Most email vendors are pure-play technology companies. Stirista positions itself as a digital agency. It offers social media, data, and display along with email services. And it claims to be seeing an email boom.
To get a perspective on this phenomenon — and on the field in general — Email Insider spoke with CEO and founder Ajay Gupta. The San Antonio-based company has 48 employees, and an office in Bangalore, India.
MediaPost:Tell us a little about Stirista.
Ajay Gupta: We’re a data-driven agency. We started off on the political side, but moved on to large service-based retailers of various types. Our focus is on acquisition — promotional emails, although we do some retention as well.
MP:What’s going on in the email channel?
Gupta: We have seen a revival in email in the last 12 months. When I started nine years ago, email was a hot topic, then it declined as fancier technologies like geofencing and app targeting were taking over. But email is coming back, and brands are more focused on it.
The advantage of email over running a Facebook campaign is that you’re not getting data back from Facebook. They won’t tell you who clicked the Facebook ad.
MP: Does that mean more money is being spent on email?
Gupta: Percentage-wise, the spend numbers are smaller, compared to display.
MP: What else are you seeing?
Gupta: There has been an increase in promotional emails. At the same time, we’ve seen better strategies around retention emails. Instead of doing a one-off newsletter, brands are getting more strategic in creating much more intricate workflows, and using a lot more personalization.
MP: What are the leaders doing right?
Gupta: The leaders are focusing on measuring response and seeing who’s actually opening the email, and creating profiles of those people.
MP: What are the non-leaders doing wrong?
Gupta: They’re just sending these generic message to 20 to 30 million people — it becomes a spammy channel, instead of adding to the brand’s advantage.
MP: What are you advising clients?
Gupta: We’re advising them that you could send 10 million emails a day and see the conversions are gone. Email is one of the cheaper channels — there’s a temptation to send to as many people as you can. But the response rates are pretty abysmal.
We’re also telling them that some of the social and display channels integrate well with email. There’s a higher likelihood of conversion when people also see an ad on a web site or watch a baseball game and see an ad. Email can be used as central hub to tie in those omnichannel networks — its real power is being able to deliver on that.
MP: How do brands go about integrating email with other channels?
Gupta: There are a couple of ways. With display marketing, you can go to a DSP and activate a campaign. More typically, they’re using Google Ads to go in — it’s simple to start up with.
Most of those networks will give you the ability to generate a pixel code — one line of code. When someone opens, it triggers pixel fire. Going beyond that, they can track conversions with conversion pixels.
MP: What’s happening on the retail front?
Gupta: Retailers, especially the more traditional ones, are struggling. A lot of them are focused toward building up their mailing infrastructure, but some should have paid attention a little while before. They’re trying to get their in-house list in order, both enhancing and cleaning the data to build an online story around their brand.
Some of the data collection has been fragmented, and they’re trying to build everything in a customer data platform. But email is front and center for reaching out to customers.
MP: What about the political side?
Gupta: There has been a lot of change. When Obama ran, there was a technology upgrade on all sides that led email to become the central focus or that campaign. In 2016, it was a little different. The digital spends and Facebook efforts overshadowed some email campaigns. Trump was not a traditional candidate. There was not a large list to start with.
With email in general, presidential campaigns are large-scale, and they’re preferring to hire their own agency or having material closeness with an agency.
MP: How would you summarize?
Gupta: The thing that has helped email make a comeback is the fact that everything is very trackable — you’re able to see who’s responding and who’s not, instead of sending out an ad without knowing.