February 22, 2007
If you’re a behemoth B-to-B marketer like Texas Instruments, you probably have countless databases with global offices who are very territorial when it comes to their own data and each of them used to doing their own marketing thing.
What happens if management says to consolidate the databases and get all the email efforts talking the same language? The technical hurdles and the scheduling that follow will be immense, not to mention getting through the office politics. Includes eight tactics.
With operations in more than 25 countries, Texas Instruments’ global marketing strategy calls for millions of email messages each year, sent in as many as eight languages. With regional offices in charge of their own customer databases, though, the company had a hard time ensuring they had one unified approach for those marketing messages, not to mention the rules governing customer communication.
Leona Green, WW Campaign Marketing Manager, wanted to bring the global system under central control, creating a single way to manage customer communication preferences and schedule all worldwide email marketing campaigns. “When we first started email marketing, it was pretty much all or nothing. You’ve given us your information, and we can market to you. There was no way to intelligently manage different communication types.”
But to develop such a system meant dealing with technical hurdles, including merging databases from China, Russia and other countries that use different character sets. Still, worse was the office politics. Not only would Green have to convince individual marketers and regional offices to give up control of their customer databases, but she would have to convince her bosses to pay for a major infrastructure and policy overhaul that could conceivably tighten the rules governing email marketing.
Before they changed the way they marketed to customers, Green and her team first had to change the way they collected, stored and sorted customer information.
-> Tactic #1. Consolidate disparate databases into one system
While Texas Instruments had a large US customer contact database for years, operations based in other countries operated their own systems. The first step to a unified, global marketing system was creating a unified, global database.
In 2005, Texas Instruments revamped their existing database with new column and data structures and made it capable of accommodating some non-English character sets. Then, last year, they integrated their China region database into the US database.
Regional office and individual marketer’s customer lists were taken out of their silos and added to the main database -- a policy that Green admits ruffled a few feathers among some employees.
Although those lists were purported to be qualified leads who had asked to receive marketing communications, they still chose to send every name a one-time message thanking them for supplying their information and asking them to clarify their communication preferences with a my.TI online account.
-> Tactic #2. Perform customer research on email marketing preferences
To build a new marketing strategy around the central database, Green and her team asked for customer feedback on the current email marketing system and what kind of information they wanted to receive from the company. The research included:
- Email surveys
- Focus groups
- Interviews with key clients at trade shows
- Sales representative meetings with top customers
Those conversations and surveys delivered key insights, such as the fact that customers would welcome more frequent communications as long the messages were targeted to their interest areas.
Armed with this data, Green gave one of the most important presentations of her life, outlining to corporate officials a new strategy and priorities for a customer contact system that would require changes across the company’s global operations.
-> Tactic #3. Create new Web registration forms to collect customer data
The engine of the new customer contact system is the my.TI registration system on each country or regional Web site. My.TI members must submit contact information, specify the industry areas, applications and products they are interested in and select from 13 email newsletters.
They can also manage their preferences for receiving product alerts and other messages from Texas Instruments.
-> Tactic #4. Boost participation in my.TI
To increase participation in my.TI, and make sure the data collected worked seamlessly with the new database, Green’s team:
o Put key technical data on their Web sites behind a barrier for my.TI registrants only. Product samples, design documentation and other product support -- the kind of information customers need once they’ve begun working with a Texas Instruments platform -- were obvious choices to encourage my.TI membership, Green says.
o My.TI registrations on China and Japan Web sites asked customers to submit names and email addresses in both English and Chinese and Japanese characters, to ensure that these contacts could be added to the central database. The “double-sided business card” entry was made mandatory.
-> Tactic #5. Segment the database
Customers in the database were sorted according to products, markets or application and equipment segment, based on their purchases or indications from my.TI registration. Green and her team then used those segments to determine which customers got targeted messages around specific products, applications or news reports.
The database also was segmented by region so they could correctly time the release of email messages to customers in various global time zones.
-> Tactic #6. Set new rules for email marketing
A centralized database also needed centralized oversight to ensure that each region followed the same rules and to eliminate campaign overlap or turf wars between marketers from different divisions. To do this:
- A unified calendar for all email marketing in Texas Instruments’ worldwide system was created to make sure different divisions didn’t hit the same customers at the same time or in rapid succession. Individual product or market segments had their own managers who help set strategy and schedules, but Green had the final word.
- Marketers were allowed to book dates for email campaigns months in advance, based on their own marketing plans for the year.
- If competition arose for certain dates and names, the segment managers and Green brainstormed solutions. Were the two messages similar enough that they could be combined into one? Could one of the campaigns be moved earlier or later? Were both messages absolutely necessary?
- If there was no easy solution, whichever campaign was on the calendar first typically took precedence.
-> Tactic #7. Watch anti-spam laws on global scale
Besides changes to internal operations, they focused on global anti-spam laws, which in some countries are stricter than in the US.
o The US legal team met with legal representatives in all of Texas Instruments' regions to determine which rules -- above and beyond US law -- they needed to follow.
o They adopted a new corporate email policy that worked across nearly all Texas Instruments’ regions, except Japan, which has very strict email marketing laws. This is why their email marketing is still limited in Japan.
-> Tactic #8. Coordinate resellers’ marketing campaigns
Third-party resellers send branded email on behalf of Texas Instruments, but under the new policy, those campaigns also were centralized.
- They required resellers to work with one agency to coordinate all marketing campaigns, so they followed the corporate look and message.
- The company’s marketing calendar took precedence so messages from Texas Instruments, such as those surrounding new product announcements, always went out first. Third-party emails had to wait three to seven days.
- All names on third-party lists were checked against the company’s database for duplication and email preferences to make sure no one received a message against their wishes. “I don’t know who’s on their list,” Green says of the company’s resellers. “All I know is we’ve suppressed anything we need to suppress.”
Any fears Green’s bosses might have had about the new rules stifling email marketing were unfounded. In 2005, the company sent approximately 2.5 million email messages. In 2006, the number increased to 6 million. “By being more targeted and relevant, we can get more messages to those contacts,” she says.
Getting a better handle on customer preferences allowed her team to change rules for the frequency of email messages. Previously, a customer could receive only one message every seven days. Now, the rule is one message every three days. Green is still tracking open rates and clickthroughs for those messages and doesn’t have concrete data on the impact yet, but other results from the changes include:
- Requiring a double-sided entry for Asian my.TI sites actually increased the completion rate to about 65%, compared to 40%-50% in the US.
- Marketers’ individual customer lists were not as well-vetted as they thought. Only 15%-20% of the names added to the central database and invited to join my.TI to update their preferences did so. “The list owners are shocked,” Green says. “They say, ‘They’ve told us that this is really what they want,’ but actions speak louder than words.”
- Opt-out rates are only 0.17%, which Green credits to their careful contact management and frequency control rules.
- They’re still in the process of integrating the Japan database into the system.
The legal team continues to meet quarterly to monitor global email laws and make sure the company is in compliance.
Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from Texas Instruments’ email program:
Silverpop - Texas Instruments' email vendor:
JWT - the agency for third-party reseller marketing: