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How a smart email strategy helped Apple Rose Beauty thrive during the pandemic

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Kristy Alexander, founder of Apple Rose Beauty. Image provided by Apple Rose Beauty.

“I went into corporate America for about 10 years and was on the fast track, being promoted every couple of years,” Apple Rose Beauty founder Kristy Alexander told us. “I was up for another promotion when I decided to travel around the world. I found myself in Thailand, volunteering with an organization that helped rescue women from human trafficking. That really changed the direction of my life.”

While in Thailand, Alexander met two survivors of human trafficking, Apple and Rose. She founded her cosmetics company in 2015, naming it after the women to honor them and highlight a larger mission — to help stop human trafficking. Alexander employs human trafficking survivors and supports organizations that rescue and rehabilitate women like Apple and Rose.

Apple Rose Beauty, headquartered in Jacksonville, Florida,is a luxury skincare company. Its organic face care products are formulated for people with sensitive skin. “I developed the products for my own skin,” said Alexander. “I have sensitive skin and I’m also sensitive to fragrances. I wanted to create a natural line that was lightly scented or had no scent at all and gentle for sensitive skin, but still very effective.”

Alexander credits her dream of opening a cosmetics business to a chemistry class she took at age 15 in her native country of Trinidad and Tobego. While taking the class, she analyzed cosmetics and discovered it was something she really enjoyed.

Using email to build strong customer relationships

When started the company, Alexander knew she needed a strong email marketing strategy. She wanted a flexible, scalable email marketing system with built-in automation features. She chose ActiveCampaign, a marketing automation platform that includes email marketing and CRM capabilities. 

“The technology brings together what people think of as email marketing, marketing automation, and CRM,” explained Maria Pergolino, ActiveCampaign’s CMO. “We bring these technologies together with robust automation so that companies can run campaigns and elevate their voice to multiple audiences.”

“I was looking for something that was flexible in terms of automation and communicating with my customers,” said Alexander. “ActiveCampaign stood out from other CRM companies that had rigid automations which didn’t allow me to think about flexible ways to communicate with my customers using ‘if…then…else’ scenarios. The other piece was that I needed a platform where I could own and grow my customer relationships.”

In the early days of growing her business, Alexander worked with an advisor and tried several CRM tools. “I’m probably one of those people who tried them all,” she said. “We kissed a lot of frogs first before we got here.”

Five years later, having built a robust email list, Alexander faced another challenge — reaching customers accustomed to touching and feeling her products during a time when this became impossible — the pandemic.

Using technology to strengthen offline customer relationships

Alexander uses ActiveCampaign for email marketing, but she also leverages its Facebook integrations to automatically upload her customer list for Facebook paid advertising. She’s able to customize campaigns on Facebook with messaging that’s tied to customer behavior.

When COVID-19 hit, Apple Rose Beauty was doing most of its business offline through partnerships with retailers like Macy’s, local marketplaces, and other physical locations. Alexander’s strategy of cultivating strong offline customer relationships helped her rapidly pivot to the online space. Prior to the pandemic, online sales were only about 30% of her business.

Said Alexander, “I’d always heard of the importance of email marketing, but it was never my focus prior COVID. We onboarded our customers from whatever channels that we got them and we tried to get their email addresses so could remarket to them. We did a lot of in-person activation in store and in markets.”

In-person feedback helped Apple Rose Beauty home in on who their customers were — the people who were really drawn to the brand. This gave Alexander and her team a solid understanding of their customers’ challenges and pain points which informed the development of the brand positioning.

“When COVID hit, I hadn’t realized how much that in-person feedback was beneficial for our brand or how much it informed our entire go-to-market strategy. Post-COVID, we missed that instant feedback. We were still sending emails, but they were the traditional one-way communication. And we thought, how can we recreate this type of relationship that we originally had with customers interacting with them in person?”

Making email conversational

The inability to communicate with customers in person inspired Alexander and her team to rethink how they were using automation and specifically how they were leveraging ActiveCampaign. They transitioned to a more conversational type of email marketing, asking customers to reply back to them.

“When COVID hit, we were in this state of not knowing what was going on. We were used to seeing our customers and so we were really wondering how they were doing and how they were dealing with the pandemic. That’s what our initial emails were about — just reply back and let us know how you’re doing. What do you need?”

Asking customers how they were doing helped kick off the process of transitioning Apple Rose Beauty from offline to online sales. Their customers knew the company had a website, but they were used to buying in person at Macy’s or local markets in Jacksonville, or in Atlanta where Alexander is based. 

“With skincare, it’s very touchy feely, it’s giving customers an opportunity to smell the product and see how it spreads on their skin,” said Alexander. “So, we were a very high touch company pre-COVID, both locally and throughout the U.S.”


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Skyrocketing online sales and a new business approach

With the focus on e-commerce and a new personalized email communication strategy facilitated by ActiveCampaign, Apple Rose Beauty was able to grow their online sales by 300% in 2020. “We were able to develop a type of relationship with our customers that a lot of retailers aren’t necessarily able to in an online setting. They really feel like we care. And it’s not just marketing or promoting to them, but they feel like they can have a conversation with us,” said Alexander.

Alexander notes that about 70% of the business is now online, a complete flip from pre-pandemic times. While they’ve begun a slow return to in-person events, she has no plan to return to the way it was before. 

“We can scale a lot more with email marketing and with online sales, she said. “We’ve also transitioned our acquisition model to using more paid advertising and online advertising. Where once our new customers were coming from those in-person markets, we’ve now transitioned to online customer acquisition.” 

Example of an Apple Rose Beauty welcome email. Image provided by Apple Rose Beauty

This strategy has enabled Alexander’s small team of three to achieve six figures sales annually and continue to grow. She credits the strong relationship she’s built with her customers—plus her focused digital transformation strategy — for this success. 

“Customers are the lifeblood of the company, right? If you don’t have customers, you don’t have a business. Pay special attention to that customer relationship because that’s very important to nurture and to maintain. You want to make sure that, as a brand, you have control over communication and messaging so you can stay focused on nurturing that relationship.”

Read next: More case studies from Jacqueline Dooley


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About The Author

Jacqueline Dooley is a freelance B2B content writer and journalist covering martech industry news and trends. Since 2018, she’s worked with B2B-focused agencies, publications, and direct clients to create articles, blog posts, whitepapers, and eBooks. Prior to that, Dooley founded Twelve Thousand, LLC where she worked with clients to create, manage, and optimize paid search and social campaigns.

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State of Content Marketing in 2023

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State of Content Marketing in 2023

I just pressed send on the manuscript for my book to be released in September. It’s called Content Marketing Strategy (snappy, eh?), and Kogan Page will publish it.

Last week, marketing professor Philip Kotler wrote the foreword. I won’t spoil it, but he mentioned the need for a strategic approach to owned media.

He writes, “(T)he company doesn’t carry an account of showing these marketing assets and their value. As a result, the company cannot show the CEO and company board members a return on owned assets or content.”

Luckily, my upcoming book shows exactly how to do that. Funny how that works out.

In any event, all this struck me that now is an opportune time to look at where the beloved practice of content marketing stands today.

First, let’s go back to 1999 when Kotler published Kotler On Marketing, one of his more than 70 books. The latter 1990s – a time of tumultuous change – fueled most of the thinking for the book. But he knew that it was merely the beginning.

Kotler concluded the book with a section called “Transformational Marketing.”  In the next decade, he wrote, “marketing will be re-engineered from A to Z. Marketing will need to rethink fundamentally the processes by which they identify, communicate, and deliver customer value.”

Well, it’s taken over two decades, but it’s finally happening.

Consumers have changed, but marketing operations are just starting to

In case you didn’t notice, almost every marketing conference these days starts with the same four or five requisite slides:

  • Digital technologies, such as search and social media, empower consumers today.
  • Consumers research, engage, buy, and stay loyal to brands in ways that have fundamentally changed.
  • First-party data and privacy are of the utmost importance.
  • Artificial intelligence begins to threaten the idea of the usefulness of search and pressure companies to deliver better and more personalized experiences.

You get it. Consumer expectations in the age of the social, mobile, and AI-driven web are different than they were.

However, the continuing challenge in 2023 is that content and/or marketing operations in enterprise companies are only beginning to evolve. Most marketing departments have remained as they were when Kotler wrote his book — they still work from mid- to late-20th century hierarchies, strategies, and processes.

Most marketing departments still work with mid- to late-20th-century hierarchies, strategies, and processes, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

Content marketing isn’t new, but a content marketing strategy is

For hundreds of years, businesses have used content to affect some kind of profitable outcome. But the reality is this: Whether it was John Deere’s The Furrow from the 1800s, Michelin’s guide to car maintenance in the early 1900s, or even Hasbro’s GI-Joe partnership with Marvel in the 1980s, content was not — and is not for the most part now — a scalable, repeatable practice within the function of marketing. In short, companies almost always treat content marketing as a project, not a process.

That fundamental change will finally take hold in 2023. It could happen because of the digital disruption and ease by which you can now publish and distribute content to aggregate your own audiences. It could happen through the natural evolution that the ultimate outcome – more than the marketing – matters more.

As we roll through 2023 and beyond, content — and the exponentially increasing quantities of it produced by every organization — deeply affects not just your marketing strategy, but your business strategy. Content in marketing is now bigger than simply content marketing, and it should be dealt with as a component of that business strategy throughout the enterprise.

#Content in marketing is bigger than #ContentMarketing. Treat it as a component of the business strategy, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

In 2023, the No. 1 focus of my consulting and advisory practice these days: help companies transform content into a repeatable, scalable, and measurable function that drives value through a multi-channel strategy. It’s bigger than publishing a blog, creating a lead-generating resource center, or sending an email newsletter. Today’s content marketing team is being absorbed into marketing because marketing and its various operations are fundamentally transforming into a content-producing machine.

It is not good enough to produce content “like a media company would.” The goal must be to operate as a media company does. Your job is not to change content to fit new marketing goals. Rather, your job in 2023 is to change marketing to fit the new business content goals.

Your job in 2023 is to change #marketing to fit the new business #content goals, says @Robert_Rose via @CMIContent. Click To Tweet

The unaware builds a case for the aware

The term “content marketing” continues to evolve. Even today, I run across those who still call it “brand publishing,” “custom content,” or “inbound marketing.”

My take matches with what Kotler described in 1999. I always thought the term “content marketing” would become part of “marketing” more broadly. In 2023, that happened. So, returning to the lexiconic debates of 2013, 2014, or 2015 doesn’t seem terribly productive. Content marketing is just good marketing, and marketing is just good content marketing.

That said, two kinds of companies do well at the broader view of content marketing. Some of them, such as Cleveland Clinic, Red Bull, Arrow Electronics, HubSpot, and REI, have purposely devised content marketing strategies as differentiating approaches to their marketing. They are succeeding.

Others, like Amazon, Microsoft, JPMorgan Chase, and Peloton, backed into a smart content marketing strategy. But executives at those companies probably don’t recognize it as such. If asked (and some have been), they would say acquiring or launching a media company operation was just a smart business strategy to diversify their ability to reach their consumers consistently.

They’re right, of course. Many have yet to read books about content marketing, been influenced by the Content Marketing Institute, or even recognize content marketing as a separate approach (as far as I know). And they are also succeeding.

Consider this proof: As I write this article, six companies have a market capitalization of more than $1 trillion. Four of the six wholly or partially use the business model of media creation to further marketing and business strategies. Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, and Amazon are all, in part, media companies that also sell products and services.

Why would you not avail yourself of that same model?

The future looks cloudy and bright

As for the overall state of enterprise content marketing, it’s in transition, as all marketing is. As a focused project-based approach, working in ad-hoc ways across a business, content marketing appears to have proven its worth. Hundreds of entries every year to the Content Marketing Awards feature myriad case studies using content marketing techniques in strategic ways to profitably affect business results.

And yet, it remains to be seen whether you can make content marketing a scalable, repeatable, measurable function within marketing.

As to what the discipline’s future holds? At last year’s Content Marketing World, one of my favorite events, the Executive Forum gathered senior leaders from brands succeeding with content marketing. As we talked about the future, one participant said: “The only certainty is change. I can’t tell you where or when, but I do know there will be change, and this is the principle we build on now.”

As for my take, Kotler’s idea of transforming the marketing function seems to have gotten lost along the digital road traveled by marketers. In so many cases, marketing – and especially content – remains just an on-demand service function within the business. Its sole job is to produce ever more voluminous amounts of content that describe the value of the brand (or its products or services) so that sales can sell more efficiently, customer support can serve more effectively, and all manner of customer interfaces are more beneficial to both sides.

However, and maybe because I need to rationalize now that my book is finished, I passionately believe it’s finally time for marketing to reclaim its ability to create value — not just reflect it in the polished shine of your traditional products and services.

Almost 27 years ago today, Microsoft founder Bill Gates wrote an essay called Content is King. In it, he said that “(C)ontent is where I expect much of the real money will be made on the Internet, just as it was in broadcasting.”

It certainly was one of his more prescient moments. Nearly three decades later, his words have proven true. The essay title has become the rallying cry for thousands and thousands of entrepreneurs who now make their living on creating, managing, optimizing, and measuring content on the internet. (A Google search for “content is king” nets more than 1.7 million results.)

But it’s the last line of his essay that I find the most visionary: “(T)hose who succeed will propel the Internet forward as a marketplace of ideas, experiences, and products – a marketplace of content.”

That’s what content marketing is for me in 2023. It’s just marketing – optimizing the value of ideas, experiences, and products in a marketplace of content.

Time to get to work.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Get Robert’s take on content marketing industry news in just five minutes:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=videoseries

Watch previous episodes or read the lightly edited transcripts.

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week. 

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute



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27 Best About Us and About Me Page Examples [+Templates]

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Your about page summarizes your history, values, and mission — all in one place. That’s a tall order for just a few paragraphs. If you’re feeling stuck, turn to these about-page examples for inspiration. 

about us page example: laptop held in palm of hand

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MarTech’s marketing operations experts to follow

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MarTech's marketing operations experts to follow

Marketing operations is what makes the magic happen. These are the folks who see that your martech stack doesn’t get stuck. They are the maestros, modelers and makers who make sure the trains run, the data is digestible and that you have the programs you need. Where would we be without them? That’s too scary to think about. Here’s our list of MOps experts who have the ear of the profession.

Darrell Alfonso

Darrell is director of marketing strategy & operations at Indeed and the former global marketing ops leader for AWS. He’s the author of “The Martech Handbook: Build a Technology Stack to Acquire and Retain Customers.” In addition to speaking at many conferences, Darrell was named one of the Top Marketers in the US by Propolis 2022 and among the “Top Martech Marketers to Follow” in 2020 by Martech Alliance. He’s a regular and popular contributor both to MarTech and the MarTech conference; you can find all of his articles at this link.


Eddie Reynolds

Eddie has been in business a long time, starting his first company when he was 14. “A pretty minimal enterprise,” he told one interviewer. “I had a tax ID number, a legal entity, and a company name. I even had the IRS coming after my dad for sales tax that I failed to report properly.” Today he is CEO and revenue operations strategy consultant of Union Square Consulting. He publishes The RevOps Weekly Newsletter and the podcast RevOps Corner. Eddie’s large LinkedIn following attests to the quality of the insights he shares there on  sales, marketing, service, and admin roles. 


Sara McNamara

Sara is an award-winning marketing and sales operations professional whose work has been recognized by awards from the likes of Salesforce (Pardot), Adobe (Marketo), Drift, and LeanData. She is a Senior Manager, Marketing Operations at Slack and a martech stack (+ strategy) solution architect. That and her passion for leveraging technology and processes to improve the experiences of marketers, sales professionals, and prospects, explains why she’s a regular guest on MOps podcasts.


Ali Schwanke

Ali is the CEO and founder of Simple Strat. The firm specializes in helping companies get the most out of HubSpot — from CRM strategy and setup to marketing automation and content creation. She is also host of HubSpot Hacks, “the #1 Unofficial YouTube show for HubSpot Tutorials” and has been a guest speaker at the MarTech conference.


Mike Rizzo

Mike’s career in marketing operations showed him that there is a real and significant MOps community. That’s why he founded MO Pros/MarketingOps.com, the fast-growing online community for people in marketing operations. He is also co-host of Ops Cast, a weekly podcast. 


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About the author

Constantine von Hoffman

Constantine von Hoffman is managing editor of MarTech. A veteran journalist, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and tech for CBSNews.com, Brandweek, CMO, and Inc. He has been city editor of the Boston Herald, news producer at NPR, and has written for Harvard Business Review, Boston Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He has also been a professional stand-up comedian, given talks at anime and gaming conventions on everything from My Neighbor Totoro to the history of dice and boardgames, and is author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Revelator. He lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and either too many or too few dogs.

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