Email Peeps #5: Doug Dennison
Tell us a little bit about yourself and how did you get to where you are today?
I began life as a graphic designer, so the journey from design to web to email feels like a natural progression. I was always told that you need to find a niche, and back in the early 00s email was fairly niche. We were one of the first experts listed on the Mailchimp directory back in the mid-00s, and that drove a lot of new business our way, especially from UK companies, and I spent hours on the train into London to meet large companies who were using Mailchimp; from the Football Association to the NHS. The ‘golden years’ lasted for a few years but then dried up a bit. I don’t think we did anything different, I think Mailchimp’s marketing focus changed, and with that changed the nature of their customer base. The size of the company using Mailchimp started to get smaller and smaller. We decided to spin off the Mailchimp stuff into a brand we acquired from Paul Jarvis called Chimp Essentials, and have recently since sold the brand to a great guy called Mark Bonito, also in the UK, to focus on our own email marketing platform, which is due to release in March. We’re super excited about this change of direction from service agency to platform.
What’s your favorite email marketing hack?
I think most people are too obsessed with getting as many people into their email lists as they can, which is no guarantee for quality. Vanity metrics like list size and open rates are second to engaged subscribers and conversions/sales. So to that end, it’s vital to attract quality subscribers, not just adding people to make up the numbers. One of the biggest drivers for us is content, not so much blog posts, but free downloadable resources like PDF guides and books. Something that has weight and is a benefit to whomever you want to opt in. I spent months writing and editing our email marketing playbook, it’s 100 pages long and full of tips and tricks, but that one-time investment keeps driving traffic and leads to us every day. In fact, our free resources gets us anywhere between 50-100 new subscribers every day. Follow these people up with some ‘here’s why were awesome’ emails in an automation, and track engagement in that automation. This will be a good way to filter out people who are genuinely interested in your brand and people who just turned up for the freebies.
I have a 55″ TV as my monitor, and a Mac Mini. I basically sit on the sofa with a lapdesk and get to work!
Up until 2020 when the pandemic hit we were 100% office-based, then moved to 100% remote based. The team changed a lot around that time too, as we stripped things back to basics, knowing the platform was around the corner.
- Slack for internal comms, did try this for client comms when we started on it back in 2016, but it got messy
- Google Workspace for email, docs, sheets etc
- Dropbox for file storage
- Dropbox Paper for notes
- Spotify for music
- Adobe Ilustrator for graphic design stuff
- Chrome as my browser, with OneTab extension to keep things tidy
What’s your advice for new email marketers entering the industry in 2023?
I’d say that when I started email itself was a niche, but now i’d suggest picking a niche within a niche. Whether that be a discipline within email marketing like design, coding, strategy etc, or a vertical like ecommerce (you can go even deeper within that and look at sectors like fashion or tech etc), or, be an expert on a particular platform. Back in the day our Mailchimp partnership was everything, and although that’s changed, there’s so many platforms out there with partner programs that are less known or exploited.
In email marketing there’s a bunch of well-known companies outside of that bubble, but there’s a lot of less-well-known people who are super respected WITHIN the email geeks community, so go super-granular, pick a niche and be one of those geeks, you’ll get a lot of support and recognition. The email community is very supportive and collaborative, so I’d say get involved, do some research, ask some questions.
What’s your advice for email marketers looking to freelance or start their own agency?
It’s a hard slog, trust me. Instead of starting a new agency, I’d go super-niche and freelance instead, or build something like we are, a tool or a resource. AI is huge, so I expect big advances in that space soon.
Tell us about the new ESP you’re building!
So… MailNinja is a brand new email platform focused on data. The platform addresses 3 key areas which we feel are lacking, or not done properly:
Data is hard to manage inside the platform
One frustration of mine is that data is shown on plain HTML tables in most platforms, meaning you can’t easily edit it. In the past we’ve had to export lists from Mailchimp, import them into a Google Sheet, make the edits, and import it back into Mailchimp, which seemed crazy to me. I want to fix that.
Subscribers have no control over their data
It seems most platforms were on the back foot when it came to privacy. They clearly don’t see the value in giving consumers control over their own personal data, which to me is crazy. In my view, people trust you with their data, the least you can do is allow them to access it, otherwise it looks dishonest. I want a little more transparency on this. Don’t get me wrong, businesses need data, I believe good data is the backbone of any business, but I think the public need more options that opt in or opt out.
Customer support is limited
Mailchimp’s been a great partner for us over the years, but if you look at their Trustpilot, they are hammered, and that’s down to the lack of support they give people. Sure, for most people Mailchimp are free, so how do you fund that support… but I think it serves a business well to provide free support; it allows you to get quality feedback for product improvements, if people can get real human answers they avoid roadblocks, upgrade their plans and avoid cancelling, plus it avoids bad sentiment towards your brand.
We may not get all of these things 100% right from day one, but they are the reasons we’re doing it in the first place.
You can read more about what we’re building on my LinkedIn release here.