Photo by Phoebe Bain


Q&A: Jessica Potts, Digital VP at We're Not Really Strangers, talks Email Marketing

Marketing Brew chatted with We're Not Really Strangers' VP of Digital + E-Commerce, Jessica Potts, to understand the brand's email marketing strategy better.

· 7 min read

There’s an old saying: “Strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet.” In a digital world where the word “met” has taken on new meaning, card game company We’re Not Really Strangers uses its social channels as a way to drive home that we are, well…not really strangers at all.

With more than 3.7 million followers on Instagram, the purpose-driven card game centered around sleek red and white question cards generates deeper conversations than your run of the mill game. For example, questions range from “Do you think I’ve ever had my heart broken?” to “What do you think I do for a living?” depending on what level (or round of the game) you’re on.

But it also takes a different approach to how it markets itself. It’s really an avant garde strategy, relying on both gut and data.

Marketing Brew recently chatted with the company’s VP of Digital + E-commerce, Jessica Potts, to talk about how to marry the vibes with the numbers that steer a brand’s marketing strategy sailboat.

The unplugged version of email marketing, the brand’s emails are a far cry from both typical promos in your inbox (which are often loud graphics that overtly showcase products) and its more intricate image-based strategy on other channels.

While Potts declined to discuss revenue, ROI, and all that other in-the-weeds metrics jazz, she said that on Instagram, the brand sees an average engagement rate of 4.87%—that’s more than double the engagement rate of the average Instagram account with over one million followers, per Phlanx. The game itself costs only $25, but the community-first brand sells expansion packs and apparel, among other products.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Marketing Brew: You joined We’re Not Really Strangers in February 2020. What was the email marketing strategy like at the time?

Jessica Potts: The email marketing strategy at the time was anything typical that every brand was doing. I think at the time when I first joined, there was [an email going out] once a month. I think what we’ve really done with email is think about how we want to be emailed. What would we like to see in our inbox? What are we feeling at the moment? What's really great is connecting with the team and collectively asking “What are we all vibing on right now?”

MB: The We’re Not Really Strangers emails that I'm getting in my inbox now are literally just one leading subject line, then one line of plain text without any fancy graphics or anything extra. What made you feel comfortable biting the bullet to strip the excess away?

JP: It just felt right. Sometimes it's as simple as that. Sometimes we just want to come to our community and say, “you're doing awesome; keep going.” I think we all need those words of affirmation from ourselves and from other people. We just show up in a unique way. I don't think there’s a grand thought like, “Will this work/won’t it work?” It goes back to just feeling the vibe and connecting with our audience.

MB: Would you say that email is, for We're Not Really Strangers specifically, an extension of your social strategy? For people to understand these emails, do you think that they have to follow you on social?

JP: No. And that's the beauty of all this, right? Some people who are on email don't want anything to do with social. So how do you show up in ways to meet everyone where they're at? You don't have to understand social to be able to connect with email and understand what we're speaking about. Everybody gets the full picture within each channel without having to interact with everything. We honor [email] as its own channel and honor it with its own unique content.

MB: And it seems like you send these pretty frequently, right? Like a couple of times a week?

JP: Yeah. At first we [sent them] maybe once or twice [a week]. But if the vibe feels right and we have something to say, it's like, “Hey, there can be four emails this week,” or sometimes there might be two—it just really depends.

MB: It seems like you're doing a lot of really in-the-weeds, fancy stuff on other platforms. You have two different Instagram accounts for the brand and you have a TikTok account; you mentioned Pinterest, etcetera. But then you're sending these graphic-free, couple-of-words emails. This is so stripped down in comparison to what you're doing elsewhere, but we still know when we read them that they’re We're Not Really Strangers emails. So how do you accomplish that branded feel here with just a couple lines of plain text?

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JP: We do see [the emails] as completely branded. We have a high following in our SMS community and email is similar to text sometimes. So as simplistic or stripped down as it is, it's still branded, because everybody still understands that it's We're Not Really Strangers. It's just a different way of doing it, and I think that’s what’s grabbing everyone's attention.

MB: How do you treat email marketing differently from SMS marketing?

JP: The difference is the content that's served. There can be somewhat of an overlap, but the majority of the time, it's different content that we're going to be serving to the text community versus the email community. If you follow us along on the journey throughout every channel, you'll see that sometimes we're talking about the same subject [on every channel], but the content is unique per channel, which is something that I adore, because then you're going to want to connect to us on all these different channels.

MB: What do you think most brands are doing wrong in terms of email UX?

JP: I hope they're paying attention to their audience data and doing something that feels authentic to them and to their community. Unless I have a specific brand in front of me, I can't say what they’re doing right or wrong because ultimately they might have a different type of community and it might be right for them. Every brand is so unique and people should treat them as such. I think one of the challenges that people come up with is they [have] a very templatized way of doing things. If I'm going from one brand to the next, I'm not going to bring the same strategy into one brand as I would have used on the previous, because it's two different companies.

MB: With We're Not Really Strangers’ emails, you really took the template and put it in a shredder. How do you manage to think this far outside the box?

JP: Just try. You have ideas, so why not try them? Where are the limitations? Maybe the limitations are the structure [your company] has in place [regarding] manager approvals. And you have someone in the hierarchy, that's just saying “Let's keep things as is.” But then there's company cultures like ours that are very, very open to hearing the opinion of the team. I think it's also [about] being open to hearing and implementing ideas, not just from one person, but from many.

MB: So say you're on a team of six people and everybody feels like they have a great idea for the email strategy, and you think that these six ideas are equally good. Do you think there's harm in testing all six of them and seeing which one performs the best?

JP: I mean, you have to be strategic, right? You can't just go willy-nilly, because you're testing on your current community. There have been plenty of times where I've thrown out ideas and they're not all winners. But I want to be heard.

MB: If you had to pick making a decision based exclusively on metrics, not feeling, or a decision based exclusively on what feels right for your audience, which one would you pick?

JP: If this is like a gun to the head question, Phoebe, I would probably be dead. There's no one way I could answer that. because as the VP of Digital, data is there to inform me and guide me and steer me. I don't believe there’s a definitive answer. So sometimes the data makes sense and it helps you make a decision. And sometimes it's like, “But my gut is telling me something else and I really think we should go for it.” And that's where just the magic starts to happen. It’s in letting both those worlds be married to each other. One compromises against the next depending on the situation.

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Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.