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Email Marketing and Community Building: A Match Made in Heaven

A few months ago, I came across a post on the Moz blog about creating “big content.” It was witty, insightful and impressively thorough. By the time I reached the end of the article, I was hungry for more.

It turns out that the author, one Mackenzie Fogelson, is also the founder and CEO of a community and brand building company called Mack Web. The implications of trust-based, relationship-focused, customer-centric community management for email marketers cannot be overstated. We knew Mackenzie could even teach email pros a thing or two about earning their way into an inbox, so we asked her to share her knowledge here on the Vero blog. Luckily, she agreed. We picked her brain about email, the nuts, and bolts of community building and the future of marketing, and we learned a lot in the process.

Are marketing and community building the same thing?

Mackenzie: I very much think of community building as marketing, but I may have a different approach to marketing than most people. To me, community building as marketing isn’t a tactic. It’s a lifestyle change.

When you commit to your customers – which is required to build a vibrant community – your marketing becomes an exercise in awareness. You can’t just tell the story of your company, products and services. You have to live and breathe your company values, all day, every day, online and offline. In other words, don’t explain why you’re different (and better) than your competitors – show it.

When you take the community-building approach to marketing your business, the whole company undergoes a transformation, from the inside out. You start with your end goals in mind and work backward to determine strategy, execution, and measurement. You collaboratively work with internal and external teams to integrate all of your communication channels: content, social media, search, email, and even offline efforts such as events and face-to-face exchanges. It’s the integration of all of these channels that allows you to present a meaningful experience to those who interact with your brand – and community – no matter where they are.

Community building as marketing places the focus on relationships. You’ve got to use both quantitative and qualitative data to guide your efforts, but at the end of the day, it’s all about how you’re connecting with people. It’s important that you not only solicit feedback but take it very seriously.

It can be hard to hear the truth from your customers and employees, but when you are brave enough to do something about it, people recognize the authenticity and transparency. Using community building as marketing is a powerful thing, but it requires a tireless commitment and genuine passion. It’s certainly not for everyone.

How has the marketing changed over the last few years?

Mackenzie: I definitely see evolution happening with companies wanting more from their marketing. Companies who are seeking to communicate the meaning and purpose in what they do on a different level. They want to connect with their customers and they know that this isn’t done by broadcasting a self-promotional message. It’s those companies who want to contribute to the lives of their customers and live their values and mission, who are the best fit for using community building in their marketing as they are up for the challenge of transforming their businesses.

We’re seeing more and more of these companies come forward and it’s really exciting to see the momentum for this type of marketing build.

You do this for clients, but how does Mack Web build and maintain relationships for itself?

Mackenzie: Communication is key. But staying connected to people is a lot of work, especially when you’re not a “local” company. Only one of our clients is here in Fort Collins, so the distance can sometimes cause gaps not only in communication but in the strength of the relationship. So it’s something that we work very hard at and inherently build into everything we do (it’s also a big part of what I love to do here at Mack Web).

For as much time as we spend online, we make an effort to match it offline. I love face-to-face so I travel several times a year to speak at conferences and meet with our clients. When we cannot be face-to-face, we meet with our clients on Google+ hangouts instead of conference calls. It helps to close the distance gap, keep things more personal, and get more done.

There is a lot of overlap in communication and marketing. This is where community management really gets fun. We use content a great deal to maintain relationships with current and future customers. I blog often because I love to teach and share knowledge. It allows me to do that and stay connected to all the different communities in our industry.

Even with all these amazing tools at our disposal, nothing beats having a coffee with someone. That’s still my favorite.

Where does email fit into the community building process at Mack Web?

Mackenzie: Email is such an important tool for us and for our clients. Just as you must earn trust on social media to build your community, you’ve got to do the same with email (and any other channel you use). If you can earn trust by offering your readers and customers great information, they’ll look forward to your emails (and stay on your list). That’s the approach we take and it’s been extremely effective.

In addition to blog updates, we use email to keep our readers informed about the growth of the company and trends in the integrated marketing and community building space. We also have some drip campaigns coming up as an extension of our community building guide (more on that in a minute) which we’re really excited about.

We find that it’s really important to think of email marketing as a two-way conversation. Just because someone gives you their email address doesn’t mean they want you to broadcast your sales pitches at them all the time. You have to remember that it’s easy to lose the trust you’ve spent so much time and effort building. Every email counts.

What’s great about email marketing is that we can use analytics as a barometer. We use A/B testing on our subject lines and are constantly analyzing the data to provide our readers with what they want. Similar to how we approach community building, we are sending emails to people, not email addresses, so we make a huge effort to provide information that’s relevant and useful.

What are a few great resources for marketers interested in community management?

There are several other books and resources that I’d recommend:

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