one book.

Your email campaigns offer a similar opportunity. For example, let’s take Welcome programs. These campaigns typically have a slow ramp-to-value as the marketer has very little data available with which to personalize the first few messages. The irony is, your first few emails to a new subscriber are the most critical in setting an expectation for a personal, value-based experience. As mentioned in one of my previous articles, this growing expectation is one of the primary factors driving email open rates.  Generally speaking, people care most about things that impact or involve themselves. It’s a simple and obvious rule of relevancy. If you agree with that, then you’ll likely also agree that a personal, user-driven narrative is pretty darned engaging. The enormous and lasting success of the CYOA books proves this.

Using a CYOA approach for Welcome programs, marketers can gamify data collection (such as categorical preferences), self-identify products or services of interest, and ensure the highest degree of content-relevancy, all while entertaining and delighting the consumer. The key to the latter, of course, is a fun, compelling, and on-brand storyline. It has to be more than bare-faced product promotion (do you choose the zip-up hoodie in blue, or the pencil skirt in red?), so I suggest you spend the biggest part of your effort there. Begin with ZERO promotion, then use click-triggers or dynamic content to move to broad categories (running vs. yoga, shoes vs. dresses, etc.), build towards preferences (colors, styles, destinations, etc.), then fine-tune with specific products. Such a program could be evergreen, incorporating purchases, abandons, engagement-lapses, loyalty, social, and mobile directly into the personal story as these events take place.

I’ve seen some great (and highly successful!) “Year in Review” campaigns from Uber, Ticketmaster, and Boden… summary “stories” that use dynamic insertion to assemble fun and personal narratives. Using CYOA in Welcome programs simply takes that same success and moves it to the beginning of the brand-customer relationship. Don’t like taking risks? No worries, you can always split-test a CYOA program against your current campaigns and see how it fares. Actually, if you don’t like taking risks then you should probably ignore this altogether… you probably never liked the CYOA books anyway. In which case, tune-in to my future blog post for my next (maybe) great idea!

Tags: Digital Marketing, Digital Strategy, Email Marketing, Email Strategy

About The Author

Garin Hobbs

Garin Hobbs

Vice President, Client Solutions - Seattle Garin is an accomplished sales and marketing executive with over 20 years of experience building brand awareness and revenue. With a career spanning across ESPs, agencies, and technology providers, Garin is known for his ability to grow email marketing programs, help launch new technologies, and develop the strategies and thought leadership to support these endeavors. By specializing in optimally aligning people, processes, and technologies, Garin has delivered meaningful improvements in consumer experience and program revenue for such brands as Gap, Starbucks, Western Union, Bank of America, United Airlines, and Hilton Hotels.