When Stephanie McKay started her career, email marketing wasn’t the strategic, automated marketing tactic it is now. And just as this tactic has evolved over the years, so too have her responsibilities, which include finding a way to craft LuckyVitamin’s brand voice, create email campaigns from scratch, communicate with customers in a nurturing and family-orientated manner to ‘spread the wellness,’ and much much more.
We spoke with Stephanie about how they serve their wellness-minded customers while staying true to their business goals, their approach to push notifications, and her favorite place to frequent in her city of residence, Philadelphia.
Welcome to PostFunnel’s latest Powwow. Why don’t we start by you telling us a bit about your career trajectory and what drew you to this particular role?
“Sure. I got my degree in graphic design, and right out of college, I worked for a national B2B sign and graphics supply company. And after that, a Global Life Sciences non-profit in their marketing division, and now I’m at LuckyVitamin. My role has evolved across industries; I moved from a position as an email coder to the strategy side of email and digital marketing. And I’ve been really fortunate to get an insider view of exactly what it takes to carry campaigns from ideation through execution, because at some point in my career, I was executing each of those parts, from the creative side up through strategy in the analytical side.”
I’m interested in what email marketing looked like since you began your career, 10 years ago. How did it evolve?
“Yeah, 2008, exactly 10 years ago. The first company I worked for was a lot more graphic design heavy and less on the technical side of coding for email. It was more of an old school kind of retailer. We were doing more direct mail and sales, and only just getting into the email game.
I’m mostly self-taught when it comes to my coding skills because during college, I had this idealized dream that one day, I would go on to be an amazing print designer even though at the time, it was obvious print was going away. And I thought I would do these strictly print-oriented designs, and it became clear very quickly that that was not going to happen. So, I had to crack open a book, sit down, and really reconsider where my skillset was and what I wanted to do going forward.
And I was really lucky to come in at a time when the company was starting to experiment with email and we were building email campaigns that were completely image-based. Image-based design is not a great way to go about coding email, because there needs to be lots of live texts, but those were the only skills that I had at that time. It’s been a journey, but it’s been interesting and exciting.”
LuckyVitamin is a brand that’s strongly focused on wellness and support. How does the company ethos affect your role?
“Health and wellness is a strong part of the company culture. We as individuals within the company live this life in many ways. If you walk around the office you’ll see, people have all kinds of supplements and health products and personal care items around our desks that are exactly the same items we’re selling on the website. I think it’s important as a company culture to really believe in the mission that you’re driving every day. We are customers of LuckyVitamin as well. We can identify with our customers and that has been really helpful in being able to craft our brand voice and make sure that we’re communicating with customers almost in a family style kind of feeling, because we want to be able to literally, ‘spread the wellness.’”
How do you execute the campaigns for LuckyVitamin that are warm, provide a family-like community, but still stay true to your goals as a marketer?
“In the last year or so, we’ve started to think about our campaigns from a more customer-centered perspective. So whenever we send out a campaign, whenever we’re creating a sale, whenever we’re creating features on the website through autoship or loyalty programs, we consider, ‘are we doing this for the customer or are we doing this for our own personal growth as a company?’ And if we can’t stay, ‘yes, we are definitely doing this to serve our customer,’ then it’s probably best not to move forward with it. Of course, we need to be able to grow as a company, to see revenue, to drive retention and acquisition to stay alive as a business, but first and foremost, we’re always asking ourselves, ‘who are we doing this for?’”
What are some of the email campaigns that you’re most proud of or ones that had the best results?
“Back in December, we sent out this email campaign for a sleep sale, showcasing melatonin or other health and wellness things that would help somebody get a good night’s sleep. And what we ended up coming up with was this dream-like landscape where as you scroll down through the email, subscribers see different levels of a dream world. So, on the surface, you see the sleep sale and it’s all very illustrative and fairytale-like: there’s the cow jumping over the moon, there’s a little hedgehog floating on a balloon, and there are all of these cute little quirky creatures that might be a part of a dream world. Finally, when you get down to the bottom of the email, there’s an image of a woman asleep on a pillow and you realize that she’s seeing all of these elements in her dream, while we simultaneously displayed images of related items.
We also created a successful recommendation campaign where we reminded customers when we thought they’ll need to replenish their products again. Part of this is making sure you are on the minds of customers when they are ready to make a new purchase, but also suggesting things that we think they’ll need to reorder. Customers seem to appreciate the reminder and that personalization of showing them items that they’ve ordered before and making them feel that we understand their needs and the timing of their needs on a one-to-one level.”
We wish all of our emails looked like this. We know you also implement other channels, such as push. Any tips for best practices?
“From the onset of our push notification strategy, we started thinking, ‘This needs to be something that’s going to be worthwhile for the customer because we’re interrupting their day in a way.’ It’s not like email where you go into your inbox and see what’s there, potentially delete it, and move on with life. Push is something different. We also want to make sure that we’re not hammering people with tons of communications, that we’re reaching out in a highly personalized way that’s more welcoming than intrusive. The first step is to be sure what we’re showing them is something they’re interested in.
So, notifications about items that customers have previously purchased, that are low in inventory or had a price drop, messages about items they’ve put into a cart without completing the transaction. We’ll remind them a couple of times over maybe a week or so that they left something in their cart. We’ll also use push to inform customers about ongoing sales. For example, a week after the dream sale started, we might’ve reminded customers that they’ve looked at items related to sleep support and say, ‘Hey, did you know that the sale is still going on? If you use this code or if you come to this landing page, you can still purchase these items for a limited time.’ We want to make sure that whatever we’re communicating, it’d be worth the disruption.”
How do you test your campaigns to see if they’ll resonate with your audience before sending them out? What kinds of retention practices do you implement?
“We do A/B testing. We do control groups. We do all the standard marketing things, but even from the ideation process, we consider what kind of campaigns we want to send customers. We try to consider if they will be any issues with stock. Or if there will be any kind of issues with back order. And if that happens, we’ll send out an email that says, ‘we’re sorry, we weren’t able to do this for you, so here’s a coupon or a gift,’ or we’ll have somebody from customer service reach out directly to make sure that our customers understand that they come first, and we want to do whatever we can to make sure that they still feel like a part of the family.”
You are in some ways, a copywriter. What’s your process for writing campaign copy and how do you keep it fresh after so many years in the business?
“I’m fortunate to work with a team of people who are really skilled, thoughtful and full of great ideas all the time. At the beginning of every month, we have a series of brainstorms where we go through all the campaigns we want to create over the next 60 days or so. We first parse out the goal of the campaign, who the campaign is going to, and then we banter back and forth about what could make it a memorable or worthwhile campaign. Once we come up with a headline, we’re able to move forward and create content and imagery that supplements the headline, whether it’s a quirky pun, a joke, or just something in earnest to surprise and delight our customers.
We all walk out of that room knowing exactly what we’re responsible for in terms of the designers, the content creators, and what we’re trying to do to serve the customer. And it’s been a really fun ride to be able to see how we can go from the most basic idea of what the goal is to then engaging with the customer in a really interesting conversation.”
Let’s move on to some personal questions. When you’re not busy with your role and setting up these amazing campaigns, what do you like to do?
“I am very big into Olympic weightlifting, and the three main lifts: the clean, jerk, and the snatch. And I train for a few hours a day, five days a week. There’s something cathartic about throwing some heavy stuff around for a while and the community of my gym. I’m really grateful to surround myself with interesting people from different walks of life.
We tend to live in the same neighborhood, and we go in and we do this thing together that’s really difficult. There are all these things like form, strength, and skill level, and it takes a lot of dedication doing the same movement over and over again to get good at it. In the end, we all high-five each other, because we’ve had this catharsis together. It’s like a community bonding tool.”
You live in Philly. What’s your favorite spot in the city?
“Right now, my favorite spot is “The Monkey and The Elephant.” It’s a non-profit coffee shop and I’m on the board of directors. It helps fortify former foster youth transition into becoming self-sufficient in their adult lives, and the coffee shop also gives their baristas a livable wage and provides support services for trauma, housing, and life skills training in general. I’m really proud not only to be on the board of directors, but also that something like this exists in my neighborhood.”
This sounds incredible, definitely worth a visit! We’ll finish up with one last question: Who would be your dream email recipient?
I would love, if one day Michelle Obama was like, ‘Hey, Stephanie. I know who you are, and I love your emails, and I just want to thank you for everything you do.’”
And then she’ll say: “I’ll teach you how to grow a great garden.”
“Yes. Oh, my goodness. Let’s just see about first getting Michelle Obama to read the emails. Can we do that?”