splat chat logo episode 4

Splat Chat Episode 4: Lessons Learned from Sending One Billion Emails

0

You’ve probably heard stats citing the increase in email send volume in 2020 — due in part to the pandemic. But can you imagine sending a billion emails in one year?

That’s the mind-blowing milestone that the UK agency Flourish CRM hit last year. They work with brands and non-profits including Samsung, Twitch, eBay, and Unilever.

Managing partner Rich James joined me on Splat Chat to talk about that and more. Believe it or not, he says reaching a billion emails wasn’t hard, and the number isn’t really what matters.

Rich explained how the important thing was aligning email with the customer journey and tailoring a strategy for each unique client. He also tells us that marketing best practices may not always be what they’re cracked up to be. Plus, find out about Flourish’s Optimization, Elevation, Transformation approach to marketing.

There are some great insights for email marketers in this chat, whether you’re working in-house or at an agency. Watch the episode below to find out more, and don’t miss the links in the show notes at the end of the transcription!

Monica Hoyer:

Welcome everybody to episode four of Splat Chat. I’m Monica Hoyer the director of marketing at Email and Acid. And with me today is Rich James. He’s a managing partner at Flourish, Digital and Direct Marketing based out of Bristol in the UK. Welcome. Thank you for joining me.

Rich James:

Hey, how you doing?

Monica Hoyer:

I’m good. So, I like to start these off with a lightning round of questions. These are just totally fun. So. Teleportation or flying, which one would you prefer?

Rich James:

Flying. 100%.

Monica Hoyer:

Really? Why is that?

Rich James:

Yeah, I think it’s like the sensation that you’d get, rather than teleportation, definitely flying. You can take yourself to the same sort of places, but you get the, you get the buzz from it as well, I guess.

Monica Hoyer:

Right. Okay. Popcorn or M&Ms?

Rich James:

Popcorn, but really sweet and salty. I like the mix. It’s different than just sweet. Like there’s those nuggets at the bottom. They’re super sweet.

Monica Hoyer:

Yeah. Well, you can probably mix them together and you’d get, you’d get the same thing. Right? So, and then the final one is, would you rather give up your smartphone or your computer?

Rich James:

It’s a tough one. I think it would probably have to be computer. Yeah. There’s so much you can do on your smartphone now. It’s not, it’s not necessarily productive, but I’m probably glued to my smartphone more than anything else that’s out there. And I probably spend way, way too much time on it at the moment.

Monica Hoyer:

And you can bring it with you everywhere you go.

Rich James:

Yeah, exactly.

Monica Hoyer:

Regardless of how small they make computers these days, they still aren’t making them so they fit in your pocket.

Rich James:

Well, then they’re making smartphones bigger. So, like my smartphone is a laptop in my pocket anyway.

Monica Hoyer:

Yeah, they’ll start to merge at one point. So you know, one of the things that appealed to us about talking to you guys is that you all sent a billion that’s with a “B” emails last year. Tell me about that. Give me a story here.

Rich James:

Yeah, so it sounds like a huge number, but I think for us, it’s like most things that we do, it’s everything that we do is kind of breaking down into small parts and we kind of hit a billion, not through trying to hit a billion. We hit a billion through doing lots of great work, but tackling individual components of customer journeys. And when you’re targeting specific consumers at specific points in the journey and then delivering various different experiences, and you’re doing that across all of your clients. Actually, it very, very quickly adds up to a billion and it might seem like a strange thing to say, but we’re actually trying to send less emails or get our clients to send fewer and fewer emails, but be more specific about what they send. So yeah, the, the billion number is a big one, but for us, it’s all very much focused on the customer journey and making sure that someone received the right comm at the right point.

And it’s not just about being reactive. It’s about planning for certain circumstances that consumers find themselves in and trying to head things off in advance. So, I guess like most of us are probably aware with the sort of standard onboarding journeys that consumers receive. But we plan all the way across the consumer life cycle and so, what that means is the onboarding bit is classically the first bit that we have our clients go to and ask us to come in and have a look at or optimize or, or start from scratch if they don’t have anything. But actually, it’s the bits either side from a lead management point of view all the way through to points past sort of second, third purchase upsell, cross-sell and looking at elements of churn. Say looking at predictive models to understand if people demonstrate certain behavior in comms or interactions with a brand, actually to do proactive communications to those guys that help lessen the need for customer service intervention. For example, once things happen too late. So yeah, it’s not about, it’s not a billion emails hit through doing so twice-weekly sends to everyone on the base, it’s a billion emails hit through from targeting the right people at the right time with the right message,

Monica Hoyer:

Which is really so important in today’s world. So if I was subscribed to one of the lists that you were managing for one of your clients, I wouldn’t receive the billion emails. But I would receive a very small subset of those billion emails.

Rich James:

Yeah, and I think there are many important parts to that from us. For us. It’s really important to understand for each of our clients that audience’s appetite for communications. And that’s about looking at email performance specific to your individual brand. And some brands are really, really focused that CRM must drive journeys on the website, or it must drive purchase and acquisition. Some brands utilize CRM to maintain contact and relationships and provide information. I mean, loads of brands do both, right, but for us, it’s understanding the role of email in that. And with some of our larger clients, we might literally separate the two into sort of more retail-led comms or more brand-led comms. We’ll set rules for retail, say dependent on whether you’ve engaged with them in the past. You might, you might receive up to two retail communications a week, but only if you were interacting regularly with those comms, you might not actually receive retail communications until there’s a big sales event like Black Friday or Christmas holidays, for example.

So, the number of retail comms you will receive will depend on your interactions with the brand to that point and the way you purchase their products. Whereas from a brand point of view, we might have a different set of rules. Say, you might not be purchasing from us and you might not be engaging with commerce-related emails, but from a brand point of view you are regularly opening those communications and you’re spending more than 10 seconds reading those, but you’re not clicking. And actually, for us that demonstrates, these sort of comms have a place in your email diet. So it doesn’t always have to be about clicking and what performance drives onsite. But whether it’s, if it’s about driving sort of like sharing information, then some of the important things for us around things like open rates and low unsubs, but not high clicks, for example. So it’s about understanding what you’re trying to achieve with your comms, and then using that to inform whether somebody is interested in your communications or whether they’re not, and then dialing up and down the frequency, depending on that.

Monica Hoyer:

So what I heard you say was, you’re trying to figure out what the brand is trying to achieve, and then what each customer or subscriber really how they’re interacting and putting those two pieces of data together to ensure that you’re hitting those folks consistently and then with the right message.

Rich James:

100%. And I think we do have a very honest conversation with our brand partners that we work with to say that if you bring us into the building, we’re going to take a customer-first approach. And for many of those organizations, whether it’s a commercial businesses or whether it’s charities, we understand that you need to get cash through the door. So we’ll support you in that, but ultimately we have to put the customer first and we have to demonstrate that they have an appetite to receive these communications. I mean, for some that won’t be one that exists at the start. So we’ll try and build up that appetite.

But if there is continuous displays of not engaging with our communications, then we’ll bring it back. And we’ll only talk to these guys at key events. And from that point of view, it helps us to develop CRM over a period of time, rather than just looking at delivering you great sales results on Black Friday, for instance, because it might deliver you great sales results on black Friday for email everyone. But if you do that every black Friday, if you do that Christmas sale, if you do that every Thanksgiving you do that every Easter holiday, all of a sudden further down the line, we’ve lost our base and our engagement is going to drop overall. And it’s that sort of approach. I guess, that what we tend to have such long relationships with our clients is that we build progressively over time. It’s about understanding the performances at a certain place right now. So we need to build incrementally. We know that we’re building something bigger in the future, but it’s something that we’re gradually going to go to, to say next year, we’re going to improve performance in areas X, Y, and Z the year after it’s going to go above that again and again. So it’s about progression. It’s about building understanding.

Monica Hoyer:

Have you found clients come to you specifically because they know that this is how you work?

Rich James:

Yeah. So, I mean, a huge part of working with new clients and new brands actually comes from referrals. It’s actually, one of our biggest focuses from a new business point of view is working with people who understand our way of working and those people, when they move roles to proactively come back to us and go, we want to work with you guys again. That said, we obviously get pitches and tenders that come to us for people that haven’t worked with us before. And I’d like to think we have a really, really successful strike rate on these. And I mean, we’re a specialist agency. There’s probably around 60 to 70 of us worldwide across the UK and Dubai offices. But I think when we look at our client roster and we look at the likes, some of the brands that we’ve been lucky enough to work with, like the likes of Samsung, like Twitch, <inaudible> like we’ve got some amazing world brands in there, which means that we compete with some of the larger agencies.

And I hate what that means or what would demonstrate in these sort of like processes with new client partners when we’re sitting down and where we’re educating them on how we would work with them. If we came into the building quite often, we’ll say to you, “we know that you’re going to be sold a story from another potential supplier. They’ll tell you that they’re going to do this for you.” Like, yeah, we’ll get there. But for us, it’s about getting runs on the board, twisting and turning the levers and the knobs in the short term to find out the incremental changes, what’s working on some of the heavier hitting stuff in the background. And it’s about doing it sustainably because there’s no point in us coming in and telling you that we’re going to deliver huge uplifts, and we’ve got great ideas for your next sales promotion, but actually two years down the line, you find that we’ve hit your base so hard. That there’s not the longevity and your relationship with your customers there. It’s about being sustainable. And I think our client partners appreciate that sort of honest and pragmatic approach to our work. And I think that’s really important. That’s something that we need to get across with our clients.

Monica Hoyer:

Talk to me about some of the biggest challenges that your team faces when you’re sending the volume that we talked about earlier, the billion emails in a year.

Rich James:

Yeah. So, I guess it depends, which sort of like clients you’re talking about. For some of our clients, we work across global regions. So, whether that’s across Europe, whether that’s across the Middle East language variance can often be quite troubling. In terms of, if we’re doing a large campaign, deliver that across a number of markets and not, not to spend huge amounts of time on personalizing for specific markets, but equally not to deliver cookie-cutter approaches that just translate copy. And making sure that we have things that are relevant to your markets. So we’ll work with our clients at a sort of a regional level to develop some sort of like more center toolkits that offer flexibility for regions. Some of the other challenges — I think when we’re sending so many emails and our clients hear about the volume of work that we’re doing across all of them, one of the biggest things that we get is the, the sort of what’s best practice question.

What can we do that’s cool and new to drive things forward? And I think that’s a mindset that we’re a little bit wary of in terms of just having a simple, straightforward answer to that, because there isn’t. And I was talking to a colleague the other day, it’s kind of like the equivalent of our typing into Google, like good fitting shoes. Like, what size are you, what style of shoes do you like, what are you using them for? How does it work for you? And there’s a sort of myth of best practices and being able to overlay them really easily. There are some that translate in terms of things that we do around our email design system in terms of how we code emails, like in terms of the things that quite often our clients and their bosses and VPs are really interested in, like give us some innovation in CRM.

I think that’s a bit of a challenge, particularly when you’re looking at things like email because sometimes that’s like coding in the nineties. And actually, it’s about making sure that these innovations are supported across all of your consumers’ email clients that they’re opening on. That you are represented as you intend for all of your audience, that it’s not just innovation for that it’s accessible for 5% of your audience, it’s accessible for all of your audience, but in the cases where it’s not accessible, there’s gotta be a fallback. And sometimes there isn’t. So for us, innovation is a really, really personal question. And I guess it goes back to what I was saying earlier is it’s about understanding customer needs, states, mentalities, where they are in the journey, and their relationship with you. But equally importantly, the brand. What are the marketing objectives, what the business objectives for the brand? Because we’ll design innovation and best practices around that.

Because if we came to you and said, one of our charities is doing this from a best practice point of view, and you were a retail brand, right? Quite a lot of the time it’s not relevant because you guys don’t share the same objectives from what you’re trying to get from your CRM audience. So yeah, I think there’s this sort of best practice thing is, is a bit of a challenge. I think LinkedIn is probably a little bit guilty of sort of peddling the myth of things that can just be translated. And that, that there’s always an article out there, the top five things that you should do. I don’t really believe in those. It’s gotta be specific to you.

Monica Hoyer:

Yeah. Yeah. It’s very much specific to the brand, even if I’m on five of your lists, the lists that you’re managing, the way I interact with those brands is completely different. And on a day-to-day basis is different. You know we were talking earlier — go ahead.

Rich James:

I was just going to say, I think, I think that’s really important. Like it would be a really, really weird world if you felt that brands were trying to manipulate you in the same way, or you were aware that they were trying to guide you on the same courses. You’d have to be a little bit of a psychic to work out that. For example, Flourish was the agency behind a couple of brands and that you were getting the same experience. But we would never, we wouldn’t even want our sort of our planning docs to be shared across clients. And for them to go, well, that’s the same there, and it’s the same on that brand, and it’s the same on that brand, like, it’s not how things work. So yeah, it’s gotta be, it’s gotta be specific.

Monica Hoyer:

Yeah. So share with me one piece of advice. You’d give teams to optimize their email campaigns in 2021, specifically around increasing the efficiency and success of their programs.

Rich James:

Cool. I think for me, I would probably go back to the start as it were. I’m always really aware that basically what happens is, unless you’re in a new business, you’re in a role and you’ve likely inherited legacy campaigns, legacy ways of working. There are things in place already and they are always turned on. And what happens is, you come into the building, your boss speaks to you, the VP, whoever it is, and you’ve got, you’ve got objectives for 2021. And it’s like that these three pillars and we need to crack on with that. And that’s always going to be the case, and yes, we have to deliver against the current objectives. But, but if there’s time, whether that’s you, or whether that’s your team is just to take a quick step back and really simply break down the customer journey into five or six key phases, depending on how you want to structure it. Go online, look at customer journeys from that period of awareness consideration all the way through to purchase in life and retention, churn, et cetera. And just map what programs you’ve got in place. Just map what exists there, whether you’ve got a program for each of those, whether you don’t.

And then once you’ve got that, be honest with yourself and talk about how those integrate with each other. So if you have a bit of the journey, which is focused around the point of conversion. So it’s pre-purchased and then you’ve then got i onboarding. Are there any data signals that you’ve captured from your pre-purchased onboarding that are informing your onboarding experience? Or does everyone get the same? So it’s about making sure that each element of the journey that you’ve got planned out and plotted connects seamlessly with the next part, and it actually is used to feed the next part. Don’t create an onboarding program and then create a completely separate in-life program. Like how does the, the in-life program change based on what you did in onboarding? So do you look like somebody that is, diehard and has like, absolutely taken to what it is that they bought from you, and that they’re going to go on to become advocates. Or actually, have you seen very little of them from a comms engagement point of view or from a customer service point of view or from a usage point of view?

If you’ve got a product that’s lucky enough to tell you that like, actually then your in-life experience needs to be slightly different. Plus out your journey. Understand how the previous element of the journey informs the current part of the journey that you’re looking at. And then the next bit is then how does the current part of the journey that you’re looking at inform the next bit, and to try and make it sort of stitch together as it were. So where you felt like you just had an onboarding journey. Realistically, if you track that all the way back, it should go into something around the awareness stage. And if you track that all the way forward, it should go into something it should, it should eventually lead into something that looks like retention. So it’s boiling it down to some really sort of simplistic stages to map. And then sort of agreeing based on what your priorities are is, which are the ones to tackle, making sure that there are sort of variable journeys within that are relevant to the consumer based on where they’ve come from and where do you want them?

Monica Hoyer:

Awesome. Yeah, my senior email marketing manager would completely agree with that. And you do come into you know, sometimes you come into a bit of a mess because you don’t always know why or when things were implemented. Snd there was a reason probably. But that reason isn’t necessarily valid this year.

Rich James:

And I think, I think for us way, we, we always say that it’s not about ripping and replacing, right? So, exactly what you said. There’s there was a rhyme and a reason as to why something was in place and it might be something like steadfast and scientific, but no one’s in the building anymore to share that intelligence. And it might be just because the person at the time felt like it was the right thing to do in it. And fair enough. But what we should be doing in those circumstances is testing those alongside each other, not one after the other. Testing them alongside and understanding within the same period of time, what sort of performance uplift you’re getting through a slightly new approach. Or more importantly, it’s not looking at individual comms in isolation and going right email one of a series of comms on the old one performed at this rate and on the new series that we’ve just done performed at this rate. You have to then go to the end of the journey and understand has that entire journey driven the overall behaviors that you want to deliver as a whole better?

Not just focused back on the click rate of an individual campaign. So, it always goes back, I guess, in that sense to sort of planning out journeys, effectively understanding if they deliver uplifts,or actually being, being brave enough to go, “Yeah, we proposed something new and it doesn’t work as well. So we’re going to go back.” And it might just be, you’re just updating it from a visual point of view. Because the brand has moved on ever so slightly, but being, being brave enough to go, we thought we knew something and actually it wasn’t the case. And the thing that was there originally was right.

Monica Hoyer:

Being willing to fail for sure.

Rich James:

A hundred percent. I mean, that’s the whole point of CRM and testing them, right? For every test, there is that there is a failure. It might be that the existing thing failed and the new thing won, but you cannot move forward without failure. And I think failure is a massive, massive part of life, but CRM as well. Like it’s fundamental to everything that we do. If we don’t understand what’s worse and what’s better, then, then we’re really going to struggle. And as an agency, we work in three work streams. Our first one is around optimization. Our second one is around elevation. And a third one is around transformation. Optimization is about working with what you’ve got. And I mentioned earlier, twisting the knobs, pulling the levers — incremental change to deliver marginal gains. Elevation sounds fairly similar to optimization, but for us, it’s delivering new capability.

So that’s introducing something new into whether that’s delivered through knowledge. I.E. We’ve never done this before. We’ve done this either here with client, it might work for you, let’s try that, or whether it’s technology,uand that kind of changes what you’re able to do. And then there’s transformation, which is the bigger hitting stuff. Which is around sort of more infrastructure, more environmental, more operational. If you look at the first of those around optimization and elevation, that that preaches the process of failure in terms of those being a tool to develop yardsticks of what’s good and what’s not. And that’s really important for us that we understand as much as what works. We need to understand what doesn’t work

Monica Hoyer:

Yeah. And sometimes you get more learning from what doesn’t work then you do from what’s actually working.

Rich James:

100%. Yeah. I think when things work well, that can be a tendency to go, “They worked well great.” And then you move on and not focus enough on why it worked well. Whereas when things go wrong, there’s, there’s a deep dive into that. Realistically, there should be a deep dive as deep a dive into successes as there should be a deep dive into failure. But culturally, that’s generally not how businesses work. So yeah. We can hearn way more from failure.

Monica Hoyer:

And I think that’s true in life and email. So everybody’s getting two lessons here, not just an email lesson, but life as well. So one last question, and then we’ll wrap this up the, as the world’s shifted over the past year and with email turning 50 this year, I know you guys not only do email, but you also do some print advertising as well for your clients. But let’s, let’s focus specifically on the role email has played and how it’s changed to adapt to things like SMS, voice searchand all of the things that are happening now in the digital space.

Rich James:

Sure. But for us, it’s a really, really interesting one because we call ourselves a CRM agency. We very swiftly turn that conversation when we’re talking in any depth with a client to actually being a customer journey agency. And the reason we do that is because to many people, CRM means many different things. To a lot of people. It’s a very channel-focused thing and can mean the classic likes of email, SMS, DM, et cetera. For us, it’s a principle, and it’s an overarching principle that’s channel-agnostic. Yes, we do a billion emails. Soa large amount of what we do is in that email space, but it’s a principle that we overlay CRM that we overlay on to any channel that understands where someone’s come from, what their needs state is at that point, and where they’re going to.

So that means some of our CRM work is on social. Some of it’s on websites that are dedicated landing pages, that’s about continuing that CRM journey. And ultimately, email just fits in and slots into that. I think what that means is that we’re not, we’re not trying to protect sort of like email is this golden goose as it were, as being something that’s ours and that we own. And actually, if we water that down, our influences is going to decrease across what the brand does. Actually, it’s about opening up other channels to work alongside email and then establishing depending on what the communication is, what the communication type is, whether what the primary channel is and what the secondary channels are. So whether it’s again, we’ll go back to just a really easy example of being a, sort of a commerce-related campaign.

Whether we’re seeing certain audiences respond to push notifications better than they do for email. And so we’ll use the push notifications as a prime channel to drive urgency and immediacy, especially around some of the deadlines and the countdowns and sort of limited-time offers. But email is used as a, as a secondary channel, then it’s about making those integrate and work together. So, in terms of how things have changed, over the past year. I can’t give you a real straightforward answer on that one, because again, it just depends. It depends for some, for some of our clients. Some of our clients in the past year have absolutely skyrocketed in terms of their customer base sizes, their engagement with platforms that they ownand then sort of consumer interactions. Where some of them have found it really, really difficult to maintain the level of contact that they do have with that audience.

But for us coming out, the other side of this, this horrible horribly sticky period for individuals is to make sure that actually what we’re doing now is the same as what we’ve always done. We respond to beta signals. So, before the pandemic, we might have found that people were engaging more in an email as a channel, but they might now be engaging more with SMS and push because you asked me the question about desktop or a laptop or mobile phone. I’m sure you’ve all become way, way, way more attached to our mobile phone than our laptop. Over the course of the past year. So actually things being in hand and immediate, like push actually might be way more relevant now for some consumers. So, I think the world has changed, but the way in which we approach it shouldn’t change massively. It’s about responding to what our consumers are showing us. Did they touchpoints and making sure that that comms are aligned with that essentially.

Monica Hoyer:

And you can’t necessarily compare year over year because the world changed so dramatically. Your list is going to respond differently because of what’s happened over the past year. So, wonderful. Well, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today, Rich. I really appreciate it. What do you want to leave us with? Do you have any closing comments or talk to us about the brands, personal promotions? W what do you got going on?

Rich James:

Yeah, I guess at Flourish, we’re kind of really, really excited to be coming out the other side of this. I think that the thing for us that, well personally, I’m really, really excited to get back out there with our clients and to actually get some face-to-face time back from a personal point of view. That’d be great to catch up with people. I mean, I love my other half to pieces. But it’ll be great to see the people that I spent more of my time with before, again, and to reestablish these connections. I’m, I’m massively looking forward to being in the same room as people, and sort of sat there, planning things out together, writing things down on the wall, having a conversation where we’ve not got to jump off in 30 minutes, because we’ve got not got another Zoom meeting and actually being able to, to be a bit more collaborative.

We’ve got a really exciting year from a, from a, from a client point of view. We’ve had some really, really good wins in some really cool and interesting spaces. We’ve got some long-established relationships that we’re really looking forward to getting back to. And yeah, I guess if any of this has kind of, sort of struck tone and it sort of sounds like something that’s of interest to, to, to anyone out there and would just like a chat. We’re pragmatic as an agency and pragmatic and pragmatic in terms of offering help and assistance. And you guys can find me on LinkedIn, if you want to have a reach out Rich James at Flourish, as you said, Monica. So yeah, feel free to reach out, have a chat, and let’s connect.

Monica Hoyer:

Awesome. Thank you so much. And thank you everyone for watching this episode of Splat Chat. I have, my neighbor’s dog is barking, so I’m not sure if you can hear that.

But a big thank you to you Rich and the rest of the Flourish team for giving us this time. I know that you guys are quite busy these days, which is wonderful to see. If you’re looking for email marketing insights, head on over to EmailonAcid.com and check out our blog for articles, infographics, and more, and don’t forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to see who’s on our next episode. Email on Acid is a predeployment platform for email teams of all sizes, and we’re on a mission to make the complexities of email marketing simpler and help you deliver email perfection. With Email on Acid, you get unlimited testing accessibility and end-to-end content checks, inbox, display optimization, deliverability insights, and plenty of other amazing features. It’s all designed to give email teams more flexibility and give you confidence when you hit that, send button, try it out with a free seven-day trial, or request a custom demo, just head on over to EmailonAcid.com.

Splat Chat Episode 04 Show Notes

Related resources from Email on Acid

Simplify the Email QA Process and Deliver Perfection

What’s the best way to run through your pre-send checklist? With Email on Acid’s Campaign Precheck, we’ve simplified the process and set everything up for you. Use it to double-check your content, optimize for deliverability, ensure accessibility, and preview how campaigns look on the most popular clients and devices. All before you hit send!

Start a Free Trial

Author: Monica Hoyer

With over 20+ years experience in Email Marketing, Monica has worked at various email service providers and on the brand side. She leads the marketing team at Email on Acid and is well versed in all areas of digital marketing. In her free time, Monica enjoys spending time with her elementary school son and her dog, a beagle rescue.

Author: Monica Hoyer

With over 20+ years experience in Email Marketing, Monica has worked at various email service providers and on the brand side. She leads the marketing team at Email on Acid and is well versed in all areas of digital marketing. In her free time, Monica enjoys spending time with her elementary school son and her dog, a beagle rescue.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *