How can we increase the value of a product while reducing costs?

This was a project I spearheaded where we built the Connect by Email HTML email SaaS product over several months. The team started with myself (Web Development Specialist), an interactive director, and 2 designers. This case study focuses on the development of the product from simple beginnings into a fully-formed SaaS solution.

The Problems

Lack of display standardization across devices, browsers, and email clients made it challenging to create innovative designs that did not break.

Design and development processes were slow, challenging, and fragile.

I hand-coded HTML and CSS to build HTML emails. I tried several templates and frameworks, but I still spent a lot of time learning crazy coding workarounds, troubleshooting incompatibility, and guiding our designers on the right approaches for designing (relatively) unbreakable layouts for various devices, email clients, and browsers.

A lack of metrics made it impossible to prove the value of the service.

We sent emails using a shared email address and a common email client. This approach lacked even basic delivery and open rate tracking, making it impossible to evaluate email marketing effectiveness and provide clients with meaningful reports.

The subscriber experience was lacking, and there were legal compliance concerns.

We struggled to track bounces and manage subscribers. And using a single shared email address put us at risk of being blacklisted by ISPs.

Revenue disparities threatened the future of the company.

Trying to charge clients for the long hours invested in email campaigns posed a risk of making prices too high because the effort didn’t match the value. This emphasized the need for a new approach that could guarantee valuable outcomes while also advancing the agency’s financial progress.

Exploration & Research

As I regularly gathered content, managed subscriber lists, built emails using HTML and CSS, resolved technical issues, and dispatched emails, I deeply understood these concerns.

To enhance our email marketing, I explored opportunities, inspiring me to proactively improve the service for both the agency and clients.

We showcased the service on a custom WordPress website I developed. And the successful email campaigns we ran for clients generated great word-of-mouth sales.
Even though the projects included numerous tasks and team members, I simplified the complex process by creating a one-sheet workflow. This helped keep cross-functional teams organized and on track.

My research led me to produce the following goals:

Increase Revenue:

  • Pass on (reasonable) cost to clients: Discover an affordable, feature-rich service.
  • Recoup lost costs: Accurately estimate production timelines and create a la carte billable services for tasks such as copywriting, graphics, and subscriber list import.

Increase Mindshare:

  • Apply our own Branding: Have the ability to white-label the service.
  • Monitor Measurable Metrics: Demonstrate value and impact to clients.
  • Create a Trusted Sending Domain: Utilize domain keys and SPF records for better delivery rates.

Increase Efficiency/Cost-Savings:

  • Utilize Customizable Templates: Import or choose templates for efficient campaign development. Minimal troubleshooting needed for compatibility with common email platforms and browsers.
  • Subscriber Automation: Import, export, and manage subscriber lists effortlessly with automated features for adding, pausing, and removing subscribers.
  • Maintain Legal Compliance: Prevent potential costly fees.
  • Empower Clients with Online Service Management: Clients can log in to review stats and create emails at their convenience, guided by optional training.

What We Shipped

The substantial reduction in development time and problem-solving provided designers with more opportunities and flexibility to innovate and create award-winning designs.

During that period, emerging email services like Constant Contact were gaining traction. After researching and finding a suitable fit, I secured executive approval for the new system and executed the transition through various initiatives:

New Brand and Identity Conceptualization

Collaborated with designers to conceive and create a new product name, logo, and branding for the email marketing solution.

System Setup and Migration

Implemented and mastered the new service, incorporating branding, migrating accounts, and delivering client training for independent campaign management.

Profitable Service Package Creation

Partnered with Account Managers to establish cost-effective subscription pricing models, informed by enhanced insights into design and development timelines.

Promotional Material Production

Utilizing the design team’s branding, I crafted the Connect by Email WordPress site, curated content, and authored blog posts. The design team produced offline marketing materials for effective promotion.

Development Streamlining

Led HTML email template and campaign development and acted as a guide for additional web developers, offering coaching and training on efficient system utilization.

Process Improvement

Standardized project workflows by documenting and refining processes, resulting in a visual flowchart that streamlined production from client onboarding to campaign assessment.


The response from clients was overwhelmingly positive. Visual reporting with charts and graphs gave clients a view of how well their email marketing efforts were doing, which helped them see the value of the service. The ability to log in anytime to build and send campaigns gave them control over their email marketing efforts.

Account Managers were given the tools and options to sell the upgraded subscription services to many more clients than before. They readily customized solutions, based on client needs and budgets.

Automated subscriber list sanitization had the double effect of maintaining high-quality and engaged subscribers, which improved deliverability, open, and click-through rates. The agency’s own email newsletter and several client email campaigns achieved remarkable 50-60% open rates and 10-20% click-through rates. It also allowed the agency to not only maintain legal compliance, but to go above and beyond to improve the user experience.

The brand and revenue stream I helped vastly improve outlasted my time at the agency, working it’s magic for over a decade. The experience of taking ownership of the success of a far-reaching digital product is a career highlight.

Prioritizing Inclusion

Prioritizing Inclusion
Cas Johnson