Google Customer Match From The Email Marketer’s Point Of View
Columnist Jose Cebrian discusses the benefits the Facebook Custom Audiences-style product offers email marketers, as well as some potential challenges.
On September 28, Google announced the release of its Google Customer Match advertising product. If you’re not yet familiar with it, it’s a new way to leverage email addresses to connect with your customers and prospects on the web.
Some of how it works is similar to Facebook Custom Audiences or other media in which an email address can be matched with a media site’s user list.
In essence, you’re checking to see if you have any customers in common and, if so, leveraging that knowledge for targeting or suppression on that network. Google has offered this connection via straight string match or SHA-256 hash on search, YouTube and Gmail.
My company has been lucky enough to be involved with the beta and now the full launch of the product. While results are just starting to come in and aren’t clear enough to share yet, I want to take this opportunity to look at this launch from the perspective of an email marketer, what it allows us to do and some challenges I see.
Google Customer Match (GCM) creates two new capabilities to enhance campaigns and extend the reach and frequency of your email list.
• Connect email with search directly. Email campaigns drive search activity, but historically, connecting the two has been difficult. We have relied on testing subject lines in search, coordinating email sends and search buys to enhance the email campaign, leveraging site search data for key phrases and using email to drive YouTube video likes to drive SEO rankings.
Google Customer Match allows you treat your customers and lookalikes as higher value and/or exclusions in your bidding. This makes a difference in how you target, price and design search ad text. It’s different from remarketing lists for search ads (RLSA) in that you don’t have to rely on cookies to handle the match/lookalike.
With GCM, the match will occur across devices, as long as the customer is recognized by Google.
Take, for example, a situation where you want to reinforce a message in an email campaign to a specific segment. Coordinating addressable search with that email campaign will improve your ability to capitalize on the search traffic generated from the email campaign.
• Connect with inactives in Gmail directly. With GCM, you are now able to target individuals and their lookalikes in Gmail. The result is likely placement at the top of the Gmail promotions tab.
This is important for email marketers because it offers a way to be seen by inactive email list members inside of Gmail, with arguably better position than a normal marketing email. For some companies, that can mean many millions of people.
So Gmail, which is one of the most stringent of the big ISPs and often drives tighter “active” definitions (e.g., six months for Gmail vs. 12 months for Yahoo), is now offering an alternative to reach those people.
On the face of it, that’s pretty exciting for reactivation campaigns or email marketers that want to reinforce a message — it adds to the value of the email addresses you have.
Further, the creative is very similar to a regular email, and users can save the ad as a message inside of Gmail, which makes it feel very much like an email to the user and is a familiar unit for the advertiser.
• More strict Gmail non-trash placement rules. Google can now charge marketers to reach specific individuals inside of Gmail. The concern I have is that Google will further tighten its regular marketing email acceptance criteria to protect its customers while also driving demand for this product.
As noted above, many companies already set tighter “active” definitions for Gmail than for other ISPs, because it is more difficult to get into the inbox or promotions tab if engagement is low.
If demand for GCM in Gmail increases, there may be a monetary incentive to further restrict mailing into Gmail and drive up the price of GCM in Gmail. It’s still too early to tell, of course, but it’s within the realm of possibility.
• Opt-out ambiguity. In its current first iteration, GCM requires marketers to provide a link to an email preference page, which for most is an opt-out page. If a user finds the link to the opt-out page and uses it, an interesting question is raised: What is the opt-out for?
If a person sees a search or YouTube ad from targeting via Customer Match, it seems odd to me that they could then opt out of an email program. I applaud the control component from a user perspective, but I think it’s strange that suppression of the user from further GCM ad units is at the discretion of the company that received the opt-out and is limited to that company.
Also, other companies that may have that same email address on their list can still market to that same user using GCM. I think Google will have to evolve permission control over time.
At the end of the day, email marketers should see this new program as a positive:
• It makes the email addresses you collect more valuable, and thus, makes your email program more valuable to your company.
• As marketing platforms build direct connections into ad networks like this, it will be much easier for you to create and manage a targeted and coordinated campaign across several channels.
While not available now, one can only hope that a connection will be made into GCM from products such as Salesforce Marketing Cloud’s Active Audiences. Once this happens, the teams running the tools will be in a better position to control direct marketing in their organizations.
• It provides an alternative to get into Gmail. I don’t think it is a panacea, but if a person indexes high for a product or propensity to buy, this may offer a cost-effective way to get in front of that person in Gmail.
For marketers in general, this launch increases the marketing opportunities that are available through people-based marketing on the addressable audience platforms. And it’s not just offerings by Facebook, Twitter, LiveIntent and many others.
Email address (and other data) can be used to onboard data to cookies and device IDs through onboarding services such as LiveRamp and Datalogix. By adding Google Search, YouTube and Gmail into the addressable market, the online coverage, or reach, of addressability gets even stronger.
This launch also gives marketers an additional hedge against the trend away from cookies. I think the demise of the cookie is overblown, given its importance in facilitating so many actions.
I’m not suggesting a clean cause and effect, but it’s interesting that the rise of people-based marketing was, in large part, driven by cookies and the need for DMPs (data management platforms) to manage those cookies to drive segmentation, exclusions and analysis.
As cookie-based recognition comes under more fire, marketers and media sites will persist in their search for new ways to allow many of the same benefits with more precision.