We’ve gone behind the scenes to see how Bulk Powders, winners of Hitting the Mark 2018, nailed its email marketing and customer experience. Mark Sherwood, Head of Europe at Bulk Powders, kindly agreed to an interview to go through their everyday practices and long-term strategy.
We’ve digested the interview into a two-part blog; the first is focused on the day to day, while the second deep-dives into the brand’s strategy.
The interview: part 1
How do you feel about winning our benchmark report, Hitting the Mark?
It was a surprise to start with, for sure. But we’re really over the moon. There’s a lot of hard work in our small CRM team. In the last 12 to 18 months we’ve put a lot of hard work into evolving from a batch-and-blast email sender to a personalized, triggered, event-based one. Although we do retain the bulk sends as we’re in a very competitive market.
It was a real reward for the team who’s put a lot of hard graft throughout the last 12 months. It’s really pleasing to see the work we’ve put in recognized outside the company. Once you’re ingrained in the company day in day out, you accept it as the norm. So, to have a company such as dotdigital, with its industry-wide reputation, recognize you for being good at what you do is really pleasing.
Moving into personalization happened over the last 18 months. We had a limited ESP, with regards to automation. Slowly over time, we migrated from ‘batch and blast’ to get as much personalization and segmentation in as possible.
How have you embraced personalization in your email campaigns?
Personalization for us is very key. We are a sports nutrition company that has changed a lot over the last few years. At the beginning we were a hardcore bodybuilding company – our demographic was male, 18-25; gym was their life. Our product range has expanded and, while sport nutrition is still at our core, we focus a lot more now on health and wellbeing.
We’ve an array of customer types – they need different messaging, and personalizing is the way forward. Someone who is gym-obsessed requires different communication to someone who comes to us to buy their month’s supply of vitamin tablets. Tailoring emails in this regard is how we do it – it’s all about imagery, messaging and content.
Our emails are fresh with content, recipe ideas, training tactics, nutrition tips and advice. There’s a wealth of information in our blog. We push the right articles to the right people. Simple as that.
What are the ways you use behavioral data to supercharge your sends?
The long-term goal is to have emails that are one-to-one and event-based. Whilst we’re not there yet, we’re moving away from daily emails to more event-triggered ones. We want subscribers to drive the interaction, not us.
There’re all kind of behavioral trigger examples, such as replenishment: because our product is a consumable product, people will buy it and then need to buy some more. We can work out roughly when they’re due to reorder it with an event-based email. These emails perform very well for us.
Then there’s your usual, behavior ones like abandoned cart and browse. We have a tag on our site to monitor web behavior, so we have visibility over which products users are interested in and categories they are looking at. It’s about getting the right content in front of the right person.
Then we can build up a persona based on what people are looking at: i.e. if you’re always looking at vegan products, that’s the content you get, while if you’re looking at weight-loss products, that’s the content you get. That’s the key aim we’re trying to achieve.
We loved your preference center. How important is generating customer insight for your programs?
It’s really important for us. The preference center you’re referring to is the one included in our welcome program. The survey helps us gather more information on new customers coming on board – very integral to the welcome program.
It gives us insight into new customers. While we expand and increase acquisition channels we are increasing customers and different types of customers. But, importantly, we need to make sure we’re acquiring the right customers. That’s where the preference center comes in.
Preference data feeds into an email and CRM database, so we get the content right. But this preference center is just the start of the process – it helps with the initial day-to-day emails but then quickly gets taken over by the consumer’s behavior.
What the consumer tells us and what they go on to do can be very different things. For example, they might tell us that they’re into bulking up and want to put on weight, and then they go and purchase weight loss products. Ultimately what their website behavior is and what they go onto buy gives us a greater indication of what they’re looking for, rather than the information they initially submitted.
So, the preference center helps with the initial outset and our customers’ on-site and purchase behavior gives us a better idea of who they are. Essentially, it’s combining your explicit and implicit data to better understand your customers. You have to start somewhere, and that’s the preference center.
How do you use email to nurture your leads into loyal customers?
For us, it’s all about the welcome program. Having a welcome program that isn’t just email is the way forward. We spent several months testing various different programs – just 3-4 emails, 5-10 emails, ones that last a week, two weeks, a month. Ones that include different channels…and that’s the one that works for us.
When you buy from Bulk Powders and participate in the welcome program, not only do you get an intro email, you’ll also get a welcome message on your social feeds. Our testing shows that when we adopt a multichannel approach, our customers are more likely to engage with us.
It’s all about nurturing rather than a hard sell. Making the customer feel part of ‘team bulk’ – that’s our aim, making them feel part of ‘us’ and being a customer-led brand.
Are there any tactics you use to re-engage lapsed customers?
For us, a lapsed program is slightly different to what you would imagine. This is purely because of the market we’re in – competitive and offer-driven, all of the time. All of the key players in our market constantly send out very aggressive offers.
Sending out another offer – as part of a lapsed program – isn’t going to cut the mustard, because that’s what we’re doing all of the time. It’s more about trying to re-engage with these customers, trying to find out why they stopped buying and if there’s anything we can do to help them.
Generally, our re-engagement approach is soft – we just inquire a little more about them. And perhaps it’s impossible to re-engage that customer because they’ve moved out of the category and they’re no longer interested in sports nutrition. Maybe they’ve moved elsewhere. Even if a customer’s impossible to win back, at least we’ve learned something we can adopt to improve retention in the future.
Were there any longer-term programs that our pseudonym, Harry Thomas, wasn’t enrolled onto?
The short answer is lots. Each of our programs has lots of different paths to go down, so you would have just experienced one journey depending on the actions you took (i.e. whether you opened and clicked). So, even if you were part of the welcome program, the route you took was unique.
If you unsubscribed after 6 months you probably wouldn’t have received our lapsed program, which aims to win back our ‘at risk’ customers – those who we think are at risk of permanently becoming lapsed. We have a further lapsed program for customers whose lapsing is almost certain.
You probably would have missed our replenishment program, too. This would’ve been based on what you purchased. Depending on your date of birth you might have missed out on our birthday program, too.
It would have been possible for you to do down any journey route. Some of our programs include SMS – and this multichannel approach to the journey depends on your very behavior. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach.
Keep your eyes pealed for part 2 of the interview!
Think you’ve got what it takes to emulate Bulk Powders? Last year the brand came 34th. But after adopting some winning tactics, team Bulk trailblazed up to 1st place in 2018. Congratulations to them again!
Download the report here for the smartest tactics in email and marketing automation. Benchmark yourself against the competition, adopt better practices and you’ll truly master customer experience.