Four steps to get data into your ESP so you can send better email


As third-party cookies are scheduled to disappear, it is becoming more important to collect zero-party and first-party data to improve automation and personalization in your campaigns. Your ESP can be the best place to gather this first-hand data, as I explained in an earlier OI post (Zero/First Party Data and your ESP - an opportunity for email marketers).

But getting data like purchase history, web visits, webinar registrations, downloads, and bookings into your ESP can be a big challenge. In fact, 56% of marketers say they don't have enough data and insights to drive effective personalization (Evergage (now Salesforce) 2020 Trends in Personalization). However, the benefits can be huge; McKinsey found in a 2021 study that companies that excel at personalization generate 40% more revenue from those activities than average players.

I wish data collection and management could always be as easy as pressing a button -- unfortunately, it isn’t. However, it can be done -- and it doesn’t have to be hard! The remainder of this post explains your options for organizing and collecting the data.

How your ESPs help you organize your data

Most ESPs give you several methods to connect information to contacts in your email list or CRM. Here are three common options ESPs provide to organize contact data:

  • Tags: AWeber calls these virtual sticky notes that can capture information (such as interests and behaviors) about your contacts. One tag can be applied to multiple contacts.
  • Custom fields: Custom fields are great for storing specific structured data about each contact. For example, you can store the Instagram handle of each of your contacts as a text-based custom field. You can also store your contact’s birthday with a date-based custom field. One custom field can have different values for each contact.
  • Custom objects: A custom object is a set of custom records that supplement standard contact and account records (Oracle). They go beyond custom fields because you can have more than one entry. For example, by using custom objects you can store all the meetings a contact has booked with your company instead of listing just the most recent. Each custom object schema (e.g., meetings) is available to all contacts and each contact can have more than one custom object (e.g., a meeting) of a given schema.

These three options are fantastic to have -- but they are useful only when populated with your contacts’ data. Thankfully, there are many data sources that can be used to populate tags, custom fields, and custom objects, like purchase histories, web visits, webinar registrations, and interactions, downloads or booking meetings, and more! Having access to these additional data sources in your ESP contact records help you know your contacts better, add power to your automations and send more relevant messages.

Thankfully, most ESPs give you a few ways to add data to contact records. These are the three most common:

  • Built-in integrations: Often ESPs develop automated ways to transfer data between apps your company uses (such as your ecommerce platform) and your ESP.
  • Built-in features: A great example of a built-in feature many ESPs provide is form builder. When your contacts complete a form built within your ESP, the information they provide is automatically added to their contact record. Your ESP may also provide features that allow you to track your contacts’ website visits.
  • Email-related action-based triggers: ESPs also allow you to update contact records when your contacts take actions within your campaigns.

ESP built-in integrations, features, and action-based triggers are fantastic to use and help you learn more about your contacts.

However, the apps your company uses most may not be accessible using your ESPs built-in tools. If you can’t capture the data you need in the built-in ESP tools, you can create a custom integration (via a third-party automation platform or with the help of a specialist).

Four steps to get the data you need into your ESP

Here's the process to follow to bring the data you need into your ESP so you can use it in your digital communications.

1. Ask "What zero-party and first-party data do we need to improve our program?"

Zero-party and first-party data come directly from your subscribers and customers, whether they volunteer it, or you observe it from their behavior. If you want to learn more about zero-party and first-party data, check out this blog post.

2. Identify the data source(s). Check with your data team to learn where the data you identified in Step 1 is being collected or how you can begin to collect it.

3. Set up your integrations to get the data into your ESP

Built-in Integrations: Identify which built-in or direct integrations you could use to get that data into your ESP.

You have three general options to find out if a direct integration exists within your ESP:

  • Search "integration + [the name of your ESP] + [the name of a data source identified in Step 2]" in your favorite search engine
  • Search within the Integrations or Apps settings in your ESP
  • Check with your ESP's account manager.

Custom Integrations: If you can't use built-in or direct integrations, choose one of these options to develop a custom integration:

  • Learn how to use a third-party automation platform like Zapier, Make (formerly Integromat) or Microsoft PowerAutomate
  • Delegate the work to a team member
  • Hire someone to help you (you could hire a platform expert, work with a freelancer, or subscribe to a done-for-you service like the one I offer).

Note: There are reasons you might want to go with a custom integration, even when a built-in integration exists. I’ll cover those in a future blog post.

4. Enjoy access to the data you need

  • If you aren’t working with a done-for-you service, remember to create a maintenance plan and to monitor for errors!

Getting the data you need in your ESP can feel overwhelming. Just take it one step at a time! In only four steps you’ll have the right data to send the right message at the right time.  In addition, once you have access to the data you need, you can use analytics to optimize your program and conversions! Yay!

07 Barlatt 1Image Source: Unsplash by Lindsay Henwood (cropped by the blog post author)

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