With Stephan Hovnanian
Written by Franco Varriano.
This week, we’re starting a new series called Marketing Chat where we sit down with marketing experts and talk about specific email related subjects. We are honored to start the series with Stephan Hovnanian, head of Shovi.com, an email marketing and customer success firm with more than 15 years of experience.
2. The Interview
Ned: Thank you for joining us this week Stephan. Before we dive in to the topic, can you introduce yourself and Shovi so our readers know what you do?
Stephan: Sure, my company and I work with businesses who are transitioning toward more comprehensive and integrated forms of marketing, away from models where sales, marketing, and support operated in silos. Companies who recognize how marketing touches everything are better positioned for success in today’s buying landscape. We work mostly in the areas of email marketing, content strategy, and optimization, but I’ve done pretty much everything over my career.
Ned: You’ve been in business for 15 years. How would you summarize the evolution of email marketing and customer success?
Stephan: What I really find interesting is that today’s customer mindset is similar to that of customers before the Internet and online marketing. Reputation and trust have resurfaced as important buying metrics, thanks to the connectivity we have with each other. So, as far as email marketing and customer success goes, those businesses who can provide a more personalized, concierge-style experience are going to earn the business (and referrals) of more customers than businesses who still believe they have complete control over the message.
Ned: For many online stores, email marketing is the most important communication channel with customers. Is there a formula for better results?
Stephan: Sort of. Remember that your ultimate goal with email (and marketing in general) is finding opportunities to reach the right person at the right time with the right message, and then deliver them a delightful experience. Online stores have the distinct advantage of lots and lots of customer data, so creating these opportunities is easier than you think. My best advice would be to work backward: start with the goal for your next campaign, figure out what outcomes will help you achieve that goal, determine the data you need to measure the outcomes, then finally pull the data and create the campaign assets, timing, etc.
Ned: One of the biggest challenge email marketers face is content creation. How can one optimize email content for better results?
Stephan: People consume email because it’s relevant. Once you’ve lost that aspect you’ve lost the subscriber. So if you’re a storefront, think about how you can use seasonal trends or purchase history to determine what products might be most relevant to a segment of your list. If you don’t have those products, maybe you skip that segment outright, or whip up a short article on your blog that acts as a touchpoint and reminder that your brand is on top of things. Once you have the content figured out, there are lots of design-related techniques that will give your readers a clear and delightful inbox experience (which typically entices them to click through).
Ned: Shovi.com also specializes in customer success. How do those 2 (email marketing/customer success) relate to each other?
Stephan: They work hand in hand. Pre-sales, email marketing strengthens the relationship between the customer and your brand. It puts a face behind the company that the prospect can connect with directly, shares relevant information to help them make a buying decision. Post-sale, email helps with onboarding, sharing tips, re-engaging inactive customers, and so much more.
Ned: Blast emails are becoming less effective than highly targeted emails. What is your view on how we make emails more personal?
Stephan: Use your data, you have a ton of it. But go beyond just entering the person’s first name, start thinking about dynamic and conditional content based on past purchases, browsing history, last login, and other behavioral data points. Again, think about how you could be a concierge to your subscriber.
Ned: How can our readers leverage your expertise?
Stephan: Just reach out. I’m active on Twitter (@stephanhov) and the “Get in Touch” tab on my website goes straight to me if you would like to talk marketing strategy.
Ned: Last but not least, according to you, what is the future of email marketing?
Stephan: Messaging in general has extended way beyond the inbox. And I honestly don’t think the developments in real-time, geo-targeted messaging is going to happen through email; it’s going to happen more natively within our smartphones (either through SMS, apps, or assistants like Siri and Google Now). Real-time transactional communication, like support inquiries or shopping receipts, may shift to chat/messaging apps. So if I’m right, then what’s left for commercial email? Perhaps it’s stickier content that has a longer shelf life, like a newsletter, but one that still uses personalization, behavioral data, and has more of a concierge feel to it than “hey, look at all the latest things our amazing company has been up to!” I should also call attention to a great expert roundup that the folks at Litmus did about the future of email. If any of those experts are even partially correct, email is in for an exciting ride over the next five years!
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