Episode #18

Jessica Totillo Coster from Ecommerce Badassery

Also available on:

In this episode of Beyond the Inbox, Sam interviews Jessica Totillo Coster, the founder of Ecommerce Badassery and an email marketing expert. Jessica shares her insights on how to optimize email marketing campaigns, the importance of having a face for your brand, and the power of quizzes for lead generation.

One of the key takeaways from the episode is the importance of email marketing for e-commerce businesses. Jessica emphasizes that email marketing can be a highly effective way to generate revenue and that many ecommerce businesses are leaving money on the table by not taking advantage of email. She also notes that many businesses don't realize the power of email and that even large companies can benefit from optimizing their email marketing campaigns.

Jessica also discusses the importance of having a face for your brand and how this can help to build stronger relationships with your customers. She notes that customers often connect more with a person than with a brand and that having a face for your brand can help to create a more personal connection with your audience.

Another key takeaway from the episode is the power of quizzes for lead generation. Jessica explains that quizzes can be a highly effective way to grow your email list with people who are interested in what you sell. She also notes that quizzes can be a fun way to engage with your audience and that they can help to segment your audience based on their interests and needs.

Throughout the episode, Jessica emphasizes the importance of testing and experimentation in email marketing. She notes that there is no one-size-fits-all solution and that what works for one business may not work for another. She also stresses the importance of planning and consistency in email marketing and recommends that businesses have a content calendar in place to ensure that they are sending regular and relevant emails to their audience.

In summary, this episode of Beyond the Inbox provides valuable insights into the world of email marketing for ecommerce businesses. Jessica Totillo Coster shares her expertise on how to optimize email marketing campaigns, the importance of having a face for your brand, and the power of quizzes for lead generation. Whether you are a small startup or a multi-six-figure company, there is something in this episode for every ecommerce business owner looking to grow their revenue and build stronger relationships with their customers.

Show Notes

  • (00:00) Introduction
  • (02:47) Jessica's background
  • (04:30 Why email marketing is important for ecommerce businesses
  • (06:20 Common mistakes small e-commerce businesses make with email marketing
  • (08:30) How often to send emails
  • (10:20) The importance of planning and testing
  • (12:30) The power of having a face for your brand
  • (14:50) How to be comfortable putting yourself out there
  • (17:00) How to create content for your email marketing
  • (19:00) How to create a content calendar
  • (21:10) What's working in ecommerce right now
  • (23:00) The power of quizzes for lead generation
  • (25:20) The importance of segmentation
  • (27:10) The importance of planning for campaigns
  • (29:50) Where to find Jessica and her resources

Read the transcript:

Sam (00:04): Jessica, welcome to be on the inbox. Thank you so much for taking the time to join us.

Jessica (00:09): Yeah, thank you so much for having me. I can talk about email all day, so let's do it.

Sam (00:15): I wanna start by asking you about your background, how you got started in e-commerce and what drew you specifically to email marketing.

Jessica (00:24): So my journey really started when I was a little girl who used to sleep in her new shoes. So I ended up going down the fashion and apparel route and the majority of my background was in brick and mortar. And I saw this huge shift happening to the digital space and I didn't wanna get left behind. So I started learning on my own. Like when I was going to school, Facebook was still, you needed a college address, right? Like there none of this stuff existed. So it was all really new, but I just knew that I wanted to be a part of it. And then in my previous day job, I was the only employee of the e-commerce division for the first three years, which was very stressful. But we were in a restricted industry that couldn't do social media advertising and things like that. So email was our number one revenue driver and while I had already loved email at the time, I had to learn to really love it and do it really well and dive really deep into it. So that's where I became slightly obsessed, I might say.

Sam (01:38): What drew you to email? What was it that you loved the most?

Jessica (01:44): Actually being able to have a conversation and a connection with the customer. So I think a lot of people think of email as this broadcast channel where you're actually just talking at the customer all the time, but there's so much data available that that it, it's the customer speaking back to you, right? So are they clicking, are they buying the products that you feature or are they buying something else? So it was sort of this marriage of art and science, which is what e-commerce is and part of the reason why I love it, but you get pretty much instant feedback on what you're creating so that you can continually iterate and make it better. And as a marketer, like that's all you want, right? <Laugh> is feedback from the people that you're trying to sell to. So it just seemed like a really great way to get deep insight into what my customers loved or didn't love so much that I could continually improve on. And seeing those, like when you create content for social media, you spend so much time, energy, and effort on it and maybe it leads to a couple of sales, but it's really hard to reconcile that those sales came directly from social. Whereas with email you can see the numbers climb as people, you know, click and place an order. So it's quite satisfying.

Sam (03:14): I remember that period, especially when it was so difficult to educate yourself on internet marketing and especially SEO and email marketing. And I'm curious, how were you educating yourself in terms of approaching email marketing? Were you learning on the job or did you have a mentor? What did that look like?

Jessica (03:36): It was a little bit of everything. There was, I've learned most of the things I've learned by doing right, even though I went to school for fashion merchandising, but I, you know, I learned how to manage inventory by doing it when I owned a brick and mortar. So really the, just the practice and constantly testing things and you know, reading and learning from all of the people and ultimately letting the numbers and the data drive my decision making. It's all right there in front of us. We just have to take action on it.

Sam (04:13): What's changed the most in the time that from the time when you first started working with eMAR email marketing to now, I imagine back then a lot of it was sending broadcast emails and maybe there was some basic automations. Can you talk through some of the big changes that you've seen?

Jessica (04:35): Yeah, absolutely. It was, it was just blasting this message to everyone on the list and you know, while segmentation and automation existed, the technology has advanced so much that it allows you to get so much more granular and specific and intentional with what you're creating. That's probably the biggest change. But I also think that there's been sort of this when most of the people that I work with, right, they're smaller business e-commerce entrepreneurs and a lot of them felt like they didn't wanna be annoying or they didn't want to send a lot of email and so they wouldn't utilize it. And the thing is the customer loves it. So I think the biggest difference is it's become so much more normal and expected. And so aside from the technical perspective and being able to do so much more, the customer actually wants you to send them emails. So I think there's just been a little bit of a shift in the culture around it, which is a good thing, right? For e-commerce marketers. And ultimately if just take advantage of that, you'll absolutely win, which is great. <Laugh>,

Sam (06:03): I want to circle back to this, but I want to ask you more about how you started e-commerce BAAs three. What was the tipping point that led you to starting that company?

Jessica (06:14): Yeah, so I, this is not the first time I've owned my own business and I was working for someone else and I knew that I wanted my own business. I just didn't know what it was gonna be and I assumed it would be a product-based business because that's just what I've always done. But instead it was having conversations with e-commerce entrepreneurs who kind of knew that they needed to do email but didn't really know how or how to approach it or they felt like they weren't doing it well. And I just really started talking to them about, you know, strategy and things that they could be doing and they started reaching out to me. So initially it was the market coming to me and being like, Hey, can you help me with email marketing? And I thought, sure, okay. And I just kind of started doing it on the side.

(07:12): And what was so cool <laugh>, and this still happens to this day with my customers and my, you know, my students and stuff is they start sending email and they see revenue get generated and they're like, oh wow, look, I sent an email and I made money, like I got sales. That was cool. And it was, I hate to admit this, but it was actually my husband's idea for me to create a business out of it. So I was talking to him about one of my clients that I was working with and I was setting up all of her automations and mind job. I was doing this nights and weekends after my very <laugh> taxing full-time job. And he asked me, he said, you know, are you like tired? Are you getting burnt out? And I was like, no, actually I'm energized when I work on the client project. And he's like, so are you going to create a business? And I thought, huh, I guess I could do that. So really I started it by accident, but it's been the most fun that I've had ever and to be able to kind of open up the possibilities for these e-commerce entrepreneurs and help them grow their business, best job ever.

Sam (08:26): When you mentioned some of these clients and how they were surprised when they emailed their list and they made money, were these small companies or were these companies much larger than you would expect to say something like that?

Jessica (08:41): <Laugh>, it's, it's a range. You know, when I first started, because I really only did one-on-one work, so it wasn't inexpensive, right? They were already in that multi six figure early right space and they, it was amazing to me that they didn't know. I just see we all take our own knowledge for granted. I just assumed everyone knew how important email was and how powerful it was and how much revenue it could generate. But then I quickly figured out that that was not the case, which is fine because it's basically why I have a business. But to see that they could, you know, this business they already had that they thought maybe had plateaued or they were gonna have to go get new customers in order to grow when they figured out they could just send a couple of emails and send some automations of course and actually make money while you sleep, which is everyone's dream, right? And the way that their like eyes lit up, it was just, it was so cool. But it was surprising that even these larger companies, there's still an opportunity to optimize what you're doing and make more money.

Sam (09:58): It's so surprising to hear and sometimes I speak to e-commerce founders and they say things like, well we have these automations but I don't know if people wanna hear about these. And my reply is always, we need to keep talking about these automations because a lot of founders know that they need to have them, but they overcomplicate them and they put them off and they end up don't making them. And it's, it is a surprising takeaway to hear from a lot of e-commerce founders saying something like that.

Jessica (10:29): Yeah, when it's someone who's newer in business, you know, that makes more sense to me. They're just learning and the majority of the people that I work with, you know, they created a product to solve a problem that they had or because they're really passionate about something but they're not retail and product people. So I get it, it's really cool that some of these companies have, you know, made it to those early six, multi six figure levels without really taking advantage of email. Like, you did an amazing job, you have awesome product fit, right? People want what you sell. So then when you just add that little extra touch, it makes such a huge difference. And when you're talking about retention, which is really what email does, that revenue is so much more profitable, which it makes such a huge impact on the business. So it's really exciting to be able to just be a tiny little part of that.

Sam (11:27): When clients come to you, what are some common mistakes you see small e-commerce businesses make and how can they be avoided?

Jessica (11:36): The biggest mistake is just not sending enough email <laugh>. People always ask me, you know, how can I make more revenue from my email? And I said, well how often do you email? Well some you know, once a month or once other week. And I'm like, well you need to send more emails. That's really the first thing. But aside from that, while automation specifically is set it and forget it, that's what's makes it so great. It's only set it and forget it ish. So a lot of times we set up these automations, six months, eight months, nine months, a year, two years goes by and they never get touched. But there's so much data there available to us that we can then go in and tweak them and adjust things and test things to help them perform even better though, I think at a minimum it's sending more emails and checking in on your automations at least every 90 days.

(12:37): You don't wanna be doing it too often because the data's just not statistically relevant or you'll just drive yourself crazy, right? Like you can't judge your entire business based on a weekly number. You need to wait for some patterns to emerge. But taking that, the information, the data that's there and tweaking one little thing at a time to see if you can get a little better performance at it. And in terms of how many emails to send, in case that was gonna be your next question Sam, cuz it's always everyone's next question. The short answer is, it depends the more subscribers you have, the more products you have, the more emails you can send. But ultimately I like to say start off with a minimum of one per week. I used to send four emails a week. There are companies that successfully send emails every single day but do it slowly. I like to say if you send one email a week now start sending two, do it for four weeks, see what happens as long as your engagement stays up, start sending three emails a week and then just repeat that process.

Sam (13:48): It's such an interesting answer and it kind of annoys me sometimes when I see people online saying I don't want daily emails. But there are people that love daily emails, especially in the infotainment space and it's a completely different audience and it's impossible to say how much is too much or too little because everyone is different. I spoke to a founder recently and he had this conundrum because he didn't know how much to email his list. So he got people on his team to sign up for 10 different brands and added to a Google sheet how often they sent and they all sent it different times and of course it was a certain time of the year as well. And I think it's such a fascinating answer because there really is no definitive answer.

Jessica (14:30): Yeah, there I, I find that in e-commerce in general, there are no definitive answers and I find myself always saying, well it depends. It depends, it depends. And that's why it really just comes down to testing. But the, here's the good news, you're going to get instant feedback and data about everything that you, so you're, you're going to know if your customers love it or don't. And you know, we also have to remember that you're never gonna make everyone happy. So just because you have one or two people who are like, Ugh, stop emailing me, you're emailing me too much, they're probably just not your customer. While 98% of the people love it so don't get too hung up are those one or two negative Nancy's that are never happy about anything.

Sam (15:20): I think an interesting part of emailing as well is actually having a process in place for creating content and having a calendar. And I'm wondering is that something that you help your clients with? Do they need to be, do a lot of e-commerce brands need to be better at planning ahead, keeping upcoming holidays in mind? I'm, I'm talking specifically more about campaigns now. Is that something a lot of e-commerce bonds could be better at do you think?

Jessica (15:47): 100% and I think the root cause of it, well there's really two. One of it is just planning, right? None of us are really great at planning our own businesses. I spent so much time planning the marketing in my previous day job and I can talk to a client, kind of plan their marketing in a matter of minutes, but I can't plan the marketing for my own business. We're all just too close. But we're also overthinking it a lot <laugh>, especially when it comes to the content creation piece cuz the number one thing people say to me is I don't know what to say. Mostly it's because we're overthinking it, but two, it's because we are not comfortable repeating the same things over and over again, which is like marketing 1 0 1. If you think about all the messaging that's coming to your customer on a daily basis through social and email and SMS now and all of these things, they are only hearing a small percentage of what it is that you are saying. So when you're sitting down to create your content calendar, you think you have to come up with something new every time and that's not at all the case. So I do have a little process that I like to follow called the Star method cuz I love a good, I always forget what that thing is called where each letter stands for a word <laugh>.

Sam (17:15): Is it an acronym?

Jessica (17:17): Maybe it is an acronym. I always get it confused and it always happens when I'm like recording a podcast and trying to tell someone about it. But I like to plan minimum 30 days at a time. If I can do 90 days even better. But I really do just start with all of the important dates. What are the holidays that are coming up? What are the things happening inside the business? Do I have a product launch? Is there a promotion? Is there a new campaign happening? And laying all of that out and I build my calendar around all of those dates. And what's really interesting is when you do this as the first step and you think about, okay, if I have a sale, I'm probably gonna send a minimum of three emails about it, right? You're gonna launch it, you're gonna remind people and then you're gonna give them that last chance.

(18:09): When you start laying all that out, your calendar's gonna be full, you're probably already gonna have two to three emails and then you fill in those holes with some value added lifestyle content where you can tell stories about your experience with your product or your customer stories and those kinds of things. Because email specifically, not every email has to be about the hard sell. It's not always, hey, buy my product it, it will happen. And some of the highest revenue generating emails I have sent have not pitched products in them at all. Maybe it's a blog post, it's something educational that I know that my customer cares about. So I think if you just remove the mindset of, oh I have to sell in every email, I have to come up with something new all the time and you just remember that it's a human on the other side and it's just someone who needs help solving a problem or needs a little bit more joy in their life or whatever the outcome of your product is, it becomes so much easier to create content for your email.

Sam (19:27): I've noticed lately a lot of the founders that I've been speaking to, they saw of shift in their business when they decided to be more of a face of the brand, often reluctantly. And I completely agree it's so common now or not so much common but interesting to see a lot of brands having a face. And for anyone listening to this, especially someone that might be on a small team, how can they manage putting all this together and what would you say about having a face for the brand? How can smaller businesses go about doing that?

Jessica (20:03): Yeah, that is such a great way to grow your business quickly. I always tell people, put as much of yourself into the business as you're comfortable with and then do it a little bit more. As a small business, you are your superpower, you are the thing that sets you apart from everyone. And I've just seen it over and over and over again when there's some sort of face or personality attached to the brand the customer can connect with quickly. So I think one, it starts with just making a commitment to do it and getting over all of your own <laugh> preconceived notions and hesitations and fear. And I get it, when I started this business, I didn't wanna be the face of it, but I'm a service provider and an educator like I had no choice. And it's really hard in the beginning, but eventually it gets easier and it just becomes second nature.

(21:07): So you just really have to push through that mud in the beginning and then it becomes easier. But I think the easiest way to do it is to start telling stories and injecting the reason why you started your business into your content. So I'll give you an example, a client of mine, and it's so funny because in the last three weeks she has messaged me two or three times to say, I sent an email and I sold six candles, <laugh>. I'm like, I know that's why I keep telling you to send email. So she started a candle business at the height of the pandemic. She is a cancer survivor. And the story of why she started it was because of how candles made her feel, right? It's, it's all about that emotion and creating that environment at home and they're all non-toxic and all this other stuff.

(22:07): So she was struggling with how to come up with content. So I gave her this framework of story, lesson offer because each of her candles has a name so it's rest or calm, something like that, right? And it goes with the scent. So I said, tell a story of how you use this candle in your life, what you learned from this story, and then show them the candle that goes along with it. So she sent an email about how important it is to have rest in your life, et cetera. She sent that email, someone bought six of the rest candles and then they bought a whole bunch of other stuff too. So, and it wasn't even about showing her face at all, right? It was just being human and connecting with the customer where the person on the other end can say, oh wow, I really needed to hear that today. And even if it's just one person doesn't have to be everyone, you're not gonna connect with everyone all the time. So don't try, just reach that one person and that can be so impactful and you get the revenue, but that's just a byproduct of the connection and now they're gonna wanna keep hearing those stories. So if you are, you know, coming to grips with the fact that you have to inject yourself in your business, that's probably the easiest way to do it is to just tell your own stories. People love a good story.

Sam (23:40): I love that. And I have so many follow up questions, but I wanna shift gears a little bit because I know time is of the essence here. We've talked a lot about email and automations and we love onsite marketing here at Drip as well. So I wanna ask you a little bit about this building. What's working today in e-commerce? I know you're a fan of quizzes, I am too. Where can people get started with not only growing the email list but accelerating what they're already doing?

Jessica (24:05): Yeah, so there's two ways. I love to grow an email list and the reason why I love these is because it actually grows your list with people who want what you sell. So you know, a lot of people will kind of default to a social media giveaway or something like that for list growth, which is fine and it works, but you get a lot of people who are just there for free stuff. So if you are gonna do that, make sure you clean your list regularly cuz a lot of them are not gonna ever engage with you. But quizzes and product launches are my favorite with the quiz. How you set this up is going to depend a little bit on what you sell. So I've worked with a skincare client and the whole point there is to create a, you know, six step skincare regimen based on their concerns and skin type and all of that.

(24:58): But I have a student who sells zero waste sustainable cleaning products and her quiz is, you know, it's more like a personality buzz feed type quiz of you know, what kind of eco warrior are you. And that's been performing really, really well for her. So you have to kind of think about how it's going to serve the person that you are ultimately selling to. But once you have that set up and figured out one, it's just fun. People just love to take quizzes cuz you know, we're all bored and looking for a way to kind of distract ourselves from <laugh> the daily grind. But it is also great for lead gen ads, which if you haven't done paid advertising in your e-commerce business, sometimes it can be really expensive to do conversion ads. So sending them to the quiz is a really great way to build your email list and kind of accelerate that speed.

(26:01): The other thing is product launches. So I think a lot of times we release products and we just think people are just gonna come and buy them, but it's not usually how it works, right? We need to create excitement and I love to create an event around the product launch where you are telling people, Hey, if you get on my list now you'll get early access 24 hours before everyone else. Maybe you have limited quantity, maybe they're getting a discount that no one else is getting. You need to give 'em a reason to sign up, but these are people who are already qualified to want what it is that you sell. So those are my two favorite ways and ultimately all the different ways you grow your list, the number one thing is you have to talk about it all of the time. And we can't just passively put it in our link in bio on Instagram cuz people are not gonna take action. We need to be talking about it all the time and we need to tell them what to do. And that's just good practice in any marketing. But I, I am consistently reminded of this. So I, for instance, I have a membership program for e-commerce business owners. Every time I talk about it, somebody joins. If I don't talk about it, people don't join because they don't know that it's there <laugh> and it really is truly that simple. Sometimes.

Sam (27:29): I wanna go back to the quizzes because I've seen so many interesting ways e-commerce businesses are using quizzes, sometimes the standard page setup over time through popups. What are you seeing working best right now when it comes to segmenting? Is it better to segment new visitors or new subscribers rather onsite? Or is it better to segment maybe through a welcome series? What do you think is working well right now?

Jessica (27:58): I think it completely depends on the business and how segmented your customers are. So let's go back to the two examples I gave, right, the skincare, there's gonna be a lot of different segments there because there are so many different skin types and concerns and you know, some people who love a 12 step regimen when there are other people who can only stand to use three products cuz they wanna be done in five minutes. So you have a lot of different customer avatars there and I would definitely see more segmentation happening based on the results of those quizzes. On the other hand, with the zero waste and the eco warrior stuff, they're all, all those customers are the same, right? They're all gonna buy the same products for them. It's really about where they are in their journey as an eco warrior. So you may have some people who are earlier and still learning and so you're gonna wanna give them a little bit more education.

(29:02): Whereas you have this other group who is like, they've been doing this for years and they're just show me the products and I wanna know that it works. So I think it's gonna depend a little bit. One thing I will say about segmentation is we can over segment two. So just because you have all of this data doesn't mean that you wanna be segmenting your customers to the point where you have like three people in your segment cuz that's not gonna be impactful either, <laugh>. So while I love segmentation, there is kind of that, that caveat to like not go to segment ee, otherwise you're gonna miss out on opportunity to sell.

Sam (29:46): Well I've learned so much from this conversation. Jessica, where can our listeners go to learn more about your company Ecommerce Badassery?

Jessica (29:54): Yep, so I am e-commerce Vetas three in all of the places. That is my website, Instagram podcast, all of the things.

Sam (30:02): Perfect. Well we'll put the link in the show notes. And Jessica, I wanna thank you again for taking the time to join us and all the best of luck in the future with E-commerce BA three.

Jessica (30:13): Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.