Email on Tap, Episode 14: Heather Curcio, Email Channel Marketing Manager, AARP

Getting your first AARP postcard feels like an American rite of passage. But did you know they’re sending emails, too? That’s right, AARP is fully integrated into the 21st century, thanks to people like Heather Curcio, AARP’s email channel marketing manager.

Anthony Chiulli spent some time with Heather recently to hear how AARP approaches email, what generational differences may see, and how she is continually learning, growing, and appreciating email as a communication tool.

Let’s get started!

Total Run Time: 8 minutes
00:24 – Overview of AARP and Heather’s responsibilities with digital marketing
1:10 – What role does email play in AARP’s digital strategy?
1:40 – AARP’s target audience
2:00 – Unique challenges in targeting older audience market with email
3:06 – Important metrics for Heather to measure success of the email marketing program
3:48 – Deliverablity’s priority for Heather in day to day responsibilities
4:28 – Biggest “oops” moment for Heather and what she learned from the experience
5:45 – What Heather enjoys most about working in email
6:19 – Career advice and recommendations for aspiring email marketers

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Anthony Chiulli
Hi, everyone, and welcome to another episode of Email on Tap. I’m your host, Anthony Chiulli, and today, my guest is Heather Curcio. She’s the Email Channel Marketing Manager at AARP. Heather, thank you so much for being on the program.

Heather Curcio
Thank you for having me.

How are you?

I am great. Thanks. How are you?

I’m great. Thank you for asking. Tell me a little bit about your role and AARP, for those that may not be familiar.

AARP is a non-profit, non-partisan organization, and we empower people to live life as they want to as they age. So we’re not your—it’s not a commercial retail kind of organization, which is different than, I’m sure, a lot of the companies you interview. So as Email Channel Marketing Manager, I am strategic oversight and planning and implementation of a variety of email campaigns and email communications, as well as we run in-house services to other folks in other business units who want to use the channel. So I’m kind of your in-house marketing account manager, too. I kind of play a dual role, and it’s really fun and interesting.

So what role does email play within AARP and your digital strategy?

Email is a very popular channel because, of course, there’s quicker turn-around. AARP does a lot of print stuff, but we also do a lot of digital. And email is a really good place that enables us to test all the wonderful new technologies and enable that one-to-one personalization. So it lets us be flexible and test out data and technology and figure out what’s the best way to get the right message to you at the right time.

And so who is your target audience? How would you describe who you’re trying to reach with email?

Well, in reality, AARP is advocating and working for everyone, even you. But officially, our target audience is folks age 50-plus. Americans. It’s US-based. We’re not international.

So with maybe an older audience that’s kind of that primary demographic, do you find there’s any unique challenges into marketing and communicating via email with that type of generation?

Amazingly, yes, your grandmother and mom and folks are online on cell phones, they are using digital. So it’s not just—don’t think about that person who is completely offline. There’s a huge audience for this. And so the only nuances I would say that might be a little different than your average sort of Millennial or younger group is that there might be a longer window span from a response time. Some people, again, in the higher ranges who aren’t working and employed and using a computer every day or might not have email on their cell phone, maybe check their email a couple times a week or once a day versus multiple times a day. So there’s that. And then the behavior of—and partially, this has to do with the information we’re sharing. Again, we’re not asking you to buy anything. We’re giving you some information. People will read stuff online and then perhaps instead of engage with us online, they might call and ask questions instead. So we have a high volume of call center behavior and activity, too.

Okay. Interesting. As you assess and measure the success of your email marketing program, what metrics are most important for you to pay attention to?

We are particularly driven to what we call defining your consumer outcome. And this is a variety of metrics, which include your average KPIs for email. So clicks, opens, etc., read rates, going to then your online behavior. So webpage views, engagements with our tools and stuff online. And also including things like net promoter score and survey response, feedback loops, voice of the customer. We’re very much focused on the consumer experience and the customer experience.

Where does deliverability fall as a priority in your day-to-day responsibilities?

Me personally, I don’t have to worry about it because we have some awesome internal experts who focus on that. I’m more on the marketing side of the channel versus the technical platform management side. So that lives in the platform universe. But we work with agencies and vendors, and our internal experts manage all of that and deal with that. I just monitor some things to make sure, “Uh-oh. Something’s good or something—there’s a hiccup. Somebody needs to go check. Did Yahoo block us for some reason [laughter]?” These things happen, but yeah…

This is kind of a fun question, but what is the biggest face-palm or oops moment that you’ve had so far [laughter] in email, and what have you learned from it, if anything?

I mean, there are a variety over time [laughter]. I have been doing this a while. But the most recent—and it was just silly is really what happens. These kind of things happen when a minor detail is overlooked and you just don’t think about it. So most recently, we were doing a survey to folks who had had a birthday in the past month. And this was survey number three over a couple months’ period. And what happened is those people—suddenly we see their responses, and they’re like, “Great. Thanks for reaching out, but my birthday was in January.” And it’s now March. And we’re like, “Oops! How did that happen?” So it was literally the same file naming convention, the new file didn’t get uploaded, etc. And we sent it to the month before, prior list. So oops! So in any event, we’re a little more—when we’re doing our more manual processes, everyone’s now aware that this has happened, and we have to check and change the file name [laughter]. That’s just the most recent little thing. But when you’re particularly getting customer feedback directly within minutes, oops. Big oops [laughter].

We’re all human.


Mistakes happen. And email’s a challenging and dynamic endeavor to get right every single time. Let me ask you this: what do you enjoy most about working within this email community?

Well, first of all, the people are always very fun and interesting. It’s an interesting mix of people that are both creative and technical. So that science and art blend of folks. But it’s a constantly growing and changing field. It’s not something that is stagnant. You are not doing the same—putting the same widget in the same place every day on an assembly line. So that’s why I love learning, growing, meeting new people, and evolving into new and different ways to communicate out.

If you had to speak to an audience of aspiring email marketers and folks looking to get into this space, what are some of the recommendations or pieces of advice that you would share with someone considering a career in email?

Great question. So the things to know when you are managing a program or you are doing your program, ideally, define your customer outcome. Define your goal, and make sure it’s clear what it is you’re trying to achieve. Because people will come down and tell you something, but you need to sometimes push back and say, “Really? Is that what you want? I think this is what you want. Let’s be clear.” Then figure out and confirm how you’re going to measure that. Because people have great ideas, things get built, and then you’re like, “Oh, well, I thought so-and-so did reporting.” So understand what you’re reporting on, what you want to get to, and what you’re reporting on and make sure it’s built to work with all of your reporting tools. And the other thing is, interestingly, there is still a lot of educating up. So as you learn and understand what email and how email is not just opening your Outlook or Yahoo and sending an email. It’s a much more complex, robust system. And a lot of folks at higher levels who aren’t involved in it don’t necessarily understand all the nuances, so you are also going to have to be an educator and an advocate to new folks and folks outside of the channel. So know that own it, love it, and be ready to speak to it.

I like that answer. This has been a lot of fun, Heather. Thank you so much for sitting down with me.

Thank you so much for having me. This has been great.

And thanks, everyone, for tuning in. We hope to see you on another episode of Email on Tap.

Thank you. Take care.

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