Email Expert Interviews: Tom Blijleven. Marketer at Flowmailer

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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused trouble to countless industries across the world, but if there’s one that’s been blooming this year, it’s the email industry. 

There’s a remarkable transformation taking place in email. And now, since our lives happen mostly online – working, shopping, education, or entertainment – some emails are more valuable than ever: transactional emails.

Tom Blijleven is the guy who knows everything about transactional emails and email deliverability, and he is the first marketing expert we are so thrilled to have him on our blog. Tom will tell us about how he experienced the challenges of the last year and what are his plans for 2021.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your work and what were the biggest challenges you faced?

Obviously, the pandemic made us all work from home. Some of us have been working from home since March last year. I consider myself lucky that I could still work at the office, but at the same time that was the toughest challenge: Trying to find the energy and motivation after having to work from home in every new lockdown. 

I can’t complain about how it affected my work, though. 2020 was a really good year for both the Flowmailer brand and my own. It’s truly been a wild ride, with loads of opportunities opening up and a lot of new faces added to my network. And 2021 looks promising, already! 

What are the biggest struggles email marketers will face in 2021? How can they overcome them? 

Apart from the customer-related struggles like increasing their ROI, marketers will have to face the consequences of GDPR and the Privacy Shield judgment. While GDPR has been around for a while, it was okay for people to still use American marketing services, but that’s about to change. Last year, the Privacy Shield that enabled precisely that, was revoked by EU court. That, plus the fact that regulations are enforced more, marketers will have to look for EU alternatives for their MarTech stack sooner rather than later.

What was your winning strategy for communicating with your customers during the pandemic?

In all honesty, our communications towards customers did not change that much during the pandemic. We’ve always been able to provide the support we already provided before the pandemic: talk to real Flowmailer experts on the phone or per email. Our service didn’t change due to the pandemic either, so we tried to give it minimal attention in our communications. 

(On a side note: Of course, we’re fully aware of the consequences the pandemic had for some of our customers, e.g. in hospitality and retail, so we were accommodating for those with temporary financial issues. ) 

When it comes to transactional emails, what is your advice to marketers that currently do not harness the real potential of these low hanging fruits?

Add a little spice to your boring transactional emails. Way too often I receive emails that are close to an excel sheet with order details. Make me smile when I open the email! I’m not saying you need to add tons of pictures, a thank you note, and your brand story, but start with little details that make your transactional emails less dull 😉. It can do a lot and eventually let you harvest new revenue through cross- and upselling, and content monetization. 

Who is the Flowmailer’s ideal customer?

That’s a tough question, to be honest. As much as we’d like to service the email marketer, we’re not always the most ‘easy-to-use’ platform if you’re just trying to prettify your transactional emails. 

Besides, we recently shifted towards a more ‘email infrastructure’/email API proposition, so if there’s something to say about our ideal customer, it’d be that they’ve got a (somewhat) technical background in email, working on SaaS, enterprise, or government level. 

Maybe I could’ve gone with ‘technical email/deliverability manager’ 😉.

Marketing is evolving faster than ever and we all need to adapt to thrive. With this in mind, can you mention one direction marketers should focus on?

A lot is happening indeed. And without mentioning all the trends that are happening right now, I think ‘adapt’ is the keyword here. Marketers have a love-hate relationship with the word ‘agile’, but it’s going to be the cornerstone of every email program. We need to avoid big-buck projects but improve small things every day. 

The solutions that present themselves as all-in-one rarely live up to their promise and implementation takes too long to be worth it. Replace mega tech by gradually introducing something new, and only if you already have run into limitations of the old solution. 

For example, you should be able to switch SMTP providers without having to migrate all your email marketing to another platform. You can do so with an ‘agile’ design of your email activities. Start there. And if your business is already agile – do yourself a favor and implement a Customer Data Platform.

As the pandemic shows no signs of going away anytime soon, the interest in finding new ways to make money has soared. What do you think of email monetization as an extra stream of revenue for businesses that use email as one of their main communication channels?

I believe email monetization is a very good way of creating new revenue if it’s relevant to your customer. I’ve seen a lot of newsletters making use of other people’s content lately, so why not get paid for that? Relevancy is always key here.

As a marketer and content writer for a business in such a competitive industry, what is your way of finding daily inspiration?

For the generic stuff related to our product, like SMTP, transactional email, and terms like that, I often read blogs by other email geeks and competitors. On the other hand, I like to stray away from the content everyone writes, and focus more on content that has not been created yet. Luckily, we have a platform that has a lot of features our competitors don’t have, so there’s one thing to write about. Plus, I spend hours a week (literally) on Slack, XING, and other relevant websites to see what people want to know and what they’re curious about, so I can create content that fits their needs. And of course, sometimes people come to me with content ideas, so I don’t have to do the dirty work.

Tell us more about your upcoming event: The Experts on BIMI for Email: Expectations vs Reality. And what is BIMI?

I’m proud to say the Experts on BIMI event is Flowmailer’s first-ever live session! It all started with a few tweets with attending expert Andrew Beeston in which we shared our thoughts on BIMI. I then met Yanna-Torry and we started talking about doing a live session. From there on, it gained real momentum and now we’re hosting a live session with 6 true experts on the topic. 

BIMI is short for Brand Indicators for Message Identification and comes down to having a brand logo next to your email in the inbox. In the session, we’re talking about how to implement BIMI, its pitfalls, and its future.  

What’s the part of your job you’re most passionate about?

Connecting with fellow email geeks and creating awesome content. I’ve always been passionate about content creation, but it had mostly been for first-party blogs. July 2020 marked the start of my ‘international’ content creation, with writing articles for EmailVendorSelection, EmailExpert, EmailCritic, and of course with you guys! This year, I’ll be doing even more copywriting, plus podcast, video, and webinar stuff. 🤩

Want to handle professionally your transactional emails?

Check out Tom’s work on the Flowmailer Resources page and connect with him on LinkedIn.

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