Senior Manager, Email Marketing

How to Prove Your Brand’s Value as the Price for Customer Consent Goes Up

Collection of first-party data — information you’ve collected about your customers that they’ve consented to providing — is a centerpiece of any successful digital marketing strategy. But peoples' attitudes toward online privacy have changed significantly in recent years. They’re more skeptical about sharing their data, and they’re more selective about who they’ll share their data with.

The numbers bear this out. A survey of U.S. adults by Pew Research Center exploring how Americans feel about the state of privacy revealed: 

  • 81% of U.S. adults said the potential risks they face because of data collection by companies outweigh the benefits.
  • 79% of them report being concerned about the way their data is being used by companies.
  • Most feel they have little or no control over how companies use their personal information.

Customers have only become savvier about digital marketing, and, enabled by changes in underlying platform mechanics, such as iOS 15 mail privacy protection, they’re exercising more control. 

What all of this means is, every piece of marketing you send out is a chance for people to revoke their consent and end (or at least pause) their relationship with you unless they perceive value in who you are and what you’re selling.

Jay Kennedy, who leads our email marketing team, refers to this heightened cost of the ongoing agreement from consumers to share their data and receive marketing messaging as “consent inflation.” He and I sat down to talk about this, the value exchange (what companies are offering consumers in exchange for their data) and what brands need to start doing now to retain these 1:1 customer relationships.

Following was our conversation, which I hope may inspire you to elevate your company’s marketing efforts to foster deeper connections with your customers.

Larry: Jay, thanks for joining me today. Before we dive deep into first-party data and consent, can you share a little about your professional background and what brought you to Rise?  

Jay: I’ve been in email my entire career — mostly in-house places, large and small, that were in the midst of some kind of transition. I was part of the Sears team when they launched ShopYourWay, a free online membership rewards program. And, most recently, I was with Encyclopedia Britannica, a 250-year-old company that’s going through a major evolution from print to more digital.  

Larry: So why agency? 

Jay: I always wanted to work in an agency and was interested in strategy. At Rise, email is part of the analytics team. The ability to tap into advanced and predictive analytics with an in-house team was really interesting to me. You have these huge platforms with tons and tons of data and you learn about all these different activities you can tie email data into like paid search or display campaigns or website optimization or personalization. It’s been an interesting learning experience — sharing the capabilities these platforms can do — and being part of an organization without the silos that many email marketers are challenged with.

Larry: I like that you’re approaching your role with such curiosity because it’s an interesting time in digital marketing — one that’s “forcing us out of the box,” as they say. We’re at an inflection point in our industry, as you know, where companies are going to find themselves having to think holistically about how they use digital marketing. What stands out to you? 

Jay: Fundamentally, the way I would put it is: It’s not the marketing that’s changing — it’s access and visibility. Consumers are obviously worried about how much of their data brands own or store and how they use it, and with the launch of iOS 15 mail privacy protection, they have the option now to have their email activity protected.

My role as an email marketer is understanding how people interact with marketing and using that data to make that marketing better — more relevant to their interests or nuanced to their needs. Or, if they’re not engaging, then to stop sending them emails! One of the challenges with iOS 15 mail privacy protection is figuring out the ways to do this well.

Larry: When it comes to the issue of consent, I think everything starts with the value exchange — what companies are offering consumers in exchange for their data, whether it’s a coupon or first dibs on a new product or information before anyone else. The consumer is becoming more educated on what that value exchange really means, and if they conclude this exchange isn’t worth it, then brands are going to have a big problem. 

Jay: Right, and on top of that, customers are becoming more savvy. You could almost describe this as consent inflation — the cost of people’s willingness to give over their privacy has risen. And brands have the responsibility to be transparent about what they’re providing and actually follow through with something of value.

Larry: What might this look like? Give me an example. 

Jay: Well, a lot of times, a client will come in with an established email program and week after week after week, it’s “buy this product,” “here’s this product,” “hey, it’s only this much money,” and it’s the same products over and over again. And while you may get a few sales from new subscribers, you’re also distancing yourself from those who have seen the same email three times already after only one week. 

What we do is work with brands to help them understand the value their product can provide — not just price or the product itself. A great example is a specialty pasta brand we work with. They build relationships through emails suggesting recipes consumers can make during the work week or to impress their date on Valentine’s Day or to serve their aunt who’s gluten-free. Even if a consumer takes one of these recipes and goes out and buys a cheaper brand of pasta, they still recognize this brand as a resource for how to do cool things with pasta. And when you send that sales email, it’s easier to push that purchase because they’ve built a relationship with your brand. Maybe they’ve bought the cheap pasta in the past, and now they want to make the recipe with the real thing this time. 

Larry: So when you look at how brands are getting ahead when they consider a strategy focused on value — you pointed out greater engagement — how can they measure success?  

Jay: You can look at unsubscribes and list churn. The longer you can retain your subscriber base, I think that’s a helpful metric because it indicates people aren’t actively raising their hands to say stop emailing me. There’s also research about email efficacy and the high percentages of people who will see an email from a name or subject line and engage with the brand through social media or some other interaction without even opening it. It’s a halo effect. It gets a little tricky because you can’t always attribute it directly back to the channel.  

Larry: Can you think of anyone off the top of your head who does this well?

Jay: Brands with cult followings, like Patagonia or REI, create a community where like-minded people can gather and rally around a cause or ethos, like environmentalism. A lot of their marketing, especially email, includes sales content throughout even though most of the focus is on the brand and its ethos. People like the brand because of its ethos — not because it’s running a sale. 

This is the kind of effect all brands should strive to create for their customers.

Larry: I agree, Jay — thanks! And I appreciate this time getting to know you better and hearing your ideas and perspective. As quickly as the industry is advancing, we need passionate and nimble thinkers like you who really understand how email works, which is more about ingenuity and process rather than media cost, and figuring out how to do things within the new ecosystem creatively. This is imperative if brands want to be able to grow the way they have in the past. Message me if you’d like to join us in this conversation.

11/10/2021 at 01:49