Insight Center ARCHIVES

Industry knowledge to help you grow your business

Harland Clarke Home

Email Marketing in the Distributed Enterprise

We live in an increasingly global society. More than ever, companies must communicate with customers who are scattered around the country or the world, and who have vastly differing tastes and expectations. For that reason, the phrase “think globally, act locally” has never been more appropriate, according to Ian Michiels, principal analyst for Gleanster Research and a leader in the fields of marketing automation, marketing operations and demand generation.

Indeed, this perspective led to the word that merges this global and local mindset: glocal, coined by Akio Morita, founder of Sony Corporation. Michiels conveyed this during a recent American Marketing Association webinar, “Email Marketing in the Distributed Enterprise,” sponsored by Harland Clarke Digital.

Marketers know that relevance drives revenue. As such, marketing on a local level is a powerful source of revenue for a company’s brand. Consider the fast food giant McDonald’s. “It has 33,000 locations worldwide, yet it has always found ways to adapt to local tastes with unique menus for whatever region it's in, whether India or China or Japan,” said Michiels. “McDonald's provides a great example of ways to customize your brand to meet the unique conditions of your local target audience.”

Yet, meeting local customer needs is not necessarily all that simple. For a lesson in marketing history, watch an episode of the popular television series “Mad Men.” “You’ll see just how much the process has changed in the past 50 years,” said Michiels. “Back then, the source of information was the marketer. It was a one-way monologue — company to customer. Now we’ve moved into a more complex environment where it’s a dialogue. You have to engage with your customers.”

That complexity includes moving the dialogue to the online environment. Rather than a few centralized marketing channels — think back to the good old days of just television, radio and print — marketers now have multiple ways to converse with consumers, including 24/7 mobile access, social media and, of course, email. “The customer now expects a consistent experience regardless of channel,” said Michiels. “If the message isn’t relevant, it’s spam.”

Conflicting Goals

Of all the online vehicles available, email is still a primary and prominent marketing channel, largely because it is inexpensive and delivers a big return. More importantly, according to Michiels, email actually is a unifying source behind a broad range of marketing channels used to reach a widely dispersed audience. Email messages can request mobile phone numbers and customer contact preferences, provide links to web pages and social media sites, track click-through rates, follow up with highly engaged recipients, and quickly reach a national or global sales force.

However, there is a hurdle with large-scale email marketing, and it’s a big one. Marketing executives at corporate headquarters must coordinate with the marketing departments at local branch offices and, unfortunately, corporate and local goals often conflict. Corporate marketing has control over the brand image and budget, and is accountable for overall performance. Local branches want the autonomy and flexibility to create and send timely targeted messages to their immediate audiences.

Last year, two out of three marketers ranked these conflicting goals of corporate and local marketing as a top challenge. That’s because such conflicts lead to longer campaign cycles, inconsistent communication, problems coordinating email frequency and opt-out requests, redundant technologies, and an inability to control brand image or to measure combined efforts.

Conflicting Goals of Corporate and Local Marketing Departments
Corporate Marketing Goals
  • Control brand consistency
  • Preserve brand and customer experience
  • Be accountable for organizational performance
  • Control agency costs
  • Aggregate media spend
  • Manage cross-channel campaigns
Local Marketing Goals
  • Customize marketing messages for local audience
  • Have flexibility and autonomy in program development
  • Engage target audience across relevant channels
  • Rapidly react to changes in local market dynamics

Source: American Marketing Association, “Email Marketing in the Distributed Enterprise,” 2012

The Key to Success

This underlying issue of control versus empowerment raises very specific logistical questions: What percentage of each email template needs to be locked down by corporate versus open for localized content? Should local branches be able to control the scheduling and dissemination of email campaigns? How are best practices and content sharing best combined? “Achieving that global-local balance is very important,” said Mike Ferguson, vice president and general manager of Harland Clarke Digital. “Each organization has to deal with these issues to a different degree.”

Yet, somewhat counterintuitively, it is the top corporate performers — companies surveyed that make up the top quartile on key metrics such as revenue and return on marketing investment — that are more likely to embrace local email communication and best enable local offices to manage their own email campaigns. In fact, these top performers actually use fewer technologies, are far less likely to struggle with brand consistency and consistently outperform the market in their use of email at a local level.

The reason for their success, according to Ferguson, is that they give local branches the path of least resistance to take the right steps. “They use centralized email technology not as a control mechanism, but as a way to empower local business units do their job and drive revenue,” he said.

Benefits of a Glocal Email Platform

This centralized email program, deployed at the corporate level, should include such core
capabilities as:

“Make sure recipients know the value they’re going to get if they sign up for your emails. Then deliver on what you promised.”

Of course, one key step after centralizing an email platform at the corporate level is to divest local units of any additional email technologies.

Once the system is set up, the degree of local autonomy can be adjusted based on the marketing skills and abilities of staff at the local level. Top-performing companies often will assign a corporate brand steward to work with local units that do not have a marketing team on staff. If local offices send spam or otherwise step out of bounds, a centralized platform gives the corporate office the ability to mitigate risk by scaling back or even revoking local emailing permission. For example, headquarters may choose to limit communication frequency to prevent recipients from receiving email from more than one local division within a given time frame.

Having this sort of corporate control is essential for organizations in highly regulated industries, such as banking. “Obviously compliance is a big concern for financial institutions,” said Ferguson. “It’s a matter of enforcing regulatory standards and removing risk.” For instance, do local bank or credit union branches meet email archiving standards that would hold up in an audit? As an example, he used a financial services provider with more than 100 locations. “The institution wanted a compliance solution with corporate control to be able to archive all email marketing messages that were sent from all local branches.”

Another key benefit of enabling local autonomy is that it gives branches the flexibility to customize and promote localized promotions and events, which are by nature time-sensitive and audience-specific. Corporate still controls the overall branding message in the email, but local units can decide on timing and content for promoting local activities.

Regardless of who’s controlling what, all email communication needs to be compelling. It should include value-added content, such as recent news, that goes beyond just a brand message. “And it is important to use a consistent format,” said Michiels. “Recipients should know where to look in the email to easily find certain information. Don't make them work too hard.”

“It’s about setting the right expectations,” said Ferguson. “Make sure recipients know the value they’re going to get if they sign up for your emails. Then deliver on what you promised.”

Michiels advises companies embarking on glocal email to start small. “Go after just one division,” said Michiels. “Then show the other divisions that it’s working.”

Ferguson agrees. “Getting good results within one or two areas of an organization and then expanding is a typical scenario,” he said. “You don’t have to do everything all at once.”

For more information and a copy of the Gleanster white paper, Email Marketing in the Distributed Enterprise, visit