Email Fills the Gaps in Society and eCommerce

I am proud and humbled to have led a team of incredible email marketing professionals in a volunteer effort to help a charity through the DMA’s Email Experience Council annual “Eality” nonprofit initiative. This year, the small but scrappy Women’s Bean Project of Denver, Colorado was selected. The Women’s Bean Project helps disadvantaged women gain life and job skills by making bean soups, brownie mixes and other goods for sale online and through retail partners. When we started the project last August, there was no email program. When we officially closed the effort last week, there was a program – and not only were email newsletter subscribers viewing two times the number of pages views than other customers, we nearly collapsed the organization’s production capacity with a Mother’s Day email promotion that sold 85 baskets in a week.

You can read all about it in eec founder Jeanniey Mullen’s ClickZ column or in our case study.

Like all great projects, this was a good learning experience for me. Three things stand out:

1. The power of email is in bridging the gaps. The Women’s Bean Project always had a slump in sales over the summer for two reasons. First, despite a full product line of sweets and spice rubs, the main product line is soup and few of us eat soup in summer no matter how good the cause is. And second, because the Women’s Bean Project would stop marketing during this slower season to save expenses. This year is different. Email is so cost efficient and powerful that it allows the promotion machine to keep turning and can easily fill the gap in sales over the slow months. The Women’s Bean Project executives could not be more excited. This is exactly what so many of us in the for-profit world do with email — we fill the gap each quarter (or month, or week) to make up for sales not generated by other channels. Although in this case, the subscriber experience is still optimized at one to two messages per month, and we hope to help the Women’s Bean Project test different cadences around holiday and party times in order to optimize sales.

2. If you are going to attempt something like this, do it with an amazing, inspiring volunteer team. We had that and then some. Together we debated, we pushed, we pulled (“yank” might be a better term!), we laughed and we celebrated. My personal and professional gratitude to the following:

  • Susan Tull and Rachael Anderson of BlueHornet who developed a content strategy and then stayed active the entire program effort.
  • The talented Michael McKibbon of BlueHornet (introduced to us by Susan!) who leapt in as our designer to slay the template dragons.
  • Colleen Petitt of Merkle who was active in so many ways – from managing timelines to digging into the ESP tool and doing some training to organizing list growth strategies with Sarah Hsueh of LeapFrog, another resilient participant who contributed so much throughout.
  • Darlene Garbe of Wolters Kluwer Financial Services who put together four amazing wireframes.
  • Gregg Olding of Industry Mailout and Christopher Harris of BlackBaud who led the work on metrics and (nontrivial) integration with the Yahoo! Store used by the Women’s Bean Project.
  • Chris Clark of Black Baud who used his XML and programming skills to help us set up the double opt in and welcome message elements.
  • Bryn Erlich of Future Integrated Marketing who is a nonprofit marketing expert and lent us her support and ideas in so many ways.
  • Last, and anything but least, we owe immense applause to Justine Jordan of Exact Target who gave tirelessly and so cheerfully to support us and our millions of questions, and for her patience with the novice email marketers on the Women’s Bean Project team.

We also got great support from Chad White and Jeanniey Mullen of the DMA/eec team. I can’t thank each of you enough. Thank you for all you taught me, and for the opportunity to work together on something important.

And many kudos to the Women’s’ Bean Project team for their support and willingness to work with us and take our advice.

3. I highly recommend Cindy’s Sinfully Chocolate Brownies at

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