Today, Phil talks with Russ Morton, Mary Ginder and Tracy Frey to discuss Constant Contact’s AI Content Generator and how this technology can be used for food and grocery retailers to automate the copy drafting process for email, text and social media marketing campaigns.
Russ Morton, Chief Product Officer at Constant Contact - As chief product officer, Russ Morton leads Constant Contact’s product roadmap and user experience initiatives, leveraging new and innovative technologies to build the marketing tools of the future for small businesses and nonprofits.
Mary Ginder, Owner of Gindo's Spice of Life - Mary and Chris Ginder co-own Gindo's Spice of Life, a small business based in St. Charles, Ill. that produces handcrafted hot sauces and spice blends.
Tracy Frey, Market Manager at Williamsburg Farmers Market - As Market Manager, Tracy oversees all the planning and operations for the Williamsburg Farmers Market, which operates 44 weeks a year on Saturday mornings.
Welcome to Lost in the Supermarket. Now, every day we get tons of emails, we get tons of newsletters, but that's all about to change because frankly, there's a company out there that's decided to use AI to make those newsletters even more effective. Russ Morton, chief Product Officer, and Constant Contact is with us, and he leads their product roadmap and user experienced initiatives, leveraging new and innovative technologies to build the marketing tools for the future for small business and nonprofits. Mary Ginder is the owner of Gindo's Spice of Life. Mary and Chris work together and she's a small business that's based in St. Charles, Illinois that produces handcrafted hot sauces and spice blends. Tracy Frey, market manager for Virginia's Farmer's Market oversees all the planning and operations for the Williamsburg Farmer's Market which operates 44 weeks a year on every Saturday morning. So let's get started. Russ, talk to us about how Constant Contact and your customers are now using AI to make smarter newsletters that, frankly, I'm gonna read.Russ:
Yeah, absolutely. It's a privilege to be here. Thanks for having us, you know, Constant Contact, look, well, let's start with what is AI, right? It's this idea of using the power of computing to make everything we do more effective on our technology platform. And, of course, AI has been around for a number of years, and Constant Contact has been using it to solve a number of tasks historically. So getting emails, high delivery, getting send time optimization. But, of course, what's new and relevant with AI is this explosion of large language models in the last six to nine months with, you know, certainly the Chat GPT Revolution and that is an unpacked inability for us to deliver generative AI to our customers. And imagine yourself as the small business owner or nonprofit who's really solving that white sheet of paper problem of, I know I should be talking to my audience. I know I should be engaging with my customers, but what should I say? And, also there's a gap between, I know I should be communicating weekly or monthly but there's a gap between how often I should and how often I do. And, what we envision our product offering at Constant Contact doing with this generative AI is helping give that powerful tool to those small business owners to close that gap between how often they do set and how often they send, how often they should and also solving that white sheet of paper problem to give them more time so that they can be more effective. And, and it's not just newsletters, of course it's any sort of promotion, any sort of engagement with their audience, their prospect to drive forward. So yeah, I'm so excited about the future of what we have in store.Phil:
So, but it all comes down to human beings. So I've gotta say that probably one out of every 10 newsletter marketing tools that I get says Dear, and then it says NAME. So somebody hasn't taken the time to, I guess, press the right button so that my name appears. And for me as a consumer, when I get that, I immediately toss it out. So it has to be, you know, with consumers. So how is Constant Contact helping Tracy and Mary solve for these kinds of human issues?Russ:
Yeah, I think you're really getting to this idea of personalization. I would say that we continue to invest in personalization on the platform, both AI and otherwise. And, I would hope that the folks who are sending you those notes that are not even basic personalization of your name would consider using Constant Contact because you know, certainly we've got that problem solved, but actually much more. Right? And you know, would love to hear from Tracy as well too. But you know, personalization to us is the right message. If I know that you are a cost conscious person who likes a deal, well, you're gonna go on my last minute Pros segment list. If I know that you love to hear about live events that I host because I'm a wine bar and I have a book club offering, I'm gonna have you in my in persons list. So what you're really getting at is relevance. You're getting at personalization and this generative AI capability that we have. Imagine it can select the message, it can select the audience. And voila, magic occurs with really empowering those small business owners to drive and grow and accelerate their impact.Phil:
So Tracy, I live in Santa Monica and I've got a farmer's market right around the corner from me every Sunday. And I go there every Sunday and I have for 20 plus years, I have never gotten an email from them. I doubt if they even know what my name is. How are you using email effectively in the context of a farmer's market?Tracy:
Sure. And I'm kind of sad that you don't feel like they know your name, your dog's name. What kinda dog.Phil:
Don't have a dog. Don't have a dog. I'm gonna borrow Mary's dog next time I come.Tracy:
Okay, great. Well if you come to Williamsburg, we'll definitely pet your dog. Talk to you about where you're from. We are all about building community, but also really making the farmer's market an experience, not just a shopping trip. And part of that experience is letting you know what to expect when you come to our market. So one of the reasons we send a newsletter is, for one, it's proven to be a good return on investment. So we have extremely high open rates of 50%, which is way up above the industry average. And I think part of it is that we're constantly trying to figure out what people want from us and then making sure that it's relevant. So we do utilize the list segmentation, probably not as much as we should. But you know, we have other things that we're doing also other than the newsletter. But the little personalizations. so one of the things I used the AI for is to say the same thing 44 different ways. So basically my main point is we want you to come, we wanna tell you why you should come, and then we wanna tell you to come again. So I can now say, come visit us. We have live music, strawberries and asparagus are in season, and we're in Colonial Williamsburg on Saturday from eight to noon. And it now tells me every week a different way of saying that exact same thing, which means I don't have to wrap my brain for another way to say, come join us. iI does that for me. So what used to take me about 30 minutes of procrastinating from doing and then another hour to pull together. I don't have to procrastinate because I know it's gonna be easy. And so I just come up with three sentences, plug it in and then I mess. I can spend the rest of the hour messing with graphics and other value added things I might not have spent as much time playing around with because I have that extra time.Russ:
Yeah. And there's one great Mark Twain quote that I love, which is,"I wrote you a long letter because I didn't have time to write you a short one", right? So oftentimes this editing process of making it high value takes time and of course not only short, concise and pithy emails but of course SMS as a channel that many people want and use to build community. And of course that's an even shorter warm factor. And so our generative AI we're seeing great adoption from people who use SMS as a channel in addition to email.Phil:
So Tracy, how are you getting your potential customers and your customers at the farmer's market to sign up?Tracy:
Yep. That's another great question and it actually ties nicely into what you were talking about Dear NAME. So, because we know how we're getting our customers to sign up for our newsletter, we also know generally we stay away from the Dear NAME. if we can't personalize, well we don't personalize that way at least we don't look like we're talking to someone we don't know. A lot of our newsletter signup is actually with our children's programming because it's a way our staff is actually interacting with the market. Like, you probably go to your market, I don't know if you know the market manager there, but I would say even though I'm at the market, all of those Saturdays, very few people actually know who I am. I work mainly behind the scenes, but our children's program is really where the market gets to communicate with our market community. So we do most of our newsletter sign up related to those children and parents are very involved in finding out free activities for their kids to participate in. but when we are doing our newsletter sign up for that program, we are actually only getting the name of children and they're gonna not be the people who are opening the newsletter. So we don't put the names in there and only the email addresses. So especially when we're sending the newsletter out to their parents, we're very careful to just know that we don't have the names, but we can still personalize it because we know where we got their email addresses and the permission to talk to them and we can personalize it just to them and just have it related to healthy eating in children.Phil:
So what's, what's the process? Do you have people at the farmer's market with clipboards coming up to me and saying, you know, give me your email address, I wanna send you my newsletter, or what's that whole process look like?Tracy:
Sure. So our kids program, they have to sign up for that. So that's a passport that we get their email address from. Yep. We also drive a lot of people to our website at our market and our newsletter signups on our website. We also have all of our social media platforms connected back to our newsletter sign up. So if people want more in-depth information than what we generally talk about on social media, they can see that our newsletter is there. And then we offer from May to about October, we offer weekly raffles and we're getting a lot of our sign up from that process too. So it's a lot of more old fashioned techniques for getting email addresses, but those people know they're gonna get an email from us so they're less likely to unsubscribe and they've been to our market. So we know that if we tell them something that they may not have realized like X, Y, Z is in season, or this week we're focusing on healthy eating with family or any of the other things we've identified in our marketing plan we know that we're gonna have a high return on those people actually visiting the market and talking to us about the specific things that we've mentioned in our newsletters.Phil:
So Mary, I happen to love Hot Sauce and I apologize because I have not tried yours yet, but I will.Mary:
Talk to me about why you, as a food manufacturer, use email, how you use it, and also the same question, how do you get people's names to send your email to and get them to buy?Mary:
So, we do a lot of grassroots marketing. We actually do hundreds of farmer's markets and festivals throughout an entire year here in Illinois. We have about 12 farmers markets a week during our peak season.Phil:
And then we do other festivals. And so we're always meeting people coming to our booth and talking to us. So we do also have a website, Gindos.com and you can sign up for our newsletter on that, but we created a QR code generator thanks to Constant Contact where they can just come up and scan the QR code at our markets and it takes'em to a quick sign up on their phone where they can just enter their name and email and opt in right then and there. That has been extremely helpful to build our list. Our newsletter goes out one to two times a month, and what we like to do on there is just kind of make it a sort of like quick all-encompassing, this is what we're up to, this is our new featured sauces. We're a very unique hot sauce and that we make a new flavor every week of the year. And we have our very own hot sauce of the Month club on our website. That's all made by us. We don't outsource it from other manufacturers. What I'm excited about with these content generators is that you know, as you can imagine coming up with different product descriptions and exciting ways to talk about these things, it's hard to do when you've got all these different hats in your own business that you're wearing on a regular basis. So what we're really excited about is the ability to just like type in, you know Honey Habanero Hot Sauce or create a description for a Honey Habanero Hot Sauce. And then it helps like give us some fresh new takes on something we've been doing this whole time. And it helps to create, you know, an engaging way to send out these newsletters and talk about, you know, upcoming events this weekend, where to find us. So, here's this new recipe we created and it helps us kind of create a fun way to describe that that recipe. And another fun thing that we're doing in addition to that is trying to just be more engaging in our social media. And our current project that we're working on is, we actually asked the content generator to give us a hundred foods that pair well with hot sauce, and now we're starting a new feature every day where we're talking about, all right, you know, number eight on the list is pizza. We're gonna try it with pizza and sample it and talk about whether or not it's a good pairing.Phil:
Interesting. So talk to me a little bit about the new hot sauce every week contest.Mary:
Must be hard, must be hard to do.Mary:
First of all, let me just say, we started this company in Los Angeles, Angeles in 2011, and then we relocated to Illinois in 2015. So we've kind of moved around a bit in these last 12 years and it started as just three flavors of hot sauce that we made. And those are now our year round sauces, but it progressed into us meeting these local farmers and learning about seasonal ingredients. And my husband basically approaches each sauce like a chef to a dish where he's like, oh my goodness, I had this delicious lemon piccata dish at a restaurant, I'm gonna make a lemon piccata hot sauce. And so it gives people a reason to come and see us at farmer's markets. It gives people a reason to come and find us on our website and see what the new feature and sauce is of the month. you know, and it's a fun way to gift different flavors and, you know, fresh new sauces to people you love.Phil:
No, it's really a great idea because what you're really doing is it, it's similar to going to Trader Joe's where you never know what you're gonna find. You know, you're giving somebody a whole experience the same way that Tracy is but differently where, you know, this week there's this, you know, hot sauce that you've never heard of and wanted to try it. So I'm imagining that a lot of your customers probably have about 20 or 30 different hot sauces and it makes me feel bad that I've got oneMary:
And that's true. We have people that are like, I have an entire door in my fridge dedicated to you guys, you know, all these different flavors. And it's really neat too, because we've developed some really unique relationships with different farmers, local breweries, local coffee roasters, and with that we've developed these flavors using their like primary ingredient, like, you know, their IPA beer that they use or their dark roast coffee. Or maybe we met a farmer who's growing these exotic mushrooms and so we're gonna incorporate that into a sauce.Phil:
That's great. Very, very smart. You guys are doing it right. So Russ, let me throw it back to you. With my last question, what does the future hold? What's coming up next from Constant Contact?Russ:
Yeah. Well, you could imagine us continuing to build on this generative AI and again,our principles are saving time increasing return on investment and helping people grow their audience, their list, their customer base. And so that's kind of the organizing principle. The other beautiful thing about what this tech stack is doing for us is it's going to allow us to come to our customers and propose things, right? Hey, it's Monday. As, you know, you should.Phil:
It's lemon piccata day.Russ:
Exactly. Exactly. So you can easily imagine right now moving from more of a pull to a push and helping, like what do we want to do? We want to help make our small business owners who are stressed to the max about a thousand things. We wanna make marketing as easy as possible and we wanna make it as effective as possible, and we wanna make it not feel like marketing. We wanna make it feel like they're just communicating with their audience. And so that's the organizing principle. So you can easily imagine us starting to make more relevant suggestions, starting to be more you know, more as part of your, your workflow. And, gosh, I'm thinking even more like automated, right? Hey, if this worked wait three days and then reengage with that audience and, oh, if someone likes text preferentially, only send them text, not email. And so, again, as as this continues to grow gosh, it feels like the sky's the limit.Phil:
It is. Well I've gotta tell you something. I think it's fabulous. And Mary, Tracy, Russ, thank you all for joining us today and giving some insights into what's coming next on Lost in the Supermarket.