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Jul 24, 2002

Exclusive Travelocity Interview Part II - Opt-Ins, Metrics & Vendors

SUMMARY: This week in our two-parter with Paul Briggs, Travelocity's Director of Research and Analytics, he discusses getting opt-ins, email metrics gathering, and the big in-house versus out-of-house debate, when should you hire a vendor to handle your outgoing email for you, and when should you handle it in-house? This article is packed with Best Practices. Packed, packed, packed. (Yes, a link to Part I of this exclusive interview also is included for those of you who missed last week's issue.)
This week in our two-part interview with Paul Briggs, Travelocity's Director of Research and Analytics, he discusses getting opt-ins, email metrics gathering, and the big in-house versus out-of-house debate: When should you hire a vendor to handle your outgoing email for you, and when should you handle it in-house?

(See end of story for a link to Part I)

-> Gathering opt-ins from site visitors

Travelocity is remarkable among Web sites gathering opt-in email permission in that a strong privacy statement is included in three critical places:

1. Prominently above the fold on the initial "join today" page that asks visitors to click through to a registration form.

2. Bullet-point listed at the top of that registration form before anyone is asked for their email.

3. Repeated again in bold at the end of the registration form just below the "I agree" submission button.

Briggs says it is not enough to say somewhere on your site that you do not rent out or sell people's emails. You need to repeat it wherever visitors might be worrying about that topic. By heading off fears at the pass, you may increase opt-ins.He also notes brand trust plays into opt-in rates. "We've done focus groups on email and customers told us if I sign up for your site I'm doing that with some level of trust. I trust you enough to honor my preferences."

To that end, the registration form includes separate options for Travelocity's two email newsletters, instead of just one box. "Most people leave both checked or neither checked. Our philosophy in general is you gotta be able to subscribe to what you want to subscribe to."

The form also includes a text versus HTML option, and clearly explains what the difference is between the two (i.e. I can/cannot see graphics in my messages). About 35% of new registrants currently check the text-only option.

-> What email metrics are important?

Is measuring delivery, open, and click through rates good enough? Briggs says not for serious email marketers.

"I would challenge what really is the impact from email. If you don't really integrate it all, you really only know how many people clicked and maybe you know how many bought. But you don’t know what that customer's behavior is over time."

Briggs tracks email-caused behaviors by operating a very complex database (he notes it helps that Travelocity's parent company Sabre is font of database expertise) which the site, email system, and customer service system all tie into.

"We've invested a ton of money in developing a very robust data warehouse. It allows you to get very, very granular. A lot of revenue is riding on email. We need to ask whatever questions we need answers to, and get answers very quickly."

He is careful to maintain control groups for all major email activities to determine whether the activity as a whole grows customer lifetime value.

For example, he tracks new site members to see whether those that receive a four-part welcome series of auto-responder messages end up becoming better customers over time than those that do not. (For the record, yes the autoresponder folks do buy more in the long run.)

-> The in-house versus out-of-house debate for sending broadcasts

Briggs agrees with MarketingSherpa's Tech Editor Alexis Gutzman that anyone sending broadcast email to a list any larger than a fairly small personal one, should almost certainly outsource to a broadcast email vendor rather than doing it in-house.

Why? Because sending broadcast email is a lot more complicated than buying a mail server, a software program and turning it on. Spam filters, blacklists, and the enormous variety of email services, and types of browsers and computers your recipients use all cause broadcast emailing to be more complicated than most marketers ever imagine. You need a team of full-time email experts at your side, and chances are you do not already have them in-house.

However, if you are a really heavy mailer it may be worth the investment.

Last year Travelocity was spending more than a million in email service fees on outsourcing broadcast email. Although they were extremely happy with their primary vendor (Digital Impact), in the end the bottom line dictated that they take broadcast email in-house.

It was not the no-brainer many had hoped. Briggs says, "A lot of in-house people argued, why not bring it in-house, it's so easy. Oh yeah… It wasn't. Cynics like me were proven to be correct."

The in-house tech team staffed up significantly, and transition was difficult, especially when tying it all together on the back-end database. "Day after day we'd have a problem with an important data field, or data being corrupted… it was not very efficient at first."

Travelocity was careful to keep on ongoing relationship with Digital Impact to help with various campaigns, and also as a knowledge resource for the in-house team to depend on. Briggs says, "You should never totally be in-house or outsourced."

In the end though Briggs is glad they brought the majority of email in-house, not only because of cost-savings, but also because now his email results tracking can tie more directly into sales and customer lifetime value tracking systems. Reports from most third party vendors just can not do that.

As a metrics-based company, that is the kind of data that can make you far more profitable.

Part I of this interview

Digital Impact

Accucast: The enterprise software Travelocity uses to send email

Teradata CRM - the rules engine Travelocity uses for email
See Also:

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