When it comes to getting bang for buck, marketers consistently rank email as one of the top performing channels in their digital marketing toolbox.
Putting aside the fact that the role of email as an ‘assist channel’ in the path to purchase is too often ignored, the value of the inbox as a medium for delivering highly targeted, personalised messages to an audience is well and truly established.
Despite this, many marketers are failing to recognise and harness the true potential of their email list.
Email addresses are the closest thing we have in the online world to a unique identifier. Unlike a cookie, which is limited to a single device and can be easily blocked or cleared, the email address is tied to an individual and is commonly used across multiple devices and platforms. It’s a digital fingerprint.
Over the past few years, the emergence of hash based data matching technology has opened up a new way for marketers to target customers and prospects beyond the inbox.
What is an email hash?
Hashing is a process which uses a cryptographic algorithm to convert an arbitrary piece of data, such as an email address, into a unique, fixed length hexadecimal string. The function only works one-way, which means the hashed value can not be decrypted back into the original string.
There are several different kinds of hash functions such as SHA256 or MD5 which work slightly differently, but they all serve the same basic purpose.
By way of example, the MD5 hash value of the email address firstname.lastname@example.org is 61921b53d96dffbecb5bdb588e489e88.
What makes all this nerdy stuff interesting from a marketer’s point of view, is it enables you to pass data between platforms and find common values, or matches, without having to worry about sharing personally identifiable information with third parties.
It’s this concept which powers the audience matching features which are now available on many of the largest digital ad platforms including Facebook’s Custom Audiences, Google Adwords Customer Match, Twitter Tailored Audiences, LiveIntent and so on.
Essentially what all of these features enable is the ability to convert your first party email data into anonymised hash values, upload it into the platform and wherever a match is found, target your ads directly to those same people.
Not only does that mean marketers can deploy highly targeted multi-channel campaigns to their existing customers and prospects, but using lookalike functionality, can also find and reach new audiences with shared attributes.
This functionality can also be used to create exclusion segments or suppression files, if you wanted to remove existing customers from your advertising audiences.
This all results in better performing ad campaigns, less wastage and higher ROI.
We are now seeing vendors roll out integration features which enable marketers to connect with media platforms such as Facebook and automatically keep their first party data in sync. MailChimp recently announced their new Facebook Ad Management tool, while dedicated integration apps such as LeadsBridge also offer ways to automate list synchronisation between a wide variety of CRM and ESP platforms.
Putting it into practice
Past customers, email subscribers or leads have already demonstrated a high level of interest and engagement in your brand by providing you with their email address so it makes a lot of sense to ensure that you’re targeting them as a segment in your digital advertising strategy.
If this isn’t something you’re already doing, you can start by manually exporting a list or segment from your email platform or CRM and uploading it into Facebook or your preferred ad platform to create a new custom audience. Measure how this performs in comparison to other audiences and go from there, or get in touch with us if you’d like some help with leveraging this strategy.