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3 Signs It’s Time to Upgrade Your Email Strategy

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When it comes to email marketing strategy and eCommerce shop owners, we see a common thread of events:

  1. They start an email list at the time of the store launch. They do this as part of a Kickstarter campaign, because the email input thingy came as part of the CMS template, or because the email service provider was a cheap app to tack on to their Shopify or BigCommerce store.
  2. From there, the shop owner’s approach to email marketing isn’t really a formal one. Either they a) totally ignore that list and let it collect dust or b) hit it every day or week with the same exact newsletter content to every single subscriber.
  3. They do this for a few months or years and don’t see a ton of revenue from it, but continue to “do email marketing” because they think it’s something they “should be doing.”

I’m not looking at anyone…I promise… but does this sound familiar?

It’s understandable. You’ve got your hands full as an eCommerce shop owner. But as you mature beyond these early stages, you will approach a time when it makes sense to reconsider your scrappy email strategy.

Not sure if you’re at that point? Here are a few signs to watch out for.

1) You’ve hit a plateau.

When you first launch, you’re the pretty new girl at school. The public’s curiosity around shiny new objects can spark a ton of press, social media interest, and initial sales from early adopters.

Then you come down from that high and have a reality check.

You realize that to expand beyond the early adopter crowd, you have to put in a little more work.  Mainstream consumers need a little more convincing before they click “buy.” They need more product information, brand credibility, or monetary incentives (read: sales). Advertising, PR, blogging, and social media, and key channels for bringing all of these folks to the door. Email, however, is the ultimate way to nurture them with these messages and get them to convert.

How the right email program can help: A segmented email strategy would help a lot in this scenario. You need to split up your list and separate the newbies from the subscribers who have bought from you before. Then, you need to market to them accordingly. To make this happen you need an email system that syncs with your subscribers’ real on-site behavior and lets you automatically build lists based on that behavior.

2) You’ve expanded your product line.

Imagine this hypothetical situation: A company starts out by selling one product. They do really well with that. So, to build off of this success, they expand into more products and organically bring in a fresh crowd of customers interested in that new thing. Sales still don’t seem to be quite where they should be, though. A quick survey reveals that the original customers who bought the first product are completely unaware of the new stuff.

This situation actually isn’t so hypothetical at all. It’s a very similar to what happened to our customer, Holstee, when they expanded their product offerings beyond their trademark Manifesto posters into other collectables, like the Holstee wallet.

Holstee had a natural opportunity to reach out to these early customers who had only bought the Manifesto poster. They set up campaigns to do just that, and strong open rates (>40%) and very high click-through rates (>30%) on those sends. They saw a significant direct impact on revenue, as well. While a high number of recipients opened and clicked right away, purchases often occurred across multiple sessions.

You have to evolve your product line so that your brand doesn’t grow stale, but you also have to bring your customers with you on that journey. If your analytics show you that your first-time buyers haven’t been back to the site in a while, it could very well be that they don’t know you have new stuff to offer.

How the right email program can help: To execute on a campaign like Holstee, you want to use a program that offers an API and allows you to send historical data to its system so you can start these campaigns when you are ready for them. Similar to the first example, segmentation and personalization of your campaigns becomes important as your company grows, as  your product lines and customer personas grow more diverse, and as your marketing becomes more complex.

3) You hired your first marketer.

Well, obviously, as a marketer the first thing I have to say  is… congrats! We’re a fun bunch to have in the office. :)

Now, on to the serious stuff.

Like every employee at a startup, this first marketing hire should be ready to wear many hats. Whether or not you think you were hired to own a particular area of marketing, it quickly becomes part of your role. That’s partially the nature of startups, but it’s also because all of these marketing channels are integrated these days. (Case in point: If you run a blog, who owns setting up blog newsletter subscriptions and sending out those emails? Boom. Gotcha. You, dear blogger, are suddenly doing email marketing, too.)

How the right email program can help: There are a few things to keep in mind here.

First, you want a program that’s easy to use. You need a program that offers a lot of technical capabilities, but is also understandable for non-technical employees. Yes, today’s marketers are certainly more technical than ever before. However, quite frankly, that technical skill is typically basic HTML, CSS, Photoshop, MySQL, and sweet Excel formulas – not APIs or coding email templates from the ground up.

Be realistic. Invest in a program that offers the right features for everyone on the team. Your email program should make it easy to create templates (a drag-and-drop template builder goes a long way), build lists, and find metrics.

Second, you want a program that is versatile. Ideally you would have a system that can handle your product nurture emails (if there’s an app component to your business), blog subscriptions, marketing nurture emails, and transactional emails all in one place. With limited time and budget, you don’t want to scramble between various email service providers and have to organize your lists in several different places. Avoid the hassle and pick something that can be used for a lot of different purposes.

How did you know when it was time to upgrade your email marketing strategy? Share what your process was in the comments.

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3 Email Marketing Experiments That Actually Worked, And What You Can Learn

We’ve been talking a lot about what to test in your email marketing campaigns lately. Taking a data-driven approach to your email marketing is important. You won’t find the magic approach by guessing alone. But you can get ideas for campaigns, sales promotions, design changes, copy tweaks, and other things you can optimize for based on what worked for others.

Here are three success stories from data-driven eCommerce marketers who dared to test the waters with a fresh approach.

1. Heirlume’s Personalized Product Recommendations Drive 3% Lift in CTR

Heirlume is a jewelry retailer founded by a simple premise: one wife was sick of telling her husband what jewelry she wanted for every birthday and holiday.

At first, the company assumed it was mostly men browsing the site and subscribing to emails. However, a sophisticated email address analysis revealed that many subscribers were actually women browsing the site for themselves, and therefore the messaging of the emails was completely off.

The team realized they needed to change their approach.  They segmented their lists by gender and began sending females more frequent newsletters and updates about new styles. For the men, they focused newsletters on holiday-centric promotions, the idea being that those subscribers were buying for others during those times of the year.

Building off of this strategy, the company looked for other ways to optimize their emails. To increase click-through rates, they decided to test the inclusion of product recommendations in their emails.

For the female subscribers, they pulled in product recommendations based on past buying and browsing behavior.


For male subscribers, they presented product recommendations differently and emphasized the “gift buying” perspective. As you can see in the example below, they remind subscribers about timeframes for ordering custom gifts in the product recommendations at the bottom of the email.


The result of the test speaks for itself: Heirlume averaged a 9% increase in open rates and a 3% lift in click-through rate from the campaigns.

The key takeaway: To get the data you need to take your personalization to the next level, you may need to think outside of the box. In this case, Heirlume had to use a proprietary algorithm to figure out the gender of the their email addresses. But the extra effort was well worth it. 

2. Case-Mate’s Flash Sales Drive 236% More Revenue

Case-Mate sells premium smartphone cases. The team had seen flash sales work successfully for other companies, so they decided to give it a try for their own online store.

The promotion turned out to be such a success that they ended up reorganizing their marketing calendar to do a second flash sale two weeks later. Here’s how they planned their flash sales, ran their email campaigns, and learned from the first one to make the second sale even better than the first:

For the first flash sale, the Case-Mate team carefully planned just how they’d time the sale and promote it.

First, they figured out the right day and time for the flash sale based on when they got the most traffic and conversions. They noticed they got a lot of traffic on Sundays, but more conversions on Mondays. So they went with Monday, December 7th, as the date for the first flash sale.

Next, they looked back at past promotion performance to figure out their discount “sweet spot” for highest conversions. It turned out that 30% off was the number, so they moved forward with that.

On the flash sale launch day, the team sent two emails to promote the sale. The first one was sent at 11 a.m. to announce the sale, which would take place from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. that night. The second one was sent at 7 p.m. to indicate the start of the sale. Social media postings were sent out in the morning to coordinate with the timing of the first emails.

Subject line: Holiday-Flash-sale: Our Flash Sale Starts Tonight!


This first sale was a huge success, generating a 51% increase in traffic, a 50% increase in conversion rate, and a 236% increase in revenue. Given this success, they decided to follow up with another one just two weeks later. This time, they fixed a few things though:

  • They switched the timing of the flash sale from 7 p.m. – 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. to 10 p.m. They did this to accommodate the availability of their customer success team, who actually ends work at 7 p.m.
  • They changed the email timing to 1:30 p.m. for the announcement email, and then did a “last chance” send at 6:30 p.m.

The second sale also performed amazingly well, enough for the team to plan to add flash sales as a regular marketing practice. Here were the results:

  • 5% increase in traffic
  • 105% increase in conversion rate
  • 78% increase in revenue

The key takeaway: Take calculated risks. Case-Mate found ways to use past customer data like site visits and conversion rates to approach this sales promotion in an informed way, and it paid off big time.

3. Airbnb Scores 600 Bookings With Non-Promotional Email

Every December, consumers’ inboxes are flooded with Black Friday sales, religion-neutral “Happy Holidays!” messages, and various other types of wintry greetings. Thinking of a way to stand out from the crowd is no small endeavor, but Airbnb did this in a big way in 2012.

Rather than focusing on an end-of-year promotion, they focused on doing something that would connect the Airbnb users to each other. They created a tool that enabled subscribers to send holiday greetings to hosts they had stayed with or guests they had accommodated that year.

The idea for the campaign came up last minute, so they had to pull together this tool quickly and alert their users of the campaign to generate interest.


The team worked fast to pull together an interface where Airbnb users could browser from five templates, select recipients from a pre-populated list, and use a standard message or write their own.

The email messages didn’t include any promotional content whatsoever. It was purely a community-focused promotion. The team was happy, and somewhat surprised, by the results. The emails had a 52.3% open rate, and they usually get about a 30% open rate on marketing emails. The emails had a 26.5% click-through rate, and the team usually gets up to a 12% click-through rate on emails. According to Marketing Sherpa, the Airbnb team was most impressed with the number of reservations driven by the campaign - over 600 bookings – since that’s more than the team would typically see for email campaigns even dedicated directly towards driving conversions.

The key takeaway: Know your business model! Airbnb is a marketplace, and a travel company, and they were perfectly positioned to keep themselves top of mind during a busy travel time. Because the sales are made between people, the call to action to connect the people to one another makes perfect sense.

What did you learn from these email marketing experiments? What were your key takeaways? Let us know in the comments.

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How to Market Your Pop-Up Shop

Imagine this scenario:

You’ve already conquered the digital space. You have a well-run and highly successful online store. You’ve got a great product and happy customers.  Now this question crosses your mind - What now?

The next step could be opening up a physical store. After all, about 95% of purchases are still completed offline, and offering your product in a physical setting could be a change to reach a new audience. While new sales opportunities like this are always exciting, they don’t come without risks. Rent costs, supplying the inventory, and the idea of competing with major retailers can all be pretty intimidating to say the least. Luckily, it’s ok to have a fear of commitment…

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What You Should Test in Your eCommerce Emails

This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed the value of testing your emails on the blog. Best practices can get you started and help you develop your instincts, but ultimately that all goes out the door once your emails land in the hands of a customer. From there, it’s all about what the data shows you and whether or not they open, they click, and whether or not those campaigns are driving a sale.

With this in mind, here is an introduction to testing for your email marketing as well as a few ideas for things you should be testing.

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With your eCommerce store up and running, you may be curious about how to use email marketing to drive more revenue.

But you may be at a loss on where to start.

Surely you’re somewhat familiar with email marketing already. After all, you get emails from your favorite retailers. But do you know the story behind those campaigns? What workflows are you rolled into? Why? When every email just seems to be a promotion for the “best sale ever!!!”, it can be unclear what the strategy was underneath it all and what the best practices are for this stuff.

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Upworthy’s Headlines Are Awful. Here’s Why They Work and Why You Should Write Your Subject Lines the Same Way.

“This is cute video will blow your mind.”

There’s no doubt you’ve seen one of viral media site Upworthy’s headlines, which are typically presumptuous teasers kinda like the one above, come across your screen within the past year or so.

Annoying as they can be, they work.

The site saw a massive traffic spike when they started paying closer attention to headlines and testing them.

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With the right strategy, Instagram can be a highly-targeted, visual marketing channel for your company.

The proof is in the data. One recent study shows  that Instagram provides brands with 25% more engagement over other social platforms, and some hail it as the fastest-growing website in the world. Given the popularity of the platform, there’s a good chance your target audience is on Instagram, or will be.

But breadth is not enough. Instagram’s hashtag support and follow features make it simple to connect with relevant influencers and conversations, so you can find your current and potential customers on the social network and fight through the noise.

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[image via]

Social media is great, advertising is a quick fix, and direct mail is… cute? But email is still one of the best strategies eCommerce marketers can use to increase sales.

Usually when we think about drip email campaigns, we think about new nurturing subscribers or cold contacts and getting them to make that first purchase. However, we should re-imagine drip campaigns as not only a tool to drive the first sale, but also a way to cross-sell, up-sell, and retain your customers.

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If it’s working for other brands who are similar to you, why wouldn’t you give the sure thing a shot?

It’s a lot easier to copy someone else than it is to start from scratch.

But I’m not so sure. If that’s your mentality when it comes to marketing, I sort of think “What’s the point?”

As I was pouring through my inbox looking for inspiration for this post I couldn’t help but notice that everyone’s emails look slightly the same. Perhaps it’s a product of the stuff I subscribe to: preppy/girly/chic/androgynously-cut brands with logos of plain black Frankenfonts…the watered down result of key-stakeholders-only brand strategy sessions fueled by Powerpoint and Malbec. Bright pinks and mint greens star as the accent colors du jour. The “Best sale ever!!!” is promised in literally. every. single. subject. line.

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