Business Challenge

Big 5 Sporting Goods wanted to make sure it was reaching out to customers with relevant email messages—but found it challenging to create personalized content at the speed and scale it desired.


Big 5 Sporting Goods uses IBM® Watson® Campaign Automation to empower its digital marketing teams to build targeted, timely campaigns that resonate with customers.


4% increase

in email open rates driven by more eye-catching content

62% shorter

campaign creation time puts offers in customers' inboxes faster


to confirm e-newsletter subscriptions, nuturing loyalty

Business challenge story

Tackling customer communication challenges

With a multitude of voices fighting for attention, especially in the digital retail space, how can retailers cut through the noise and get their messages to resonate with the right audience? This was exactly the challenge facing Big 5 Sporting Goods—one of America’s leading retailers of sports apparel and equipment.

Sarah McMahon, Senior Manager, Digital Marketing at Big 5 Sporting Goods, explains: “We market to customers through a variety of channels, and email is an important part of the mix. However, our previous approach to digital marketing technology made it difficult to tailor our messages based on customers’ unique tastes.”

Sergey Solorzano, Senior Email Coordinator at Big 5 Sporting Goods, continues: “The trouble was that our existing campaign management platform wasn’t very flexible, and it took a great deal of work to create the targeted outreach we were after. This limited us to mainly sending out generic email messages—and as a result, many recipients wouldn’t open them.

“We had a wealth of information on our customers’ preferences, but as it was so difficult to integrate this data with our campaign management tool, it ended up going unused—a real wasted opportunity. We wanted to harness this data, and find a way to automate our campaign workflows. This would make it easier for us to tailor our marketing content to the right audience, helping us engage customers and nurture loyalty.”

With IBM Watson Campaign Automation, we are building richer, more personalized campaigns than ever before.

Sarah McMahon, Senior Manager, Digital Marketing, Big 5 Sporting Goods

Transformation story

Gearing up for a digital marketing transformation

Big 5 selected IBM Watson Campaign Automation as the cornerstone of a new approach to customer engagement. Using the digital marketing platform, teams can segment, design, launch, and measure the outcomes of campaigns rapidly and with less manual effort than before.

“What appealed to us about IBM Watson Campaign Automation was that it offered us much more control over campaign creation and management, and some very powerful customization capabilities,” notes McMahon. “The solution also eliminated much of the manual work that used to be involved in building campaigns, making it more feasible for us to shape personalized customer communications at the speed and scale we wanted.”

As Big 5 worked with IBM to implement the new marketing platform, the company took the opportunity to refine a number of its processes and shape a much more efficient approach to campaign management.

“We identified redundant process steps and inefficiencies that were slowing down our teams,” states Solorzano. “The new way of working is much faster, freeing up valuable time for our people and helping us get campaigns set up and sent out very quickly.”

Today, Big 5 creates fine-grained customer segments using information from IBM Watson Campaign, as well as data on shoppers’ online interactions with the brand. The company can then create highly personalized campaigns for each of these segments—helping it create messages that resonate with their target audience.

Whereas previously, Big 5 was restricted by rigid email templates that were difficult to change and customize, with IBM Watson Campaign Automation, teams can leverage flexible, re-usable components to quickly and easily build impactful campaigns.

Solorzano comments: “We were very impressed by how dynamic IBM Watson Campaign Automation is; it has opened up a whole new realm of possibility around creating and customizing marketing campaigns. We have much more control over campaigns from end-to-end, and can even track the results ourselves, which simply wasn’t possible before.”

For Big 5, IBM Watson Campaign Automation will serve not only as the foundation of a smarter approach to digital marketing, but also as a key enabler for a much broader customer service transformation.

McMahon elaborates: “Alongside our new approach to digital marketing, we are also working to enhance the wider customer experience—and we see IBM Watson Campaign Automation as a great enabler for other CRM initiatives. As we build up a more nuanced understanding of our customers and better ways to communicate with them, other areas of the business can harness that knowledge to deliver more personalized customer service themselves.”

To extend the personalized experience of its email communications to social platforms, Big 5 is using the Social Audiences feature of IBM Universal Behavior Exchange.

“Social Audiences has been immensely helpful in shifting our social campaigns towards a truly audience-targeted approach,” says McMahon. “We are able to easily create and share new audiences from IBM Watson Campaign Automation, which has been a game-changer in terms of connecting our digital media ecosystem.”

We were very impressed by how dynamic IBM Watson Campaign Automation is; it has opened up a whole new realm of possibility around creating and customizing marketing campaigns. We have much more control over campaigns from end-to-end.

Sergey Solorzano, Senior Email Coordinator, Big 5 Sporting Goods

Results story

Going for gold

With Watson Campaign Automation powering its marketing efforts, Big 5 can bring targeted campaigns to life quickly and efficiently.

McMahon says: “In the past, it typically took us up to four days to design and launch a generic email campaign. Today, with IBM Watson Campaign Automation, we are building richer, more personalized campaigns than ever before—and the entire process takes about a day and a half. It’s helping us be much more responsive to the needs of the business, so if someone comes to us with an idea for a new piece of marketing outreach, we can turn it into reality very quickly.”

Big 5 has seen similar time savings in other areas. Solorzano gives an example: “Customers used to experience fairly significant delays when signing up for our email newsletter. After someone entered their details on our website, it could take between 45 minutes and two hours for them to receive a confirmation email. It really didn’t make for a good first impression, and some customers even called our support team because they thought they’d made a mistake or something had gone wrong with the registration.

“We’ve now rebuilt that workflow from scratch in Watson Campaign Automation, so that the same notification email goes out to customers in just seconds. Our customer support team no longer has to deal with these kinds of queries—saving them valuable time—and we can get off to a much smoother start with customers who sign up for emails, helping nurture their loyalty from day one.”

By reaching out to customers with more relevant marketing messages, Big 5 has boosted email open rates, helping incentivize conversion and strengthen loyalty.

“We’ve gone from a solely batch-and-blast approach to targeting more precise customer segments with personalized, timely email communications,” remarks McMahon. “We have seen email open rates increase by four percent, which shows that the new platform is helping us create more eye-catching subject lines and relevant content.”

She concludes: “Our journey with IBM Watson Campaign Automation is just beginning. We’re looking forward to expanding our use of the platform to build even deeper insights into our customers’ needs, and deliver great digital experiences that help us nurture closer customer relationships.”

Big 5 Sporting Goods logo

Big 5 Sporting Goods

Big 5 Sporting Goods is a leading retailer of sporting goods and accessories. Headquartered in El Segundo, California, Big 5 operates 433 stores throughout 11 western states. The company provides a full-line product offering, including athletic shoes, apparel, and accessories, as well as outdoor and athletic equipment.

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