I meet many interesting people at various industry events. One such gentleman was Evan Chaisson, the affiliate manager for iContact, a company I use to send out The Martell Newsletter.
We chatted at Affiliate Summit’s January 2009 event in Las Vegas.
One thing led to another and before we knew it Arlene had scheduled an interview, as part of my Coffee Talk series, with iContact’s co-Founder and CEO, Ryan P. Allis.
In the interview Ryan shared such interesting facts about this greatly misunderstood subject that I had a short video made based on excerpts of our conversation so that those not subscribed to the SUPER BootCamp might have a chance to learn something important about the right way – and the wrong way to approach email marketing. You’ll find that video below.
Ryan is an impressive young man.
As of this writing he is still in his mid 20’s yet runs a company he founded in 2003. Currently iContact has 150 employees, 43,000 customers and 29 million in annual sales.
Among his many accolades and awards, in 2005 he made Business Week’s Top 25 entrepreneurs under the age of 25. At age 18 he wrote a bestselling book entitled ZERO TO ONE MILLION, published by McGraw-Hill.
You can buy it at Amazon.
And on March 6th, 2009, Ryan was part of a select group of young Internet entrepreneurs invited to the White House to meet with staffers of the Obama administration.
Pretty impressive I might say.
Central to Ryan’s philosophy on email marketing is that email should not be used for customer acquisition. He further states that using it this way is a code word for spam.
However, he goes on to say that email – when used properly – is a great customer conversion and retention tool. Adding that it can be an excellent way to convert prospects to customers and up sell or cross sell existing clients.
What a breath of fresh air to hear a technically minded person exhibit such wisdom on marketing. You see, over the years I’ve noticed that the youngsters who populate this industry are often lacking good old common sense when dealing with the subject of “marketing”.
Frankly, I usually encounter marketing executives in this industry who – to put it bluntly – couldn’t sell there way out of a paper bag! Not so with Mr. Allis. No, this guy gets it.
In our interview he went on to say that you must use email to build relationships with people NOT companies.
He gave an example of how a Spa and Hot Tub company might send out an email thanking a customer for their patronage during tough economic times.
When was the last time your inbox contained a personal message from a company you do business with just to say thanks?
Another example he gave was that of a Landscaping & Gardening company who might send out a 7-day eCourse with gardening tips.
He rightly pointed out that at the end of the 7 days the likelihood of them remembering this company over a competitor was very high because of the strong personal connection established.
These are ideas you don’t often hear from high tech companies because most are run by people who have never sold a thing and never learned it’s about relationships not metrics. It’s about people not brands. It’s about filling needs not business models. It’s about connecting with others to provide value.
And now that I’ve had the chance to chat with Ryan I can see that his imprint is all over his customer support department for, lo and behold, they actually answer the phone at iContact!
And not only that, the person answering the phone is trained to deal with your inquiry at a sophisticated level. In other words, it’s not a receptionist who transfers you to someone hiding behind voice mail.
This is what got me hooked on iContact in the first place because at the functional level there is not much to differentiate one hosted email service from the other.
If you were an observer of the American political scene in 2008 you could see the Obama people using email and other high tech social networking tools to connect with voters in the same way Ryan described how companies could use email to build trust with customers.
In part two of this article I’ll give you my take on that fascination meeting at the White House, where staffers met with 30 under 40 Internet entrepreneurs to discuss this very thing: how to use these amazing social networking innovations and companies to connect with the public in more meaningful and personal ways.