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Email Sells Ice Cream

Digital marketing has emerged as the preferred tool of forward‑looking brands — especially those looking for a way to reach new audiences.

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Social media is changing the way we talk to customers, and ad-blocking software has disrupted the paid digital advertising landscape.

Through it all, email has emerged as the preferred marketing tool of forward-looking brands — especially those looking for a way to reach new audiences.

Brands like Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams.

Over the past 14 years, Jeni’s has grown from an upstart scoop shop based in Columbus, Ohio, into a national brand that has earned rave reviews from Food & Wine and Bon Appétit magazines. What’s the recipe to Jeni’s success? Exquisitely delicious ice cream, for starters. But savvy email marketing has been a pretty crucial ingredient, too.

Turning a classic on its head

If you spend any time in your supermarket’s frozen aisle, you’ve seen the change. Classic ice cream staples like Rocky Road and Pralines & Cream are giving way to exotic flavors like Honey Lavender and Maple Bourbon Pecan.

According to Jeni’s Experience Leader Ryan Morgan, his company’s founder started the trend. “Jeni created a whole new category in the frozen dessert space,” Morgan says, “and sparked the artisan ice cream movement more than a decade before it would become a top food trend.”

Jeni Britton Bauer first started concocting unorthodox ice cream flavors in her home kitchen in 1996. In 2002, she opened her first scoop shop in Columbus’ North Market, where she worked 12-hour days making and selling all of the ice cream herself. Jeni’s idiosyncratic take on ice cream attracted customers from every corner of town. And it quickly became clear that she was onto something big.

Delicious — and sustainable

Jeni’s deliciously offbeat flavors comprise just half of her brand’s story. The other half is Jeni’s unyielding commitment to social responsibility. Jeni’s partnerships with the best growers, makers, producers, and suppliers and use of direct trade ingredients is a major part of the brand’s appeal.

But mostly, people love Jeni’s because the ice cream tastes really, really good. So good, in fact, that Jeni’s started opening new scoop shops all over Columbus. By 2004, Jeni’s and her growing team focused on figuring out how to bring Jeni’s ice cream to a national audience.

Going the distance

Taking any regional brand national has its challenges, especially when you’re headquartered far away from coastal influencers. Jeni’s wanted to reach as many customers as possible, so it opened an e-commerce business and started shipping pints packed in dry ice to all 50 states.

The shipping business helped Jeni’s build a robust email database of customers from all over the country. “Email was instrumental in getting us in front of national tastemakers,” Morgan says. “And it helped us build a national network of fans who would do or pay anything to get our ice cream.”

Today there are 23 Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream scoop shops throughout the nation, spanning from Charleston to Los Angeles. And Jeni’s product line — which includes sauces and ice cream sandwiches — is a mainstay in high-end grocery stores everywhere.

Email is the engine that’s driven Jeni’s growth strategy. Social media, display advertising, and paid search have also played important roles, but email brings in the most website traffic and results in the most sales.

“Email is critical for us,” Morgan says. “With social media, we realized we were essentially renting access to customers on terms over which we had no control. So we decided to invest more in the most valuable piece of online real estate that we actually own — our website — while at the same time doubling down on growing our email database and evolving our strategy for the channel. Social is still a key part of the mix, but we recalibrated our efforts to favor owned media first.”

Email helped Jeni’s go from a scrappy boutique brand to a national force. But it wasn’t as easy as flipping a switch.

Jeni’s approached email marketing with strategy and intention, and the results speak for themselves.

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