It's personal: MSIM alumnus targets marketing campaigns at PetSmart

March 04, 2013

Broadly speaking, Mandy Mueller’s job can be described as follows: She is responsible for making sure that dog people don't get cat emails, and cat people don't get dog emails.

Only, it's a great deal more complicated than that.

As senior manager for targeted communications and content strategy for the pet supply giant PetSmart, Mueller oversees the company's vast and ever-growing e-marketing efforts. It's a job that has forced the Phoenix resident to tap into her varied expertise—in IT, business and marketing—in order to better refine and personalize the more than one billion (yes, that's one billion) emails the company sends each year.

In her new role, the goal is straightforward, if not exactly simple: To conceive, create and execute email marketing campaigns that are so focused, and so personalized, that customers can't help but respond. By purchasing.

"Every day here I'm troubleshooting and fighting fires," says Mueller, a 2010 graduate of W. P. Carey’s Master of Science in Information Management (MSIM) program. "It's a different challenge every day, but I'm very focused, too, on the strategy. How often should we be communicating with our customers? Are we sending the right messages? Are we sending them too often?"

In many ways, the job Mueller finds herself in is one for which she is uniquely qualified. “I love the job, I really do,” she says. “I think it's a good combination of the tech side and the business side of things. And what's really rewarding is the immediate impact that this work has on the bottom line. That’s something that's much harder to see when you're in IT.”

Bringing technology to business

She can speak from experience to that, because though she says she now views herself mostly as a marketer with technology know-how, she actually started her career fully on the IT side of things. In all, she spent 12 years working in various technology roles at both Accenture and PetSmart, where she’s been for the past seven years.

But as she now admits, she was never entirely comfortable being known just as an IT person. As far back as college, she says, she always had a real interest in—and real ideas about—business, marketing and strategy. But because she was working under an IT umbrella, she wasn't always able to get those ideas out or put them to work.

She recalls more than one occasion where she found herself trying to explain to her IT colleagues why a certain plan of theirs wouldn’t work, because it didn't support the bottom-line realities of the company. They looked at her, she jokes, as if she was speaking another language.

"I was probably a little bit lost in IT," she says. "What I was really good at was taking IT and translating it to the business side of things. I always understood business really well, and I saw the MSIM degree as an opportunity to become fully immersed in the business.”

That’s precisely what it allowed her to do. Her experience at W. P. Carey confirmed some of the ideas she had been thinking for years while working in IT—most notably, the idea that technology must serve the company, rather than the company simply responding to the technology.

Owning the process

The MSIM – offered in person and online – prepares professionals to manage and utilize information technology (IT) to innovate and transform industries, business models, and processes. Students also gain the business skills needed to leverage IT to gain a competitive advantage in the global economy.

"Technology is an enabler, but it's not the driver," she says. "The business needs to be the focus. I think I was always thinking that, but I was the odd man out. What the program allowed me to do was find confirmation that the things I was thinking weren't incorrect. It was just a different perspective."

She adds: “I had a long career in IT and I had a very good knowledge base about IT, but I was always 'the IT person who knew business.' I wanted to be more than that. I wanted to be a business person who knew IT and the business really well, too."

Department Chairman Michael Goul calls Mueller a “pioneering process owner.”

“Many students who come to our MSIM program see the opportunities being created to own processes where IT knowledge is now essential. They see the writing on the wall for how IT knowledge has become key for advancing to the job they want, even though they may be excellent in all they do,” Gould said.

“Mandy is a Rainmaker in the sense she grabbed one of these process ownership opportunities - and there wasn't anything like it in the past. She is in a high velocity, multi-channel marketing arena where IT supports both your ability to reach customers anywhere and at any time - and it supports the concomitant ability to interpret and respond to detailed analytics resulting from campaigns in order to dynamically react,” he added. “She is growing and learning in an area where few with depth in IT venture into brand spanking new and significant process ownership roles. IT has jumped from being an internal support group making sure everyone's email works. It is now at almost all customer touch points - that puts it squarely in the revenue generation camp in business.”

Email strategy

Her team of five handles both the nuts-and-bolts of the company's email marketing initiatives and the strategy behind them, giving Mueller the opportunity to put her dual background IT and business to use. Most recently, she's been heading up the company's stepped-up efforts to make all of its email communications much more personalized, and much more targeted, than ever before.

It's a challenge that companies across all sectors are taking on, and for good reason: digital marketing professionals like Mueller really believe that smart email marketing can drive the bottom line. The trick, of course, is trying to figure out what smart email marketing really is.

"From an industry standpoint, the whole point of this is to eventually get to a very 'one-to-one' sort of communication through email marketing," she says. "All of the messages sent should feel like they are personalized. So if I'm sending an email to Mandy, it should really be an email to Mandy."

It would seem to be a fairly daunting task—that’s one billion personalized emails, but new tools and new technologies are making such super-personalized messages and hyper-focused campaigns possible, Mueller says. Given the right information about customers—how they shop, what they buy, how much they by, how often they buy and much more—companies such as PetSmart are now capable of reaching the right customers at the right moment, and influencing buying behavior as a result.

In that sense, it's an extremely exciting time to be in email marketing.

"There really isn't a limit on what we can do," Mueller says. "So I think at this point, the question is really much more about what is actually worth the investment? What is actually worth the effort? You can get to any level you want to, but it's a question of what makes sense."

And what makes sense, of course, is what generates profit.

The days of simply measuring email marketing success via "open rates" are long gone, Mueller says. Today, given the tools available and the intense competition for customer attention, it's no longer enough to just know that consumers are opening their emails.

They have to be acting on them, too.

"The open rate,” she says, “is only the tip of the iceberg.”

A Rainmaker is someone who makes something happen: at his company, in his career, in his community. The Rainmaker series showcases Department of Information Systems alumni who are catalysts of growth and change.