With people spending no more than eight seconds reading an average email, how can companies use them to boost their customer base? The founder of a science subscription box for kids reveals how she grew her digital community
With model comets that whizz and fizz, potions that change colour, and sparkly dough sculptures that conduct electricity – science can be fun. But all too often, a child’s experience of Stem (science, technology, engineering and maths) subjects at school can be boring and uninspired.
“Hardly any primary school teachers have done any science beyond GCSE,” entrepreneur Renee Watson, who is a scientist by trade, says. “I had been doing a lot of work with schools and saw there was no time or money to make science fun and interesting in the classroom. So I thought: ‘Well, I can put fun stuff in boxes and send them to families to do at home.’”
It was the start of an idea that led to her founding Curiosity Box in 2016. Today, as well as the monthly subscription box for families to work on together at home, the company also sends kits to primary schools all over the UK. But Watson admits building that customer base hasn’t been easy. “Trying to establish a new children’s brand and a physical product without much marketing budget is incredibly difficult,” she says. “There are competitors coming on to the market all the time, which are sometimes big companies with enormous amounts to spend on marketing. And schools have got extremely tight budgets and teachers are overstretched.”
Research by the Wellcome Trust in 2017 suggested that science was a low priority in primary schools. Only 42% of pupils had adequate teaching time for the subject and schools were not well resourced for teaching it. Since then, a host of initiatives have sprung up trying to provide support for Stem in schools. Watson has been able to take advantage of some of that work, partnering with universities and organisations such as the UK Research Institute (UKRI) to fund boxes for schools, which include up to 20 hours of activity time (depending on the size of the box). “Our kits include science and engineering resources that they can then use in all of their Stem classes. So it kind of builds out their overall science capability in the classroom, not just the activity that we sent them to do,” Watson adds.
Sending out a newsletter helped the Curiosity Box team grow its community. There are currently 15,000 subscribers on the mailing list and the team uses Mailchimp to optimise the process. “Subscribers get regular updates about new things we’re doing, or cool science stuff that we’ve found, anything like that. It’s also a way for us to engage with people who perhaps aren’t yet customers, but might be in the future.”
Watson has used features offered by Mailchimp, such as A/B testing, to help determine which content works best. The Content Optimizer tools also help ensure the emails are engaging, maximising the number of people who actually read the newsletter. “For us, it’s about building that feeling of community around the brand, rather than just pushing sales,” Watson says. “The testing helps us to fine-tune our messaging to get that balance right. And I’ve become a massive fan of the automated workflows. For a small business that’s always lacking in time, it just takes a huge amount of stress and pressure out of the picture.”
At Mailchimp, its director of product management for smart content, John Wolf, says the Content Optimizer features were developed and released a year ago in response to those sort of challenges. “Creating great marketing content is really hard and it takes a long time,” he says. “We think there’s the potential to improve campaign performance by at least 20% through tools such as these. Our customers spend 28m hours a year just writing copy. We want to cut that by 80%.”
Content Optimizer, which is included in Premium and Standard plans, analyses millions of data points from the billions of emails sent via Mailchimp every year. “That gives us lots of data to work with to determine what works and what doesn’t,” Wolf says. Suggested recommendations include tips around readability, keeping headings and subheadings short, and using accessible language. “People give the average email eight seconds. So if you’re really concise, you’re more likely to get your message across. One of the most common mistakes marketers make is trying to do too much on a single email.”
There’s more functionality in the pipeline, around tone and image recommendations, as well as more insight into the most powerful messaging. “It’s about being a brand that your customers can consider a friend,” Wolf adds about the most effective newsletters. “And creating value every time you reach out to your customers.”
Back at Curiosity Box, Watson is already planning her Christmas campaign with her 60-strong team, and has just signed partnerships with a number of schools in South Korea, and the Crest Awards in the UK. She wants to double the number of subscribers on the company’s mailing list by the end of the year. “I think the mistake a lot of organisations make is they think about what they want to talk about, rather than what their customers are going to find useful,” she says. “If you’re sending out emails that no one’s really that interested in, then you’re just wasting your time and money.”
Mailchimp is the number one email marketing and automations brand*. With plans suitable for every size of business and database, marketers are able to send the right message at the right time to convert more customers, get AI-assisted suggestions to make content more engaging, and set up automated workflows to cross-sell products, recover abandoned carts and to help drive more loyalty and sales.
*Based on competitor brands’ publicly available data on worldwide numbers of customers in 2021/2022.
The views, information and opinions expressed in this article are those of the people interviewed and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Intuit, Mailchimp or any of its cornerstone brands or employees. The primary purpose of this article is to educate and inform.
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