Melanie Balke on Email and SMS Marketing and Starting an Agency

Melanie Balke on Email and SMS Marketing and Starting an Agency
03 July, 2024 • ... • 34 views
Diana Kussainova
by Diana Kussainova

Is the “no man is an island” principle relevant for marketing (and marketers)? Absolutely! And if you’re not convinced, this article will likely prove it to you. 

Selzy interviewed Melanie Balke — CEO and founder of her own agency. First, she expanded her team to keep up with the demand for services, then added SMS to email marketing following the omnichannel approach. Read Melanie Balke’s expert opinions on email and SMS and get inspired to add other people (or channels) to your “island”.

Melanie Balke is the CEO & Founder of The Email Marketers.

Melanie Balke profile photo
Source: Melanie Balke

Professional journey

Share your professional journey with us. How did it start and what eventually led you to email marketing?

I began my career in consulting in Germany, working with major corporations in the automotive, telecommunications, and healthcare industries. When I moved to the US, I joined one of the pioneering e-commerce companies selling custom-made D2C sofas online. My consulting background made me analyze their entire marketing stack, and I saw a significant opportunity in improving their email marketing. Diving in, I revamped their email program and was thrilled to see the revenue boost. This success hooked me on email marketing. After that company was sold, I transitioned to a marketing agency in LA, quickly becoming the head of the email marketing department due to my strategic growth initiatives.

Looking back on your career, what advice would you give to someone just starting in email marketing?

My advice is to focus not just on email but on customer retention as a whole. Understand the entire customer lifecycle and use data to identify key moments. Know when customers are likely to drop off and how many purchases it takes for someone to become a lifetime customer. It’s about crafting compelling content and segmentation strategies that cater to these insights.

How come you decided to found your own agency — The Email Marketers?

Starting my agency was never my initial plan; it happened organically. While freelancing, I accumulated more clients than I could handle alone, which led to hiring assistance. Realizing I was building an agency, I decided to do it right. We rebranded as The Email Marketers and decided to only focus on email marketing so that we could deliver one service as the best in the space rather than multiple services at a mediocre level.

How and why did you also branch out into SMS?

We added SMS into the mix because we wanted to be at the forefront of innovation and because we saw that SMS worked. Email and SMS go hand-in-hand nowadays, and you should run both.

Email marketing

As an agency founder who previously worked in-house, do you think a business that didn’t use email as a marketing channel before should build a team inside or hire experts from an agency?

I think it depends. The right answer will be different for every company. I believe that if you are a growing company, you can hire more senior-level talent by hiring an email marketing agency than you could hire in-house. I also think it helps you keep your payroll lean and adds a lot of flexibility to the business. But what the right answer is for an individual business will always be different.

What are the first 5 things you recommend to a business that is only starting to use email marketing?

  1. Ensure good deliverability practices to avoid being blocked.
  2. Consider the customer lifecycle holistically and how email fits in. 
  3. Analyze data to send high-quality emails. Let data guide your strategy, understanding customer preferences.
  4. Focus on emails you would want to open and engage with yourself. Deliver value via email and your customers will continue to stay engaged. 
  5. Add SMS into the mix. 

Your agency works with many e-commerce businesses. In what ways do you think email marketing for e-commerce differs from email marketing for other industries?

I think email marketing for e-commerce is just as crucial as for other industries. Email is the equivalent of having a salesperson for your e-commerce brand in-store. The same can be true for other businesses. For example, MedSpas. It is really giving people that personal touch in addition to social media because often there is no actual person that people interact with when they buy from e-commerce.

What are your favorite email marketing strategies?

To be honest, I don’t have a favorite email marketing strategy. The strategies needed are often different based on the different brands. However, if this counts as a strategy, my favorite strategy is looking at the customer lifecycle, establishing data points as baseline metrics, and improving from there with high-value content and targeted sales. This comprehensive approach has consistently driven great results for our clients.

What brands or companies do you think nail their email marketing?

I think HexClad does a really good job.

A HexClad email with the headline “This pizza steel f^*king works” showcasing the cookware
Source: Milled

What’s one thing every e-commerce email marketer should or should not do?

Never spam your list. Use segmentation and adhere to good deliverability practices to ensure your emails are welcomed and effective.

SMS marketing

How can a business create an effective omnichannel strategy? And how do you think email and SMS can work together?

Both email and SMS should be used together to maximize effectiveness. Each channel needs a unique strategy, but they should complement each other, creating a cohesive experience for the customer.

Why is it important for a business to use SMS as a marketing channel and develop an SMS marketing strategy?

I think SMS is important because email has become a more crowded channel. Additionally, younger generations are moving more towards SMS. We see that SMS has much faster open times, much higher open rates, and is a great tool to have interactive conversations with your customers.

What are the first 5 things you recommend to a business that is only starting to use SMS marketing?

The first five things I recommend to a business starting to use SMS marketing are:

  1. Ensure that you are set up properly and know exactly what the rules are for SMS marketing so you don’t get into compliance troubles.
  2. Only text people whose numbers you actually have. If you don’t have any text numbers, then optimize your pop-up to also capture text message numbers.
  3. Email your existing audience and give them a really good offer to sign up for text messages.
  4. Add SMS marketing messages to your automated flows.
  5. Set up the A/B tests that you want to run to understand your customers on SMS marketing better.

What are some of your go-to SMS marketing tricks and techniques? Can you share a situation where those strategies helped a company you worked with achieve its business goals?

We actually love to use SMS to delight. A really good brand at this is “We’re Not Really Strangers” because they send text messages that are super high value and have grown so fast that now their text message list is a paid service. I think it is important to use SMS as a tool that not only conveys information and sales but also can delight and surprise your customers.

We're Not Really Strangers SMS messages. The first one reads “Stop carrying old feelings into new experiences”, the second reads “Repeat after me: I am worthy of the things I want. Even the things that feel out of reach”.
Source: The Shorty Awards website

What brands or companies do you think nail their SMS marketing?

“We’re Not Really Strangers” They do a great job at mixing high-value SMS that give you a positive emotional reaction and connotation with the brand with sales.

How do you see the future of SMS marketing?

I think regulations around SMS marketing are only going to get stricter. The way we have a promotions folder in Gmail for our emails is the way we are going to have one in our text messages in the future. 

Article by
Diana Kussainova
Writer, editor, and a nomad. Creating structured, approachable texts and helping others make their copies clearer. Learning and growing along the way. Interested in digital communications, UX writing, design. Can be spotted either in a bookshop, a local coffee place, or at Sephora. Otherwise probably traveling. Or moving yet again.
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