Chris Hexton on Behavioural emails for startups: The dos and don'ts

Chris Hexton on Behavioural emails for startups: The dos and don'ts

"Be bold enough to have a go and experiment"

Email marketing is often something completely new for startups, but it is something that if done well, can ensure valuable customer acquisition. 

Chris Hexton, founder and CEO of email marketing tool Vero, imparted some words of wisdom on StartCon entrepreneurs. 

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Chris started with explaining what problems startups are facing: 

  • You're not emailing enough. A lot of startups have a fear that they're going to make a mistake or annoy the customers on their lists. Your first customers want to engage with you, so it's ok to make mistakes. You're learning together with your first customers. 
  • Not using a tool. A real pain point is registering your domain properly and ensuring you aren't marked as spam. A tool can help you do this, ensuring more emails are opened later down the line. 
  • Design can be a huge initial fear. But keep things simple and again take the time to experiment with tools that are available. 
My rule of thumb for emails is 3 a week
— Chris Hexton

Behavioural marketing allows you to use data to alter the way you engage via email with your customer, as opposed to just sending generic email blasts. 

Data for your startup

The best place to start is gathering this data. Chris was keen to endorse simply asking for emails. Simple methods such as sign up tools alongside any content marketing, or gathering emails when customers make a purchase or transaction on your site. 

Email tools like Vero, don't allow the use of bought lists for the simple reason that these lists offer very little gain. The lists aren't your customers and could mark your domain as spam, something that is an issue to rectify and can cause long term issues. Therefore, encourage people to sign up to your mailing list, rather than just putting them there. 

Once you have the basic information about a customer, you can then start gathering data about each individual. 

This data can be gathered in a number of ways, from simple surveys to using Java Script to track a person's behaviour on your site. Tracking these click throughs can allow you to create triggered emails, tailored to your customer, or it can enable you to "segment" your customer. 

You can even gather very basic information, when people sign up to your mailing list. Chris used the example of ASOS, who ask your gender at the point of sign up. A simple way to gather basic, useful information for a fashion retailer. 

Chris reiterated throughout his talk that keeping a single record for each person was key. This would help avoid someone being spammed and receiving too many emails, or the reverse of that, not enough. 

How do I use this data?

The next step is thinking about your end goal. What do you want your email marketing to achieve? Chris used Vero as an example. For Vero, their end goal was acquiring customers. The relationship with these three customers could be broken down into three.

  • Make blog readers into trial users
  • Make trial users into customers
  • Retain those customers

A lesson to be learnt is that these customers need to be treated differently to one another. 

A series of welcome emails can prove very beneficial. If your customers are trialling your product for free, offering them advice or reminders encouraging them to revisit the site is a great way to ensure they see the trial through and understand the use and benefits of your product. Retaining these customers through the trial stage means they are more likely to convert. 

Chris used airbnb as an example of a company that uses behavioural marketing to target customers who had abandoned searches for accommodation. By emailing these customers with a simple call to action, that puts them back onto the listing with their search terms pre populated, airbnb are increasing customer retention. Chris was keen to point out that this style of behavioural marketing has just enough context for the customer and does not appear invasive. 

Segmenting lists

As well as tracking your customers' behaviour on your site you can also segment your list when scheduling blasts. 

When starting out with segmentation Chris advised to divide your lists as follows: start by dividing your customers into 2 buckets, then divide those buckets into 2, etc. When first starting out, take things slow but don't be afraid to experiment. This segmentation is very individual for each industry. An insurance company may want to gather some basic income information, whereas for a retailer gender or regular cart abandonments would be of interest. 

In order to have a 400% increase in conversion rates in 2014, Vero decided to practice what they preach, and try segmentation to promote themselves. 

They divided their blog readers into 4 segments. The list was broken down by considering factors such as level of engagement and whether they had ever done a free trial for Vero. Each of the 4 groups received a different email, and Vero experienced a huge lift. The segments that worked best during this experiment then became automated emails moving forward. 

Focussing on problem areas

It's important to know which one of your email streams matters most.There’s never really much more than 5 key steps that the customer will take. By finding the biggest drop off point of customers you will learn where to focus your marketing strategy.

For example If you found that you had 100s of 1000s of subscribers to your blog but not very many converting to trial users, but that all trial users became customers, the stream to focus on would be the emails to blog subscribers to convert them to trial users.

It's a simple trick of thinking, "where is the lowest hanging fruit?"


Every customer is different, and every companies has a different sweet spot. There is no correct amount of click throughs from an email campaign or way of knowing you are on track. If however, you're getting unsubscribes at a higher rate than customer acquisitions it's time to have a rethink. 

Chris shared some simple tips for sending engaging behavioural emails

  • Give the email context by relating to an action, such as subscribing or visiting a page on your site.
  • Send the customer back to a logical place on your site. 
  • Don't surprise people. If they joined your list 6 months ago and they are getting their first email now, they will have forgotten about you. The risk of getting marked as spam is high.

Chris' StartCon talk certainly proved to be an engaging one. Email marketing is something that can benefit all companies and is a great way for startups to grow. By playing around with segmentation and behavioural marketing methods early on you can gain key insights while your list is relatively small. 

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