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Case Study: How an Email Marketing Solution Startup Signed up 300 Customers in 7 Days

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Company: Mad Mimi
Location: New York, New York
Industry: Marketing, B2B, B2C
Annual revenue: Confidential
Number of employees: 6

Quick Read:

Mad Mimi, a small email marketing service based in New York City, launched its public Web site in April 2008. Competing in an overcrowded field, Mad Mimi wanted to secure a unique position by offering more features for less money.

Mad Mimi's marketing challenge was to create a big splash in the deep pool of the email marketing industry, attracting enough users to start a ripple effect in the marketplace.

But, as an essentially homegrown effort, it simply had no advertising budget. "Our marketing approach was to invest love, sweat and some serious thought into the interface of our little application," according to Gary Levitt, founder and CEO of Mad Mimi.


That is, the application itself was to be the message. And, without a budget, the only solution was well-thought-out viral effort targeting certain segments of the tech community, including blogs.

The results of that effort: Within a week, some 300 customers had signed up to use the newly launched service.

The Challenge:

Brooklyn-based email marketing service Mad Mimi launched its Web site in April 2008 into an overcrowded field, with no ad budget, and a brand new application for businesses and others who want to use email marketing.

As if that weren't daunting enough, Gary Levitt, founder of Mad Mimi, had come to the email marketing world via music.

Levitt recalled: "My brother Dean and I graduated from Berklee College of Music in Boston and we formed GLDL Music in New York City"—a boutique music production company that specializes in music for film, advertising, radio, and new media.

It was in his efforts to promote the music company that Levitt began to design email promotions to capture the brand identity of his boutique company—because existing email services and applications were too expensive, too complicated, and provided templates that looked common and cheap.

In addition to helping the business, the emails he created "helped our business, but in creating these I realized two things: The first was that we had an unexpected response to our emails—people loved receiving them—and the second was that I loved designing and sending them."

Sitting in his Chelsea music production studio in Manhattan, Levitt came across the logo for Ruby on Rails, which caught his eye. Ruby on Rails is a "painless" software development platform from 37signals. "I went to 37signals and downloaded their e-book," Levitt recalled. That's when it clicked: He would use the simple yet elegant and powerful approach of 37signals to "innovate my own email utility.

"I'd already been working on coding cool emails for our company, and more of my friends were asking me to do emails for them…and well, it was time for an adventure."

"We built Mad Mimi 100% from the ground up, with no preconceived notions, no corporate structure, and no unnecessary features," Levitt noted.

But how does a company with a brand new application in the competitive field of email marketing launch itself officially, beyond friends and family?

The Campaign:

Competing for customers against Constant Contact, the leader in email marketing newsletters, and with no ad budget, Mad Mimi focused its efforts on the viral aspect of the Web to promote itself via word-of-mouth, through technology blogs and sites that cover startup news.

On April 17, 2008, Mad Mimi started the buzz with a tightly worded press pitch about the launch of the application and initially sent it to six blogs: Ajaxian, Killer Startups, Life Hacker, Tech Crunch, and two small email marketing blogs.

The text of that pitch:

Mad Mimi is the latest advance in web-based email marketing. State-of-the-art UI design makes for layouts that are easier to create—and easier to read—than emails generated by Constant Contact and others, who rely on rigid templates and cluttered, dated layouts. Mad Mimi's "modules-based" interface allows users to add pictures and text fields, drag them around and add captions, links and dividers. Embedded constraints usually guide the layout, keeping the "designer" from getting into trouble, but providing more flexibility than templates. The result: an easy, flexible user interface and clean, fashionable "Mimi-generated" promotions that represent a fresh approach to email marketing—at a subscription price that trumps the competition.

"We did nothing en masse in terms of the release, because bloggers sense that a mile away," said Rob Lubow, director of public relations for Mad Mimi.

The company also planned to rely on programmer Tobie Langel, the lead user interface (UI) developer for Mad Mimi and a core member of the Prototype JavaScript Framework, who is well known among programmers.

By leveraging his notability, the company hoped to create a grassroots-driven awareness among a few thousand programmers, whom Mad Mimi viewed as trendsetters who would generate positive buzz quickly online for the Mad Mimi application.

The company hoped that its brash viral push would cause Mad Mimi to emerge head-and-shoulders above the dominant players in email marketing services.

The Results:

"Within the first week Ajaxian picked up the story and mentioned Mad Mimi's programmer Tobie Langel, and within the first two weeks we signed up 400 accounts," said Lubow.

In addition to Ajaxian's coverage, Killer Startups covered the Mad Mimi launch, as did 37Signals.

Those 400 user accounts stored some 150,000 unique audience members (email addresses) with Mad Mimi in the first two weeks. Three-hundred of those users had signed up in the very first week after the campaign launched.

Since the launch, some 3,200 unique visitors have landed on the site, spending an average of 5.46 minutes on it. User accounts now number 759, and the fee for each ranges from free to $199 per month, depending on the customer's needs.

Mad Mimi users have sent out nearly 300,000 email promotions thus far.

"The industry picked up on the idea that we were trying to compete [with] and topple Constant Contact with our new approach to email marketing, [one that's] focused on customization and less cost to the user. It's really a testament to the power of do-it-yourself public relations that work if your angle is bold and...still based in real differentiators," noted Lubow.

Levitt attributes the launch success to keeping the focus on giving a powerful tool to creative individuals so that they can uniquely highlight their businesses.

"We believe that challenging 'business' with 'humanity' is what innovation is all about—replacing the bottom-line-fixed status quo.... Small companies and startups have a huge advantage over the big guys when it comes to achieving a high 'humanity quotient.'"

Lessons Learned:

  • Make your message meaningful to customers who might be feeling like just another number to the larger companies that are offering the same service as you.
  • Don't pitch blogs en masse. Take your time to build a list that will highlight your offerings to the most appropriate users and at the same time focus on the value and differentiators vs. the competition.
  • It does

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