Business challenge

To drive its competitiveness, MSC wanted to communicate how it tailors its services to help customers achieve their unique business goals. How could it deliver personalized messages at scale?


MSC created an automated marketing process, enabling it to market to customer needs and preferences based on their interactions with MSC’s field representatives, websites and customer care centers.



efficiency boost frees up more time to understand customer needs


boost in open rates for targeted email campaigns


increase in digital revenues thanks to highly relevant messages

Business challenge story

Personalized messages drive sales

Over the past decade, many leading enterprises that originally built their success in the catalog retail space have transformed their businesses to take advantage of the booming popularity of the e-commerce model. As these well-established players compete with nimble, born-on-the-web businesses, winning sales depends more than ever on understanding individual customer preferences.

This was a key goal at MSC, a leading distributor of MRO products and services. After many years of successful online growth, the company realized that continuing to thrive in the digital economy meant breaking out of the traditional customer/distributor relationship and becoming a preferred, value-added partner to businesses around the world.

Richard Bonfiglio, MSC’s Digital and Operations Marketing Leader, takes up the story: “In recent years, we have seen an increasing number of dynamic, data-driven competitors in our space. To avoid being disrupted, we knew that it was essential to build a deep understanding of our customers’ specific business goals and prove that we have the services they need to achieve them.

“Our customers range from small businesses with fewer than 10 employees to massive Fortune 500 manufacturers—and every customer’s needs are different. Our aim was to segment these customers in a very fine-grained way and use those micro-segments to market to their unique needs and preferences.”

He continues: “We collect a large amount of valuable customer data from a variety of touchpoints, such as our field representatives, websites and customer care centers. The challenge we faced was harnessing this data to better understand hundreds of thousands of customers. In the past, we were heavily reliant on manual processes, which meant we would have needed to enlist an army of data scientists just to prepare our data for analysis.

“To avoid alienating our customer base, we had to limit ourselves to a small number of generic messages sent each month to our entire mailing list. To go to market with targeted campaigns, we looked for a way to automate the process—enabling our lean campaign execution team to reach out with highly personalized messages.”

Our results have shown that the more you personalize your messages, the better your customers will respond.

Richard Bonfiglio, Digital and Operations Marketing Leader, MSC Industrial Supply Co.

Transformation story

Shaping an automated, analytics-driven approach

To solve the challenge, MSC shaped a highly automated, integrated marketing process, driven by advanced analytics.

“Bringing data on customer interactions from all our channels together in a single place helps us gain a single, 360-degree view of our customer—a key enabler of our customer-segment-based approach to marketing,” recalls Bonfiglio. “After cleansing and validating our data, we began to apply fine-grained segments—rapidly revealing valuable opportunities to reach out to our customers with targeted messages.”

To drive its new marketing strategy forward, MSC created a centralized campaign team to define, execute and analyze the effectiveness of its marketing.

“Previously, doing any kind of in-depth analysis of our customer data required hours of repetitive database crunching and building lists,” Bonfiglio explains. “Today, that’s all changed. Our marketing campaign team spends less time collating and preparing data for analysis and more time answering questions such as, ‘How can we offer a better service to our enterprise customers?’, ‘Which categories are most likely to appeal to our small- and medium-sized customers?’ and ‘Which offers, incentives and messages are most effective in driving conversion?’”

Results story

Building life-long customer relationships

Thanks to its new, automated approach to digital marketing, MSC is achieving its goal of delivering relevant, timely messages at speed and scale.

“We started to see the positive results of our new approach almost immediately,” says Bonfiglio. “Within three months of launching our new marketing process, we reduced the manual work required to build and execute email and direct mail campaigns by 50 percent—enabling our people to spend more time thinking about the message and the audience for our targeted outreach.

“The impact is that we can get highly relevant communications in front of customers and break away from the one-size-fits-all approach. Because our messages are now targeted and relevant to their audience, we’re succeeding in delivering compelling, effective messages—and the numbers speak for themselves. We have lifted open rates for some messages to 65 percent and boosted email marketing revenues by 10 percent. This digital channel is valued at hundreds of millions of dollars. We are extremely pleased with the effect our new approach is having on the bottom line.”

With an analytics-driven approach to digital marketing, MSC can drill down into its campaign data to uncover ways to improve the effectiveness of its messages.

“We have a self-imposed restriction on the number of emails that we send to each individual customer,” adds Bonfiglio. “Our customers’ time is valuable so it is vital that we not overload them with messages. Limiting our outreach in this way also helps us focus on what matters most to each customer, which has a positive impact on both open and conversion rates.

“To ensure that our messages are as compelling as they can be, A/B tests are part of our standard process. For example, we now test up to nine different variations of our campaigns, which enables us to identify ways to tweak the offers, categories or email copy to improve effectiveness.

“Another great benefit of our automated approach is the ability to turn parts of campaigns that have worked well into templates for future campaigns. We are building up a library of campaign elements—such as copy and visuals—that our marketing campaign team can re-use to design future campaigns faster.”

Based on the success of its marketing transformation, MSC is integrating trigger-based marketing capabilities to shape even more relevant and compelling customer journeys.

“Rather than sending one email and then moving to a new campaign, we are now building sequenced campaigns that send relevant follow-up messages based on the customer’s reaction to the initial message,” explains Bonfiglio. “We are currently using this approach for both acquisition and loyalty campaigns, and the early results are extremely positive.

“Our results have shown that the more you personalize your messages, the better your customers will respond—and our next step is to use insights into customer preferences to deliver personalized content on our website. We see that an analytics-driven approach to marketing is the key to delivering tailored, value-added customer services and we are confident that our personalized outreach will be a powerful differentiator in the years ahead.”

The letters "MSC" are written in italic red font. Next to this the text reads: "Built to make you better."

MSC Industrial Supply Co.

Founded in 1941 and headquartered in Melville, New York and Davidson, North Carolina, MSC Industrial Supply Co. is a leading distributor of metalworking and maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) products and services to the industrial manufacturing industry. With more than 6,000 associates, MSC is dedicated to working side by side with its customers to help drive results for their businesses—from keeping operations running efficiently today to continuously rethinking, retooling, and optimizing for a more productive tomorrow.

Solution components

  • Commerce Software
  • IBM Watson Campaign Automation
  • Marketing Platforms: Campaign Management

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