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Building customer profiles with email

December 10, 2009

With email now well established as a marketing medium, improving response rates is the key challenge many marketers face. The secret to ensuring optimal responses to your online campaigns could be within your grasp but hidden away in an untapped customer knowledge base.

At extravision we've found that too few companies really utilise the data they have about customers to build profiles that tell them all they need to know about what turns them on - and off. In this article we explore some of the reasons why you should consider developing a strategy for building customer profiles and how to go about implementing it.

Why profiling matters

Most companies already know an awful lot about their customers, but it is information that is locked inside a sales contact database, accounts package, or even worse in the account manager's head. Leveraging this information could be the boost you need to make your campaigns deliver better results - and to improve your customer relationships.

Any marketing campaign, but especially one delivered by email, should be based on a strong feeling that you are offering the customer what they need. Whatever the purpose of your campaign, whether it's to improve the brand image, increase sales leads or cross-sell new products - your savvy customers will only respond if the information they are given is right for where they are at.

Although throwing out messages that are untested and impersonal might stick in a few cases, most marketers these days realise that it is simply a waste of their budget. It is much better to spend some time, and invest some money, into building a knowledge bank about your customer base.

Using this information will then enable you to target the content, timing and frequency of your message so that it has maximum impact. Targeting turns your message from a wild shot into a near, if not dead, cert.

Not only will profiling help you to sell but it can also tell you a lot about whom you should be prospecting. Knowing who your current customers are and what their needs are will help your sales team build a firm picture of whom they should target in the future. As they say, knowledge is indeed a powerful thing…

Methods for profile building

The best place to start with a customer profiling strategy is to garner whatever information you currently hold offline about your customers. This may be held in a number of disparate systems throughout your organisation and across a number of departments, even with smaller companies this information easily becomes fragmented into pockets.

Gathering this data together may seem like a time consuming exercise - wouldn't it be better just to ask your customers what you need to know? Perhaps, but really you should aim to ask customers for information only when you have to. Not only are they less likely to respond but also it won't do your relationship any favours if you have to ask for even very basic information.

Never ask for more information than you need - not only will it prevent you from becoming swamped with data, but it will limit the amount of feedback customers are asked to give, to that which is strictly necessary.

Building on this information to create full and useful profiles that can be used as the basis of sophisticated marketing campaigns can be done in a number of ways - both directly and indirectly. 

Direct Methods

 A direct way to get the information you need is to send out a customer survey or questionnaire. Sometimes it may be appropriate to offer a small incentive for each survey completed; however for some target markets this can be off-putting rather than enticing. The incentive must in itself be something that you are certain will appeal to your customers. Offering something irrelevant will not only prove a disincentive to respond but implies that you know very little about your customers, something they will not take kindly to. The purpose of profiling is to build data that enables you to personalise and accurately target your campaigns. As far as possible the information gathering exercise should be as personal and personalised as the campaign itself. Building a profile should be thought of as a continuous process rather than an end in itself - over time you will develop a fuller picture of your customer, but there will undoubtedly always be more you could know.


Tracking responses

An indirect, and usually more successful, way to build your profiles is to track and monitor responses. Newsletters are an excellent mechanism for subtly pushing information to, and pulling data from, your customers. Tracking responses to articles is the best way to monitor the things that turn customers on; and by making note of the things they don't respond to you'll also get a good idea of what turns them off.

A Campaign to Build Customer Data

One of Extravision's long-standing clients is a leading provider of security software and services. They came to us seeking help in building a stronger brand identity - as part of the exercise they also wanted to obtain more detailed information about their clients in order to deliver increasingly targeted messages in the future.
Using Extravision's managed service and ListBuild service, a series of newsletters was delivered.

The first contained four articles:

A general overview of the company and developments in the Industry
An invitation to a webinar on a new version of a Checkpoint firewall
Details on firewall security including some recent example of hacks
Upcoming tradeshow information including a personalised invitation

Tracking was made available to the customer through evreports and each recipient received a more personalised second newsletter - delivered depending on their clients' responses to the articles. Subsequent follow up actions and emails were further refined as the company got to know more about its customers and prospects.

Usage Pattern Analysis

Response data is not the only type of information that can be useful when building a profile. You should also gather other data as relevant to your business. For example, time of response, frequency and time of purchases, number of links clicked on etc. Analysing this usage data can help you to fine-tune the timing and frequency of your communications so that you can deliver your messages when they are most likely to be well received.

Where possible gather data from as many sources as possible, combining offline and online resources. This is the best way to cross-check data for relevance and to ensure that it is as up to date as possible.


Profiling is one of the most powerful tools in the marketer's arsenal - it enables communications to be truly relevant, timely and precisely targeted. Trust is one of the fundamental tenets of profile building. In order to develop stronger bonds with your customers you must respect and value any information they give you - whether it was offered directly or not. Protecting your customer database is a must - and means you must not only understand and adhere to data protection best practice but also not abuse it with overuse.

Over time, as your mass of customer information builds in a centralised profile database, you will be able to deliver personalised email and web campaigns that not only get a better response from your customers, but also enable you to offer better customer service and build stronger customer relationships

If you need any further information please email [email protected] or call 0161 817 2929

Posted by Paul Latham

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