Niko Dafkos and Paul Firmin are tastemakers. Their business, Earl of East, started as a stall at their local market and grew into a lifestyle brand which sells everything from vintage home goods to their own line of sustainably made candles and apothecary items. Now they have 3 brick-and-mortar stores in London, an apothecary studio, and an online shop.
Creating a sense of community has always been at the core of their business, and that extends to their marketing. They started using Mailchimp in 2016 to communicate with candle-making workshop participants, but they soon wanted to do more. They imagined a way to engage and inspire their audience with content that felt like an extension of conversations they love to have in stores—sharing their favorite neighborhood spots and things to do around London, as well as tips for hosting, cooking, and gifting. They crafted a new email strategy based around that kind of conversational, value-added content, which they planned to roll out at the beginning of 2020.
Their plan proved timely when COVID-19 hit and in-store interactions were put on a long hiatus. Through those years, email sustained the customer loyalty they’d been building since their market stall days. They’ve since continued to grow that strategy, knowing the power of email to deepen relationships with longtime customers and to engage new ones. We talked with Niko about how he and his team continue to generate value-added content that keeps their audience close.
As the COVID situation shifted your audience members’ routines, how did your email marketing strategy target people and content differently?
Post-pandemic specifically, the way people structure their life and their work has changed fundamentally. So we started thinking about, well if our customer base seemingly has an extended weekend now, or tends to take Tuesdays off because of the children, because of the dog—it was about how can we still target them with relevant content depending on where they are?
So if, for instance, I have your Gmail email address and if I have your Mailchimp email address, the assumption is that the Mailchimp address is your work email. The Gmail address is your private email. So you would get a different tone of voice over the weekend. I wouldn't email you to your work email, but I will use segmentation to email you to your Gmail. Whereas on a Wednesday, I would skip your personal email and segment to reach you at work. It’s interesting that it's such an easy segmentation—it's very superficial, but we feel it had a really good impact on our open rate.
How does your tone change based on whether you’re emailing people over the weekend at their personal email address vs. during the week at work?
Over the weekend, we move away from being sales-driven to be more focused on what we always call ‘added value content.’ We dial up the inspiration.
How does this approach help get people into your stores?
The lucky thing we have with our locations is that they are part of a bigger neighborhood. We have a store in Kings Cross, where we are surrounded by amazing food vendors and restaurants. We are surrounded by amazing exhibition spaces and galleries, activities to do free of charge, and also other really nice independent stores. So yes, when we send content over the weekend with things to do, one of the 5 things to do is always come and visit us. But the other 4 are always like go eat there, go see this, go try that. Buy your bouquet of flowers at our local florist and then come to us as well.
What exactly does value-added content offer to your audience?
My community isn't always in the market for buying another candle, or buying another glass, but they're always in the market for being entertained and inspired. And I think that's kind of the plus, the add-on.
In the store, all we can do is deliver really good service. But if you're not in London or shopping isn't for you, you should still have that service if you're subscribed with us. Service online looks a bit different because it's more, here's the piece of content we created for you—rather than informative about a product or having a nice conversation and making them feel good, which I think is what we do in real life. Online, we can't really replicate that in that form. So we offer added value.
What’s the real marker of success for a piece of value-added content?
I always think it's so nice for a customer to come into the store and tell me that they've cooked a recipe that we posted about. It's such a clunky user journey for the customer, but for them to go to that extent to come and tell me, it means we've done something right.
The value in your “value-added content” is that it’s inspiring—so how do you and your team keep yourselves inspired so that you can keep making uplifting, interesting content?
Obviously travel. And obviously conversations in the store we find really, really useful. That's why Paul and myself, we still love spending time on the shop floor, being there with our customers, hearing what they're doing, and asking where are they going on holiday this year? Why is everybody going to Mykonos this year? When I'm in Kings Cross, I can also find out, well, are you guys back in the office now? Or what's going on? I ask those questions because I think it's all very important stuff for what we do. And we have started paying a bit more attention to what's going on in the world of TikTok.
Producing great reads for your audience takes a lot of time and resources—especially when they’re accompanied by beautiful imagery. For emails that aren’t sales-driven, what’s in it for your business?
The return they give us already is attention. The fact that they care, and the fact that they show up; the fact that they are subscribed, and the fact that they open up their email. That, to me, is already receiving back what we give. I can't expect anyone to shop twice a week with a lifestyle retailer. But when we look at the lifecycle of a customer, our return rate is pretty high for our industry. People come back and shop repeatedly with us. They shop for themselves; they shop for gifts. And they reward us with their attention.
I think the reason we do it is because after our 9 years, we've seen a return. And the return is the longevity of a customer, the lifecycle they have with us, and the fact that they show up.
What advice would you give to a small business person who’s just getting started creating content?
Creating content that we care about is important. My advice is to create content that you are passionate about and something that you have a true opinion on. That way your content is authentic rather than trendy.
Published: November 20, 2023