Asian e-Marketing recently had the opportunity to interview Ms. Simone Barratt, e-Dialog’s Managing Director International, during her visit to Singapore as well as meeting-up with her colleague Mr. Darren Fifield, Managing Director of e-Dialog Asia-Pacific, who is based here.

Consistently recognized by top analyst firms for both outstanding service and first-class technology, e-Dialog is a global provider to some of the world’s most recognized brands, with offices in Boston, London, New York, Seattle, and since June in Singapore, too. The company is convinced that e-mail is a key component of the total marketing mix and provides its clients with a complete and flexible e-mail marketing solution, helping them to deploy e-mail as a means to maximize the potential of e-commerce, social media, mobile media, and even traditional marketing channels. So let me give you some insights into our extensive conversation to get an idea about the enthusiastic experts behind the brand.

Q: Can you provide me with a brief background of your company and yourself and what motivated e-Dialog to open an office in Singapore this past June?

Simone BarrattSimone Barratt: e-Dialog was originally set up way back in 1996 in the States and then came to Europe in early 2000 and I think historically we have always been known as an e-mail service provider. However, in the last 18 months or so we have pretty much shifted our positioning from a purely e-mail service provider to marketing/technology services. So we have technology as a heritage but we are that hybrid combination of being marketers and technologists at the same time. We try to bridge the gap between marketing and IT, so the skill-sets that we employ internally are a mix of the two. We have our own core technologies, sending probably over 100 billion e-mails a year, and then on top of that we recently acquired a mobile company so that our clients are able to track conversations wherever they start - be it on a website, a banner ad, or through the mobile or e-mail channel. Use that data, learn from that data and then be able to deploy on-going communications back out through whichever channel the consumer actually wants to receive it, whether it be through the mobile, through the PDA or through the e-mail or back on the website. That is our big vision picture.

We were acquired two years ago by GSI Commerce, listed on NASDAQ, and after Amazon and eBay, GSI probably generates more on-line revenues than anyone else in the world but nobody has ever heard of them. They are like a white label Amazon, which means that they go to a retailer, like Ralph Lauren or Toys R Us, and say rather than having a contract with multiple vendors to build a website, to host a website, to design it, to take photographs to go on a website, manage all the on-line transactions and credit controls, have a call centre to support it, have a warehouse for distribution, GSI will give you everything, an end to end e-commerce solution. Their proposition is that they don’t want to charge clients for all that, but rather want a commission on every product that is sold; thus, of course it is (building) long-term relationships. So if you think about it, what drives more sales on-line – it’s good digital marketing. So it was a very smart, strategic, synergistic acquisition to acquire our company, e-Dialogue.

We brought a lot of their existing retail clients to our platform, started doing smarter work for them, sold more of their products on-line, and GSI always gets consequently more revenue from the commission of those product sales, that encourages them to build up even more different marketing services/agencies to support these retail clients they have all over the world. GSI is also planning to come to Asia Pacific soon with an office in Japan to support their clients there. e-Dialog, however, has its own client base and we chose Singapore for slightly different reasons. We do, for example, all the e-mail marketing for Dell Consumer around the world and it was Dell who actually very much pushed us into this region and we are delighted to have done that. We also support Skype, that has one of the largest e-mail databases in the world, and we support them globally. Philips is another global client as well as British Airways globally and then certainly in Europe we have a lot of Pan European companies. We are used to multi-lingual, multi-country, multi-cultural programs, so I think that’s why Asia Pacific actually reports in under Europe within e-Dialog rather than into America. Of course, we recognised that we must have somebody who understands the local market as well and are glad that we found Darren who has worked in the marcomms sector for years and knows the vagaries and opportunities of the regional market. Being based in Singapore was a decision that we made as well to resource multiple languages out of the team, which is currently providing 12 languages. Whatever skill sets, be it marketing or technology, the core thing we are looking for in people working for us is passion. So that’s really kind of a potted history of who we are and how we got to Singapore.

Q: How would you characterize the unique value propositions of e-Dialog?

Darren FifieldDarren Fifield: We bring to the Asia Pacific region our experience, as Simone said, which is outstanding. We have very stringent data policies that we are bringing across the marketplace within the Asia Pacific region, guaranteeing that our clients’ data is safe with us, that we handle their mailings, deal with their un-subscribers and the tracking of that. We have a depth of expertise and best practice in the European and American markets and can help to build our clients’ database here in the region and support them in addressing the needs of their consumers better or to have that relevance of messaging. We still have a lot of customers in Asia at the moment that “batch and blast”, often not even personalizing their e-mailing. We have systems that are capable of doing that and so much more when it comes to relevant messaging or a touch base to their consumer.

Simone Barratt: In fact it is always about combining the expertise of people with technology and if you can put the two together, rather than having them separate, you can use your tools to much better effect. We are extremely focused on providing a good quality service to our clients and that comes through smart people. When I set up the London office in late 2000, I just wanted to do the best work for the best clients and I needed the best people to do that. Coming here is going to be interesting. As I mentioned earlier, we work very closely with Dell, and we now need to work out if that same model is going to be appropriate here in Asia Pacific or do we need to be flexible about it?

We have always said that we act as an extension to our clients’ marketing department and so it has really resonated and made us think a little bit differently about how quickly we will round up staff here. Currently we have a staff load of eight people, but we are moving already to a larger office space which can accommodate 32 people. Companies are looking for assistance to do a better job and we help them.

Q: What are the big opportunities and challenges you expect for your business venture here in the region?

Darren Fifield: I think the opportunity, first of all, is to maximize the existing client base we have got. We are very fortunate and very privileged to have such top label clients we can reach out to locally. We get different patterns, as some organizations operate under a very centralized control of marketing, some like to have them localized which can actually change every two years as there is no silver bullet best solution. So priority number one for us is to reach down to our existing global clients who are operating in this region to service them locally, which is already keeping us quite busy. The office was created with the objective of serving one client, namely Dell, to ensure a good transition to e-Dialog and hit the road running. We commenced mailing with them on 1 August and we have not missed a beat since then.

Things have gone very smoothly and the client is very happy and that was the first objective.

At the same time, as Simone said, we have existing global clients who have said “Hey, hang on, you guys are now in the Asia Pacific region, we want to work with you, because we have databases that are potentially underutilized, let’s go!” So we are talking to some fairly significant groups where we will see a significant increase in those numbers absolutely.

  • Opportunity #1: Take the existing global clients and support them locally.
  • Opportunity #2: Take all our other clients, who we don’t have a global relationship with yet, and tell them we are now here.
  • Opportunity #3: Because we have such big high profile brand names, I think it is not going to be too difficult to be able to knock on a few doors and just say “would you like to have a conversation with us?” So we are certainly going to leverage the reputation, having been in the top right hand of Forrester’s quadrant for the past four years.
  • Opportunity #4: Mobile will be another opportunity, especially in Asia. However, the complexity of the market, the way it differs over a one hour flight, is challenging, but that’s the fun part when consulting our clients.

Q: On-the-go e-mail access will definitely grow with the increasing Smartphone market. What does that mean for e-Dialog?

Simone Barratt: We did a survey in 13 countries around the world - US, Europe and Asia Pacific – where we asked people’s attitudes towards mobile, social and e-mail and how they use it. And you just get wonderful variances in adoption and willingness to share data and what they use it for and for conversion to purchase and great stats. We had Japan, South Korea, China, Singapore and Australia and then of course Europe, but have left out India. It’s nice to see the different regions around the world in comparison. Business is exponentially harder in a multi-country market, like Europe, but here it is even harder still, compared to US. You have to deal with so many different languages, so many different messages and people who have databases that are well in advance of what of North America has in terms of size.  If you accumulate Europe and Asia together, you potentially have databases that are three to four times the size of North America and a lot of them probably still untapped.  So we are talking about huge opportunities. Whenever I am in the US, I just blow people away with the numbers in Asia, as to where the regions are and how many users there are. The fact that there are some 850 million Internet users in Asia today is impressive. (With over 2 billion mobile subscribers in Asia Pacific, and the expectation that this will grow to over 2.5 billion by 2013 is even better. And knowing that around 30% of the global market for Smartphones is in Asia Pacific which is expected to number some 347 million by 2015 is exciting.) As a company, we are still very entrepreneurial in our outlook. We still have to be flexible and of the right mind set.  So, we recognized quite quickly that we needed to buy a mobile company. I don’t know what the next phase will be. We won’t be at the bleeding edge, but we will be smart, we’ll watch.

Q: Targeted messaging and maximization of databases is always a hot topic and e-Dialog is an expert. What would be your advice to a client who intends to optimize his e-mail marketing campaigns for better results? How can he measure his return on investment and track his campaign in general?

Simone Barratt: Let me start with the first bit that is about targeting. Databases vary hugely in their sophistication even if sometimes you just have an e-mail address. On the whole, I think corporates do a pretty lousy job and to be honest what they do is sort of a cop-out. You must have e-mail capture, opt-in, Facebook ability on every page of your website and you should target yourself, as a benchmark, to capture a minimum of 5% of every unique visitor that comes to your website. Just capture their e-mail address, get that information and then you can start to ask questions. Travel companies, for instance, are very good at doing this. They want to know what type of holidays you like, what sports you do, where do you like to go, skiing or scuba diving, what’s your local airport and departure, how often do you go on holiday, have you got children, all that kind of information. But there is a skill in asking these questions as well, like not to ask too many because that is a barrier to giving information in the first place. So there is normally a high level process of getting the e-mail address first, then establishing a bit of trust and then starting to ask questions. In any case make sure to deliver some value associated with the information that you are sharing, so again the content of your e-mails can be driven by the information you have gathered with the explicit data that you have shared.

Even if you have no other information than an e-mail address, you still have the ability to start to understand the consumer. In e-mail you track when it opens but you also track every single click, so if a person keeps clicking on Paris you could send perhaps more about Paris hotels, more about short breaks this year. With no information shared, it is still possible to infer from click behavior what a person might be interested in, which can then be used for segmentation, same as with click behavior on Websites. The most powerful targeting message or data is, of course, what you bought, because that is real. For instance, a Ferrari is definitely every man’s dream, but he knows his wife will make him buy a proper car, so it is the purchase that is the real behavior.

Retailers are good at this. If you bought a particular brand or product, e.g. a certain printer, they know what cartridges you are going to need in 12 months time. Just watching reveals the behavior. As you realize there is a whole hierarchy of how to get information – no data, user behavior, data you told me/rates, data about what you actually purchased are the best. And as Darren was saying earlier, at e-Dialog we are just very smart users of data, it’s our job to squeeze every drop of value out of the data we have for our clients and then use it to differentiate their e-mail from those of others. That is where the technology comes into action, because you can’t possibly produce 40,000 permutations of an e-mail. You have to use technology, what I call production strategy, although it sounds so dull and boring. Everyone wants the big marketing idea that wins awards, but production optimization is a critical part of what we have to do. We have to think of very clever ways of automating and marrying content modules to preference information and purchase information so that the technology can automatically match them and then spit it out. People expect real time messaging and you can’t do that by hand.  We have the capability in place, but have to deal with the fact that every client relationship is different: so for British Airways we VPN’d straight into their Teradata system, for Philips we are the database of record, for Dell we work with their data provider and we have daily synchronizations. Even if our clients are in the same sector, like Virgin Holidays or Thomas Cook, their internal configuration, internal data systems, internal content systems, are usually all very different.

So we have to be in the middle like a consolidator, which is the reason why we have more technology people on our staff rather than marketers because these database programmers or business systems analysts are the ones who have to be smart enough to look for the right piece of data or content.  A strategy is only as effective as the people who implement it, which is why e-Dialog employs only the best and brightest the industry has to offer. Our professional services team is able to apply e-Dialog’s unmatched expertise in e-mail and database marketing and call upon our field of experts in creative, application development, deliverability, data management, analytics, and more – all in an effort to ensure that our clients’ campaigns are secure, compliant, engaging, and profitable. Not to mention that we are uniquely positioned to support global marketing needs, with services available in multiple time zones and the ability to speak more than 25 languages.

We have only recently changed our website slogan to “Conversations to Conversions”, it used to be “E-mail marketing precisely” as we make data “actionable”, as we call it.  We are experts in capturing data and use it to create a very specific, personalized, targeted relevant message that will drive the conversation and will more likely result in that conversion which ultimately is what marketing is all about.

To conclude this informative and revealing interview a quote from Simone that succinctly summarizes our whole conversation: “Data needs to be in every marketer’s DNA. It’s the glue between customers and retailers; the bridge between offline and online; the connector between multi-source and multichannel, the enabler that can turn conversation into conversion”.

By Daniela La Marca