Katie Kansen: Q&A Session

Q&A Session: Katie Kansen

Katie Kansen Q&A Session is happening on July 22nd 2020 at 10:00 AM PST (1:00 PM EST)

Katie Hansen is the Senior Engagement Marketing Manager for Kayak North America. Prior to her current role, Katie has spent her career in digital marketing and ecommerce. In addition, she has an extensive background in email marketing, focusing on building and optimizing email programs, list growth and segmentation. As a customer retention specialist, Katie has developed lifecycle strategies as well as a customer loyalty program. Katie currently lives in Boston but New York will always be her hometown.
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Katie Kansen – Transcript

AMA with Katie Kansen @ Kayak

July 22nd, 2020

Hi everyone, thanks for having me here! I’m looking forward to answering as many questions as I can. Here’s a little more about me to get you started…After leaving New York for Boston last Summer, I joined the team at KAYAK about six months ago to oversee the email program for their North America market. Needless to say, it’s been quite an interesting time to start working in the travel industry. My role at KAYAK is somewhat of a pivot for me––prior to joining, I’ve spent my career working for E-commerce/retail startups focusing on retention marketing and customer loyalty. However, the constant thread throughout my career, and my speciality (for better or for worse) is email marketing. I’ve seen it all and witnessed it all when it comes to email so hopefully I can be of help today! Excited to start chatting with you all!

Great, I have a question for you. When you want to reach new potential clients, what items are you making sure to hear positive from clients? 

By clients do you mean a new user or customer?

Your decision making strategies 

I always start with data. Whether that’s historical data or current data. It’s the best way to give yourself guidelines to make the best decisions. However, once you understand the data piece, I think it’s just important to trust your instincts and don’t be afraid to test and try things that you haven’t in the past.

 What balance of promotion and nurture based emails do you see if most profitable long term for an email list?

Coming from retail and ecomm, promotions can be a slippery slope. Once you start giving away that discount, credit, etc. it’s hard to go back. But I know just as well as anyone how vital it is to most businesses. I also think there are successful ways to marry the two (i.e. Buy full price now for and get a credit on your next order). But with that being said, I’ve always done my best to weight email programs more heavily towards nurture based emails since that’s really what will help the business be sustainable in the long run and create repeat customers. Coming from retail and ecomm, promotions can be a slippery slope. Once you start giving away that discount, credit, etc. it’s hard to go back. But I know just as well as anyone how vital it is to most businesses. I also think there are successful ways to marry the two (i.e. Buy full price now for and get a credit on your next order). But with that being said, I’ve always done my best to weight email programs more heavily towards nurture based emails since that’s really what will help the business be sustainable in the long run and create repeat customers.

What was your best email marketing campaign in terms of online store conversions?

It’s tough to narrow it down to just one and also depends on what you truly define as “best”. Coming from retail, we of course do our biggest business during Black Friday weekend and through the holidays. But often my measure of success was trying to get customers to expand their breadth of product, not just volume. So, I’ve done a lot of campaigns that tried to cross-sell customers into new categories they hadn’t tried before and the way I was most successful in doing that was looking at data from similar customers. If most customers who bought product A, eventually went on to buy Product B, I would try to make a full campaign out of selling product B because it seemed like a likely next purchase.

What key strategies have you seen work well with retention-focused marketing in a time where your industry isn’t as active? (I’m in transportation, so similar boat)

Something that’s been pleasantly surprising to us during this time is how well our users are reacting to data and informational based emails. For example, we’ve been trying a lot of content around nearby trips, i.e. road trips which have done okay. But in comparison, we’ve also done a number of more data-centric emails, i.e. How travel trends have changed, promoting a travel restrictions map we created to let users easily check restrictions across the globe, and those types of emails are generating much more engagement. So what that tells me is that right now, users just want to be informed. I think they’re hungry for data, trends, research and we’re trying to give them that in as many ways as we can.

What do typical email KPI’s look like at Kayak ? Open rates and click rates.

I can’t share exact metrics but yes, I look at Open Rate, Click Rate as well as Total Searches–so if someone actually gets through to the site, how they’re are engaging with it.

 What are some successes and failures you have seen combining paid social and e-mail together as far as retention and loyalty?

I think failures have been when the strategies aren’t aligned. Customers pay attention and when you sound like you’re talking about two totally different things on such highly visible channels, it does a disservice. I’ve found the best ways to marry the two are to make them a cohesive message (with small changes, i.e. images, copy tweaks). That way, it helps reinforce what you want the user to be focused on. In addition, we’ve found that paid social can be a great tool for customers you’ve lost on email due to unsubscribing or just becoming disengaged.

What is the Kayak team doing to manage Covid-related downturn? Are you guys brainstorming alternative revenue streams or big changes? If so, can you share any of them?

Being somewhat new to Kayak, I have to say how impressed I’ve been at their ability to not only keep calm right now internally, but externally develop new things extremely quickly. The team saw that users were obviously not doing searches for flights and hotels and developed a large number of things such as a Travel Restrictions page which allows users to sign up for email alerts for specific countries so they’ll be notified as rules change. They developed something else called Essentials which will notify users when household items will come back in stock at nearby stores, i.e. Clorox wipes. They also were able to develop a lot of at-home travel guides, virtual city tours, etc. The list really goes on and on. It has really been a team effort to figure out what users need right now and developing it as quickly as possible to get it to them.

Do you consider yourself an emailgeek? Just curious.

Ha yes I do! I tried to deny it for a long time, but you can’t work in email this long and pretend you’re not. 

What do you think about Chatbot Marketing vs Email Marketing

I don’t personally see it as one vs. the other. At least as far as I know it, chatbot marketing is best at answering questions and giving guidance while a user or customer is on the site in that very moment, whereas I feel email marketing is truly at its best when it’s telling a story, and guiding you to the website to then hopefully go onto your next step. I always semi-joke that email marketing to me feels like a baton race. It’s our job to get you to a certain point or spot and then something else will take you from there.
I’d love to know if you have general advice regarding customer loyalty and retention marketing. We generally have good retention, but I’d love to know the best things to put in place to ensure we focus on retention.

  1. What are the best emails to be automated right off the bat
  2. How do you go about having customers from different regions but still making recommendations personalized
  3. General advice would be to have a tone of voice, have humor, have as much personalization as you possibly can whether that’s geo-targeting or just putting a customer’s first name in an email. I think we’re past the point where customers want to feel like they’re just at the end of a robotic batch and blast email, it’s okay to have personality. Think of yourself as a customer. I think we all tend to go back to the brands that at the end of the day make us happy or gave us some sort of good experience.
  4. Welcome/Onboarding series for sure. It’s the best way to let customers know what you’re about, what they should know and what they can expect. I’d also make sure to have some sort of re-engagement/reactivation series for customers who begin to churn–whatever churn means to you.
  5. I think that depends on what industry you’re in. At Kayak we very much tailor rec’s based on search data since that’s really what the heart of our business is. In my past roles, we would try to find similarities between customers. i.e. customers who look like you purchased a and then b, we see you’ve purchased a so we’ll now recommend b.

Thanks for doing this! 

Segmentation is definitely a broad topic and I could probably talk about it all day  I think the most efficient place to start in my opinion is on engagement level. People who are engaging with your emails every single day are probably different than someone who only opens once a month, so you should be separating them out from the start and trying different tactics. From a retail standpoint, I’ve also found the most successful segmenting based on LTV and past purchases since the amount you’ve spent/what you’ve bought really can differentiate you and dictate the type of content you may want to see.

Nice. Sounds like you go for segmentation by behavior and spend over, say, demographic or channel?

I think it depends on your industry but for the most part yes. I think demographic can come in handy when you’re working with other channels like radio, tv, if you’re a retailer opening stores etc. But for email marketing, I find behavior to be the most important.

Any cool hacks to grow your newsletter subscriber base? Asking in the context of email marketing which is the end result of adding subscribers. 

I don’t know if it’s really hacks but I personally find that a lot of brands are missing “easy” opportunities. Most brands have the pop up box the second you hit the website but that doesn’t really tell you anything about intent. I’ve found a lot of success asking for email when a user is a bit further down the funnel; staying on a product or search results page, clicking around to different pages 2+ times, adds something to cart. You may sometimes sacrifice volume but will make up for it in quality and intent of that user.

Any advice for the e-commerce part of companies like Wayfair and Home Depot to get their sales up with email marketing during the remaining months of 2020 while COVID19 is still having an influence?

I think too many sales can be a slippery slope (but coming from retail I know how important they can be) but I also think just pushing what people actually need right now and pushing it with the right language i.e. “staring at your living room too much? browse new rugs” (I’m clearly not a copywriter). I would try to capitalize on the working from home, restlessness, and feeling like you just want to re-do everything in your house at the moment. I also know some brands are starting to do a Christmas in July–i.e. you have nothing else to do so get a jump on your holiday gifts now.

Any advice on retention strategies through email (time frames, content types, etc.). 

I think it’s important to not neglect your trigger campaigns. Meaning, understand where your customer is in their journey and determine what they need based on past learnings. For instance, in my last role, we knew that once you hit a certain LTV threshold, you were more likely to buy certain categories, so we had an automated flow set up to immediately email anyone who hit that threshold to target them with new products. The bulk/marketing campaign emails are always great but they’re mainly one size fits all. The smartest programs have emails working in the background that are targeting users based on where they are in their personal customer journey.

If you were starting at a new org that had nothing, what would you do first to get their marketing off the ground?

I would first make sure they’re doing everything they can to actually collect emails–so making sure we had a visible place on the site to collect emails, make sure they had an entrance overlay and if possible an exit intent overlay. Then I would put in some key trigger campaigns that speak to the customer lifecycle. So a welcome/onboarding series, post-purchase series (if you’re a retail/ecomm brand) and then from there layer on the larger weekly campaigns that speak to product launches, new announcements etc.

 What was the biggest mistake of your career and what did you learn from it?

It’s hard to narrow it down to one because I’ve made a lot of mistakes. But when I look back at the mistakes I’ve made, most of them were from either moving to fast and/or not asking enough questions. I know I personally put pressure on myself to act like I can just do everything quickly and without help. I want to show I can just “get it done”. But what I quickly learned is that it’s just okay to ask questions even when you think you sound dumb. And it’s also okay to say, wait I need a little more time. At the end of the day, whoever you report to would rather you have taken a minute to step back and think or ask that question than make a mistake that maybe you can’t even correct.

What is the best email marketing software out there in your opinion for small startups? And also, do you have any tips on how to segment your lists or any must-know hacks?

If you really don’t have budget I know other small businesses that have had success with more basic ESP’s like mailchimp. If you’re able to apply some budget, I’ve personally had success in a small company with Bronto (some people will disagree with that; it’s not a pretty tool but imo it works and they really monitor deliverability). In terms of segmentation, I’ve done it the hack way of slicing and dicing myself and then uploading into my ESP but if you’re able to find an ESP that has a good segment/audience builder it’s 100% worth that. The second I started using a software to create segments, my life got incredibly easier.

What are your go-to outreach emails for ecommerce visitors/susbscribers/account owners? I’m interested in the messages that these people receive to further immerse them in the company or brand. Examples I am think of are things like: “you left an item in your cart”, welcome emails, and general listserv information.

Agree. My go-to email campaigns are triggered based on your personal user journey–so onboarding, post-purchase, abandoned cart, abandoned search. I then like to layer on the larger weekly/daily (however often you send) that focus on things that don’t need to be as personalized, so new product launches, announcements, exclusive offers or events. I think you really need both the triggered and the bulk to have a well rounded program.

 What are your favorite newsletters and emails? Where do you look for inspiration? What are you missing? What is your favorite email tool?

https://reallygoodemails.com I look at this every morning! I love seeing what other brands are doing, and think it’s a great way to get inspiration. Who I look at in particular has changed as I moved around in my career but I think some off the bat that I love are Airbnb, Casper, Everlane, and Away. As far as what we’re missing—before I joined Kayak they were doing a great job with their triggered/transactional campaigns so while there’s still optimizations to be made, I’ve really focused on trying to layer on some true marketing content, brand voice, etc.

Great to have you here, thanks for taking the time. In your experience, how can you grow your audience without sacrificing a good open rate / CTR? We’re currently building a Baselines tool for newsletter writers to track & compare metrics, and want to be as valuable as possible to them (and of course improve our own!)

First, I think you need to grow from the right places. i.e. if you have the ability or tools, try asking for email addresses when a user is further down your site funnel, maybe they’ve visited two product pages or have added to cart but haven’t checked out. The higher intent you can get, the more valuable that user will be. Second, don’t under estimate segmentation. As an email marketer, I know the fear execs can have when you say, “we’re only going to email x people and not the full list” but in reality, you’ll probably get better engagement from that smaller list because it’s actually targeted and therefore relevant to that group of people

Firstly, thanks for doing this! COVID has clearly turned everything on its head but we still find email to be an extremely effective marketing tool. What are the other channels your team at KAYAK is exploring, besides e-mail, for direct customer outreach and sparking acquisition/retention? 

The team has definitely been stepping it up on social media which I think is smart. If everyone is like me, they’re spending way too much time scrolling through Instagram right now. We’re also trying to improve our SEO and make sure that when people are making whatever search they need, we’re coming up and supplying them with relevant information. We’re also working to ramp up our push efforts. But it’s definitely tough right now.

What does your email marketing strategy look like for kayak? X emails per month for Y audience and Z audience? Do you stick to a dedicated schedule for sending? Do you truly AB test email sending per email and if so, what are the big elements you like to test?

When I came in, I saw that Kayak had a pretty established email program in terms of breadth of campaigns, but not a ton of “rules” as you might say. So for example they had a “monthly marketing email” but when I looked, it barely went out monthly  So, what I’ve tried to do is give a bit more order. It’s still a work in progress but for the most part, a user will receive a “bulk” campaign 3-4 times a week and that is then layered on to their triggered emails which they can get daily depending on what they are. For me personally, it’s a lot and I’d love to scale it back but will need to do a larger audience/frequency test as I’m sure we have some super engaged users who can take emails every single day but likely have some users who we need to scale back with.

Thanks so much for doing this!! What are your preferred CRMs? Also, what is your top tip for building an engaged community?

In the past, I’ve used Salesforce. Don’t know if I’d say that’s my favorite but I think it’s pretty common. I’ve enjoyed using platforms that aren’t technically CRM’s but have some of the same qualities and you can do a lot of interesting email strategies with, i.e. Simon Data, Bluecore.

Oh and your second question! My top tips are to have a well rounded program. Every brand will need to do the “bulk” style mailings but to keep customers engaged, you have to speak to them based on where they are in their journey. So making sure you have the right automated flows in place, post-purchase, abandoned cart, re-engagement etc. And then layering on the larger campaigns. Also, don’t be afraid to have a point of view and a tone of voice. Your marketing channels should sound like a person, not just a robot spewing out information.

I recently had a client that switched from Salesforce to Ontraport as the CRM, it’s my first time using it and I really like it!! 

Oh thanks! I’ll definitely make note of that—-CRM’s are like ESP’s, if someone genuinely likes it than it’s worth looking at 

 Not sure if we’re out of time, but how have you grown the most in your career – staying in the same companies or in transition to new roles?

Honestly, I’ve grown the most by being adaptable. Working in mostly smaller companies, they can really be like a rollercoaster. I’ve had managers leave, teams change, roles change and even when I was nervous or unsure in those moments, I just tried to grasp whatever opportunity that presented to me.  I think it’s okay to have a rough roadmap in your head of what you want to accomplish but I also think you just have to go with it sometimes and see where certain events take you. A lot of times those opportunities have kept me at the same company but when I have changed companies, it was because I could no longer see a challenge or a path of growth for myself.

What is your content review process like? Legal team? Director approvals, etc. Curious on the operational hierarchy  for a brand like Kayak, especially when it produces so much content on a regular basis.

Sort of depends on the content. Most of the time, our Brand Marketing team is developing the content, I then work with them to align on how to adapt that for email and the approval process is really just their team and my team looking at it. But when the content is centered around data or research that we’ve collected and are putting out there, that has to go through legal and sometimes up to the top to our parent company for final sign off.

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