Ask the expert: Real-life examples of smart email marketing

An interview with Digital Additive's Roxana Shershin

Roxana Shershin is a force to be reckoned with. As the President & Co-Founder of Digital Additive, she’s built her own agency from the ground up. With a career in marketing that spans almost 20 years, she’s well-positioned to give advice to her clients – and now, to us – on how to make digital marketing a smarter, better experience. Read on to get answers to all your burning digital marketing questions.



Here’s what Roxana had to say…

Phrasee: What is your main advice for improving email marketing?

Roxana: It really boils down to thinking about the audience that receives your emails as people. The danger of email marketing is that it’s a lever that is inexpensive and easy to pull. You can quickly dehumanize – and I don’t mean it in an evil way – but you can lose the fact that it’s individuals and people on the other side. How would we want to be spoken to as people? Let’s make sure that we are reflecting that in what we send out. And whether that’s tone, messaging, even just frequency, time of day – how does this email match up with the rest of my experience with the brand? You know, if I’m being told that my order’s being delayed, and then I get another message right after that says look what else is on sale, it just seems tone-deaf.

Email is a little addictive, because every time you pull on it, money comes out the other end for ecommerce. But just because every time you pull on the lever, money comes out, doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do.

 

Phrasee: What kind of emails make you cringe?

Roxana: Usually, it’s not the email itself, it’s where it sits in the conversation. When emails trip over each other, like you had no idea that you were sending me this AND this AND this at the same time – it’s really the lack of coordination as opposed to a single email. When I see a brand send me three emails back-to-back-to-back, and it’s really ill-coordinated and weird messaging, that is when I cringe the most because that’s avoidable.

 

Phrasee: What emails make you cheer?

Roxana: I love emails that feel super-relevant to me. Gilt does a great job with this. So they know I like certain brands from what I’m browsing when I’m on their site, and they notify me when those brands are going to be on sale. They’re not hitting me over the head with every Gilt sale because that’s every single day and I don’t need that in my life, but they are really smart about seeing when I’ve last browsed the site, and delivering something based on my behavior, and not me explicitly saying “these are the brands I like.”


“Email is a little addictive, because every time you pull on it, money comes out the other end for ecommerce. But just because every time you pull on the lever, money comes out, doesn’t mean that it’s the right thing to do.”

Roxana Shershin, Digital Additive

Phrasee: With everything going on in the world, what is important for brands to do right now as they’re trying to talk to their audiences?

Roxana: What brands really need to do is listen more. We’re so busy talking, especially right now – we’re all being reactive. Things are changing so much, there’s so much uncertainty, there’s a high level of reactivity. I think brands that are listening to their customers, whether active or passive, are the ones that are doing a nice job. Brands shouldn’t pretend like nothing’s going on right now.

A good example is Rent the Runway. They’ve done a really nice job, and I have to believe that a huge chunk of their business walked out the door because so much of what people use it for is for nice events that no one’s going to anymore. How they pivoted is they started doing webinars with designers. Myself, I might not be going anywhere, but I love love love having the exposure and the ability to hear a designer talk about their upcoming line because I love fashion. I’m at home, I’m not going to be necessarily wearing the highest fashion, but hearing the designers talk about the inspiration for their collection – it just kind of creates excitement, and it gives a sense of community because there’s a bunch of people on the call, and you kind of feel more connected with the brand. I feel actually strangely more connected to Rent the Runway – I’ve been a member for like four years – but I feel more connected to it now despite the fact that I have really no reason to be using them because I feel like they’re giving me more value than just the product.

 

Phrasee: What do you think are the biggest opportunities with AI in email?

Roxana: AI for email is what I think is the holy grail. The only way 1:1 communication is created in a scalable way is if you start to bring in that machine learning and AI. We’re seeing it now – a lot of the platforms are investing a lot in AI. We’re actually a Salesforce partner agency, and they’ve invested a ton in their Einstein AI component, and baking it into the tool. And that to me is the key, really baking that component into the tools – it makes it easier for the marketer to really embrace AI. For a long time, AI has been this idea, and it’s data scientists sitting over there in a silo and you have to extract stuff – it just feels like it’s been such a heavy lift from a technology perspective. But now that it’s getting baked in and better integrated into those technologies, like how Phrasee is just becoming baked in from an integration perspective, making it a lighter lift, I just think AI is going to start to power more and more of the content of the emails.

Also, it’s not just about elements, it’s about how they’re stitched together into an experience. AI is going to be what makes that scalable. There are a lot of things that have been automated in marketing, but there’s still a lot of manual pieces involved, and the more we lean into machine learning and AI, the less manual it’ll be. The manual effort in the future will be about making sure all of the technology is working together harmoniously.


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