10 Questions with Val Geisler on Email Marketing

When it comes to marketing, there are so many articles and resources for what you search, but the chances of finding what might actually help you are quite rare. There is so much wisdom out there that it can be a little exhausting.

That’s why we came up with Freshmarketer 10. This is our own humble attempt at fighting this marketing clutter and delivering a little value. We ask 10 questions each to marketing professionals who’ve been there, done that. So you can learn from the pros!

We’ve talked about different marketing topics with marketers who’ve had hands-on experience. We go over marketing campaigns that worked and didn’t. Also, there are great tips and advice in there as well. All of that in 10 questions. No more, no less.

10 Questions with Val Geisler on Email Marketing

Our first marketer is Val Geisler. She is an email marketing and digital marketing strategist who has spent over a decade behind the scenes of everything from non-profits to multi-six-figure businesses. She has consulted for brands like Stripe, Invision, and Appcues. She’s also quite popular for her product on-boarding email teardown.


1. Why do you think email endures and why do you champion it?

Email is one of the most important channels. It’s where everybody is. It’s very much like just showing up in someone’s digital living room. Also, that’s where people feel connected to what’s going on around them. So even if they don’t log into the app or don’t participate in social media, you can still reach them to the inbox and that’s why it’s always going to be a powerful channel.

2. How to determine the success of an email campaign?

The metric for every email campaign is going to be different. For instance, let’s take an on-boarding campaign where you’re trying to convert trial users into paid users, the increase in conversions of paid users is what’s going to indicate that the email campaign was successful. I don’t think that open rates and click rates are great measures of success when your goal is conversion. The ultimate goal should be what you measure, and then you work backward from there. If it’s an awareness campaign, then email open rates and click rates are important metrics. So it’s going to vary as per the campaign.

Long term retention is more awareness-based, so click rates might be an important factor for you, but I almost never care about open rates because they are often inaccurate and they don’t really tell you if the person is reading your emails. You want to look for deeper metrics.

3. What’s your usual thought process before, during, and after writing an email copy?

I can not write a proper email campaign without talking to customers first. So the very first thing I do is survey the customer base and also do customer interviews. This helps in looking for the voice of the customer. I read through all of those transcripts and get all that qualitative data in my brain, and that’s what really helps me map out both a strategy and the actual copy for email

So I don’t really know what’s going to go into a campaign until I’ve talked to the customers and figured out — what’s important to them, what matters most, how often can we send emails to them, what do they need to be focused on in order to be successful in this campaign? — and that all comes from them. So I always start with those customer interviews.

4. What are some absolute turn-offs for you while reading emails?

It depends on the type of email, but in the case of relationship-building emails, most of those are campaign-driven. For example, onboarding, retention, or a reactivation email. All of those are really campaign-driven emails. And in that case, a huge turn-off is when the email is sent from a brand name and not from a person. And the header is a big logo and the sign off is the name of the brand, again, not a person. Those emails where you’re building relationships should be as personal as possible and should really nail that relationship long-term. That’s what changes everything for you with those non-transactional emails.

Transactional emails can come from a brand, that’s fine. But really, the biggest turn-off for me is when brands are sending campaign driven emails and they’re really just from the brand and not creating a connection with the customer

5. Any examples of great email copy you’ve read? Why was it so good?

I have so many. I have a swipe file full of emails that I love. And you know, the most loved emails for me, and for customers, are the ones where the customer is put first. That is, the reader is put over the product or the service. The best email copy is the copy that thinks about where the customer is in their journey, what they need to hear at that moment, how the particular email matters to them, and why does it matter that I open this email? Now, that’s a powerful email and those are the ones that I save.

I think that my friend Brian Harris always does a great job with email copy and writing to the customer and addressing their concerns and their needs. That’s someone to look at — Brian Harris at Growth Tools.

One of the email copies of Brian Harris from his blog post: https://videofruit.com/blog/

6. What’s the worst email copy you’ve read off late? And why was it so bad?

It’s where the entire email is focused on features. So the copy is entirely focused on the brand, service, and the product and not on the customer. So it’s the exact opposite of what I just said. The great is when it’s focused on the customer. The bad thing is when it’s focused on the brand. You need to teach your customers why, and give them the ‘why’ behind the
‘how’. Don’t just tell them ‘how’.

7. What kind of email works best today? Image/HTML, GIFs, or just plain text.

It depends on the brand and the consumer. For an e-commerce driven brand, you’re going to want more image-based emails. For an online brand or a SaaS company, you might want more text-heavy emails.

That said, I think the transactional emails are a great place to put in HTML-driven content – things that have to do with a purchase and a product. Relationship-driven emails need to be more text-based. You don’t feel a personal connection with a collection of images in a template. You feel a personal connection with words that the person is writing.

8. At times, businesses also need to deliver bad news. What is the best approach you recommend in these cases?

Whether it’s scheduled maintenance or a price increase or anything that’s going to feel like bad news to the customer, you want to tell them about it as early as you can. And then give them reminders leading up to it. Don’t assume that everyone’s going to open that first email or even really process it. Even if they open it, they might not put that in their calendar or understand how it impacts them.

So make sure that you’re putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and tell them about anything bad early and often. And make sure that, in the process that you’re addressing questions before they ever come up.

9. If you’re working on building an email strategy for a fast-growing company, where would you start?

A lot of people don’t start because they feel like it’s so big, and feel like ‘where do I even begin?

To me, I think the best place to start is to start small. Think about your onboarding from the beginning. How do people come into the business? Because it doesn’t matter how many customers you attract, if they don’t feel welcome. There’s enough competition space that someone else will make them feel welcome. So you want to make sure that your onboarding is really tight.

I have a framework called the Dinner Party Strategy that I love to use as a foundation. It’s a six or seven email strategy that you can put into place for onboarding, and it’s actually available as a free download at valgeisler.com/tdps.

10. What is email marketing in 2019?

Email marketing is becoming more and more about relationship building and reconnecting
with the customers. I think that we’re moving away from blasts, and really connecting with customers through the inbox. That’s where email marketing has always been, but it is becoming more and more important to focus on that to create the connection through email, and not just send email blasts to your customers. That’s definitely what I’m seeing across the board in all different industries moving forward.

That’s our 10 questions on email marketing with Val Giesler. Do you have more questions apart from what is discussed here? Just leave your question in the comment section. We’ll get them answered by experts. Make sure they’re related to email marketing 🙂