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In our last issue, Digital Impulse’s Andrew Kolidas and Chapin Bennett showed us how they overcame one of email marketing’s most persistent challenges: list-building. Through the tactical use of sweepstakes campaigns promoted via social media, Digital Impulse has helped clients successfully grow their subscriber lists—and increase their revenue.

One shining example of this strategy’s success is OOFOS footwear. “At this point we’ve run 5 or 6 campaigns for them, and we’ve grown their subscriber list from 18,000 to about 100,000 now,” Bennett says.

In addition to a sweepstakes entry, new subscribers also automatically receive a coupon. The idea is to incentivize shoppers even before a winner is announced, using email as a touch point to drive new business.

But email wasn’t always so central to OOFOS’s strategy.

“When they first approached us, they wanted to know how to move more product by using digital marketing,” Kolidas says. “But when we investigated how they handled email, we discovered they were sending out one email to their entire list. So our starting point was to create a system that allowed us to segment the list, and figure out how we could do more automation.”

“That comes back to our philosophy as a company,” Bennett says. “We’re often hired for one specific task, but the question we always ask is ‘what would we do if this was our company?’ A lot of times marketing automation can help solve a company’s operational issues. If we see opportunities like that, we’re going to tell them.”

Giving OOFOS their best advice worked—not only for the client, but for the relationship between client and agency. “It helped build a lot of trust,” Kolidas says. “When a client sees you’re making decisions in their interest, they’re willing to hear you out.”

Prepare for Automation

Establishing that trust with OOFOS proved important, as it allowed Kolidas and Bennett to make their best recommendations in the context of the overall campaign.

“This is one of those situations where we’re true partners with the client. We’re part of their marketing department,” Kolidas says. “And that means we have to look at how all the pieces fit together, whether it’s rebranding the company in digital or running social marketing and paid search programs.”

So when Digital Impulse began to consider how to make automated campaigns work effectively for OOFOS, they assessed the rest of their marketing materials for potential weaknesses—and discovered a website in need of an update.

“OOFOS came to us with some aggressive sales goals, but when we looked at their existing website we saw it needed some work,” Kolidas says. “We were pretty clear with them—if you want to make this automation campaign successful, we need to update your site. With failed automation campaigns, the common denominator is almost always that the website isn’t built to convert when the traffic arrives.”

In addition to using tools like Google Analytics, Kolidas suggests user testing as an effective way to find the problems in a website prior to starting an automated campaign.

“User testing is probably the best way to vet out how successful your funnel is,” Kolidas says. “Because if you’re not sending people to a site optimized for conversions, you’re wasting it.”

The website wasn’t the only place Digital Impulse found room for improvement. Prior to approaching the agency, OOFOS had already begun building a list of subscribers in MailChimp. But it didn’t take long for Chapin and Kolidas to find problems in the list.

“They had a lot of subscribers, and a lot of segmented lists, but it wasn’t well-coordinated,” Bennett says. “For instance, there were a lot of duplicated names, and the segmentation didn’t really make sense. It was more like they had multiple master lists than true targeted segmentation. So we actually combined them all into one list and re-segmented them more effectively.”

Segmentation problems aren’t uncommon, especially as a client’s subscriber list grows.

“If you’ve got enough subscribers, the idea of retroactively segmenting them can be overwhelming,” Kolidas says. “A lot of clients will just avoid it completely. But our approach is that you have to look forward—what can I do from here on out to get this right? Segmentation is too powerful a tool to simply not use it.”

"If you’re not sending people to a site optimized for conversions, you’re wasting it.”

Be a Bolder Agency

Although these recommendations meant a lot of work, Kolidas believes it’s the role of an agency to make bold suggestions.

“Agencies have to be more vocal. In marketing, if you’re order-takers and your client doesn’t have the right strategy, your life with them is limited,” Kolidas says. “Speak up. If there’s a problem, attack it—don’t be afraid to ruffle feathers. We owe it to our clients to give them the best advice possible, not the easiest.”

“At the end of the day, it really comes down to having that relationship with the client,” Bennett says. “It’s a lot easier to push back on something when you’re focused on having strong relationships. But you have to have that credibility.”

Agencies should also remember that promoting automation doesn’t mean they’ll have less work in the shop. If anything, it’s quite the opposite.

“Automation requires more from us,” Kolidas says. “Agencies are sometimes concerned that it’s going to replace us and our expertise. But it should be clear—both to the agency and the client—that it takes a lot of man hours to properly manage an automated campaign on a monthly basis.”

Campaigns—even automated ones—are living, ever-evolving pieces of marketing. Attention must be paid.

“It’s not a set-it-and-forget-it tool,” Kolidas says. “Success with this kind of campaign comes from paying attention to the program you’re running and figuring out what you, as an agency, are going to report on.”

“What are you monitoring? What are you testing and refining? If you don’t have those procedures in place, and if clients don’t understand why it’s important, sure, they might decide they don’t need you anymore. But if you understand how you’re going to manage it, and how to create longevity for the client, you’ll create it for the agency as well.”

Andrew Kolidas at the Digital Impulse office in Watertown, Massachusetts.

The Automation Advantage: Selling It to Clients

Not every client will bite when you first suggest an automated email campaign. Here are a few selling points to help you make your case:

  1. It’s quick to deploy. “With MailChimp, we can get a program off the ground in days instead of weeks, with very little need for Q and A,” Kolidas says. If your client is eager to get started, automated campaigns hit the ground running.
  2. It scales up. You don’t have to dive in the deep end to get started with automation. “It’s okay to start small,” Kolidas says. “Set up a couple of great auto responders from certain forms. Do things to get comfortable with it, then build up your programs.”
  3. It solves problems. Automation isn’t just for making sales. It can solve operational problems, too. Kolidas gave the example of a medical clinic struggling with no-shows. “We created an automated campaign to follow up with people about their appointments,” he says. “It helped keep them in contact with their patients. Even when people cancelled, that contact allowed them to reschedule.” Find out what your client’s pain points are, then look to see how automation can help.
  4. It boosts sales offline, too. “For a brick-and-mortar store, automation can communicate what product is in stock, when customers should show up, and other important information,” Kolidas says. “You don’t have to be in e-commerce to use it to increase sales.”
  5. It only gets stronger. The process of testing, refining, and retesting campaigns means they only get more effective over time. “With the analytics tools available through MailChimp, you can create progressively more powerful campaigns,” Kolidas says. Put these tools to work for your clients.

Illustrations by TRZØWN, an illustration studio of northeast-located, cartoon-watching, skateboarding illustrator/animator/printer Kirk Wallace.