Three Tips for Email Innovation: Takeaways from “The Best Idea I Ever Had” Panel at MailCon Virtual Experience

Jen Capstraw
Jen Capstraw

President & Co-Founder, Women of Email

About the author

Published on: March 11, 2021

Last updated on: June 6, 2024

Authored by Jen Capstraw
President & Co-Founder, Women of Email

Email marketers are among the best problem-solvers I know. Despite our various backgrounds and life experiences, there’s like-mindedness in the email community and a natural inclination to find better solutions, deliver better results, and share our knowledge with others.

That’s why it was a pleasure to showcase three savvy innovators from the Women of Email speakers bureau at MailCon Virtual Experience 2021. Sue Cho of Calm, Anusha Ramachandran of Navistar, and Davida Gaffney of Storage Mart joined me as panelists for the “Best Idea I Ever Had” session to explain some of their biggest wins and top tips for innovation in the email channel.

Sue Cho’s Tip: Put Your Consumer Hat On

Sue says a common marketing pitfall is when brands talk too much about what they care about rather than focusing on what’s most important to subscribers. And she gave a great example during our session.

A widely known author was hired by Calm to deliver narration on a new masterclass around the time of Sue’s hiring. This relationship was a big win for the award-winning meditation app, and they were eager to capitalize on the narrator’s star power to drive engagement.

Sue was instructed to create a newsletter that celebrated Calm’s new collaborator and drove users to the new masterclass.

But Sue challenged this plan and suggested an A/B test. And test results confirmed her hypothesis: While Calm’s leadership was excited about their famous narrator, Calm users cared most about the Daily Calm product.

The test accomplished much more than proving Sue’s point—it was the evidence she needed to replace Calm’s newsletter with a new Daily Calm campaign.

The best part? Calm users became so reliant on the Daily Calm campaign that some went out of their way to complain when they didn’t get the email as expected. That’s a powerful confirmation that Sue’s instincts were correct—she gave subscribers what they want.

Sue says we’re not always correct in predicting what will motivate subscriber engagement, even when we do try to put ourselves in the customer’s shoes, so testing is often necessary to confirm our theories on what will maximize engagement and conversions.

Anusha Ramachandran’s Tip: Use Data to Drive Relevance

Anusha had little to work with when she started at Navistar, a company that manufactures and sells commercial trucks, buses, and heavy equipment. With a list of just 200 opt-ins and no actionable data points, she couldn’t even execute basic segmentation. So she got to work.

Anusha started with the basics. She defined a simple, four-step customer journey, and built corresponding campaigns to drive prospects and customers through each conversion point. She also made strides on the data front, connecting existing first-party data with her ESP, collecting additional data points with a robust preference center, and locating public records that could power greater relevance in her campaigns. Acquisition strategies, meanwhile, grew the opt-in list to a healthy 40,000 subscribers.

While email marketers love to dive into complex personalization strategies, Anusha determined that basic relevance was adequate for her B2B customers. She knew Navistar prospects weren’t going to buy a $100,000 long-haul sleeper truck because they received a flashy email campaign. She just needed to give them well-timed nudges so Navistar was top-of-mind when it mattered most.

While most of her campaigns leverage logical, uncomplicated segmentation, she sunk her savvy for data into the critical “in-market” step of the lifecycle—the moment when prospects and customers consider new vehicle purchases.

Anusha and her team developed a predictive model that determines the likelihood of purchase within six months utilizing existing CRM data in conjunction with publicly accessible truck registration information. Those that the model determines most likely to make a purchase receive the in-market campaign, which drives recipients to custom-configure new vehicles and review available inventory.

Anusha is thoughtful about where she invests her energy and resources and says marketers shouldn’t be afraid to start small to prove value before going all in. This approach also gives you the chance to fail fast and learn fast.

Davida Gaffney’s Tip: Stay Curious

One of Davida’s early wins at self-storage chain StorageMart was a WordPress hack she devised to dynamically generate email HTML for campaigns that were previously created manually. The clever solution was an ideal time-saver: Her team was already familiar with WordPress, and there was no added cost to use it.

But Davida’s most exciting innovation to date is her use of voice assistants like Alexa to trigger email campaigns.

The family that owns StorageMart also owns and manages about 2,000 properties, and Davida’s responsibilities extend to that arm of the business. That’s where she realized an opportunity for voice technology: Residents could use voice assistants to easily submit maintenance requests, feedback and comments, and vacate notices. And because Davida’s campaign management solution supports custom events, these actions could also trigger confirmation emails to residents and their local site manager.

The idea is incredibly simple, as the best ideas often are.

Davida says her fascination with voice assistants emerged long before the perfect use case occurred to her. She attended voice conferences and discussed her interest with a previous employer, but the idea that voice could have value was brushed off by her leadership. That didn’t discourage her, and she continued to explore the possibilities of voice until the moment of inspiration struck.

Davida says her best advice to aspiring innovators is to always be curious, and share that curiosity with others, even when you’re scared or met with rejection.

Davida also encourages everyone to find forums and events where you can ask questions and talk about ideas. And if you’re looking for an easy-to-use voice application tool, her favorite is Voiceflow.

For more sessions like “The Best Idea I Ever Had” subscribe to MailCon’s newsletters for updates on upcoming events.

About the author

Jen Capstraw
Jen Capstraw

President & Co-Founder, Women of Email

Jen Capstraw is a strategist, speaker, consultant, writer, and #emailgeek. She serves as President and Co-Founder of Women of Email, an association of 4,500+ aimed at promoting leadership and cultivating professional growth among women in the email space.


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