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Interview: Phil Williams MD of Rocketseed on intelligent business email

8th Aug 2006
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It’s not often that I stray into the technology realm, after all Stuart Lauchlan does a great job of that, but when I read the Forrester report on intelligent business email my curiosity was piqued.

There are lots of low cost email based newsletter services around so that even very small businesses can keep in regular contact with customers and at first glance I wondered if this was just another variant. But 'intelligent business email', a term coined by Forrester Research, is a new class of technology enabler which plugs the brand and compliance communication gap.

This gap exists in most firms, where emails touch the customer with greater impact than much of the stuff that flies out of the marketing department. In large firms especially there is little control or thought that goes into the tens of thousands of email communications, that customers receive. The potential for polluting the brand through careless crafting is enormous.

Perhaps a greater danger is in the field of compliance. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002 places great responsibility on corporate firms and accountants to take more care with their email communications as well as to archive them for longer.

With this in mind, I decided to speak directly to Phil Williams MD of Rocketseed in the UK, a firm which is leading the field in intelligent business email, to find out more.

Impact on brand

In Delivering the Brand Promise I highlighted some of the staggering amounts that major corporations were spending on promoting their brands, so I asked Phil what part did he feel email played in this. He explained that the bulk of emails are one-to-one dialogue between the customer and an individual at a firm. This is one of the intimate touch points where the customer experiences the brand directly. He quoted research findings which show that between 70% and 90% of all communications which are seen by customers, come from email, as opposed to advertising.

The problem is twofold. The brand impression, the look and feel of marketing materials is generally consistent. However, this is rarely the case with the millions of emails generated by firms each year.

The second problem is the impact on the customer. What is it? Most firms simply don’t know and have no real control through any feedback mechanism. The marketing director is normally the custodian of the brand, but typically has no control or sight of customer reactions from all the thousands of emails that go out each day.

The new generation of marketing - analytical and thoughtful
The trend to greater marketing accountability within firms, calls for a more analytical mindset than before. By using intelligent business email, a consistent brand design can be embedded in emails as well as specific and targeted messages. The impact of these can then be tested and analysed.

Isn't there a danger of a one-size-fits-all shotgun approach to customers with this type of technology? I asked.

Phil agreed that in the final analysis the technology is a tool that can be abused as well as used intelligently. His firm provides advice and guidance in using Rocketseed’s intelligent business email, but there is still a need for good marketing skills.

A lot of thought needs to go into the design and use of intelligent business email. Respect for the customer is critical as well as a good segmentation to ensure that relevant messages are delivered to the right customers. It is important to think through what the key brand messages are when creating the overall standard email design. But the second level of sophistication is to design appropriate messages and embed them in the email banner.

Keep it fresh and relevant

Phil also recommends that messages are regularly refreshed or customers will get bored or even annoyed. Most customers don’t like to be sold to, so the best use of embedded messages is to provide them with information that helps them. If they are considering some complex purchase, this might include a link to a case study or engineering drawings that show how a product can be used in a variety of situations. If it is a service response, then embedding links to useful support facts can be helpful to the customer, and might even anticipate his question.

Sales messages in particular need to be carefully crafted and relevant to the customer. There is no point in a bank promoting some new loan offer if the previous week the customer has taken out an alternative. This will only create annoyance.

Example of use: brand reinforcement and change management
I asked Phil if he could give me any examples of how his customers were using intelligent business email.

  • He cited the content division of the ITN news network. On the 19th of June this year, this organisation which sells archived material to other networks, re-branded itself ITN Source,(previously ITN Archive). As part of the re-branding exercise all their customers and prospects were emailed using Rocketseed intelligent business email. The new brand logo was embedded to reinforce the overall branding exercise.

  • News International also uses Rocketseed to support internal communications to all employees. Consistent and supportive communications can help employees cope with change. By analysing the results, they are able to see if key messages are really getting through as anticipated.

    Actionable insights

    Lastly I asked Phil how the analytics helped. He explained that it provides actionable insights, into the behaviour of both senders and receivers through automated reporting and detailed analysis. In this way a firm can experiment to some degree and find out what works well and what doesn’t. These additional insights over time can help firms create a more relevant dialogue with their customers, rather than just pushing marketing messages out to them.

    Final thoughts on intelligent business email

    New technologies open up new ways of treating or mistreating customers. Intelligent business email is a good example of a new enabling technology. To use it wisely, the fundamental principles of CRM need to be applied – understanding the customer’s context and respecting their need for relevant information as well as privacy.

    Used well it can contribute by reinforcing brand values as well as promoting a more customer sensitive dialogue. It can also support efforts to demonstrate compliance in the face of tougher regulations, and as an internal medium, it can help the CEO communicated more effectively with employees.

    By Jeremy Cox
    CMC Editor
    Business & Strategy

    If you would like to contact me to give an opinion or to share your own experience I can be contacted easily by email: [email protected].

    You may also be interested in reading Rocketseed's white paper Intelligent business email provides a marketing and branding advantage and their case study Rees Pollock deploys Rocketseed to gain competitive edge.

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