Far too often in email, retail marketers take the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to promote new products. They pick the biggest trend of the season and promote it relentlessly to everyone. Unfortunately, this strategy of honing the most popular item of the moment can be a huge detriment to your customer relationships and your brand.

Despite data telling us that more than 75 percent of email revenue is generated by triggered campaigns, rather than one-size-fits-all campaigns (The DMA), still, marketers fall prey to stale, ineffective tactics, rather than defining what would be new and interesting for each individual customer. As Steve Jobs famously said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” But how do you make the call about what will pique a customer’s interest?

Strangely enough, this is not so different from the calls umpires need to make during every baseball game. Stay with us here – there’s a story about an interview with three umpires and their perspective on their jobs that puts this into context.

  • Umpire #1: “There are balls and there are strikes and I call them as they are.”
  • Umpire #2: “There are balls and there are strikes and I call them as I see them.”
  • Umpire #3: “There are balls and there are strikes and they ain’t nothing until I call them.”

So, how do these varying outlooks relate to the content a retail marketer puts in front of their customers?

  • Call Them as They Are. The first umpire’s perspective is akin to using data to drive product recommendation engines, using transactional or clickstream data to send customers products they’ve already expressed interest in. This is why product recommendations often look like the merchandise you’ve already bought or clicked on. In other words, it’s a very literal take on events.
  • Call Them as I See Them. The second umpire’s stance is an amalgamation of intent data and “you might also like” recommendations – and calling the ‘balls and strikes’ based on what you see in the data. There are two basic ideas here. The first calls for the retailer to leverage data that tells them what the customer thought about buying and to remind them of their existence. The second approach is to look at shopping carts, see what people bought, and ascertain what they may be interested in buying next.
  • They Ain’t Nothing Until I Call Them. The third umpire uses his own judgment to make the calls. This is akin to retail marketers taking a page from the personal shopper handbook and using data to make a judgment on what products will engage and delight each customer. Personal shoppers show a curated assortment that is best suited to a customer’s individual mood and tastes, not products that have already been purchased or browsed.

Like an umpire, defining reality is an essential part of the job for retail marketers, but that can only be done effectively by using customer data to inform decisions. For example, a good umpire wouldn’t call a strike on a player simply because of the first two swings-and-misses. They would evaluate the pitcher’s throw in that individual instance, and based on that, make an educated call.

Think about it in this context: just because a person bought sweaters during their last two purchases, doesn’t necessarily mean they want another sweater. On the other hand, just because your brand has a new, hot item trending, doesn’t mean they’ll be interested in that either. Rather than offering another sweater or a random new “it” product, say, “of all the new things we sell, this is the one we think will be most interesting to you.”

There’s a lot of factors that go into making the right call in baseball, and it’s an equally challenging job in email marketing. However, by using data to tailor emails and offers to customers on an individual level, brands can drive engagement and their bottom lines. By doing this, brands can hit it out of the park with their email strategy every time.