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

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

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.”

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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?”

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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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MARKETING

the second key persona for modern marketing operations leaders

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Marketing operations talent is suffering burnout and turnover

This 4-part series presents a framework that helps rationalize the roles and responsibilities modern marketing operations leaders are taking on. This installment summarizes the framework briefly, and dives into how MOps leaders are now “orchestrators.” 

In case you missed it, part 1 is here.

Inspiration for this framework

Two years ago, marketing technology pioneer and chiefmartec.com editor Scott Brinker outlined the four key responsibilities of marketing technologists, summarized here.  

That work espoused the view that you could be both a marketer AND a technology leader. They are not mutually exclusive! It was my inspiration for this framework, explaining how today’s MOps leaders are instrumental for marketing and business success.

X-Axis:  A range of skills from a focus on technology to creativity and arts

Y-Axis: A range of decision-making skills, ranging from emotional to rational approaches

The resulting grid captures four MOps archetypes or “personas.” MOps leaders exhibit characteristics across all parts of this framework and will operate in multiple quadrants, similar to Brinker’s frameworks.

Modernizers – Are most likely to be the “original” technologists, constantly modernizing their martech stack.

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Orchestrators – Are the closest to Brinker’s Maestros and the focus of this article. He described this archetype in 2020 as the “Operations Orchestrator — MAESTROS who design and manage the workflows, rules, reports, and tech stacks that run the marketing department.

Psychologists – Are now increasingly responsible for “reading customers’ minds,” i.e. interpreting customers’ interest through intent data and digital engagement.

Scientists – Are constantly testing and evaluating. Experimentation is their specialty.

Orchestrators: Leaders of the band

Now that you’re familiar with the framework, let’s dig deeper into the Orchestrators!

I’ll start with a personal story. My exposure to orchestration started with 8-straight years of practice in violin and trumpet during my formative years. Each week was literally a blur of private lessons, group lessons, orchestra and/or band practice. I probably spent as much time with music directors as I did with my family.  

It was painfully obvious to those conductors when we hadn’t prepared or practiced. Moreso, we would get – literally – an “earful” from the conductor when we were not listening to the other instrument sections. If we were not coordinating our efforts and timing, the outcome was awful for anyone listening.

Source: Unsplash

This orchestration metaphor is powerful because there are multiple levels for MOps leaders:

  • As a project management team within marketing, and often as a conductor across external agency partners.
  • As a cross-function business partner and primary contact for IT, compliance, and legal, in addition to the traditional MOps role of achieving marketing/sales alignment

Notably, all marketers have to be project managers for their own tasks/deadlines. They must be aligned with overall campaign and program timelines. 

However, as organizations scale they are more likely to have dedicated project management teams to handle coordination across the specialist teams within marketing. The orchestration responsibility may include timeline, scope, and capacity trade-offs even after campaign briefs have received approval. 


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The orchestration responsibility multiplies when agency execution teams are delivering on individual tactics and media buys. Last year, Optimizely described these evolving orchestration duties as a “transformative shift and approach towards how marketing synchronizes their teams, content, channels, workflows, and data!”

I believe the shift is even more impactful, with orchestration benefits being felt beyond marketing. The highest value “program orchestration” responsibilities occur when MOps leaders are representing marketing’s interests in enterprise-wide programs with other functions within the organization, including product, compliance, and IT. Examples of orchestration duties with these other key functions can include:

  • Product teams – Coordinating campaigns with major product feature/functionality launches, and managing brand standards.
  • Legal/Compliance – Overseeing compliance with Can-Spam, GDPR, and CCPA, and customer preference and data privacy initiatives that may be initiated by a marketing touch-point. 
  • IT/Procurement – Technology stack management, vendor evaluations and negotiations, platform integrations and data management.

All of this departmental and cross-departmental coordination requires skill sets that can be analogized as the difference between a chamber orchestra (marketing) and a full symphony. It’s the highest level of conducting across the enterprise. 

MOps leaders are holding individuals and teams to target timelines while managing the scope of a particular campaign and business initiative. They do this while also overseeing targeting of customer and prospect segments.

In order to accomplish this complex segmentation and coordination, MOps leaders are now responsible for cross-functional data – embodied by the modern martech stack imperative: integration. Integration across systems has been the #1 issue for marketers since the modern marketing tech stack started exploding in the early 2010’s, but software and solutions providers finally listened. A tipping point was reached in 2020. Marketers reported that we were finally working within an integrated, multi-system environment, according to a CDP Institute member survey analyzed here.  

Continuing with the orchestration analogy, the conductor is the integration “synchronizer,” deciding if/when the data flows across the stack. The sheet music is the data model standard showing how to map common attributes. 

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However, just because we now have this more integrated environment does not mean our work is done. The instruments do not play themselves (yet!) and they require configuration and deliberate training to play effectively — both individually and in groups. 

Training was one of the top responsibilities for marketing ops leadership, ranking it in the top 5 of MOPS tasks by percentage of work, according to the 2022 MarTech Salary and Career Survey, published jointly by MarTech and chiefmartec.com (free, ungated download here). conducted by chiefmartec.

In the 2020 version of that same study, training was highlighted as one of the top two responsibilities for many of the primary marketing technologists personas, and 91% of operations orchestrators reported that training and supporting technologies were among their top priorities.

MOps leaders are never done

Finally, under the category of “MOps leaders are never done”, the last several years have also forced a whole new category of orchestration duties – a combination of conducting, training, and martech growth: marketing work management.

The largest growth (67%) over the last several years was in the category of “work management”, according to the 2022 edition of the Martech Landscape. Established entrants such as Adobe expanded with the acquisition of Workfront, while newer players like Trello and Monday gained traction.  

Although this was already a prevailing trend BEFORE the pandemic, the hybrid/remote work environment brought on by the last 2+ years forced these project management and agile-planning tools to the forefront.  The marketing work management category grew to over 1000+ tools, according to the State of Martech 2022

Source: State of MarTech 2022 – chiefmartec.com and Martech Tribe

MOps leaders are Maestros

In summary, modern MOps leaders are indeed Maestros. They are skilled orchestrators, conducting a symphony across multiple levels. They lead:

  • Omni-channel campaigns within marketing and across business functions
  • Integration across an ever-growing, integrated martech stack
  • Training and deployment as one of their primary responsibilities 

Editor’s note: In Part 3 of this 4-part series, Milt will expand on MOps leaders’ growing role as Psychologists. For background on this framework, see Part 1 of this series here


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


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About The Author

Milt is currently Director of Customer Experience at MSI Data, an industry-leading cloud software company that focuses on the value and productivity that customers can drive from adopting MSI’s service management solutions.

With nearly 30 years of leadership experience, Milt has focused on aligning service, marketing, sales, and IT processes around the customer journey. Milt started his career with GE, and led cross-functional initiatives in field service, software deployment, marketing, and digital transformation.
Following his time at GE, Milt led marketing operations at Connecture and HSA Bank, and he has always enjoyed being labeled one of the early digital marketing technologists. He has a BS in Electrical Engineering from UW Madison, and an MBA from Kellogg School of Management.

In addition to his corporate leadership roles, Milt has been focused on contributing back to the marketing and regional community where he lives. He serves on multiple boards and is also an adjunct instructor for UW-Madison’s Digital Marketing Bootcamp. He also supports strategic clients through his advisory group, Mission MarTech LLC.

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