Talking relationship marketing with Altitude Sports

Blog - Article janvier 2020 - Cover
It's been a long time since I wanted to talk with marketing leaders about their customer relationship strategies, the martech tools they use for that, and other stuff around this exciting topic. That's why I'm launching this format today, heading to Quebec to speak with Louis-Dominic Parizeau, VP Marketing at Altitude Sports since 2017. Here are the highlights...

Louis is the first “professional” person I met when I arrived in Montreal, QC, in 2015. It was during my first interview with Adviso. He then became my boss in this agency, then a top colleague and then a great running partner, with whom I shared a few trail runs in Quebec — and I must admit: his legs run faster than mine 😅

It was really nice talking to him for this premiere!

Altitude Sports is one of the Canadian leaders in the online sale of technical (high-end) clothing for the city and the outdoors: winter clothing and footwear, for running, cycling, outdoor, etc… It distributes more than 400 brands including the most important in the sector: The North Face, Salomon, Patagonia, Arc’teryx, Canada Goose… In addition to its main website, Altitude also operates a clearance website and has launched its own urban clothing brand. Based in Montreal, the company now has 300+ employees and processes more than 450,000 orders per year. Not a small thing.

As a VP Marketing, Louis manages a department of about twenty people, divided into two teams:

  • The “Brand” team, composed of designers, writers, social media managers… ;
  • The “Performance” team, composed of specialists in paid media, SEO, merchandising… and email marketing (two people are in charge of email campaigns and CRM management).
    • This last team collaborates closely with the tech team (developers, BI experts) for all their data needs.

Altitude Sports' marketing stack

The centerpiece of the Altitude stack is of course its transactional website. Or rather its websites, since the business operates altitude-sports.com and thelasthunt.com. The CMS used for these two websites is Shopify Plus.

Running an e-commerce business in Canada means dealing with an unusual complexity: bilingualism! But even if Shopify is not reputed to be the most flexible regarding multi-language websites, Altitude has been able to adapt and works with only one bilingual instance per website.

Altitude also has an extensive blog, which runs on a WordPress instance independently of e-commerce websites.

The second pillar of Altitude’s marketing stack is its CRM tool. In 2018, Louis compared several solutions, including Klaviyo and Drip, but chose Zaius, a young platform specializing in e-commerce with a deep integration with Shopify.

Here’s what the Altitude Sports stack looks like (The Last Hunt has a similar stack, with a dedicated Zaius instance):

I asked Louis what he thinks of Zaius, and this is what he told me:

Its strengths are ease of use, flexibility, scalability and price. You can do a lot with Zaius for a reasonable price. The fact that it is an e-commerce solution that integrates natively with Shopify was also a real strength for us.

On the other hand, what frustrates me with Zaius is the consequences of its youth: a few bugs, stuff that doesn’t work the way I’d like it to… A lot of features but not everything works flawlessly, as a consequence of having wanted to launch a lot of things all at once. That’s the danger of a solution: wanting to do everything but not do it well. You can feel it a little bit with Zaius: they have a lot of features, but I find myself not using all of them because some of them are not finished.

Having said that, I’m excited to see how the platform will evolve in two or three years time as it matures. […] Because overall, it’s still a solution that I recommend.

Louis also said to me that data is another real strength of Zaius : first its data model (capable of ingesting customer, product and order data), and also the flexible segmentation engine (which allows Zaius to call itself “CDP”). It clearly has more advanced features than the other tools Louis had compared.

On the other hand, he regretted the tool’s weaknesses in terms of personalization, whether in emails (product recommendations) or on the website. To overcome this, Louis thought about adding a tool dedicated to personalization (like Nosto), but it is clearly not on his roadmap for the coming months.

Zaius

Founded in Boston in 2012, Zaius is a CRM/CDP platform specialized in e-commerce. It targets mid-market e-commerce companies and its pricing reflects this positioning: a few thousand euros per month, priced according to the number of tracked visits and the volume of emails sent. It’s still a medium-sized company (less than 100 employees) but growing quite fast ($30M raised in April 2018).

Some relationship marketing tactics

We then discussed the tactics they had in place at Altitude Sports, mainly in email marketing.

One of the tactics that work best for Altitude Sports is an e-commerce basics: cart abandonment emails. Until recently, they used to send only one email after a cart abandonment on the website. Then they tested adding a second email, and found that the performance was better. I jokingly told Louis to add a third one to see how it performs (this is what a recent Klaviyo benchmark suggests).

Altitude also set up several interesting automated emails:

  • browse abandonment emails: if you browse products and then leave the website without doing anything, you’ll receive an email highlighting those products. A bit like Amazon does.
  • a welcome sequence after the first purchase. The goal: to immediately engage the new customer to increase its loyalty.
  • emails reminding the customer of the loyalty points earned.
  • and of course, the classic promotional newsletters, personalized as much as possible (via specific segments).

The main objective of Louis and his CRM team is to automate as many emails as possible, and thus reduce the importance of promotional newsletters. These manual campaigns still generate the majority of the revenue attributed to the email channel, and their goal is to reverse the trend.

Today, email is the third most important channel in order of contribution to company sales, behind Paid and Organic.

A personalized email from Altitude Sports that I received a few days after my discussion with Louis

Trends, inspirations… and challenges

We ended our discussion with broader topics. I first asked him what his main challenge in email marketing was:

“We’re seeing a drop in the email open rate, and we haven’t yet identified its cause. Maybe the “Promotions” tab in Gmail, especially in the mobile app where it’s hidden?”

Then we talked about the trends he saw in this field, and the companies he was inspired by:
“As trends, I would say the come back of content newsletters, such as those from The Verge, and the advertising in your Gmail inbox. […] And about inspiration, I’ll give you a conventional answer: Amazon.”
Thank you Louis!

If you have any questions for Louis, you can find him on LinkedIn here.

And if you have any feedback to share with me on this format (for example other topics to be discussed in the next ones), feel free to write a little comment below!

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