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No BS Email Marketing- Interview with David Wood, Email Marketing Manager of Direct Wines

Author's avatar By Dan Grech 04 Jul, 2016
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Dan Grech interviews David Wood about his email marketing strategy

DaveI’ve been here for about five years and had been doing email for about three years beforehand. I started off working in B2B, at an IT distributor, which was very different to what I do now. And back then I was much more hands-on; creating the emails, structuring, planning, copywriting, all of that stuff.

I wanted to get more immediate results, so I moved into the retail space. The opportunity came up for Email Marketing Manager at Direct Wines, which covered off working with Laithwaite’s, Sunday Times, Averys, and others, so it was ideal really. Within my current role, I directly manage one, but indirectly manage a team of about eight. That includes writers, creatives, HTML, so it kind of covers quite a range.

DanFor anyone unsure, Direct Wines, they’re the parent company of some big wine e-commerce companies?

Dave: Yeah, Direct Wines is an overarching group of a lot of brands – Laithwaite’s is the key brand that I work on.

When you moved from IT into Wine, was there anything that really stood out to you about email marketing?


It was a big change, if I’m honest. And a good change, but a definite change. I found in B2B, it was very hard to actually getting clear attributable results from a lot of your work – apart from your opens and clicks. It then had to go through a sales system so there were a lot of things you couldn’t control. I found that much harder to work with, because I like to learn quickly and then be able to make improvements from results.

Working in e-commerce now, it’s so fast-paced. We make changes on a daily basis. For instance, we had a campaign that went out last week that we were changing last minute as a result of updates and learnings from the day before. Knowing that something wasn’t quite working and spotting what could be improved, working with multiple stakeholders like merchandising and designers, we could immediately see the impact of the changes we’d made to know we’d done the right thing. You can see that immediately. You can report back within minutes, hours, rather than waiting months, which I found was the case in the B2B space.Dan

What kind of data points are you looking at to make those decisions, to get the best time-efficient result?

DaveRevenue, product sales and web conversion rates. I find that I will concentrate on almost every metric, particularly if I’m running any tests. I wouldn’t ever focus on say conversion alone when analysing a test. I’ll be looking at the email metrics and then pairing with  conversion metrics before making a decision.

Sometimes we see a  terrible interaction on some emails, but huge associated revenues. Presumably because those that have interacted – which might be a very small proportion – are very engaged with the product(s) promoted, but overall we don’t see this trend across the full contact list we sent that email to.

That suggests to us we need to be more targeted with our products toparticular customers or segments. It’s not news to most email marketers, but obviously, the more targeted you can be, the better your overall conversions and overall stats will be.Dan

What do you think holds some of us back? 

It’s hugely difficult, I think is the honest answer. Targeting at a one-to-one level is the ultimate goal, and it’s definitely the thing we’re always looking at achieving, and in the back of your mind you alwaysDaveknow it’s the right thing to be doing. However, we have a lot of emails going out the door. We’re sending at least one a day. And that’s to all sorts of different segments. It’s hard to come out of that cycle.

To try and manage targeting comms across the board without fully automating your emails – which again, in itself is very difficult – is quite hard. Particularly when you work in a traditionally print-led business. Although we’re seeing ever increasing interaction from our customers  online these days, making targeting work consistently across online and offline is tricky. You’ve got to manage offers that may be automated within other static offers that are going out the door, making sure what you’re doing doesn’t contradict the other contact.Dan

Are there any tools that you use to optimize your time or results in respect to this? 

Unfortunately I haven’t found a package where I can manage a lot of what I want to efficiently. Almost everything I do from a data perspective is manually selected through our data agency.

DaveThe stage that I’m working to get towards at the moment, which is taking a few years, is having much better access to our data, across all channels, when we need it. I want to be able to go in there right now, choose the customers I want and send to them, and be able to choose them based on demographics, product preferences, purchase history, browsing history... anything really, and know that I can  target our customers on a more one-to-one basis. And then if that’s worked as a manual contact, I can look to automate a more effective lifecycle programme for the my created segment(s) and allow it to run , and be optimised through split-testing, etc. It’s almost like the holy grail of email marketing, which always feels slightly out of reach. Dan

How important are loyalty programs, such as clubs or subscriptions to your retention strategy?

Dave: For us customers on regular wine plans are a key part of what we do  and as a result are a key focus.

It’s known for businesses to have 80% of revenue coming from 20% of top customers. This can give an area to focus special retention efforts. Is this similar for you and is there anything that you find really works in this area?

As a business, we have exactly the same setup. Through our data model we’ve identified our most active and ‘best’ customers and  we have a strategy for those particularDavecustomers, with a key focus on finding more customers who fit these characteristics. And from an email perspective, it boils down to how engaged they are as to how much they receive.

If  they’re being rewarded across other channels, which we do regularly, we would dynamically promote their relevant offers on their emails, rather than sending them something bespoke. That’s not saying we wouldn’t want to do this in the future; it’s just it’s not something we do currently. But yeah, there’s a great deal of focus on our top customers and ensuring they remain so, whilst trying to move customers up into this segments through various tactics. And these tactics definitely show to yield good results.Dan

Are there any revelations that you’ve had in your career about email? Perhaps an assumption that you had about something that when you tested, it turned out to be completely untrue?

I find them all of the time. Particularly with our business, which is  slightly different to something like a Fashion retailer. What we do sometimes contradicts what the industry says is best practice. For instance, ‘GIFs increase engagement’ is sort of widely accepted. We tend to see almost an opposite effect sometimes. We’ve done someDavereally nice-looking GIFs, which you’d think out in the retail space would look really good. They’ve gone out versus just a static image, and they haven’t shown any lift in clicks or engagement. Which surprised me. 

We did a live countdown timer recently. First we tested it on landing pages and that showed a drop in response, so we took them off the landing pages. We’ve tested it also on email more recently, and again, it showed no lift in engagement. So for the extra work that goes into setting these up and managing them, we’ve decided it’s not worth it for now.

However, when you look around what’s ESPs talk about, it’s is something ‘you should be doing’. They see a lot of success with that type of thing, and you’ll see it across lots of brands. It doesn’t work for us.

Potentially it’s due to our slightly older demographic – potentially they’re less excited by these more ‘gimmicky’ emails.Dan

I think you’re right. But also, like you said, it’s something that needs to be tested ongoing.

Dave: Precisely. Just because you tested five times a year ago, doesn’t mean that this year, those trends haven’t changed. It does mean that you have a big job on your hands to keep track of all the little intricacies. But it keeps it exciting.

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By Dan Grech

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