May 23, 2019

Email on Tap Episode Eight, with Angela Vega, Senior Marketing Manager, Vrbo


We’re back with another entry in our Email on Tap video series! Anthony Chiulli, 250ok’s director of product marketing, sat down with Angela Vega, senior marketing manager at vacation rental company Vrbo (formerly known as HomeAway) at the Email Evolution Conference in Savannah, Georgia.

They chat a bit about Vrbo’s approach to email marketing, including her philosophy on how to best approach a program (rather than campaign), metrics that matter to Vrbo’s success, and so much more.


Email on Tap, Episode 8 | Angela Vega, Vrbo from 250ok on Vimeo.

(Keep scrolling for key timestamps and even a full transcript. Plus, find links to our podcast version!)


Total Run Time: 13 minutes
00:21 – Overview of Homeaway and Vrbo and intro into Angela’s role
1:05 – How email is woven into overall digital marketing strategy
2:08 – The difference between a program versus campaign strategy approach
4:30 – Most important email metrics Angela pays attention to and why
5:35 – Fine turning strategy by measuring and analyzing email performance metrics
6:34 – Keeping customers engaged through the lifecycle in a seasonal business model
8:55 – Email trends Angela is most excited about and why
10:08 – AMP for email ideas and opportunities for Vrbo emails
11:54 – Career advice would Angela give herself 10 years ago


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Transcript

Anthony Chiulli
Hi everyone and welcome back to another episode of Email on Tap. I’m your host Anthony Chiulli and today my guest is Angela Vega. She’s the senior marketing manager at HomeAway. Angela, how are you?

Angela Vega
I’m doing good, thanks for having me.

AC
Thanks for being here, this is going to be a lot of fun.

AV
Yes.

AC
So tell me a little bit about your role at HomeAway, for those of our audience that may not be familiar.

AV
Yeah, sure. HomeAway is a world leader in the vacation rental industry. We have over 2 million homes, we’re in 190 different countries, and our goal is really to connect travelers to the people and places that they love. I’m lucky enough to where I get to lead the traveler email channel, and we have over 20 different brands in dozens of different languages, including, French, German and the brands include HomeAway and Vrbo that we get to send relevant and engaging emails to.

AC
So how is email woven into your overall digital marketing strategy?

AV
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, email is actually in every part of the marketing strategy. So, from the beginning of getting them to be interested in where they should go and what sort of places to stay, down to, how was your trip? And so, at the very beginning of the customer journey our goal is to get them interested in places to go, what sort of vacation rentals would they want; our goal is really to inspire. When we get towards the middle of the funnel, a lot of it’s really returning based on things that they’ve actually looked at, places or things that we think they should look at. And then lastly, at the end of that, the post-state sort of aspect is like, how was your trip, how would you review this, and really, where should you go next? And so we definitely try to leverage it at every single point of the journey to make sure that we’re giving them something very relevant, and something very engaging, and something that really solves a problem for them.

AC
So on that note, can you talk to me about your unique approach from what you describe as a program approach versus a campaign approach? Can you elaborate on how that works for HomeAway and what that means?

AV
Yeah, absolutely, and I know the nomenclature, it might be a very subtle difference, but it actually holds a lot of weight. So, when it comes to campaigns, campaigns are generally something that has a start and they have an end. They also have not only the brand guidelines, but the campaign guidelines, and then a lot of times they’re also developed for bigger media types; TV, out of home, etc. Those things don’t always translate very well to the email channel or any other digital channel that we have. And so the reason why we change the language that we have around that, was that programs are something that naturally ingrain best practices that we have within the channel. It’s also something that you have optimizations over time that can take place because there’s necessarily no end to it. You can define a program such as win-back. The goal of win-back is simply to get someone re-engaged within your channel to get them, to win them back. And if you’ve defined it as such, there’s really no campaign elements that go into it. You’re doing what’s best for the channel and what’s best for the consumer at the other end. It really allows for that longevity in optimizations, and the second point, it also allows for us to scale a little bit more globally. So if you have a program that’s successful in one region, North America, you can take that same formula and you can apply it to APAC and EMEA. And then over time, you can make tweaks that are very relevant locally to those regions, but at the same time, the program is still what it’s intended to do. And so, though, again, the language seems a little different, the lexicon that you form around email marketing’s really important because, as email marketers, I’m sure not everyone understands what we do and the complex nature of it. And so, if you start to define things in ways that other people can understand, especially when it gets laddered up to the top of your organization, they start to understand the metrics that follow suit versus always thinking like campaign, “What’s the next random thing we can send people,” versus, “No, what’s the best thing we can do for the customer?”

AC
So along those same lines, you talked about like measuring and applying what works in one geo to another geo. What email metrics are most important to you; what metrics are you paying attention to?

AV
Yeah, I mean, everyone knows the basics: You have your open rate, click-through rate, click-to-open etc. One thing that we pay close attention to, because every brand has their challenges with it, but is more recently deliverability. So we use tools like Google Postmaster and then we use tools like 250ok to kind of measure like, what’s that placement look like. And they have some engagement pixel on there like, how long are people reading, are they scheduling, what devices are they looking in? So, we use a lot of that data to kind of understand our audience better, and then to make sure that if we see something not working well, or we see a week that’s maybe a little bit down, we can say okay, was this deliverability first, or was it just not a very engaging subject line. At the end of it, we, of course, look at the onsite metrics, so everything from people coming in the site, are they using it, and then, do they end up actually ultimately booking?

AC
So you’re taking those signals and those metrics and you’re fusing those back into your strategy to further tweak, or segment, or learn from what the data is telling you.

AV
Oh, 100 percent, yeah, and I think one of the benefits to that is that with that program strategy in mind, certain programs have certain KPIs and certain metrics that we kind of associate with what that success looks like. If we have a program that is defined to get people to re-engage with the site, like showing them tree houses or houseboats, that’s going to have something different than something where we know people are going to book a little more often, so budget beach houses. Everyone loves that sort of stuff, not as exciting or sexy to open, but it is something that actually has more practicality downstream. So each different program is a different tool in our tool set. We use those metrics to help to find and which one to pull out when we need to do something different in our strategy.

AC
Yeah, it makes a lot of sense. One of the things that I want to ask you about is the uniqueness of your industry and your business model. People don’t buy vacation rentals every weekend or every week, which is, not necessarily the norm for, let’s say, a retailer or other industry. How do you keep your subscribers engaged through the lifecycle, knowing that your business is somewhat seasonal and that lifecycle and that attention span is very condensed when they’re ready to go on vacation?

AV
Yeah, man, I wish they took vacations every week, I wish I took vacations every single day, that’d be so nice [LAUGH]. But you’re absolutely right. It’s something that the repeat rate, especially where the friends and family brand were wanting to bring large groups of people together. And it’s not always so often that you decide, I’m gonna get 20 of my closest family members or at least the ones that I like and we are going to go on a vacation. So how do we keep those people engaged is a great question. So the first thing is understanding what that sort of lifecycle looks like, just a basic one. You don’t have to boil the ocean, you just be like, “What do you generally do,” for a majority of your population and understanding what your database mixture looks like. Once you have that basic journey and you have those programs, lay on top on what they’re trying to solve at each one. It really comes down to segmentation. And segmentation, you’ve seen it; everything down from like personas or things like that. But, really what it comes down to in the simplest terms are people who’ve used your product or people you haven’t used your product. So, for that lifecycle and keeping them engaged, the people who book with us several times, they’re already engaged with us. Our goal is to keep them happy, to use the information they provided us to continue to further that relationship.

AC
Right.

AV
And not bug them too much, to be perfectly honest. Then you have the people who are just lurkers on your website, who just like looking at stuff, but they don’t necessarily make any action. So, the way that you approach them to get them engaged is trying different things. There might be some things that don’t work really well to get them engaged but they’re not going to book, just like you said, you start to develop programs around those different segments. So, at the end of it, when it comes to lifecycle keeping people engaged is understanding what your lifecycle looks like, what programs you have in place across all of it, and then how they’re catering to each individual segment that you have to find.

AC
So let’s put our forward-thinking hats on a little bit. I know there’s a lot of innovation and trends going on the space right now. What are you most excited about happening in email?

AV
So many things. I think there’s two; the first one is really the ethics of email, it goes beyond GDPR. It really comes down to something I’m seeing where I’m interested in how companies are saying, “Yes, we can continue to send dozens and dozens of emails per week, but what really should we do? What is actually going to solve a problem for the traveller, what is actually going to bring them value?” And so, it’s interesting to see lots of companies doing things that, we could batch and blast all we want, but they start kind of approaching it from a consumer-centric sort of thing. The second thing is, of course, AMP. You can’t really ignore that one. I’m very, very excited about it, and I think we’re going to see some really innovative things come out in the next six months from a variety of companies who are really trying to test this sort of technology to move the needle, to disrupt the channel.

AC
I was gonna follow up with you about AMP, because it’s certainly one of the most buzzworthy trends going on right now. Do you see opportunities for your program at HomeAway, of testing those out? What’s your feeling about AMP, are you going to wait and see? Are you excited to try and infuse some of those things in your program?

AV
Oh, we love trying out stuff, we love testing. It’s definitely a part of HomeAway’s core values, scientific mindset, so, testing is something that we do a lot within this channel. And with AMP, I think it’s something that I feel could reduce friction within the channel and at the same time, could also obviously increase engagement. But it brings our product to the inbox, and so there’s a lot of really great aspects about our product booking a VR on our site that if we can bring that a little bit closer, if we can make it easy, that’s a great place to start. So simple things; we only show one image In most of our emails. Now, there is a way you can do guess and that sort of thing, there’s hacks. But what if there was a way to real-time update that, down to something a little more complex? What if you could, legal and technology aside, actually book within the email itself? If we send you the perfect property, can we make it perfectly easy for you to book right then right there? I don’t know.

AC
Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see and I think that’s one of the big draws for AMP, is less friction through call-to-action or the ultimate conversion that you’re looking for, and in your case, it’s booking a vacation room.

AV
Absolutely.

AC
So I think there’s lots of excitement and opportunity with AMP. I wanted to ask you, to close off our interview today, kind of a fun question. If you had to rewind a clock 10 years, what career advice would you give yourself?

AV
So I think one would be maybe slow down on the alcoholic beverages at holiday parties, possibly.

AC
Okay.

AV
But I think really, be more curious. I think there’s a lot of the time that, when I was very early in my career, I maybe approached things a bit more abruptly. It was a lot of whys, but the whys were causing a lot of defensiveness, and so I would ask for people to be more curious on, “What’s important about that to you, or what’s your biggest concern?” Really ask people, when they’re trying to explain the objections or their ideas. Get really curious about, and then also get curious about yourself, be willing to kind of ask yourself some hard questions that may make you feel really uncomfortable. But they kinda get to the truth and lead you in the right direction. A little too introspective, maybe, but I feel like that’s probably the advice I would have given myself. Be more curious.

AC
Well said, well said. Thank you so much for sitting down, this has been an awesome interview and I’ve certainly learned a lot from you as well.

AV
Yeah, thank you for having me, I had a blast.

AC
You’re welcome, you’re welcome, and thanks, everyone, for tuning in. We hope to see you on another episode of Email on Tap.

Author: Nicky Copland

Nicky is the senior marketing manager at 250ok. Before joining the team, she spent the majority of her time crafting and implementing communications strategies for the association industry. She was never a brain surgeon, but she played one on the internet.

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