Royal baby buzz battle

We have probably all seen the colourful graphs that connect email fatigue with low engagement. So what are the weapons in our arsenal to combat this painful problem? Further segmentation? Reduced frequency? Subject line change? More special offer to non-openers? Or is it about time to think outside the box and look for something “external”? That is why I have my eyes on the recent royal baby buzz battle.

Among all brands who jumped on the recent royal baby bandwagon, Mothercare, Argos, and Paddy Power are early adopters of pushing out above-the-line campaigns while the Duchess was still in labour, but M&S has come up trumps with its crafted email campaign as soon as the news of the newborn broke. The British retailer cleverly leveraged the news to sell their babywear and promote gift and party ideas.


This is not a surprising effort from M&S, considering the fact it was chosen by UK consumers as one of the most favourable email marketers, along with Tesco and Amazon. I like brands like M&S who seize every possible opportunity to resonate with its audience when planning email campaigns.

Curiously, not many (or at least not as many as I would expect) email marketers appear to be capitalising on the royal birth, although there has been at least nine months’ lead time for preparation. The relative silence in the email space contrasts sharply with the social media frenzy, with brands like Oreo have launched their timely royal baby content campaign all over Twitter and Facebook.

While many business understands the importance of sending emails based on customer preference and online behaviour, few has realised the untapped potential of newsjacking ability an email campaign can have. I think one possible reason is that many companies are still in a campaign mindset. To set up news-triggered email does require complex scenario treatment and database interactions. But many email marketing automation tools has the built-in features that can take the strain, with platforms like Neolane that provides a visual interface (i.e. workflow) for designing and executing internal processes for virtually any types of campaigns. All it takes is a prophetic vision and thoughtful planning ahead of time.

One can never underestimate the power of piggybacking on the growing wave of excitement of a breaking news. Pretty much like keywords to SEO, eyes are glued to those “sensitive” words, such as royal baby, and the consequent action (i.e. click) will naturally take place. One sweet side effect is that by hitchhiking the popularity, the email content is more likely to be tweeted or referenced to in the social media space.

It is likely that retailers of all kinds will look forward to scooping up further revenues in souvenir sales, so it remains to be seen whether more of them will turn to email marketing and hijack any news to their own advantage, in particular when it comes to celebrate Prince George’s birthday next July.

Gigi Jin
Project Architect

Aug 8

"As with so many buzzwords marketers obsess over, ‘big data’ is now debased"

Mike Weston

“We are not so much big data evangelists, but merely its messengers,” intoned Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Kenneth Cukier somewhat breathlessly at the start of their 2013 tome ‘Big Data’ - as good a source on the question of this year’s zeitgeist subject. And yet even they decline to offer a clear definition.

As this year has unfolded, we’ve seen ‘big data’ everywhere - and in a way, that’s both the point of it and the biggest problem with it. As with so many buzzwords the marketing industry has obsessed over (web 2.0 anyone?), it’s become something any self respecting marketing tech company wants to lay a claim to… and as they do so, the term has become seriously debased. 

But the principle that underlies it marks a huge shift in what we understand marketing to be capable of. For me, the principle idea is one that digital marketing has always espoused: we need to move away from crude pigeon-hole segmentation in favour of a world where we listen to and respond to the billions of individual conversations that customers engage in with our brands. Do I care that ‘Customer X’ is a 53 year old female from Preston - or that she’s more likely to take our her next mobile phone contract with me if I offer her and extra 500 MB of data and a free flip case? 

Demographics, like so many other targeting dimensions that have informed the world of marketing until now have never been more than a proxy for real, individual intent: a way to predict what’s going to make the customer more likely to buy and drive efficiency of marketing effort.

Developing a data science discipline in marketing helps us to unlock hidden knowledge - and answer questions we didn’t know we wanted to ask. This insight helps us make better decisions, to truly predict what will make our marketing programmes effective. In doing so we may yet unlock the dream that relevant marketing actually makes our customers, lives better too.

Mike Weston
Managing Director

Can Showrooming Save The High Street?

Mike WestonI got into one of those ‘future of the high street’ discussions at a party over the holiday period. My fellow partygoers hadn’t been reading the latest research, they were merely commenting on what is becoming increasingly clear for all to see: the way we buy things is changing fast.

But the researchers clearly back this up - such as GfK’s press release mid-December talking about the changing role of the High Street in 2012’s UK Christmas shopping plans. It seems only a third of consumers were planning to make ‘most of their purchases in High Street stores’, down from 42% just one year earlier. The better news for the wider economy is that online purchases will more than make up the slack. Emerging financial statements post-Christmas from the retail industry back this story up.

This doesn’t appear to be affecting the actual footfall in stores, however - just the queues at the till, as consumers increasingly research in real life what they go on to buy online. That same GfK report suggested that 57% of us would browse in-store for inspiration.

Already in 2013, the cost of that gap between browse and purchase is starkly illustrated by a series of high profile failures: entertainment retailer HMV has gone into administration and the camera retailer Jessops has closed in recent weeks. Meanwhile Italy is losing both FNAC and Blockbuster, while the French high street will have to carry on without its 25 Virgin Megastores.

I’ve been fascinated by how retailers are choosing to respond to this. John Lewis, the UK’s largest department store retailer, had a cracking Christmas, both online and offline. In 2012 they enabled free Wi-Fi access across their stores, recognising that it could help increase average spend-per-customer significantly.

Marks and Spencer, electronics retailer Maplin and others seem set to follow suit, having announced or commenced trials of free Wi-Fi services.

I see it as a realisation of the cross-channel approach that the smartest marketers (retail or otherwise) are embracing. John Lewis, for example, has a fully integrated online business that allows online orders to be easily collected at hundreds of their Waitrose supermarkets as well as in John Lewis stores. As MD Andy Street put it: “It’s a bricks and clicks story; it’s obvious that the same customers are using both channels”.

For me though, the biggest surprise is the partnership forged in 2012 between UK bookseller Waterstones and ‘formidable competitor’ Amazon. Since October, the retailer has sold Amazon’s Kindle range direct to its own customers, right next to the paperbacks and hardback books. Waterstones’ boss, James Gaunt, acknowledges that ‘some’ of his customers choose to read books digitally - “… actually, they choose to do both,” he adds. His job as a customer-centric retailer is to help his customers get what they want.

This is probably the highest stake bet on the ‘showrooming’ phenomenon I’ve seen in Europe. If he’s wrong, and Waterstones’ Kindle customers simply go direct to Amazon to buy their ebooks, then the (already challenged) business could be finished.

Arguably, though, his customers will migrate to Kindle reading with or without his help, making this ‘deal with a ruthless devil’ his best option. At least this way he retains a commercial interest in ebooks, as Gaunt insisted in an interview with the Daily Telegraph last year, “…Waterstones will make a cut on every single Kindle that the book chain sells and every single e-book that is downloaded over the Waterstones Wi-Fi.”

This policy allows Waterstones to focus on providing a welcoming ambience for book lovers - even funding the retail estate improvements the chain has planned, including in-store coffee shops and providing that free Wi-Fi. Owners of Waterstones-bought Kindles can even ‘borrow’ books for an hour a day over the Wi-Fi while they sip their beverage, much the same as they might skim a hardback book in store.

In other words, Waterstones are banking on the idea that customers they’ve sold Kindles to will still want to ‘showroom’ back at their high street stores - and maybe buy other items while they’re there, too… even if those items are coffee and croissants.

So will the winning strategy lie in crafting the retail experience, unconcerned about whether it’s driving sales online or in-store? At least one retailer doesn’t think so.

A leading kids’ retailer, operating across Europe and internationally, is rumoured to be launching a new retail concept that sounds a lot like the complete reverse. Instead of creating an environment where products are set out for playing with, or closer examination, they intend to create what sounds like a retail catalogue shop, with a smaller footprint, designed to function purely as a utilitarian, transactional environment.

Which way wins? I suspect one answer will not suit all cases - but I very much look forward to seeing what the more creative retail marketing brains come up with as 2013 progresses.

Mike Weston
Managing Director

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