In this episode of Delivering, host Jason Rodriguez sits down for a wide-ranging interview with Lauren Smith and Scott Epple, two team members involved with the recent release of Visual Editor in Litmus Builder. They discuss how Litmus decides to build new features—include Visual Editor—and how email teams everywhere can embrace Visual Editor to scale production while allowing everyone to focus on their core skills.

You can also watch a video version of this interview below or on our YouTube Channel.

Episode Transcript

Scott Epple:
I thought you were going to say the horse’s mouth.

Jason Rodriguez:
I was thinking about it, but I feel like that’s not a flattering term for the most part. So is that cool? Sound good? Anything in particular you want me to mention?

Scott Epple:
Just get in all my funny quips [crosstalk 00:00:14].

Jason Rodriguez:
All right. Cool. Well, I guess we’ll get started. It’s already recording, so this will be the B roll at the very end. The bloopers. Cool.

Jason Rodriguez:
Well, welcome to a special interview. I’m very excited to be sitting here chatting with two of my colleagues at Litmus. Two of the people that are largely responsible for one of the coolest features we’ve released in a long time, called Visual Editor, inside of Litmus Builder. So please join me in welcoming Lauren Smith, who is our enterprise marketing director, and Scott Epple, who is our principal product manager. As always, I’m Jason Rodriguez. I’m the guy you usually see on the webinars, on the blog, all that good stuff. I am located outside of Detroit, but I’d love to hear a little bit first about both of your history at Litmus, and kind of what you’ve been doing over the last couple of years. Lauren, I guess maybe start with you.

Lauren Smith:
Sure. Thanks, Jason. My name is Lauren, and I’m on the product marketing team right here at Litmus. So I’m focused on understanding our customer and market needs to help shape our roadmap. And then once we have our new features and solutions, marketing it to both our customers and hopefully potential new customers. I’ve been at Litmus for about eight years. So it’s been a very long ride and fun ride. I’m based in Boston, Mass, in the middle of my kitchen, as you can tell. And happy to be chatting with you guys today.

Jason Rodriguez:
What about you, Scott?

Scott Epple:
And I’m also in Massachusetts, in the suburbs of Boston. Not quite eight years, I’m just really close to Lauren, about a year and a half, coming up on two years, so a little ways to go. But yeah, I’m a product manager, as you said, Jason. And so I see my job first and foremost, as needing to understand our customers really intimately, and their workflows, and particularly pain points because I look at my job in many ways as a problem solver, here to help customers be more successful by building products and solutions that can make them more productive, more efficient, just get better results from email. So work really closely with lots of parts of the company, but definitely Lauren and product marketing, to help bring new capabilities, like Visual Editor, to our customers.

Jason Rodriguez:
Awesome. Yeah. Lauren, I think he joined a couple of months before I did. We’ve both been here for quite a while. And yeah, we’ve been kind of working pretty closely together over the last seven years for me, I guess, eight years for you.

Lauren Smith:
Yeah. We’re like the top 20, the first 20.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah. Yeah. It’s been really interesting seeing the growth and all the cool things that the team’s been able to get out, especially over the last couple of years, we’ve been collecting all of our tools together, making them more streamlined to use all those tools. So one of the tools that we’ve been teasing over the last couple of weeks, and released really recently, is Visual Editor inside of Litmus Builder. So a lot of people are probably familiar with Litmus Builder as a code editor in the Litmus product, that allows you to code your emails, has all these great features that are tailored to email development. And perhaps most importantly, see those email campaigns, all those different previews and all the previews that we provide almost immediately, so you can get that really quick feedback inside of Builder. But it’s always been really geared towards email developers and designers, people that know how to code, know what HTML and CSS is and how to manipulate it to build these campaigns.

Jason Rodriguez:
But Visual Editor is a completely new approach inside of Litmus to building email campaigns. So that’s going to be the focus of today’s discussion. But I wanted to hear from both of you about how we determine what we’re actually going to build at Litmus because there’s a lot of different things we could be building. Obviously, we get a lot of feedback from our customers and users about what they’d love to see us build for them. But I’d love to hear from both of you, I guess, starting with you Lauren, about what’s that process look like? How do we figure out what features to focus on?

Lauren Smith:
Sure. So it’s definitely a lot of cross team collaboration that happens between product, and marketing, and engineering, and sales, and customer support, designers, account managers. It’s pretty much everyone. Truly a collaborative process. We talk to a lot of people, both customers and prospects alike. We do surveys, and calls, and betas, and focus groups, and renewal discussions. We want to understand their workflows, their pain points, how we can make their lives easier and how we can help them do their jobs better. We also look at market trends, where is the market shifting? Where are there opportunities for us to make an impact? And there’s obviously a lot of ideas that come based on all of those conversations. So then we take those ideas and we prioritize them. And maybe Scott, you can talk a little bit more about how we prioritize things.

Scott Epple:
Yeah. I mean, I’d love to say use my magic eight ball, but it sometimes gives confusing answers. No, I mean, you said it really well, Lauren. We take a lot of inputs, first and foremost from our customers and from the market to understand the problems that are out there, and the opportunities that Litmus could seize to kind of help customers be more successful. And prioritization, I mean, really, is just about kind of figuring out which of those represents kind of the opportunity to have the biggest impact. So what’s the biggest problem that people are facing? What’s the most important outcome that that teams are looking for? And what can we do to drive those things?

Scott Epple:
And so part of it is figuring out what people need and want, and prioritizing based on the importance of those needs and wants to the customer. But then it’s also about figuring out like what’s Litmus best suited to solve for. Obviously, we’ve been doing email for a long time, so we tend to focus on things related to the email channel, specifically the pre-send, production and testing process, but also the post-send engagement analytics and insights. And of course lots and lots of thought leadership that we put out there. So we try to find kind of that magical intersection of those two things, what the market and our customers need and what we think we’re best at doing. And then we come up with ideas and, we work really closely with our customers actually, to make those ideas into actual product solutions. So it’s not exactly like the inventor in a dark room coming up with these features. We prioritize, and then we really work together with our customers collaboratively, to make those into reality.

Jason Rodriguez:
Cool. Yeah. So Scott, maybe you can talk a little bit then about why we decided to work on Visual Editor for Litmus Builder?

Scott Epple:
Yeah, sure. So like you said, Jason, Builder was originally built as a code editor for email developers, more technical users, folks that were really into the details of email code, which we all know has it’s peculiarities and kind of esoteric knowledge, that you have to kind of gain through hard work. But as we said before, we listened to our customers and we listened to the market. And what we just kept hearing over and over again, in different forms, but overall, the message was the same, is that teams are looking to do more with what they have. And developers are scarce, their skills are incredibly valuable, their time is valuable. And so this kind of pressure that honestly the teams would be under, where developers were so important to producing emails, but yet never had enough time.

Scott Epple:
It led us naturally to kind of understand that one way to solve for that is making email production more accessible to more people within an organization. And letting the developers focus on what they’re really good at, and sort of becoming more of almost enablers to the other folks in the organization to produce emails. And so that was kind of the kernel of the idea. We also, of course, are aware of the other solutions that are out there in the market, other tools. And we heard very kind of consistent feedback about some of those things as well. They produce bloated, kind of messy code, developers don’t trust them. They don’t work with the emails and templates that I already have today. So I’ve got to essentially make a decision upfront to change everything and go all in with a particular solution, build it their way in order to work with the tool, which of course, takes a long time.

Scott Epple:
And we just frankly thought we could do better, that we could help customers kind of realize that potential of getting more people involved in producing emails. And do it in a way that also stays true to why Litmus exists and is Litmus. And that is that we want people to make great emails and to make their email better. So we just thought, again, going back to how we prioritize, we thought big problem, and a problem that Litmus is really well suited to solve for.

Lauren Smith:
And just to kind of echo what Scott said, we wanted to make email creation accessible to everyone, not just coders, like [inaudible 00:09:52] was built for. But not just email creation, on brand, error-free, great emails, which definitely is not easy. And this really enables our customers to do more with less, get the most of their existing resources. And it’s definitely never as important as it is today, with all of the restricted budgets and uncertain economy. Just the absolute craziness that is the world right now.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah, for sure. I like that a lot. One of the things that I’ve kind of seen, and I know Scott, you did… Well, both, of you did some cool presentations internally about some of the stuff that’s going on under the hood of Visual Editor and Builder. And you mentioned just a minute ago about how we’ve seen other tools kind of bloat code, or it might mess with things a little bit. And that’s so hard to deal with as an email developer because email clients are so finicky, and so specific about how your code needs to be written, that a lot of emails will break if that Visual Editor that WYSIWYG editor is doing anything funky to it. So I know there’s a lot of cool stuff going on kind of under the hood. So maybe Scott, you could give us some insight into how we actually went about building Visual Editor, and what are some of those cool things that make Visual Editor inside of Builder special?

Scott Epple:
Yeah. We did what we always do, in terms of listening to our customers, working with them, as I said before, to kind of collaboratively find the right solution. And a lot of it was just taking what I just mentioned before, and you were touching on, Jason, of the things we didn’t want to do and. And kind of flipping that around and saying, “Okay. Well, then we’re not going to make it produce bloated, bad code.” Not only for the reasons that that can create problems with rendering, which is obviously a big concern, but also just because we knew that for us to get this right, email developers had to be able to trust the tool. And understand that if they’re going to enable more folks to build email within an organization, then they’re essentially the inputs to the system, right?

Scott Epple:
They’re creating the templates and the components that folks are going to build with, kind of creating the Lego blocks. And for us to then go in and manipulate those things and change them, just wasn’t what we wanted to be doing. So we took kind of that as one principle. And we also just felt like it had to be easy to use, and it had to be easy to use right away. There’s no reason we feel that someone should have to rewrite all their templates, just to make something work for a visual editor. Teams using Litmus have spent a lot of time, energy, money, building great looking emails, that perform well, that they’ve tested across email clients for rendering issues. So the last thing we want to do is force them to redo all that.

Scott Epple:
And so the approach we really took, and this is where some of the kind of under the hood engineering details are fun to dig into. Probably I’m not the best person to give all of the spiel on that. But it essentially meant that there would have been a much easier path for us from an engineering and product building standpoint, in that if we had done something that required kind of proprietary Litmus markup or syntax, or that just had a bunch of prebuilt components that people could use, that would have been the easier path, frankly. We took the harder path because we thought it would be easier on our customers, which is to basically take what you have. Your templates, your emails, your modular components, and make sure that our editor would just work with those things. And that would do the right thing without changing the code. It would change the content that’s being edited, but not the underlying code of the email.

Scott Epple:
And so that was big for us. And we also believed in doing that, we could create a nice opportunity for what we really think is the best way to do things, which is for collaboration to happen between developers and non-developers, by honoring the code that is underneath the email, that meant that a developer could hop in, edit the codes, someone on the visual side could hop in and make content edits. And they could go back and forth. And many tools in the market just don’t allow you to do that because it’s so locked into a particular kind of proprietary way of doing things, which creates those restrictions. So those were kind of our guiding principles. And we spent a lot of time just talking to customers, testing with them, listening to them, iterating. And we have the Visual Editor out there now as the end product.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah. I remember seeing the first couple of times I encountered it, and you can just kind of pop a template in there and switch over Visual Editor and start editing whatever it is, without having to worry about template languages or proprietary markup was. Kind of mind blowing because that’s not something that we’ve really seen out in the wild, everybody’s kind of having a code for their specific ESP or whatever tools they happen to be using, which is good and bad. But it’s nice having something where people can just pop in and put whatever code they’re working on in there, whatever templates they already have and open it up to anybody to start using that Visual Editor.

Jason Rodriguez:
That begs the question though, one of the things we’ve heard a little bit is developers getting worried about whether or not this kind of makes them redundant. You could have a copywriter or marketer just grab some code from somewhere, pop it into Visual Editor. And just completely bypass the development portion of it. So that’s something we obviously thought about, we’ve talked to people about, but maybe from your point of views, why do developers not need to worry about Visual Editor taking their jobs? And why is it really a tool that’s meant for both developers as well as non-developers to make collaboration easier?

Lauren Smith:
Sure. I can jump in here. We’ve definitely heard from a few wary developers during beta, and just initial customer calls. Not only that they’re scared about the messy code component we already discussed, but yeah, is this going to make their jobs redundant? And that is entirely not the case at all. Developers are tasked with the critical tasks of building great, bulletproof, on brand emails, that deliver really important messages to subscribers. And most of the time, the emails that they’re building are reusing existing templates or bits of codes from previous emails that have been created. And the process is pretty manual and repetitive, and involves a lot of searching through files and copying pasting code. It’s honestly a pretty inefficient process. That’s what we hear from a lot of our developers we talk to. And doesn’t definitely have much room for them where their expertise lies, which is in driving innovation and conversions.

Lauren Smith:
So with a tool like Visual Editor, developers can empower non coders in their team to utilize the carefully built templates that they’ve already created to build emails. And not only help scale output, but it gives developers time to focus on more important things, like creating new templates, and updating existing ones, or keeping templates up to date because God knows how often a new email client is introduced, or updated, or a client drops support for something. It gives them time to create one off creative builds for major campaigns, like a product launch. And then it allows them to go deeper with testing, dynamic content, automation, all of which really help drive conversion. So if anything, it elevates their job and definitely does not make it redundant. It should be an exciting tool for developers to use. And once developers started using it during the beta, the ones that were wary, I think that we won them over, which is just exciting.

Scott Epple:
Yeah. And just to add to that, I mean, I can’t tell you how many times talking with an email developer, Litmus customer, we’ll hear things like, “Next year or next quarter, we’re really trying to do more with bringing interactive elements into our email or doing more with dynamic content or improving how we segment our customer lists.” And these are the things that just, they always get pushed off. Everyone wants to be doing them, but the day-to-day always kind of sucks you back in. And we just think that’s the stuff that email developers really should be working on and doing, to kind of really up-level their email programs and drive more results for their organizations. And so if we can kind of help them offload some of the more repetitive work that Lauren was talking about, that’s our goal really, it’s to make them really make their value shine, rather than just kind of being on the production line of yet another kind of a template email.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah. That’s what I really like is, I feel bad that I don’t do as much email development these days as I once did. Boy, I remember having to do a lot of that just tedious stuff. It’s copying and pasting from docs into your template. It’s just making those really small adjustments, that take a lot of time. And it’s super time consuming, super tedious and not fun to do from a development perspective. So I love this tool in that it frees developers from having to do that really tedious stuff. Let’s them focus on one-off bespoke emails for special events, focusing on interactivity and all that kind of cool stuff, that they would love to be able to do if they had time. It gives them that time now. One of the things I like too, is that as just a run of the mill marketer, copywriter, you can go into that template and test out your copy and stuff directly in that campaign, as opposed to writing it completely out of context of the design, and the visual aspect of the campaign in a Word doc or something like that.

Jason Rodriguez:
So you can really do a much better job of kind of tailoring your content to where it’s actually going to be delivered. That stuff’s awesome. I’ve seen it in action. It’s brilliant. I think a lot of people are really going to love it. But what are some of the use cases that you’ve seen some of our customers using Visual Editor for? And what are some of the ideas that people should start implementing when they start getting their hands on Visual Editor?

Scott Epple:
Yeah, I’ll take that. I mean, a lot of the best use cases are some of the bread and butter of email programs, right? It’s the stuff that’s recurring, pretty templated, frankly, but recurring and really important. So just because we talk about it being repetitive to build something doesn’t mean that it’s not an important component of your email program and driving results. It’s just that producing those emails isn’t necessarily something that takes a developer skillset to do on a regular basis. So some of these things are recurring newsletters, right? Content promotions, that typically follow a similar… Whether they be e-books or white papers, that sort of thing that may often have a very template kind of look and feel to them.

Scott Epple:
Webinar, in a pre 2020 world I guess, event invites, those things as well. Transactional emails, even, right? Things that as a product manager, if I’m adding a new workflow or feature to my product, and there’s a need for a transactional email, being able to produce that, which are always very highly templated. But any of these things really where the importance of them is in the recurring nature, they drive engagement. But they don’t necessarily differ a lot from one mailing to the next, in terms of the structure and the layout of the template. All that’s changing is the content. I mean, in our state of email survey, we ask questions about this, and learn from folks that I think upwards of 40% of emails fall into this category of really… Producing the email is taking the template or taking the last newsletter you sent, and putting new content into it.

Scott Epple:
And so 40% of what a team’s producing, if that can be brought to the marketers, and content folks, and the email developers can take that time and put it into the innovation and driving new types of templates and new types of content modules, then we think that that’s just a great outcome for everyone.

Lauren Smith:
Another great use case is for quick feedback and edits. Whenever we do our state of emails, email workflows report reviews and approvals is always one of the longest steps in the production process. And Visual Editor helps make this process way faster. This is actually a use case that I can relate to personally, for example, when product release emails go out, and they’re shared with me in proof, and I’m going through them. If I see a call to action button that needs to be updated, I can easily just hop right over to Visual Editor and make the change myself, without having to touch code or worry about breaking anything, and it makes that process so much faster. And another use case is for internal communications, like an HR newsletter or an internal systems update.

Lauren Smith:
These communications are key to ensuring everyone internally is on the same page. With so many competing priorities, especially ones that are revenue generating, this is the perfect example of something that be offloaded to a non developer.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah, for sure. So it’s been out for a little while now. It’s been in beta for obviously longer than that, as we kick the tires and make sure everything’s working as it should. What have you heard from customers that have started adopting Visual Editor and what kind of advantages or benefits are they seeing, and just what are they saying about it?

Scott Epple:
Yeah, so we did run a beta for a number of months, so been getting feedback all along the way. I mean folks have been happy with it. We’ve been really excited to hear their feedback and hears some of the success stories. I mean, the overall themes were what we were hoping to hear, right? This is intuitive and easy. No one had to read a manual or watch a video to figure out how to use it, which was a big part of what we were going for, is be able to bring new folks into Litmus and into producing emails, without having to spend a lot of time training them, or getting them set up. So folks were just jumping right in and finding it easy to use. And then, of course, that’s helping developers to offload and enable others to do some of those email builds. And so that’s helping to scale email development. And, yeah, I know Lauren, I think we both talked with a customer who had a very specific use case, that they had seen some pretty significant time savings for.

Lauren Smith:
Yeah. Joe Savage, who’s the marketing director over at Altus Agency has a use case and a stat, that I personally was very happy to have use our launch materials. Was that using Visual Editor, they cut production time on one of their templates sends from two hours to 30 minutes, which saves them 75% of critical time, that he can focus on more revenue generating tasks. Just imagine having an hour and a half back for every single email that you’re producing, that’s pretty awesome. So I was really excited to see that stat, and hear that use case when we were chatting with him.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah, that’s huge. I think I… I don’t remember off the top of my head, but there’s something from our state of email research that we do, where it takes a week or something equivalent for a single campaign to get produced. And a lot of the time is just that kind of tedious and back and forth stuff, and things that could really be cut down. So that’s kind of mind blowing to see a stat like that, is you’re cutting that much time in producing one of your campaigns. And that’s time that can be spent elsewhere on more important things, and making all of your emails more valuable instead of just that one. So I’d love to hear what personally you’re most excited about when it comes to Visual Editor. So Lauren, we’ll let you go first. What’s really exciting about Visual Editor, getting it out there?

Lauren Smith:
I’m going to give a personal one. Why I’m personally excited about it. I used Litmus back at a previous job in 2011. I was using our ESP’s awful, clunky editor to update existing templates that had been created. Then I test them in Litmus, and then find an issue, and bring it back to my ESP, make edits there, yada, yada, yada. Everyone knows that game. It’s not fun at all. Visual Editor empowers people like me, who are not super comfortable with code at all, and I would be terrified of breaking something that our email team has created. And it allows people like me to build awesome emails without risking breaking anything. And then the other great part is that it’s integrated with all of our other tools. So it’s not just building in there, but you can quickly test to make sure everything works properly, loop in others for feedback, analyze results post-send. It really makes Litmus the one stop shop for email creation, regardless of your technical skills, and that’s really exciting.

Jason Rodriguez:
How about you, Scott?

Scott Epple:
Well, I’m excited for Lauren first and foremost.

Jason Rodriguez:
Thank you.

Scott Epple:
And all the Laurens out there. Seriously, everything we do at Litmus goes back to trying to make email better. And I’ve got the shirt on, “I love email. We love email.” And so we want more people to love email, and to realize the power of email, and we see that as a big advantage here. So the more we can get a diverse set of people, and more people within organizations to be seeing the value of email and actually getting hands on with email, then we’re doing our job. And so I’m really excited about Visual Editor’s potential for that. As a product person, I’ll give my own personal selfish side of this too. I’m just really excited with all the stuff that we have coming too. I mean, this is kind of step one, is this initial release, but we’ve got some pretty exciting plans in the works, and just really amped up to work with the team to build those and bring them to our customers as well.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah, for sure. And yeah, I feel like it should go without saying that this was a big team effort from the Litmus team, and a lot of people involved from both marketing, and product, our engineers, our designers, everybody kind of helping test things, and our email team. So I just want to thank both of you for all of the awesome work on this. And the Litmus team for being able to come up with amazing things like this and get them out into the hands of our customers, because I know a lot of people, just talking to them, whether it’s through the email geeks Slack channel, or Twitter, or whatever, they’ve been really impressed with Visual Editor. And everything we’ve been releasing lately, which is amazing to hear, and makes our job that much better hearing that kind of feedback.

Jason Rodriguez:
But yeah. So it’s a huge team effort. And you guys have all done amazing work so far, and I’m really excited to see some of the cool features that you have planned too, because this one kind of took my breath away a little bit when I first started and seeing it in action, playing around with it. So I’m real excited to see what the future holds for Litmus and Builder in particular. Any closing thoughts as we wrap up?

Lauren Smith:
Just, I think we’ve all used the word excited about 100 times in the last five minutes. But I’m really excited about these updates. I hope our customers are too. Like Jason said in the beginning, these features are… Visual Editor is available for all of our customers and all of our client types in our trial, and we’re always looking for feedback. So we have a feedback button in the app, hello@litmus.com. Tweet us. We want to hear any and all feedback. Yeah. Just really excited about it.

Scott Epple:
Yeah. And if you liked hearing us talk, you can hear us talk some more. We’ve got a customer webinar coming up on August the 11th. And actually Altus Agency, Joe Savage, that Lauren mentioned earlier, will be joining us for that to talk about his experience with Visual Editor. We’ve also got, a week after that, August the 18th, is our Litmus Live session. Where I know, Jason, you’ll be talking about templates, and then I’ll get to join you to talk a little bit about what we have [crosstalk 00:30:02] the product related to that. So yeah, looking forward… I mean, join us live for those or catch the recordings, that’s the beauty of the Litmus Live everywhere this year. So looking forward to those.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah. I’m excited to chat about templates, and however our customers has been using Visual Editor on Litmus Live day on the 18th. To get kind of an inside look on their workflow and their process, and just what it’s enabled their team to do and really scale out their production of email campaigns. So that’ll be fun. But yeah, if you’re watching this, listening to this, feel free to check out Visual editor inside of Litmus Builder. It’s available to all of our customers today. You can go to litmus.com to learn more about all of our features. I know we have a blog post up on limits.com/blog, that goes into Visual Editor and some of the new features in our quarter three release.

Jason Rodriguez:
So definitely check out those resources, and we’d love to hear your feedback on Visual Editor, or really anything else Litmus related for that matter. You can always reach hello@litmus.com. But thank you so much, Lauren and Scott, for this chat about Visual Editor. Again, it’s been amazing to watch this product evolve over time, and finally see it out in the wild, and people putting it to work and making their email creation that much easier. So I appreciate the inside scoop and all of your thoughts on Visual Editor, and hopefully we can do this again sometime soon.

Lauren Smith:
Definitely. Thanks Jason.

Scott Epple:
Thanks, Jason.

Jason Rodriguez:
All right. Cheers.



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