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Doug Dennison, the managing director of UK-based agency MailNinja, didn’t set out to make a career in email marketing. It just happened to be the sweet spot.
“Email ticked all the boxes,” Dennison says. “I’d developed skills in different areas over the years as I was making a career for myself. I knew about graphic design, basic HTML, and marketing, and when a client asked me to build an email campaign, I realized how all these pieces could fit together.”
To expand on his services, Dennison began learning web design. Using his designer’s eye to create websites allowed him to grow his freelance services into a full-time business, and in 2005, MailNinja was born.
For several years, MailNinja was a one-man show. It’s now comprised of 11 coders, designers, strategists, and marketers who view email as a critical tool in successful e-commerce. In fact, Dennison says, email is a more powerful tool now than it’s ever been.
“Our clients are much more aware of email’s possibilities, especially its power as a driver for e-commerce,” Dennison says. “Look at automation, customer targeting, email personalization—these things are more commonplace now than ever, and many of our clients come to us because they know these tools exist and need help using these.”
Dennison also notes that much of email’s power as a marketing tool has been a product of innovation on the part of platforms like MailChimp.
“It’s strange, because the real advancement of email has come from platforms like MailChimp,” Dennison says. “Companies like Microsoft (Outlook) and Google (Gmail) haven’t actually done much to catch up. HTML email is stuck in the dark ages and has a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the web. In many ways it’s stalled quite a bit. But platforms like MailChimp have helped make email critical to successful e-commerce.”
Learning the ropes
MailNinja offers its email marketing expertise to more than 300 clients, from startups to global businesses, and they use MailChimp chiefly because it’s user-friendly for clients of all sizes.
“What MailChimp does is package advanced features in a really approachable way,” Dennison says. “Other platforms haven’t really mastered that—they have powerful tools that are difficult to use. MailChimp is just as capable with automation and personalizing emails and other capabilities, but it’s done it in a way that isn’t intimidating.”
This is critical, Dennison says, because not every client is prepared to hire MailNinja to manage their email services 24/7. When it’s time for a client to take the reins, they need a platform that empowers them to do it well.
“We tailor everything we do around the needs of our clients. So we offer services that range from email template design to a full-service package for email marketing,” Dennison says. “MailChimp allows our clients to learn the ropes quickly so that they run their own split tests, collect data, and refine their campaigns.”
Of course, clients may still make mistakes. When they do, MailNinja is on hand to offer guidance.
Start now, improve later
“No one should expect to immediately be an email expert,” Dennison says. “People do procrastinate a bit, and we see clients who delay putting together a campaign out of the fear that they’re going to do it wrong. But I advise them to just start getting it done. You can’t improve until you start.”
Still, there are a few common mistakes that Dennison sees from client to client, some more egregious than others.
“There are still people who don’t have mobile responsive email templates, and nowadays that’s unacceptable,” Dennison says. “You have to look good on a mobile device. No exceptions.”
Another common problem that Dennison sees are marketing departments that are unfamiliar with the particulars of email marketing. “Generally, these clients have people who have been tasked with sending email, but they’ve gotten in the habit of sending it at the same time and same day each week without looking at the results,” Dennison says. “So they might be sending an email out each week at 10 a.m. on a Wednesday because that’s what they’ve always done, and they aren’t thinking strategically about it.”
Paying close attention to analytics, Dennison says, is critical to effective email marketing.
“Looking at the results is crucial to refining a campaign, as is experimentation. Five years ago, it was very popular to circulate articles about email marketing best practices, and there would be advice on the best time to send email, or which color buttons worked the best,” Dennison says. “The truth, though, is that your customers are unique. Your brand is unique. The only way to find what works is to get in there and change it up. That’s when you’ll learn the things that will help you refine what you’re doing into a more successful email marketing strategy.”
"The only way to improve sales is to gather data and refine your approach. Which means that every email you send should be split tested, because it’s another opportunity to collect more information on your subscribers."
Why MailChimp for e-commerce?
Doug Dennison explains why you should be pitching MailChimp to your clients—especially for e-commerce.
Reason 1: It works for non-experts.
“MailChimp is one of the more intuitive platforms on the market,” Dennison says. “When we look at the capabilities it has for testing email, personalization, and analytics, it’s a little surprising that it’s also so simple to use.”
Your clients don’t have to be experts to use MailChimp. And for smaller clients especially, being able to manage more of their own email marketing will help them stretch their dollars.
Reason 2: People are receptive to email.
“Email is probably one of the only channels you can count on to drive e-commerce,” Dennison says. “People are much more comfortable giving you an email address than, say, their home address or a phone number.”
Email continues to be one of the most effective ways of connecting with audiences. And with MailChimp’s ability to segment those audiences, it can help your client send the right message to the right person at the right time.
Reason 3: Success is data-driven.
“The only way to improve sales is to gather data and refine your approach,” Dennison says. “Which means that every email you send should be split tested, because it’s another opportunity to collect more information on your subscribers.”
MailChimp’s A/B testing capabilities allow businesses specializing in e-commerce to collect all kinds of data on what converts—and what doesn’t. And because these tests are simple to run, your clients will be empowered to generate and collect the data they need to increase their sales.
Illustrations by Jess Rotter, a Los Angeles-based artist whose illustrations have appeared on public murals, album covers, and a whole lot of T-shirts. Her first book, I’m Bored, was released in October 2016.