Michaels boosts customer engagement through tailored messaging


Long-term success requires continuous innovation and a drive to make the most of every opportunity. The team at arts and crafts retailer Michaels knew their consumer database, containing around 50 million active customers, was a tremendous asset. In 2017 they decided it was time to do more to capitalize on it.

“We were looking for ways to get faster and more efficient at getting the value out of the information we have already,” says Steve Carlotti, executive vice president of marketing at The Michaels Companies.

Along with finding new ways to drive value using its customer database, Michaels was also interested in reworking its engagement strategy. “We wanted to look at how we could move from a one-size-fits-all in customer communications to something that is more reflective of what the individual customer is interested in, and so be more effective in our efforts,” says Kiley Rawlins, vice president of investor relations and communications.

The organization has had a long-standing relationship with Salesforce — Michaels was already leveraging Commerce Cloud and Service Cloud within its technology arsenal — and identified Marketing Cloud as the right system to cleanly integrate with existing infrastructure components while enabling a more robust approach to messaging.


One challenge the team faced in evolving the engagement strategy was a customer base that comprises many disparate categories of shoppers. Brands often have only a small number of buckets where customers can be identified and marketing actions taken, but Michaels has much more sorting to do in order to make its messaging truly effective. Some consumers shop the brand for holiday décor, others for woodworking materials and still others for yarn and assorted crafting supplies.

“We want to have different messages for each of those types of customers,” Rawlins says. Given the broad shopper base, the team knew Marketing Cloud’s flexibility would be key to making the new strategy a success.

One benefit Michaels received with the new system was access to best-in-breed email delivery capabilities, which are at the heart of Salesforce Marketing Cloud. In addition, “We gained a better ability to connect quickly with what we were seeing from customers with the actions we would take,” Carlotti says. Identifying those links allows the data side of the business to communicate more quickly and effectively with the design side of the business, keeping marketing efforts moving forward and engaging customers at the perfect moment.

The Michaels team was also interested in gaining efficiency while delivering messages that were tailored on a per-customer basis. Transitioning to Marketing Cloud provided the ability to do modular creative, a welcome improvement on previous practices. “Our prior creative process had designers starting with a blank screen and creating something,” Carlotti says. “With Marketing Cloud, we can create things in modules and then slice and dice the modules together.”

It isn’t just efficiency for efficiency’s sake — the Marketing Cloud deployment allows the team to not only deliver messages more efficiently, but to better target those messages toward each customer.

Retailers looking to keep up with the marketplace must also grapple with a commerce landscape that’s being transformed by shopper behavior. Consumers used to go to a store or ecommerce storefront to interact with a brand or retailer, but that paradigm is undergoing an important shift, says Gordon Evans, vice president of product marketing for Commerce Cloud at Salesforce.

“Now you can go to a voice assistant, you can engage on social media, you can engage multiple brands on a marketplace or the RunKeeper app on your watch,” Evans says. “We’re even seeing that you can order horsepower for your Tesla right from the dashboard.”

Mobile and social media are two of the primary drivers behind the behavioral shift, and the notion of commerce is changing as a result. Maintaining communications is a challenge for retailers as they work to enable shoppers to transact wherever they’re engaging with the brand. Adding to the complexity is the need to use data to deliver a consistent, personalized experience across those varied touchpoints and carry the connections through to the organization’s customer service and other internal systems.


Collaboration was the name of the game when it came to deploying Marketing Cloud at Michaels. In addition to a large IT component, the customer relationship management team was also involved, along with the data analytics group, the marketing team and even merchants.

“They were involved in understanding how this would change what they could and couldn’t do in terms of going to market with their product categories,” Carlotti says. Plans were made to ensure the systems were properly connected to each other; then the team worked on the transition of capabilities from one platform to another. “It touched a very large number of people in the company,” he says.

Additional components also had to be coordinated, including several that were adjacent to Marketing Cloud. “We stood up a new promotional module which gave us the foundation and IT infrastructure to be able to manage different offers simultaneously,” Rawlins offers as one example. She says its role in the larger strategy made it an important element. “We needed to have that in place before we could really leverage the targeted emails in Marketing Cloud.”

Feedback from the internal team at Michaels has been good since the Marketing Cloud implementation, particularly on the creative development process. “The ability to deliver tailored offers has been a big win for merchants and our market team,” Carlotti says. External impacts have also been good; he says the brand has seen higher engagement rates for the tailored offers they now send. “On opened rates and click-through rates, we’ve seen double-digit levels of improvement in terms of customer engagement with our communications.”


Change is a process, and it isn’t possible to accomplish everything all at once. Carlotti says it was important that his team went into the project knowing where they wanted to get value first and where they were willing to wait. Michaels could have gotten lost in all the things that were possible, but a disciplined strategy enabled them to stay on track and find success in the elements that were most important.

“Sometimes, if the process is totally driven by the technology, you try to make progress on too many fronts at the same time,” he says. To ensure they didn’t get sidetracked or delayed by pursuing a flurry of different goals, they chose only a few primary objectives to focus on. “Make sure you have a sequenced approach, as opposed to a shotgun approach to the adoption of the technology.”

Julie Knudson is a freelance business writer who focuses on retail, hospitality and technology.


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