Data+ Awards: Constant Contact culls trends from billions of emails

Email marketing that gets a lift from big data analytics.

How does a small business get noticed when its promotional emails barely stand out in a sea of ads that flood consumers' inboxes, just one click away from the spam folder?

Constant Contact aims to answer that question. The Waltham, Mass.-based company uses tools such as IBM's InfoSphere BigInsights to analyze data in an effort to help small businesses develop more successful email marketing campaigns.

"We've looked across our massive data set to understand what behaviors make our customers most successful," says Jesse Harriott, chief analytics officer. "For example, we've looked at open rates, and we can tell a B2C customer the best time to send their emails to get the optimal open rates. That time might be very different for a B2B customer in a different industry."

Another example is analyzing specific campaigns and determining what types of content drive the most customer engagement, says Harriott.

"A 20% off deal might be a great fit for a restaurant, while a consultant may be more interested in receiving a white paper," he notes.

Constant Contact collects data from billions of emails every year -- as many as 45 billion in 2012 -- that it sends on behalf of its more than a half-million small business customers. That scale lets the company gain insights and study trends, including everything from how open rates differ based on the time an email was sent to what kind of content gets the most clicks based on industry.

"While we've had all this data for a long time, it hasn't been until fairly recently that we've truly been able to mine real insights out of it," says Harriott. "The volume actually worked against us until we had the tools that allow us to analyze our massive data set cost- and time-efficiently."

"Our small business customers simply don't have the time, scale or resources to examine big data," he adds. "It's another way we can add value for them."

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Collett is a Computerworld contributing writer. You can contact her at stcollett@comcast.net.

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