Responsys CMO Olrich On Cross-Channel Strategy And The Move Toward Display

ResponsysScott Olrich is CMO of Responsys, an email and cross-channel, digital marketing firm.

The company recently announced its new display product here. Olrich discussed the product and the company’s overall strategy with

Why is Responsys moving into display advertising now? What is it that you are seeing that is causing you to add this channel?

SO: Responsys is focused on relationship marketing, and when we talk about relationship marketing, it’s being able to talk to someone in a known way, so we actually know something about them. They could be a prospect, or a customer, where we would know more about them.

What we’re announcing this week is a Responsys Interact for Display. What this allows us to do is what we call relationship retargeting. Whereby we can cookie a consumer when they come to one of our customers websites ‑‑ or we can cookie them when they open one of their email communications.

Now once we have that information, we can obviously attach that to a profile in our database because in most cases we know who that consumer is. If we don’t know who that consumer is, then we have the ability to reach them in doing what is typically called display retargeting.

So that’s what, to me, is so exciting. You’re actually taking this [display] channel which has historically been acquisition‑based and you’re actually turning it into a relationship‑based channel. Then, you can coordinate it as part of an overall cross channel effort and much more integrated. In the case of a major U.S. car rental company, for example, they will send a confirmation email to users who have made reservations and follow up closer to the pick-up date with another e-mail reminding them about the reservation. Not every user who makes a reservation picks up the car, and the reminder e-mail serves as a marketing communication to increase the probability of the user actually becoming a paying customer. The company can also send users a mobile message for the same purpose. However, to truly increase the frequency of communication leading up to the user’s pick-up date without bombarding the user with e-mails, the company can obviously retarget users with appropriately messaged display ads.

Integrating all of that together as part of a campaign is hugely valuable. Part of it is because display is going to be more expensive than email. So if you can drive the consumer to the desired action through a more cost effective channel or another channel that they prefer, you’re better off doing that.

Can you talk a little bit about why display is more expensive than email from your perspective?

We’re doing this on an individual basis, so you’re actually buying “Scott Olrich”, for example. You’re actually going to be bidding for me, so the question is going to be, “How valuable over time is Scott Olrich?” and “Am I going to be successful?”

Now, everybody has been after me (bidding on display served to Scott Olrich) because I’m a frequent flier, for example. The inventory over time for high value customers is going to get more expensive.

From your perspective, beginning with spearheading with email, is there a brand awareness opportunity with email marketing, in your opinion?

I think there’s a huge brand awareness component of it. The big focuse for one of our customer campaigns is driving relevant content based on trend information to the consumer’s inbox every day. Not to just drive direct impulse purchases, which it does, but more importantly, stay top-of-mind so it can drive more traffic into the store.

There is absolutely a branding, top‑of‑mind element. Historically, people used to do a lot of TV and radio to do that. Well, the problem today is a lot of consumers aren’t listening to radio or they’re not watching TV. Some people say, “Oh, well, this is social media, or this is email, or this is digital marketing.” No, it’s marketing. It’s all marketing. It’s media now.

I think that the market is starting to realize that – you’re going to leverage the interactive channels to do a lot of things you used to do through other media channels. So the answer is yes, absolute branding channel.

But I think what you’re going to find is email tends to drive a lot more direct purchase. For example, we’ve found that mobile is better at driving traffic into the store, where email is better at driving online purchases than other channels.

Is audience buying something Responsys is seeing?

Yes. We envision a day when every customer touch point is totally individualized and automated. So I think that it’s amazing how far the technologies have come. I think that’s the goal of marketing – how you deliver an individualized experience.  But it also has to be automated because you just can’t manage these millions of interactions by hand.

What you’re seeing is the convergence of technology and automation to help drive this. I think the reason why search did so well is because it had the whole element of intent. And that was the whole piece that I think display was really missing. Most display has been anonymous and lacked intent, and hasn’t been part of a cross‑channel coordinated program. I think that now you can obviously measure intent through display retargeting and by using cookies. But, now you can actually make it known versus anonymous, and then also tie it into orchestrating across channels.

I think that’s why this is one of the more exciting things I’ve seen in my last 20 years in this space – and I’ve been living and breathing the space. I think it’s going to turn display on its head.

Responsys, historically, has been in the email channel, and now obviously you’re guiding the company to go across digital channels. What new challenges does this present and how do you meet them?

So, yes, we’re absolutely a cross‑channel company and not an email company. And obviously we need to continue to drive awareness about our cross-channel capabilities since we have a heritage in email. But, we still think email is still the most powerful outbound channel today for driving revenue.

But, what Responsys is building is the ability to go into one platform and build a campaign, regardless of what channel it is, leveraging the same tools, so you don’t have to go try to learn an email product, etc. That’s a big thing for us.

The other part of this is the underlying data model behind it  -the open relational database, the consumer database containing their physical address, email address, mobile information, cookie data, social influence data – all of that is part of a relational data model and is absolutely something that’s unique to Responsys.

There is this whole piece about cross‑channel personalization where every element of every single channel has its own nuances. We have to figure out how far we go and where we stop on our product roadmap?

A prediction question. What do you think the future in digital advertising will look like for clients five years from now?

It’s interesting, because you said, “The future in digital advertising.” I actually think the big shift is it’s going to move from digital advertising to digital interactions.

More and more you are actually having interactions with people that you know something about.  I think that’s the huge shift and what’s happening with display. You’re able to do more relationship marketing rather than acquisition marketing. The reason why people have been spending so much more money on acquisition marketing is it’s been easier.

Well, if you actually know who people are and whether they’re a prospect or customer, you can target those people and leverage every marketing dollar much more effectively. And so I think that that’s where we’re going to be in five years, is that you’re actually going to be able to drive through real‑time bidding and through business rules the interactions that you’re having with consumers across these interactive channels, and in an automated way.

Where does the agency fit in this marketing automation? Are they being cut out of the pie here?

I think agencies are having to reinvent themselves. If you look at the shift, the shift was from offline acquisition marketing, which was big agencies sending content to TV and radio, print, etc. People were doing relationship marketing through offline channels – direct mail campaigns, and data to do catalog placement. Those companies now are trying to reinvent themselves around the digital channels.

On the agency’s interactive side, they started out building a lot of websites. Then you had these specialist firms that agencies are doing, such as paid search. I think there’s some agencies that can go out and help companies with some of these emerging channels. I think that that’s important. There will always be a need for that.

But I do think that agencies are going to have to get into the digital relationship interaction space versus just buying. They’re not going to make their living buying media anymore. That day is gone. So they have to figure out how they’re going to drive relationships and also engagement.

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