Why Retention is Key to Controlling Your Brand Destiny: A Q+A with Sailthru CMO Eric Porres [Part 2]

Team work process. Closeup photo young business crew working with new startup project. Project managers meeting. Analyze plans, papers. Blurred background

This article is Part 2 of a 2-part interview — read Part 1 here.

No one understands customer retention quite like Eric Porres. Before coming to Sailthru, Porres was the Chief Marketing Officer of publicly-traded programmatic marketing company Rocket Fuel, and, before that, of marketing technology company Lotame Solutions. He’s also been an entrepreneur, founding digital marketing consultancies and learning what it takes to retain his own customers while helping them, in turn, do the same.

At Sailthru, Porres is helping online media companies, digital publishers and retailers discover the benefits of understanding their customers in a deep and holistic way. With the availability of data and analytics capabilities to generate customer insights and experiences in a way that was just not possible before, Porres is eager to show the way forward.

How do media companies look at retaining their readers? Historically, they seem to have been more interested in volume than in customer retention.

ERIC PORRES: My own belief about media is that publishers have been renting out audiences for far too long to content aggregators. If you go to any publisher today — even some of the largest, most respected ones — you get links at the end of an article that go to aggregator sites, coupled with the dreaded bottom-feeder teeth-whitening-you-won’t-believe-what-happens-next link bait. That’s not treating the reader well.

Why has ad-blocking grown? There’s a general sense of apprehension on the part of the consumer as to how they’re being treated as an individual. Publishers have abused their audiences and lost healthy relationships.

What hurdles do brands face in trying to create the great customer experiences that lead to retention?

ERIC PORRES: First, there’s short-term thinking. Top-line growth can be affected in the short term by acquisition strategies and short-term discounting. It’s easy to get sucked into that.

Second, marketing departments in general are being asked to do more with less. Yet in the marketing technology landscape there are a whole host of companies that are features, not products. Too often, you see marketers that have assembled a Frankenstein of a martech stack solution that keeps them, the mad scientist, secure in their job. It’s insecurity that says I have to strive to work with point solutions when holistic solutions exist (side note: Media agencies tend to suffer from the same insecurity – if they only recommend a handful of ad buying opportunities to a marketer, they fear that they will lose their relevance, even though a handful may be the optimal solution).  An assemblage of point solutions may look great on a resume, but long-term it’s not in best interests of the company.

Last is that organizationally, there are inherent challenges to truly fulfilling on a customer retention destiny. To really see customer retention efforts come to fruition, you’ve got to be in your seat for a year or two years or more. Often, the people who are executing on the day-to-day are not. The ones who start the strategy aren’t necessarily the ones to finish it. Customer retention is a long-term play.

Which companies are doing customer retention well?

ERIC PORRES: Look at The Economist. When they started using their email newsletter to create personalized experiences for readers (driven by Sailthru’s technology), web page views per person went up 160 percent.

The New York Times is also doing a respectable job. On a subscription basis, they have a million price-insensitive readers. They don’t generally advocate skimming traffic off the top of their site to send those people elsewhere.

And of course, Amazon is another great example. When Amazon Prime came out, everyone was like Prime is nuts, no way! Now everything Amazon does is about increasing their share of wallet among existing customers. They are the best example of a brand that has played the long game, and they’ve won. You see the fruition of that strategy.

ALSO CHECK OUT: