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Email Snob Interview: Janine Popick

For today’s installment of the Email Snob Interview Series, I have the pleasure of going back to the C-Suite to talk email with Janine Popick, CEO of VerticalResponse.

JaninePopickHeadshot-300x276ScottWritesEverything.com: Janine, thanks for joining the Email Snob fun. Let’s get started. I’d love to know how you got your start in email marketing. Tell me a bit about your background.

Janine Popick: First of all, you have to be “certifiably insane” to be in this business, no lie!

When I started VerticalResponse, all I wanted to accomplish was to commoditize a cool tool for small businesses. There was nothing at the time (2001) that helped them send email other than Outlook, never mind the tracking of it all. Did I know that we’d have a Federal ruling in 2003 on sending email? I mean, it turned out to be good for most, but what a hairy time. Did I realize that sending millions of emails to different email clients would make you crazy? NO. I don’t consider myself a visionary; I just wanted to do something cool for the little guy.

I’ve always been in direct marketing doing paper mailings for customers from Harlequin and The Audubon Society all the way to Borland, Symantec, and FileMaker. What an array. Then came the popularity of the Internet, followed by email marketing. At XOOM.com, we had the largest email database at the time (1998), selling our contacts software and products. It was the wild, wild West before we all learned to do the right thing: permission-based marketing.

That’s where my dream of doing it for the little guy came it. It was tough enough for us to do it at a bigger company; I thought, “What could the little guys possibly be doing?” And I found out: either nothing or using Outlook. It’s still that way to this day. I figured there had to be a better way.

SWE: Given your deep involvement in the industry, what would be your recommendations for someone who’s looking to get into the “conversations” of the email marketing industry?

JP: Go to:

1. Email Experience Council

2. Forrester – Shar VanBoskirk

3. The Email Marketing Roundtable on LinkedIn

SWE: Some good influences there. Let’s talk about your influences. Who is your biggest influence in the email marketing industry?

JP: My biggest influence is the small business customer that comes to me and says, “Hey, I have a tough job running my business and all I have is 20 minutes a week to put together my newsletter. Thanks for giving me templates and an easy-to-understand interface so I can get this done, because I know how important it is.”

Quite frankly, I’m tired of people in the industry telling others not to “dumb it down,” or that they can’t believe that people wouldn’t want to analyze and know more. Not everyone has a marketing degree from Stanford. It’s not that people don’t WANT to analyze; it’s that they don’t know where to start, they don’t have the money, and they certainly don’t have the time–especially when it comes to the small business owner.

SWE: What would be your top three books you feel every email marketer should read (email-related or not)?

JP: My three are:

Rework – If I had to do it all over again, I’d definitely do many of the things Jason Fried from 37Signals talks about in the way he works. Things like “Planning is Guessing” and “Long Lists Don’t Get Done” are real mantras for any business. This can be paramount for any email marketer.

Word of Mouth Marketing – Andy Sernovitz has it down when he talks about doing things that are remarkable–because you’ll just get more customers that way, whether it be in your email marketing campaigns or your everyday business. It’s a classic.

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell–It’s a great read for any marketer!

SWE: Let’s take it online. How about blogs? Other than your own blog, what would be your top 3 blogs for email marketers to read?

JP: It’s a weird question, especially since no one wants to mention their competitors–even though our competitors put out some great information! Haha! But I would say:

These people give some great ideas to both small and larger businesses.

SWE: As one of the leading minds on email marketing for small businesses, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing small business email marketers today? How can these challenges be best fought by ESPs?

JP: Three challenges:

1. Time
2. Technical expertise
3. Understanding the medium

The way these challenges are fought? Offer tools that practically “do it for them.”

SWE: Let’s talk trends now. How do you think mobile technologies will affect email marketing in the next 3-5 years?

JP: The more iPhones and smartphones that are sold, issues with mobile “email” won’t remain “issues.” Most people glance over emails on their phones and either delete from there, or save them to look at the larger version on the computer.

So what you really need to do is focus on your subject line (no change from normal email), getting to the point, and making it easy for them to click to see a hosted version of the email, in the event it’s not rendering. Pretty simple stuff to focus on.

SWE: Good pointers there. Okay, some fun questions now. How has your work in email marketing affected your personal use of email?

JP: I am consumed with email. Emails take me to Facebook, to Twitter, to newsletters, to the world. I scroll to the bottom of the emails to see the footers and who is using who. I scrutinize subject lines daily–even our own! I send spam emails I get to the person I know at any ESP to let them know their customers are spamming. I’ve even emailed people back with some ideas for how they might do something better. GEEK!

SWE: What’s your favorite thing about email marketing? What gets you revved up (in a good way) about email?

JP: What gets me revved up is when I hear a customer of ours say, “I sent out a campaign yesterday. It cost just $25 and I got $3,000 in sales!” That keeps me going every day.

SWE: On the flip side, what’s your least favorite thing about email marketing?

JP: I’m at a party and someone asks, “Janine, what do you do?” And I tell them that I run a technology business that helps small businesses send email marketing, surveys, and direct mail postcard campaigns. All of a sudden, I’m responsible for every piece of spam everyone in the room gets. We’ve all been there.

SWE: Certainly have. Okay, let’s say you are giving a keynote speech to the email marketing industry as a whole and it is your personal soapbox. What would be your message for the email marketing industry?

JP: First of all, I would never give a keynote speech to the industry. It’s not my thing. But I’ll play the game.

So much of the industry has paid attention to “marketers” and what they’re doing to acquire and retain customers. But small businesses don’t look at themselves as “marketers;” they look at themselves as business owners, of which, marketing is just a part of what they have to do on a daily basis.

There are a lot of great companies out there like VerticalResponse that are focused on these businesses and understand the importance of email marketing. However, they don’t consider themselves marketers. The way I look at it, they are the heart of our economy and the fuel for hiring new employees. And the tools we give them to grow their business ultimately help them help all of us grow.

SWE: Last question. If you were stuck in an elevator with the CEO of a company that doesn’t utilize email, what is your “elevator speech” for email marketing?

JP: Simple:

Me: Do you have a list of email addresses from customers and prospect?

CEO: Yes.

Me: Send them emails.

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About Janine Popick

Janine Popick is the CEO and founder of VerticalResponse, a leading provider of self-service email marketing, online surveys, and direct mail services empowering small business to create, manage, and analyze their own direct marketing campaigns.

She is a columnist for Inc.’s Girl Power: Female CEOs and has been featured in USA Today, Entrepreneur Magazine, ClickZ, B2B Magazine, San Francisco Business Times, and Inside Direct Mail. She was an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist from 2006 to 2009 and won the Stevie Award for Best Entrepreneur of the Year in 2008 and 2009. In her spare time, Janine is VerticalResponse’s CEB (Chief Executive Blogger) for the VerticalResponse Marketing Blog for Small Businesses.

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