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Ep. 55 - Go Beyond Business and Marketing: Dinner Party Strategy for your Emails with Val Geisler

Val Geisler is the founder and CEO (that's Chief Email Officer) of Fix My Churn.

With an obsession for customer communication, Val has spent over a decade inside companies from non-profits and startups to 7-figure businesses.

She uses her background in customer experience, digital strategy, and content creation to help clients every day.

In This Conversation We Discuss:

  • [1:17] Why is email important for your business?
  • [2:34] What brought Val to email?
  • [4:26] Email is very personalized and diverse
  • [5:55] Email content does lead to sales
  • [7:51] As an SMB, how do you provide a great email experience?
  • [11:52] How to stop your brand from feeling like a vending machine
  • [14:17] Having a well-defined niche and a nurtured community leads to success
  • [17:21] Sponsor: Gorgias gorgias.link/honest
  • [18:09] Talking to your customers gives you the idea of what content to push
  • [19:59] When should you NOT send a promotional email?
  • [23:47] Val’s “Dinner Party Strategy” for Email Marketing
  • [26:17] Val’s email tips for subscription-based businesses

Resources:

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Transcript:

Val Geisler

The best way to know what kind of content to be producing, in the first place, is to talk to your customers.

 

Chase Clymer

Welcome to Honest eCommerce, where we're dedicated to cutting through the BS and finding actionable advice for online store owners.

 

I'm your host Chase Clymer, and I believe running an online business does not have to be complicated or a guessing game.

 

If you're struggling with scaling your sales, Electric Eye is here to help. To apply to work with us visit electriceye.io/connect to learn more. Now let's get on with the show.

 

Hey, everybody, welcome to another episode of Honest eCommerce. This is a long episode in the making. We've rescheduled, I think three times, so this is the record.

 

Val Geisler

Third time's the charm.

 

Chase Clymer

Exactly. Exactly. And the best part is you're here locally in Columbus, Ohio with me and we couldn't make it work.

 

Val Geisler

Nor have we purposely met up in person.

 

Chase Clymer

Yeah. We forgot to get coffee, too.

 

Val Geisler

(laughs)

 

Chase Clymer

So the mystery guest, (laughs) that I haven't introduced yet, is Val Geisler. She's the Chief Email Officer of Fix My Churn. They're a team of specialists dedicated to keeping customers around longer through a better lifecycle and transactional email campaigns. I can't believe I did that all in one take.

 

Val Geisler

Good job!

 

Chase Clymer

Absolutely. So let's get right to it. Why is email important?

 

Val Geisler

Well, probably because everybody thinks about transactional emails. That's... If you don't have transactional emails, like what are you even doing with your business?

 

But there's so much more to email and that's what's really fun for me about it. There are so many opportunities to... Especially, in today's data-filled world, we have so much information about our customers and it's just a matter of using it.

 

And email is always going to be the best way to reach people. It is direct. You "own your list." It's not run by engagement on a social media platform or managed by the amount of money you're willing to spend on an ad.

 

Once you have someone's email address, you can talk to them. Talk directly to them. And so email is cool for lots of reasons.

 

And we can talk about maybe some of them unless this is like a 3-hour show. But yeah, I think email matters a lot. And most people are doing (only) 5% of what they could do.

 

Chase Clymer

Oh, you have no idea. And I will talk about that later.

 

Val Geisler

(laughs)

 

Chase Clymer

So, what brought you down this path of email and copy and just the power of owning that relationship with your customer?

 

Val Geisler

The joke about email marketers is that nobody got into email on purpose. There's no degree in Email Marketing. Maybe there is, actually. I haven't really looked. (laughs)

 

But it's not something that people necessarily choose to go into. We all just landed here through happenstance and experience.

 

So, I got into email by way of working for an ESP. So I was the email marketer. The person sending the emails that did the marketing for the email marketing company.

 

So that was a little bit of a meta job, maybe as meta as you could possibly get, actually. And I just fell in love with email on both sides. So I learned the tip of the iceberg --as far as like deliverability-- and I have a little bit of knowledge there from being on the backside of an ESP.

 

But then I also --as the person sending and then also having all these customers who are doing really cool things with their email campaigns-- Being able to watch what they were doing and see it from the software side, it was just like a crash course in email marketing. And I just fell in love.

 

Chase Clymer

I think that's the best way to learn any new skill is just trial by fire. But my project manager, Andrew, would murder me for that opinion.

 

Val Geisler

(laughs) Well, it was like what they say: "The best way to learn a language is to go to the country and just immerse yourself." That was definitely how I learned the language of email.

 

Chase Clymer

Absolutely. So speaking of the language of email, what's your favorite salutation?

 

Val Geisler

Oh. Well, it depends on the brand. Oh, and see, that's the thing. That's the number one answer that I will give you about everything email: It depends and you have to test it. But as far as for my own personal use, it's usually "Hey..." (laughs)

 

Chase Clymer

Yeah.

 

Val Geisler

Or that's a greeting, I guess. Salutation. That's a sign-off?

 

Chase Clymer

You know what, I don't know. (laughs)

 

Val Geisler

I think. Because the saying is, "Greetings and salutations." Right? So that's hello and goodbye? I think salutation is signing off.

 

Chase Clymer

Perhaps. I know that Shawn, my business partner, broke me off the habit of saying, "Hey!" He thought it wasn't as professional. And then he got me stuck on saying, "Hi!"

 

Val Geisler

Hi.

 

Chase Clymer

That was four years ago. I don't know. But that's... I think it's to each their own. It's your personal brand. You can say "What's up?" if you want.

 

Val Geisler

Right. Exactly. So to that point about (how), it's not "professional." Maybe your brand is one that is purposely not professional and so "Hey!" makes total sense. Our friend, Nick, has a client or worked with a client that's very brusque, I suppose.

And they'll send emails like, "Hey, moron." (laughs) And that's how they start their emails to their email list and people sign up to engage with their brand because of that language. It's not a turn off in that case.

 

Chase Clymer

Yeah, absolutely. So when we were at the Klaviyo conference, a few months ago, I have a terrible perception of time. Chubbies was one of the (ones that) was giving a talk on how they're doing emails and whatnot.

 

They said that their list has grown a lot, but it hasn't grown along with sales. And what they found is that their very hilarious and goofy antics in their emails have attracted people that want to be on the list to see what they're going to say and what they're going to send.

 

Val Geisler

Yeah.

 

Chase Clymer

So yeah. You can say whatever you want in your emails. And if your brand is true, and you've got your audience and your market picked out correctly, they're probably going to respond to it.

 

Val Geisler

Yeah. And I'd be interested to see how many people joined the Chubbies list to just check out their emails and enjoy some time in their inbox and then end up becoming customers but not with the intention of becoming customers but end up buying anyway because of it.

 

Chase Clymer

Oh, yeah. I mean, it's the old, 7 Touchpoints to when a customer... Or now it's 12 or 100. I don't know.

 

Val Geisler

(laughs)

 

Chase Clymer

But you know it's... I bet you there are people that signed up just because it was goofy. And then they're like, "You know what, I want those shorts."

 

Val Geisler

Yeah. I think that there are several brands I've interacted with lately that make me feel that way. TUSHY is one of them.

 

Chase Clymer

I'm familiar.

 

Val Geisler

Yeah. So they have some really great language both in their emails and on their site and it just makes you feel like "Yeah, I want to buy from you guys. I have options in this world but..."

 

And Mandy’s is another brand that is a great example of using copy wisely to attract their right customers, whether that person was intent on becoming a customer or not.

 

Chase Clymer

Absolutely. So we're talking about all these great brands. They're doing it right. It's completely 180. That's going backwards, right? Yeah.

 

Val Geisler

Mm-hmm.

 

Chase Clymer

So to the other side of it is, what about the small business that's just breaking into something to beyond like, "Sale! Sale! Sale!"?

 

Val Geisler

Yeah.

 

Chase Clymer

How do you do from nothing relationship-building personalization? Having a great email experience, I guess, for lack of better words. Where should I start? What are some concepts to keep in mind?

 

Val Geisler

So, I think of instantly about this company that I recently purchased from and then ended up on their email list. They're called Compete Every Day. It's a little t-shirt company designed for athletes with that mindset of "compete every day."

 

And they do such a beautiful job of telling their story and I think that that is what small brands should focus on. Because you don't have the ad budget for every single podcast commercial out there like MeUndies does, right?

 

So you have to do something that's different and meaningful to your customers. So, Compete Every Day, I don't know how many customers they have, or email subscribers they have, but they most likely have less than MeUndies. And so what they do is they tell their story.

 

The founder uses the welcome email to say like, "Hi, this is me and this is what I do and why I care about it and why I make these t-shirts in a world of like, everybody's making a t-shirt. And by the way, I do some motivational talks for corporations and..."

 

He even goes so far as like, "If you want to talk to me about those things, hit reply. Otherwise, I'm so excited that you're here." And so he does like a little selling of his own side hustle for his t-shirt business in his emails.

 

But the point is that he really focuses on the story of why he started his company. He acknowledges the fact that, me being there on his email list, he notices it, it makes a difference to him and that there's this community thing built around this brand of Compete Every Day.

 

And that's what everybody wants, to feel like a part of something, feel some belonging. And so he just capitalizes on that and then continues that messaging throughout his entire email experience, and it's just perfect for a small brand.

 

Chase Clymer

No, yeah. I fully believe in just being honest and sharing the story. I honestly think the more and more that I'm getting down this rabbit hole of business, strategy, and marketing, all that fun stuff, it always comes back to the...

 

The same core concepts always come up and every strategy or tactic is just based on that. The first one is people want to do business with people they know. They want to know there's a human on the other end of that transaction and they're curious as to...

 

Val Geisler

Yeah.

 

Chase Clymer

...why are they doing this? Why did they deserve my money versus this other company?

 

Val Geisler

Right. And even him talking about things like, "Hey, I do these motivational talks for corporations or whatever." And I think that he even (gave) links to a video of one on YouTube or something and by doing that, establishes even more humanness.

 

So, it's not just that he has his signature there, and he says his name, and he addresses you directly as a reader, all those things are important. But then as a reader, I have this opportunity to go watch a video of him and he becomes a real human being in my mind.

 

And then when I'm thinking about where I'm going to buy my next t-shirt to work out in, that's the company that comes to mind first and foremost. Even just in this example, you are talking to me about what businesses are doing really well, that came to mind instantly.

 

Chase Clymer

Oh yeah. So, you mentioned in the notes here that there's a simple solution to stop your brand from feeling like a vending machine. I feel like that's going to be a quick win for a lot of our listeners.

 

Val Geisler

Oh yeah.

 

Chase Clymer

What is that simple solution?

 

Val Geisler

(laughs) To not just email your list when you have something to sell them. So finding that way that your brand can add value beyond your products and delivering that value to your customers. So it's a simple yet possibly complex solution because it can be difficult to land on...

 

In TUSHY's example, or a day company, how can we add value to our customers? Well, what they do is they take everything they can out of the news about, quite honestly about poop, and put it into a regular newsletter for their customers.

 

So they don't have... Well, they actually just launched a toilet paper so now they have a subscription model in their business, but it's not like you're going and buying a bidet every month.

 

So, they want to keep you engaged so that when you're thinking about gifts or when you --I don't know-- build an addition and have another bathroom, --I don't know (laughs) when you would need more than one-- but they engage you and they become the leading authority on poop. (laughs) And that's what they're solving, the problem that they're solving with their product.

 

And so they go out and seek out those resources to become that authority in your inbox. They recently sent an email about how there's a car company that’s experimenting with using cow manure to provide fuel for cars.

 

And I mean, it's related. It has nothing to do with human poop, but it means something to them. And it probably means something to their customers and it's interesting. And again, I can recall that from reading one email a couple of weeks ago here in this conversation. So it obviously makes a difference.

 

Chase Clymer

No, I think that's a fantastic strategy. And also, congrats on being the first person on the podcast to say poop.

 

Val Geisler

Yay! Multiple times.

 

Chase Clymer

Yeah, no. I'll make sure that you get a banner.

 

Val Geisler

(laughs)

 

Chase Clymer

So, I think that almost goes hand-in-hand with just the power of having a niche and the power of having a brand. If you're selling... If you're an internet bodega (laughs), --it's my term (that) I like to use (if) your selling everything and you don't really have a story around it-- it's harder to create a strategy around your email.

 

Whereas TUSHY and these other examples, they have a brand, they have a particular niche, a particular market, so it's a lot easier to find reasons to email your customer, give them strategy, give them the news, potentially create content that plays into what your audience wants to see.

 

So, I think that's just something to keep in mind as you (are) --any listeners evolving their business-- thinking about where they want to go with it. If you've got a niche market or you've got your segment pretty picked out, and it's pretty solid, and it's working for you and you're getting your sales, it makes it so much easier to make content down the line.

 

Val Geisler

Yeah, and I think the best way to know what kind of content to be producing in the first place is to talk to your customers. It's another thing to add to your to-do list, especially for small brands, --you're probably wearing multiple hats, if not all of the hats of your business-- going out and having meaningful conversations with your customers can be challenging when you're just trying to get everything done that you need to get done.

 

But it does make all the difference and it can help you discover what they need to hear about. It's a little bit more on the app side of things but I had a client that I worked with recently that we did some customer interviews for them, and their app is very habit-based.

 

So, it's like a daily activity kind of thing. And so they knew habits were really important to their customers but the one thing that they didn't realize --that we found in doing customer interviews with-- several of their customers said over and over again like, "I'm very OCD." And they use that term. A lot.

 

And so we were able to create content around habit building, and wanting things a particular way, and spending a lot of time on a thing. So whether they realize it or not, those are particular traits of their customers.

 

And so instead of just continuing to push them into the app, we were using emails to talk about things that mattered to their customers and made them feel like, "Oh, this brand really gets me. They understand me. I'm going to continue to engage with this brand." Instead of just continuing... Doing the same old habits that already existed, establishing new ones with this brand in mind.

 

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Chase Clymer

And just going back to talking with your customers, that helps beyond your email. That helps throughout your business.

 

From your product design to your marketing, through Facebook and Instagram, you can find the exact phrases that people are saying that can translate over to what you want to say in your emails.

 

There is so much stuff you're going to find out just by talking to your customers. So, making an effort to do that and finding a way to do that, making it part of your business, and doing it every couple of months is going to work so well for you.

 

Val Geisler

Yeah. I think if you can schedule a day of it and put it on your calendar every quarter to have a couple of customers that you're interviewing on either a day or two days and just take those insights, yeah.

 

We do these interviews for the purpose of writing better onboarding emails for our clients. But they take the transcripts and the survey responses that we give them and apply it to their marketing messaging on their website, to their sales teams going out, and how they talk to people.

 

I even had a client completely pivot their product because of those interviews where they said, "Wow! Everyone is really focused on this thing. So we're going to double down over here and leave this other stuff behind."

 

Chase Clymer

Yeah. And that's the power of just asking the people that are actually giving you their hard-earned money for your product why they did it.

 

Val Geisler

Yeah, that's right.

 

Chase Clymer

So to change up a little bit, we're one week from Black Friday. One week in two days, which I'm super excited about. This is the busiest season for us. I don't know about yourself.

 

Val Geisler

Oh yeah.

 

Chase Clymer

So thanks for fitting me in. But this isn't gonna come out until January. So I think in January the holiday season’s gone, there have been so many sales, and there are so many blasts about these, flash sales, whatever. You mentioned here that there are certain times when you shouldn't send a promotional email, so let's explore that.

 

Val Geisler

Yeah. So, I think it's really important to be aware of what's going on in the world. I see this happen with too many brands. And unfortunately, it's actually the bigger brands that fall prey to this.

 

There's something really meaningful happening in the world and or even in a particular part of the world. So like a hurricane on the East Coast or forest fires in California or Brexit in the UK, there are all kinds of both natural and man-made disasters. happening and when you're sending promotional emails, in the midst of all of that, it's not only incredibly distracting for your customers, it's quite often seen as very rude and out of touch.

 

So that's that whole like, "You need to understand your customers. All they want to feel is (to be) seen and heard." If you can help them feel that, by acknowledging what's going on in their world, that makes a huge difference.

 

So there are ways to do it. Instead of sending your standard email that you were going to send, --let's say it's forest fires in California-- you can, to that portion of your subscribers or even to your global subscriber list, you can say like, "Hey, we're recognizing this big problem going on so we're going to stay out of your inbox.

 

But we want to let you know that if you choose to purchase from us during this week, or this set period of time, we're going to make a donation to the Red Cross or to a support group in that area." And get your customers involved.

 

You're acknowledging what's going on and then you have an opportunity to get your customers involved in helping.

 

It just creates such a feeling of a community again. So I think it's really important to know what's going on in the world and be careful about sending promotional emails during challenging times. Which these days could be every day.

 

Chase Clymer

Yeah. That's definitely something to keep in mind. And it's something I honestly haven't thought about too often. So, you might have changed up my strategy a bit. But I'm going to take that to heart and really use it. That's fantastic... It's not an idea or a strategy or anything, it's just being cognizant of what's going on in the world.

 

Val Geisler

Yeah. I think it's just creating humanness inside of the box of our computers. Everybody thinks about email as just this thing. It's this thing we do as a business.

 

But you have to remember that there's a human person going into their inbox, opening the emails, and reading them. And even though you have this "list" and we're going to send it... If I hear the word "blast" one more time... It's just like the worst possible word you can use, but I hear it a lot.

 

People say like, "We're going to blast our list." Well, no. You're going to send an email to... People on the other side of the email, don't think about themselves as part of a list.

 

They think about themselves as one of your customers or one of your potential customers. And so how are you going to communicate with that individual person on the other side of the email?

 

Chase Clymer

Yeah. And you know what, I think that is a great segue into --I know-- one of your favorite topics. What is the framework that is going to help customers make more money? I've heard you talk about this before, so I'm excited to hear it again.

 

Val Geisler

Oh yeah. So, I think the best thing that you can do is create a really strong welcome sequence for your customers. This is where I think a lot of Ecommerce brands get it wrong, quite honestly.

 

We place an order and then the only emails we get are related to our order. And I think that it's really important to make sure that those take precedence over anything else. But once that order has been delivered, that's your opportunity to come in and say hello, first of all, as soon as they place the order.

 

But then after the order has been delivered, continue to give them those value-adds and mix it up with the promotional email so that they don't just feel like, "I'm just a wallet. I'm just a credit card that I enter into your website and all you want from me as money." Give them opportunities to engage whether it's...

 

A lot of brands have a Facebook group or something for their customers where they can all interact together if it's an Instagram hashtag that they can post to creating a sense of community and then giving back to them through the value add content.

 

And I use a framework called the “Dinner Party Strategy” where you can think about your welcome emails, your onboarding emails like a dinner party. You don't walk up to somebody at your front door and serve the main course before they've walked into your house.

 

You invite them in for drinks and appetizers that complement the meal and then you all sit down at the table and serve the meal. And there's dessert, and there's a conversation, and there are all these things that make up a dinner party and it's not just about having the quick sandwich on the way out the door.

 

A dinner party is an event for a reason and your onboarding, that initial touchpoint where your customers are experiencing you for the first time, has to be a focus for your brand. And otherwise, you do run the risk of being just like a commodity, a marketplace that they go to once and never come back to.

 

Chase Clymer

And if you're interested in this Dinner Party Strategy, you can actually find it on Val's website. So that's fixmychurn.com/tdps, The Dinner Party Strategy. So I would highly recommend checking that out. I actually took a look at it a few months ago. It's a fantastic little framework to help you wrap your head on how to write this stuff. So before I let you go, I do have one more question for you.

 

These days something that's really kind of popular that people are adding on to their business source... The whole basis of business is this subscription-based service. Subscription product businesses. Do you have any tips specifically for those types of businesses?

 

Val Geisler

Oh yeah. Subscription models are perfect for ongoing emails. One of the biggest problems with subscriptions is customer retention. And this is where the opportunity to engage becomes extra important.

 

So, I think about two different phases of... You have that --I call it onboarding--- welcome email phase of when they have made their first purchase. So first purchase to a second purchase.

 

Everyone talks about the second purchase in the Ecommerce world. But what I think is really interesting, beyond the second purchase is that subscription. And for a lot of brands, it's that 6 to the 9-month mark.

 

Maybe your brand is more or less but you want to know where that cliff is --where customers start to fall off-- and create messaging for them that is specific to their needs, their interests, the way that they're using the product... And not just make it a 12-step process to change a subscription once they log in to their customer portal on your website.

 

Don't make it the most difficult thing ever to change or cancel a subscription. A lot of people think about impacting churn from that standpoint like, "Well, let's just make it really hard to cancel or give them lots of options so that they feel like they never want to cancel."

 

To me, that's a little too late. If you can message them prior to that point where they start to drop off, then you get a lower churn because they are thinking about your brand in a meaningful way.

 

They're making decisions based on the relationship that they have with you and not based on like, "Oh, well, it's just really hard to cancel so I'm not going to." It's very, very hard to churn away from a relationship with a person.

 

It's hard to say, "Hey Chase, I don't want to buy your thing anymore. Can you just turn it off for me?"

 

But it's a lot easier to go into a portal, click and turn something off. It's all you are as a product and the back end is a piece of software that does it, then that's really simple to walk away from. It's much harder to walk away from a human being.

 

Chase Clymer

Absolutely. So before I let you go, is there anything else that you think would be valuable to the listeners in regards to email? Or do you know just anything else that's on your mind that you think is worth sharing?

 

Val Geisler

Yeah. I think to that point about subscription models, look for the ways to build a subscription in.

 

Going back to TUSHY, we talked about how they added this toilet paper option, which they certainly didn't have to do, but it creates a subscription for them where their brand is now front and center every single time somebody renews the product.

 

So every month, their logo is showing up inside someone's house. It just keeps the brand top of mind, especially if you have something that people don't purchase all that often.

 

Let's say you sell furniture, couches, and chairs, and things. Maybe you have a pillowcase monthly subscription where they can change their pillowcases. The 12 by 12 square pillow that you give in every order. Giving them a different pillowcase option.

 

And that can be something that's set to monthly, 3 months, 6 months. So there are lots of options to create a subscription and create messaging to your regular existing customers about the subscription, and how it benefits them, and how it speaks to what their greater needs are.

 

But always go back to the customer to figure out what that subscription should be and try it. The worst thing that happens is that you get a handful of people who are interested and you decide that "Hey, we're not going to go this route anymore."

 

But I think the most important thing to do in email is to test things and see what sticks. You can do that a lot more easily if you understand your customers through those interviews.

 

Chase Clymer

Val, thank you so much for being on the show and sharing all these awesome insights.

 

Val Geisler

Hey, thanks for having me, Chase.

 

Chase Clymer

You're welcome.

 

I cannot thank our guests enough for coming on the show and sharing their journey and knowledge with us today. We've got a lot to think about and potentially add to our businesses. Links and more information will be available in the show notes as well.

 

If anything in this podcast resonated with you and your business, feel free to reach out and learn more at electriceye.io/connect. Also, make sure you subscribe and leave an amazing review. Thank you!