Kyle Randall and Nate Martin work in an industry notorious for email deliverability issues, but they’ve overcome those challenges to build an email marketing program that engages their audience in a way that’s impressive to any retailer. “Even if we have a bad product launch, people still open the email, so I think that’s kinda what saves us,” said Randall, digital marketing manager at Fort Troff, an adult novelty retailer. “As long as we stay fresh and stay relevant and we keep the customer entertained, we’re not going to run into any problems.” In this episode of The Commerce Marketer Podcast, Randall and Martin, Fort Troff’s vice-president, sat down to discuss how they built a successful email marketing program, which lifecycle messages are the most successful, how they approach email testing, and what niche marketing can teach others about marketing to a wider audience. Fort Troff started as an afterparty event in 2003 and has grown into a multimillion-dollar online business by marketing to customers that others were afraid to serve. But even with their success within the LGBTQ community, marketing to a niche audience does have its challenges – especially when personal experiences conflict with analytics. “It’s a community that I’m in, so it’s very personal,” said Randall, who joined the company two years ago. “And it can sometimes be difficult to separate yourself from that because you think you know best. So you see data and you see analytics that maybe don’t agree with what your preconceived notions would be. You think you know everything because you’re part of that niche. So you want to trust yourself more than you trust data.” Randall remembered when he tested an email subject line generator that he thought wasn’t going to do well. Instead, the emails with automatically generated subject lines were among the company’s top performers. “It was one of those things where what works for everybody still works for us, even though we think we have this special, unusual customer,” he said. Testing subject lines was indictive of the company’s email marketing evolution, which grew from product-focused, image heavy newsletters to automated email campaigns, including cart recovery emails that net about $500,000 in annual revenue and a welcome series that Martin described as the company’s “biggest success story of 2018.” “We completely underestimated that welcome series,” Randall said. “It did 15 times the amount of money we thought it was going to make. It was a huge revenue maker and at this point, it’s almost on par with our cart recovery (revenue).” Connecting revenue to specific email campaigns was one of many things Fort Troff realized was possible once gaining access to deeper analytics. They recognized the importance of deliverability – having a 100% deliverability rate does not mean every email reached the inbox – and that using dynamic content and testing incentives in emails increased deliverability and boosted revenue. In addition, they saw that sending those discount emails at preferred sending times resulted in an open rate of nearly 40 percent. Fort Troff began their email marketing efforts with a simple newsletter and limited metrics. Today, their business decisions are driven by data and testing. “I’m really proud of the work we’ve done so far and the results that we’ve seen,” Randall said. “It took a lot of testing and a lot of alterations and a lot of placing myself in the customer’s footprints as they go through this journey and what would entice me more, what would I like to see, what’s not going to annoy me.”

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