Partner Spotlight: Communicate With Your Audience With Successful Retention Strategies With Jason Donapel From The Email Experience


Hey, thanks for tuning in to another Partner Interview at EcomBalance. At EcomBalance, we’re all about creating win-win partnerships where we are able to grow with other companies in the ecommerce space.

In this exclusive interview, we have a conversation with Jason Donapel from The Email Experience.

Jason Donapel, a Philadelphia native and avid Eagles fan, currently serves as the Co-Founder and COO of The Email Experience (EX), a successful retention marketing agency.

With over a decade of experience in the e-commerce industry, Jason’s journey began at HeartRateMonitorsUSA.comStarting as a picker/packer in the warehouse, his determination and expertise led him to become the head of marketing for the organization, which operated multiple Shopify Plus stores.

Hungry for new challenges, Jason ventured into freelancing and founded his own marketing business. His expertise and dedication soon led him to join, a startup e-commerce company. Jason’s entrepreneurial spirit continued to soar as he co-founded The Email Experience with Dave Miz. 

Today, EX boasts a thriving team of over 40 full-time members & has generated over $100 million in Email & SMS revenue for its clients.

Jason is deeply passionate about team building and retention marketing, and is constantly seeking personal growth and development opportunities. His dedication to excellence and innovation continues to drive the success of The Email Experience and its team members.

Connor: Hey Jason, thanks for taking the time to chat with us today. As a company, one of our goals is to highlight our partners so that our clients can benefit where it makes most sense. To get started, can you give us a high-level introduction to The Email Experience and a little bit about how the company got started?

Email marketing
SMS marketing
Physical mailer marketing
And a done-with-you service for brands just looking for expertise

Connor: Jumping off of that…when you’re thinking about your ideal customer, who is that? Where are they selling online? Where are they located in the world? How much sales do they typically have in a year? If there’s any other qualities, please include them as well. We’re all about making introductions where it benefits both parties.

Jason: Our ideal customer would be on one of the big ecom platforms (Shopify of course is the big one, but Magento, Bigcommerce, etc) – Klaviyo (or ready to switch to Klaviyo) & Attentive for SMS.

Our most successful partners are at a place where their store generates at least 100K/month in revenue, but we’ve also worked with brands below this mark when we really love their vision.

That’s it! Besides those factors, we are really open to creating custom retention solutions for all sorts of D2C ecommerce brands.

Connor: For our audience to truly understand what makes you stand out from other companies providing marketing services, can you share a story of how The Email Experience truly helped one of its customers?

Jason: You know, I could throw in a bunch of case studies here and show off flashy numbers, we of course have piles of these ready for whenever a sales pitch is needed – but for me the whole reason I wanted to start EX was to give smaller brands with limited resources the tools they need to compete with the big players in their vertical.

The most satisfying part of the job is that “ah-ha” moment when a store owners realizes that we can build robust experiences for their customers that would rival the experiences created by competitors with massive budgets.

One brand in particular comes to mind. When we started together, there really wasn’t any revenue or traffic to speak of.

They were pulling in roughly $10 – $15K per month on Shopify, and only about 7% of that was coming from retention. We loved the brand, and the owner… she just had this vibe about her where you knew she was about to hustle like crazy to get this brand off the ground.

We jumped right in a built a full retention strategy from scratch. Email + SMS. We created clear campaign goals, segmentation, and calendars to back them up.

We clearly documented desired outcomes for every single email + SMS automation, and then went about carefully planning them out. After our production team turned the strategy into beautiful emails & SMS messages, we worked with their newly hired media buyers to ensure that the top of the funnel matched the bottom of the funnel that we had built.

Now the brand is routinely hitting well over $100K/mo in Shopify revenue with 30% – 40% typically coming from retention marketing. And we’re not done! That’s the real secret sauce of EX – it’s in our DNA, we are never done the work. There’s always optimization to be had.

And another one just for fun… a different brand we helped started with us with a pretty robust retention strategy, and were regularly hitting $600K/mo in revenue from email + SMS .

Whenever I come across a large, complicated email/SMS program, I know that there is a lot of revenue hiding in the nitty gritty. In the personalization and split testing that others don’t want to deal with. That’s where we really excel.

We dove in and dismantled the entire thing! I’m talking 30+ email flows, and a dozen SMS automations. Hundreds of emails and SMS messages. Through a clear plan of personalization, split testing, retargeting, re-engagement, and clear goal setting – we have been able to help this brand regularly hit over $1,000,000 per month just in email + SMS revenue.

Connor: As you and your company think about the next year ahead, what does it look like? Are there any specific initiatives that you’re working on as a team to better your services for your customers?

Jason: Yup. Part of our DNA here is to never stand still. We firmly believe that the initiatives that worked well yesterday won’t necessarily work well tomorrow, so we are extremely dynamic. We are doubling down on personalization this year with our clients. The number 1 question guiding our every move now is “how can we get the the most personalized messages possible to every single end user?”

This includes building out extremely robust customer profiles that we can leverage across the entire customer journey, no matter the communication channel we use to reach those customers.

We are also always looking for new channels. Email, SMS, printed media, WhatsApp, Instagram, Messenger… we want to enable our clients to have meaningful conversations with their customers on whatever channel their customer prefer.

Connor: How about this…everyone loves a company’s growth story. We all naturally go through ups and downs as a company. What was one of the biggest challenges that the company faced in its growing stages?

Jason: Like the “should we throw in the towel?” moments? I think everyone that’s built a business has had that thought at one point or another.

I’d say it was right around 2.5 years in. We were in this “in-between” space where the work load felt extreme, but the budget didn’t necessarily allow for us to bring on a full team. I personally found myself managing every client account on my own, and it honestly felt like there was no way to get over this hump. I literally told Dave at one point “Don’t send any more clients, I can’t handle it”. Not something any business owner ever wants to say to his partner. Especially when his partner is an incredibly talented salesman.

There was also this limiting belief that I couldn’t hire… how could I possible train someone to do the type of work we needed, up to the standards I had? Looking back, I can see how my ego was really holding me back there.

So there I was, a business owner that didn’t want the business to grow because I couldn’t handle any more client work on my own. It sucked man… that was a really tough time for EX.

Dave convinced me to hire some help, and once I did it helped so much more than I could have imagined. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t suddenly on easy street…

Hiring, training, letting go of processes, team building, team culture… this opened up a whole new world of challenges, and honestly made the job even harder at first – but at least I was able to see the path forward now. I knew that the hard work was actually going towards an end goal. That #1 hire is still with us as well!

Now we are a company of over 40 full time team members – our team culture is second to none, and I no longer ask Dave to stop bringing in clients 🙂

Connor: Thanks! Let’s talk some eCommerce! Where do you see the industry heading in the next 1-2 years? Any big changes that you’re predicting for the industry? How can eCommerce companies prepare for it?

Jason: So AI is going to cause a disruption here – I don’t think anyone knows exactly how or where, but we can all expect some major shifts as the tech gets better and faster. I think it’ll be interesting to see how businesses owners take advantage of the new tools.

I think some folks will decide they can outsource everything to AI, and I’d expect them to be in for some really turbulent times while the tech grows and there inevitable failures and pushbacks from the public (or Google) – and I expect others to put their head in the sand and ignore it, until it hits them like a tidal wave and they realize they are too far behind to catch up.

I’m trying to stay somewhere in the middle – it’s challenging to not just jump on the hype train, but that’s my goal.

I also think we will see an even bigger shift to retention marketing in the upcoming years. Media buying is becoming much more expensive and much more challenging, which means you better have a really well laid out plan in place for retention. I don’t see this trend turning around anytime soon.

Connor: Changing gears a little bit…When it comes to bookkeeping and accounting, what do you think the biggest pain points for eCommerce business owners are? Feel free to speak from personal experience as well.

Jason: When it comes to bookkeeping & accounting, I think that a lot of store owners are more reactive than proactive. I know that I was, I was good at email marketing – not accounting, so it was a pretty big shock to realize that I now had to figure out how accounting works… after the business was already bringing in revenue.

I believe that store owners would truly benefit from having a clear set of annual goals based on their accounting data. You should be able to answer questions like:
If my company scales up 5X what does that mean for my bottom line? Can I afford more team members, how much can I spend on marketing, how much can I expect to pay in taxes?
What does success look like for each month of the rest of this year? And this should be more than just Shopify revenue compared to last year. Revenue, COGS, taxes, payroll, tech fees… every line item impacts your business, and needs to be clearly accounted for.

Connor: Okay, here’s an open mic opportunity. If there’s one thing that you’d want the EcomBalance community to hear from you, what would it be?

Jason: I love ecom man. It’s been basically my entire adult life.

I started in a warehouse packing boxes for fulfillment when I was like 21, spent 10 years at that company until I became head of marketing before starting EX with Dave. Along the way I’ve met hundreds of entrepreneurs, I’ve seen a bunch succeed and I’ve seen quite a few close up shop as well.

The biggest difference that I’ve witnessed is simply the level of effort a business owner puts into their store from a retention standpoint. And I don’t just mean email/SMS – I mean really thinking about your customers and their needs, really thinking through what sets you apart from others in your space and maximizing it.

My favorite client ever started with a single drop ship product. They were just like every other drops hipper in the world 6 years ago, and now they are a full-on legitimate brand with a vibrant community of truly engaged customers. I’m talking 60%+ return customer rate.

How did they accomplish this while hundreds of other drop shippers disappeared?

They hired content creators to make compelling content for their client base, they put a ton of effort into creating communities on social media for their customers and then actively moderated and engaged with them, they stopped “selling” with every outgoing message and instead did the hard work of providing nothing but value to their opted in marketing lists, every single initiative they started was based on a customer-first mentality.

This originally appeared on the EcomBalance Blog and is made available here to cast a wider net of discovery.
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