wabash-trip-to-shutterflyRecently, a group of students from Wabash College went on a trip to Silicon Valley to learn about entrepreneurship from some of the most iconic brands in the tech space. Today, Wabash Sophomore Michael Haffner talks to us about his visit to Shutterfly and what he learned about building a successful email marketing system for a business of any size.

The selling of goods and services may be among the oldest professions in the world, but with advent of the Internet and social media, the methods and science behind selling are changing rapidly.  This became apparent during our Wabash College sponsored visit over the Christmas break to Shutterfly.

Most every company has excess inventory–goods that do not sell in the normal course. It may seem simple for a company to determine clearance prices for excess or obsolete inventory. Shutterfly has developed an impressive system of maximizing prices and yet “moving” the obsolete inventory.

The Best Marketers Have The Best Data

However, after visiting various companies out West through Wabash College, I learned that if you are going to remain competitive in this kind of commodity market, you must have the best data and expertly crafted, targeted email campaigns.  Mike Berry, a ’92 Wabash graduate, described the ins and outs of marketing at Shutterfly.  He alluded to the fact that entire “committees” were devoted to deciding what time of day would be most beneficial to send emails and to whom to send them.  As I came to understand, Shutterfly is a branch of a larger company.  Other branches are: tinyprints, Wedding Paper Divas, treat, and thislife.

While there are many branches in the 1400 person company, Berry’s small team is known as CRM technology.  He’s focused on determining automated emails.  As we listened to him talk, I noticed a white-board wall full of possible “clearance emails” that would likely be sent out that week.  Each one consisted of important details, highlighted by a proposed “percent off” the retail price.  When we asked how they determined how much clearance to give, Berry responded with a lighthearted laugh as to imply that a lot goes into these decisions.  Maybe more than we cared to know.


But Do You Know Your Buyers?

Overall, the main theme was to know your buyers.  It is crucial for a company, especially from a marketing perspective, to know whom they are targeting and who is buying their product.  For instance, Berry explained that after researching, very little of their sales came from professional photographers, but rather, middle-aged women.  Furthermore, he broke down percentage wise, what he called the 70%-20%-10% rule.  He said that 70% of your money should be put toward what works today.  You want a guarantee that 70% of your money is being put toward things that work.  Also, 20% of the money should be put toward something new that may need more funding.  Finally, the last 10% should be put toward something crazy that has not been done before.  The last 10% should be a unique and creative idea, which, as we found throughout the trip, is a major theme on the West Coast.

silicon valley beach

As the end of the visit neared, we were left with three last business tips.

  • It is a lot easier to sell a product that you actually believe in and would use.
  • Find a cofounder you believe in.  Berry spoke openly about this point, giving an example of his first business with a cofounder that he often questioned.
  • Lastly, I learned to be sure to have a sufficient cash reserves for the company.  Businesses fluctuate in terms of revenue, and therefore, a business that attends to its cash flows will prevail through rough times.

So the next time you receive an email about a product at a particular time or day, discounted by a certain amount, and maybe packaged with other items that you might find of interest, be sure someone meant to “target” you at that time and in that way.  Far less is random or coincidental in the science of marketing than I might have thought.

I thought about asking what I might be hungry for at dinner the next day–but I was afraid they might actually know.  Thanks to Shutterfly and Wabash for an incredible trip!