Guide Sponsor - Michael Hilts, president and general manager, Yesmail

Jim Brigden, group MD, TradeDoublerOver the past decade, email has become the dominant method of business communication. The sheer volume and diversity of email has drastically changed how we interact with our inboxes, especially as we digest information via a multitude of sources: home computer, mobile, RSS feeds and social networks. Delivering only relevant, targeted information is key to garnering attention, and becoming an expert in email messaging and analytics is more than most businesses care to handle today.

When it comes to relevant and integrated marketing, successful companies are the ones that have a handle on their data. They have a good internal database or they've set up a strong data mart that has a rich set of profile information, including transaction history. These companies are doing more segmentation and leveraging the knowledge of their database for more segmentation purposes. This allows sending target-rich, truly relevant email campaigns to their customers.

Successful companies have also built a solid foundation from an analytics perspective, although they may not be doing anything really highend. The key is understanding the importance of frequency and the concept of time. In direct marketing, the mantra is always 'the right offer to the right person at the right time'. Technology, particularly email technology, gives us the opportunity to highly leverage that time component and get the offer in front of the person when the time is right. So understanding frequency, how to mail customers within the right window of time is the key, whether they like to shop in the evening, or online during their lunch hour, or when they come into work in the morning and you have their attention in their inbox, or on a Friday because it's payday. The old saying holds true: time is of the essence.

Once marketers understand and consider these variables, then they can't be afraid to communicate more frequently. The more successful marketers leverage the concept of time with triggered messaging and event-based messaging, where they're observing behaviour on the website, looking at transactions and communicating based on that cue - a cue from the customer that says, "Now might be a good time for me." - and starting to use email as an interactive tool, which means that it needs to be two-way communication, not a push. Based on the way they're responding to me, I'm going to communicate to them again.

Not to be forgotten, a key indicator is how you measure email effectiveness. Sales is always a standard measure, but the better marketers are looking at the objective of the message and how that ties into sales. For example, there may be a customer support link in your email that generates significant cost savings. You could be driving people to a self-service website instead of a call centre. The bottom line is measuring the total effectiveness of the message, based on different calls to action, and coming up with an ROI calculation that says, "This really benefited the organisation, it drove sales, it solved customer service problems, and it created brand awareness."