Podcast Episode 1: E-Commerce and Email Marketing

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Max Ade, the founder of Growth Collective, sits down with expert e-commerce and email marketing freelancer Melanie Balke, to discuss remote work, e-commerce in the time of COVID-19, long-term branding opportunities, and how to best utilize trends for your company.

Listen now on your favorite apps: Spotify, Apple, and Google Podcasts.

In This Episode You’ll Learn:
  • E-Commerce in the time of COVID-19 [03:50]
  • Which industries in E-Commerce are doing better than others [03:59]
  • Changes to essential verticals [04:41]
  • How e-commerce companies are reacting to COVID-19 [06:12]
  • Long term brand building opportunities [08:36]
  • Cost-per-clicks (CPCs) for e-commerce on the advertising side [10:32]
  • Email marketing campaigns to convert new customers [13:56]
  • The importance of running an “abandoned cart email” [15:06] [20:59]
  • How to utilize trends for your company [17:26]
  • Preferred ESPs [19:44]
  • Messaging your customer about the moment [22:08]

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Links Mentioned in This Episode:

Episode 1 Transcript

Melanie: But let's say for example, you're, you're not that type of brand, right? To just be like Carol Baskin. You're not, that's not your voice. Your voice is not funny. Your voice is not edgy. Let's say you're a health and wellness brand and you sell yoga clothes. Well, you can still ride that trend. Why don't you send an email, offering all your leopard prints and your animal prints, yoga pants.

[00:00:24] You're not even mentioning Tiger King anywhere, but you're still running off of that trend. And that's actually exactly what Alo Yoga did. Couple of like two days ago I received, there were emails, just animal print paths and like, Oh my God, this is brilliant. This is brilliant.

[00:00:43] Max: What's up, everybody. Welcome to the Growth Collective Podcast. I'm your host Max Ade. And today on the show, we have one of the incredible freelancers from the Growth Collective Network. Her name is Melanie Balke. She is in eCommerce wiz, and we actually recorded this episode a few months ago. It feels like a few years ago because of how quickly the world has been changing.

[00:01:09] But we dive into the impact that COVID-19 had on the eCommerce space. Some of which is still continuing today. And we talk about how brands can use the timely things that happen in their marketing. So we touch on what was timely at the time, the show Tiger King, but those, those lessons of course, still relevant today with everything that's happening in the world, perhaps even more relevant today than when we recorded this episode, I think you're really gonna enjoy it.

[00:01:41] Let's get into it.

[00:01:49] Melanie, welcome to the show, email marketer. E-commerce expert. Tell us more.

[00:01:56] Melanie: Yeah, I think that hits it pretty much on the head. I'm what you'd call a digital marketer, but specialize in really eCommerce, growing eCommerce businesses and email marketing and Facebook ads.

[00:02:08] Max: And before we get into all the juicy marketing stuff, where are you bunkered down for this quarantine?

[00:02:17] Melanie: I'm quarantined in a very sunny LA. So we definitely have it better than the East Coast, I would say.

[00:02:25] Max: So you're able to like get out and at least get a breath of fresh air every now and then unlike the San Francisco folks.

[00:02:32] Melanie: We can, like, we can go for a walk. We can go for a run. But they closed down beaches and they closed down the trails.

[00:02:40] So, yeah, but it's better than, you know, not being able to leave your house at all.

[00:02:45] Max: For all the folks out there who are just starting to work remote, any tips, any advice?

[00:02:51] Melanie: Yes. It took me probably a year to really get a handle of this, but having a set routine, like really knowing when you start working and when you end working and how to take your breaks is going to be the difference between you ending up hating working from home or are you loving working from home?

[00:03:10] So really, you know, there's this really big risk of just getting out of your bed and sitting down at the computer. Or just leaving like theater and going straight to bed. And that's something I really recommend not to do, but have a set routine, you know, before you get to work, do what you would do normally like get up, get dressed, get ready, put on actual clothes, have breakfast somewhere else.

[00:03:33] Come do work, have lunch somewhere else. Come do work and then once you're done be done with it.

[00:03:40] Max: Yeah. I love that. Let's dive into it. I guess this is a really interesting time for e-commerce obviously. What are, what are some of the observations that you've seen so far?

[00:03:50] Melanie: Well, interestingly, what we're seeing is, obviously retail is being hit really hard because everything's closed, but e-commerce across the board is either steady.

[00:03:59] So, you know, fairly close to what we had before or doing a lot better depending on the industry. Like we're seeing apparel and in the area of lounge wear do really well. We're seeing cosmetics, beauty, food, and beverage. All of that is really up on eCommerce and all the other brands that I work with are just holding steady.

[00:04:21] So it's really interesting that we're not seeing that dip on the eCommerce side.

[00:04:26] Max: Have you, have you noticed a difference between verticals? Like, are there goods that are more essential now, and others that people aren't buying or. Maybe even by price point, are you seeing, you know, the high price point items, stuff selling as well?

[00:04:41] Melanie: Totally. So verticals, I guess just about thinking about what people are doing right now, obviously anything that can keep your kids entertained and like too busy for an hour is doing great. Anything that's, like I said, lounge wear stuff people can wear at home and be comfortable, but not be in PJ's is doing great. Food and beverage is doing extraordinary on e-commerce right. Any way people can avoid going to the grocery store. Fantastic. those are some of the things that we're really seeing form. Well, on the other hand, when it comes to clothing, what we're obviously seeing not perform well is really outerwear or clothing that's formal clothing, you know, right now would be prom dress time.

[00:05:22] These people are losing some substantial revenue there. So those kinds of things are really taking a hit. Electronics is a little bit across, like all over the place. So. Obviously people are using the time to like buy video games, buy new TVs, do things that can keep them busy at home. But again, with the higher price point, it's, it's not really, it hasn't really offset any direction, at least from what I've been seeing across my clients.

[00:05:47] Max: And how have you seen companies reacting to the situation? Because you know, unemployment is just through the roof. I think the last few weeks you've seen, not only records, but like double or triple the previous high for unemployment claims. I think it was over 6 million just this week, that filed.

[00:06:06] So what are you seeing, how you're seeing your clients react to the situation?

[00:06:12] Melanie: You know, one, depending on the industry they're in. So eCommerce clients are not worried as much. I do have a couple of clients in the events space. I, you know, advise for recruiting company. So those people are obviously a lot more nervous.

[00:06:30]That being said, I would say the overall reaction to it is we're just getting, you know, we're just preparing like every company has to go through a recession as well. So they're just really preparing for the situation and making sure that whatever comes we're ready and thinking about pivoting. You know, how can we pivot for what's happening now?

[00:06:51] Because what's happening now is going to have a longterm effect on how consumers choose to consume. So I think e-commerce will see a general lift from this for the next years to come simply because now is really at a time where we're converting people who were not so much e-commerce users into e-commerce users.

[00:07:11] And that habit we foresee is going to stick. So preparing for those trends. And pivoting, pivoting. However we can, you know, if, if we, if we can't sell right now, pivoting to content.

[00:07:22] Max: Yeah. Let's talk, let's talk about that. I mean, I think that there's an opportunity during this time to invest. In longterm strategies, if you can't, like you said, sell during this time.

[00:07:33] So, is that something you've been implementing with your clients and have you been thinking through that?

[00:07:38] Melanie: Totally. what I call a huge brand building opportunity right now. For example, the, the recruiting client, what I was saying is, okay, you might not be placing people right now, but what can you do to build the brand so that when people need placement, you are top of mind.

[00:07:56] I, when people think about man, I'm looking for a new job, you're the one they think about. And I think it's the same for all the other, you know, companies that are not really able to sell right now, if you're in the events space, what can you create that all these potential customers and companies that are not working with you right now that you're the first one they think of when it comes to working with anyone again. And I think content is a huge part of that.

[00:08:21] Max: Yeah. I think content is definitely a huge part of that. Your product's a big part of that too. On, on the marketing side, so you're producing the, let's say you want to do this. You want to take a longterm view on your content production.

[00:08:32] How are you, how are you going about it sort of tactically.

[00:08:36] Melanie: I think the number one question is where are your customers at right now and what do they care about? Right. So people are sitting at home and let's say, for example, one of the trends I saw with Google trends, they were just reporting on it is one of the top Google things that like went through the roof is how do you bake sourdough bread?

[00:08:55] So really thinking about, "Hey, what's my customer doing right now?" And what do they care about? If you're on the food and beverage space, how to make sourdough bread is a really relevant trend for you. So how do you utilize that and how do you message what you have to offer in terms of what people are interested in?

[00:09:12] Right. The recruiting space might as well be, you know, career coaching, specific free career coaching, giving that to people or just content around, "hey, what can you do during the recession?" What's forecasted. When are people gonna start hiring again? I've seen it exceptional dashboard of just a really, it's a huge, massive list that tells you which companies are hiring, which had layoffs, which you're firing and you know, that's also content.

[00:09:39] So those are some of the two industries that I work with in this space where we're, we're doing content around that. But you know, even like the events company I work with, they're running virtual bartending classes now. Huh because everyone's drinking like alcohol sales are up ridiculously.

[00:09:59] Max: Oh man, it's a huge boom for alcohol and food delivery.

[00:10:03] I mean, these are slim margin businesses that people were, you know, starting to question, what the longterm viability was. And like you said, now, now everyone is a user. They have to be. Thinking about some of these other channels. We talked a little bit about content. I know you're also a Facebook advertising expert.

[00:10:22] What are you seeing maybe specifically for e-com on the, on the advertising side, are you seeing lower CPCs, lower oxygen pressure?

[00:10:32] Melanie: We're seeing the lower CPMs. Cheaper cost per thousand impressions. We're not really seeing a huge change in CPC. We did, we did see a little bit of a dip and Row Ads across the board, a little bit of a dip and click through rate across the board.

[00:10:47] So, you know, that part took a small hit, but to be honest, I wouldn't say a significant hit to the point where I'm concerned. It's like, we're talking about 1.29% or something like that. But we've definitely seen that cost per thousand impressions have gotten way cheaper, which I mainly attribute to the fact that we have all of these really big companies that have huge advertising budgets that have pulled that from Facebook.

[00:11:13] So thinking about Airbnb, like they stopped their entire marketing spend is a great example. And then you have five of those. Five 10 really big guys were pumping a lot of money into Facebook or a hundred, really big guys pumping a lot of money into Facebook. Them pulling their spend is going to show an effect.

[00:11:32] So that's why I think we have a lower CPMs. And then the little bit return on ad spend. I do think, you know, is to be attribute it to the whole situation we're in was a lot of unemployment, but depending on industry, again, for some industries, we're seeing, you know, way better return on ad spend. And it kind of levels out across all eCom industries to be like a little bit less than what we usually see.

[00:11:57] Max: Yeah. So maybe, yeah. Lower auction pressure. These big guys are gone, and then it's just about your conversion rates and those have drops those vary, I guess, by the business, in this environment. Super interesting.

[00:12:10] Melanie: Yeah. Yeah. Some of my clients are sold out. Like they're out of product, literally because you know, they're selling cleaning products.

[00:12:19] They're totally out of cleaning products or they're selling something in the food and beverage space. And they're like off by like 50%, what they normally would be month over month. So they're facing different challenges. And then obviously you have the industries who are not doing as well. Like any note.

[00:12:36] Nice clothing, outerwear, another industry, by the way that I forgot to mention that's doing absolutely fantastic is baby products.

[00:12:45] Max: Wow. But it's interesting. Cause a lot of the, like you're like you're describing a lot of this stuff. The spending is shifting online for the first time and it'll be interesting to see after this is over how much of that. Shifts back into retail.

[00:12:59] Melanie: Yeah, I agree. I'm curious. I do think for businesses, it's been an opportunity to convert that one user that you have on your email list. That's been like loving what you're doing, but is not the person who orders online. This was your opportunity to convert them. And that's what I've seen.

[00:13:16] For example, with the email campaigns we're sending. Just the simple messaging of skip the grocery store or skip the store. You don't have to go out to purchase. buy online has had incredible conversions.

[00:13:32] Max: That is really interesting. That seems like something every econ brand should be doing right now. On the email marketing topic. This is an area that you're really deep in. Maybe you could share, even just more generally what, what you have in terms of tips for ESPs or tactics. It seems like the, that whole landscape has changed a lot in the last few years.

[00:13:56] Melanie: Yeah. I think it was email marketing. Generally what people underestimate is what a revenue machine it is.

[00:14:03] It's very low cost, high impact. And I think if you're doing Facebook ads marketing, you better be doing email marketing because generally, you know, if you compare it to the past five years, Facebook ads have gotten incredibly expensive. I'm a customer for a hundred dollar product you used to be able to acquire for maybe 20 bucks.

[00:14:23] That's now 50 bucks. So it's really eating up your margin. If it's just a onetime purchase with email, you're actually able to increase that customer lifetime value and make that a profitable acquisition again. So I think the one thing people underestimate is if you're doing Facebook ads, you want to be doing email marketing to make the whole Facebook ads part profitable or more profitable.

[00:14:47]And the second thing, you know, I think this is well known, but interestingly, when I go into email accounts of new clients or, you know, when I just offer people to take peek, it's really interesting to me that I still see the automated flows and the wealth of data. You have an email completely under utilized, right?

[00:15:06] And it goes to the extent that some people are not even running a proper "abandoned cart email", believe it or not, but that's still a thing. And it goes beyond that though. Right? You might have your great welcome emails, flow. You might have your abandoned cart, email flow, but you can think about all. If you think about your entire customer life cycle, everything they go through.

[00:15:27] There's an automated flow. You can set up for all of these stages. To really make sure you're sending them the most personalized email and the most relevant email for where they're at which you know, personalized, relevant communication usually means conversion. So I think that's like my general  recommendation without getting too much into the specifics is really think how can email and automated flows support your customer throughout the entire life cycle?

[00:15:56] Not just like before the purchase and when they come to the website to the first time. Well, what happens after the purchase? How do you turn first time customer into an advocate of your brand? How do you turn that customer that's an advocate into someone who starts creating content for you without you even, you know, actively going, after them.

[00:16:17] Max: Ah, that's really, really good advice and a really good way to think about it.

[00:16:20] It's such an edge in an advertising auction when you have a higher customer lifetime value and you can pay more for the customer. So that's that unlock scale. When you're thinking about, you know, I see so many companies you're describing. If they don't have their email flow set up, sometimes they have like a newsletter, for example, that goes out every week, but it just, isn't a good use of time.

[00:16:44] It's a, it's a lot of effort to curate the content. It's not the right content for the audience. Can you talk a little more about how you go about thinking through or putting together some of those more automated flows that are, that are targeting different audiences segments.

[00:17:00] Melanie: Totally. Yeah. And not just flows, campaigns, too.

[00:17:03] I think everything comes down to who is your customer? What do they care about right now, whether we're thinking through a flow, right. And you're thinking about, okay, here, they just purchased, what are they, what do they care about right after purchasing. Or you're thinking about a campaign, like a newsletter where it's, you know, it's April 3rd today, what do they care about today on April 3rd, 2020?

[00:17:26] And um a really good example of something a little bit more edgy that I like doing, or that I have been doing is: we watch Tiger King.

[00:17:35] Max: Everyone says I need to.

[00:17:36] Melanie: You need to! And the fact that everyone says you need to is an example of why I think for example, now, anything you can do related to Tiger King would be really fun and relevant marketing, obviously, depending on your customer base, right?

[00:17:51] If you have like a 90 year old grandmother as your customer base. That may be a different thing, but, if you have a customer base, who's the type of customer who would watch Netflix and who would watch the show Tiger King. But right now everyone's watching it, then, you know, you have a piece of pop culture that is really people's mind right now.

[00:18:11] And then you can, if you're a fun brand, you know, you can maybe send out subject lines with, I don't want to ruin it for you, but the spoiler, like, you know, there's like a little spoiler, there would be a subject line spoiler. But you know, like just asking something about Joe Exotic for president.

[00:18:26] That's a bad example. I have a better one, but I don't want to spoil it for you.  

[00:18:31] Max: And every one else listening to this.

[00:18:33] Melanie: And everyone else well I'm assuming everyone else has watched it.  

[00:18:37] Max: It's true I'm the one who hasn't watched it yet.

[00:18:39] Melanie: Yeah. You can send a subject line just saying Carol Baskin and people would be like, "what's that about?" But the reference is really relevant to people and people are really excited about the show.

[00:18:49] Like there's a real internet hype going on. And why shouldn't your brand capitalize off of that? If it fits, you know, your brand and your customer base, but let's say for example, you're not that type of brand, right? To just be like "Carol Baskin". You're not, that's not your voice. Your voice is not funny, or voice is not edgy.

[00:19:10] Let's say you're a health and wellness brand and you sell yoga clothes. Well, you can still ride that trend. Why don't you send an email? Offering all your leopard prints and your animal prints yoga pants. You're not even mentioning Tiger King anywhere, but you're still running off of that trend. And that's actually exactly what Alo Yoga did.

[00:19:32]A couple of like two days ago, I received their emails, just animal print pants. I was like, Oh my God, this is brilliant. This is brilliant.

[00:19:39] Max: I love that. In terms of tools, what's your preferred ESP?

[00:19:44] Melanie: I'm a big fan of Klaviyo. I work with a lot of eCommerce businesses. A lot of them are Shopify. I personally think Klayvio is by far the best one when it comes to Shopify integration, someone, because they have such an advantage when it goes with data, like the wealth of data I have in Klayvio I'm yet to find with another ESP, the ways I can segment.

[00:20:07] I use Klaviyo, honestly, sometimes for when I'm trying to get information I can get from Google Analytics or Shopify analytics, I'll figure out a way in Klayvio to segment it and I'll get exactly what I want.

[00:20:18] Max: What, so let's say there's a startup new business, something like that D to C brand. What's the one thing that what's the biggest, low hanging fruit to take care of in terms of email?

[00:20:31] Melanie: Yeah, I think obviously your standard flows like "welcome", "abandoned cart". Abandoned cart is like, has like a ridiculous rate, like of ridiculous success rate that I should know by heart, but I don't. But I did, like, I did the math one time for a prospect and I said, Hey, you guys are getting like, I don't know, they were getting a bunch of visitors and they're losing like 15 grand a month just because they weren't using abandoned cart emails.

[00:20:59] So that's using the standard conversions with abandoned carts. So that's definitely. Low hanging fruit and do that, you know, and there's so many automated ways to do that. So many easy one-click integrations where you don't even have to do anything. That's the lowest hanging fruit. But I also think really upselling and thinking about cross selling and reselling to your customer, something people often forget.

[00:21:25] And there was a lot of revenue in that if someone's already purchased from you, the likelihood is they like you, hopefully, if your product is good, they liked you. And so why not remind them to purchase again, especially if it's a replenishable product. Right?

[00:21:42] Max: And you try to try to time that up based on consumption, right?

[00:21:46] Melanie: Yeah. So we kind of check out an average of when people will reorder and then we, we time it and wait, iterate our way to the best time. Similarly by testing.

[00:21:58] Max: So anything else that you, you think people should know, anything you've seen with COVID or anything that, that you think is particularly relevant to share with everybody?

[00:22:08] Melanie: I think with COVID the COVID is just a great example of something brands should be doing anyway, but often forget. And I think that is again, messaging your customer about the moment. Thinking about where they're at what's relevant to them. So COVID was just one example where everyone was getting emails from, you know, every brand and their moms.

[00:22:34]But was that relevant? Yes. Was that relevant from that brand? Maybe not. So really thinking about that, how can you provide value to your customer? With what you're messaging versus I'm just trying to sell to them. Every email you send hands down needs to have value for the people opening it. And that's why I think what you mentioned when people send newsletters and they're like not really relevant it's because people are doing it to do it versus doing it, to actually provide the customer with something that's valuable to them.

[00:23:05]And same goes with Facebook ads, right? So many ads are created and it's about "buy this", the goal of this ad is: person buys this. Versus when you think about an ad from the standpoint of the goal of this ad is to add value to the person who watches it. I guarantee you are going to create a showstopping or scroll stopping ad.

[00:23:25] That's going to convert much better as well. So I think that's the fundamental shift that marketing needs in terms of how do I communicate with my customers?

[00:23:35] Max: This is, this has been great. I think a lot of people are going to find this very, very valuable, especially now, but, but just in general, I think some of the things that you've touched on here is just good marketing advice for anytime. And will only help even when, when the economy comes back. So anything else you, you want to add here before we close it down?

[00:23:58] Melanie: Yeah. Just recessions are a part of the economic life cycle and companies go through 'em and they go through booms and then they go through recession. So. Keep calm and carry on.

[00:24:11] Max: All right, Melanie. Thank you for joining.

[00:24:14] Melanie: Thanks Max.

[00:24:19] Max: Thanks for taking the time to listen to today's episode. Just a reminder, everybody, you can hire Melanie right now to help you with your email marketing or your paid social advertising. She's one of hundreds of incredible freelance marketers in the Growth Collective Network. So head on over to GrowthCollective.com and we will hand match you with the freelance marketers that are the best fit for your particular business.

[00:24:47] Today's episode was also edited and produced by my wonderful brother-in-law David Reineke. And we would be so grateful if you could Like or Review or Subscribe in your favorite podcast app. We'll see you next time.

Melanie Balke
E-Commerce Expert
Former company
About Author
Melanie Balke is a marketing consultant specialized in e-commerce growth, email marketing and Facebook advertisement. She has worked with global brands as well as start-ups in various industries from automotive, beverage, skincare, retail, clothing, consumer electronics to blockchain, real estate and more.
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