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Oct 28, 2019

Nick D'Amelio, Director of CRM at Slice, shares his passion for CRM and pizza! He also gives us look under Slice's martech hood to see how they're creating interactive emails with Google AMP. Search functionality, feedback forms, browsing… all within an email!!






PJ Bruno: Hello again. Welcome back to Braze For Impact, your MarTech Industry discuss digest. So thrilled to have with me today Gurbir Singh, Product Manager and good friend here at Braze. How are you doing Gurbir?



Gurbir Singh: Good. How good of a friend are we? You still don't play video games with me, so.



PJ Bruno: That's true. Also, he's my Rocket League compatriot that I haven't been able to get a game with yet, but now apparently he's a higher level and I'm a little nervous. To my right, your left, I have with me Nick D'Amelio, client of ours, Senior Manager at CRM at Slice. Nick, how are you?



Nick D'Amelio: What's up guys? It's very great to be here. Beautiful new Braze office,. Very impressive. I need to get in on this Rocket League situation.



PJ Bruno: Oh man.



Nick D'Amelio: If anyone's ever done for some Smash Brothers, I'm definitely the guy to go to.



PJ Bruno: Wow, wow.



Gurbir Singh: You know what? Forget the podcast.



PJ Bruno: We're done. So for all you listeners today, our focus is Google AMP. AMP is accelerated mobile pages. So we're going to talk a little bit about what that means, what that is, how it affects email, and Nick was willing to give us some of his time to show us how he's using it at Slice. So email has been largely the same for the past 40 years or so. People constantly talk about the decline or death of email, but it's still the standard for customer communication. But in the past few years, email has experienced a big level up in terms of interactivity, and no surprise, one of the leading trailblazers is Google as they released Google AMP. Gurbir, you're our resident expert with Google AMP. Can you tell us a little bit about what this is, how it came about?



Gurbir Singh: Yeah. First of all, I hate that I'm the resident expert. I hope I'm not marked that way. But ...



PJ Bruno: You mean a lot more to me than that. You're not ...



Gurbir Singh: Thank you.



PJ Bruno: ... Just an SME.



Gurbir Singh: So Google AMP, as you said, is the accelerated mobile pages. So Google launched this initiative more than five, six years ago. The goal was to have mobile pages render faster, right? So websites that are being shown on a mobile device, just render it faster. One of the big things about this particular initiative was to get rid of JavaScript because JavaScript was viewed as bloat on a website. It caused a lot of loading issues and a lot of server to server exchange of data. So that's how AMP kind of started. Then from there, very recently, I would say in the last two years, Google basically created a AMP for email version of this. So it takes a subset of this overall project. This is all Opensource now and it creates an email version of this. A lot of the functionality that you would normally want to do an email, a lot of that interactivity, which people would do around, that they would want for JavaScript reasons, they now can leverage AMP HTML to do this, right? So that's how AMP email got to be born. Google basically pioneered this. They led the way and made it Opensource, so huge community behind this. Now you're seeing other vendors kind of attach themselves and say, "We also want to support this. This is great." We have a lot of clients who are super excited about it and they see the power that this can have.



PJ Bruno: So the impetus for AMP pages was more about size, I guess, right? But for email it's less about size or ...



Gurbir Singh: It still is about size. So as the mobile device came and people started using more and more of it, it became like, okay, anything I load on a device, the faster it is, the less bloated it is, the better it's going to work on my devices. So we live in a great country where we have fast access to internet, some really powerful phones, but if you think about globally, that's not always true, right? People still have older phones, older 3G systems that they connect to, so Google's attempt was to say I want information spread throughout the world. That's their mission and they want to make sure that can happen regardless of where you are. So AMP was kind of born through their mission statement and said I want to make sure that people can figure out how to get websites loaded on an older phone, things like that. So from their email kind of benefits because email can have a lot more information shown in it, but using this more lightweight newer technology so you can actually send in things like Java forms or carousels and you can have all this interactive cool features that email marketers always wanted to do, but have always been fearful for because it requires a lot more coding, a lot more specialized skills. Now Google's like here's a template. Here's basic components that you can use. Here, just do it. It's kind of cool.



PJ Bruno: Very cool. Also just considering like so many times a blocker is not having the engineering resources to get something done, just putting the power in a marketer's hand, I think it's a beautiful thing. Nick, any hot takes on Google AMP as far as the origin story that Gurbir just gave us? Is it total BS or is it ...



Nick D'Amelio: Lies and forgery, all of it. Yeah. No, 100% correct. Yeah. I only really started paying attention to it when it was announced for email since that's kind of my specialty. But yeah, everything Gurbir said, totally correct. I'm really excited about the speed benefits. You have about maybe three seconds of an email loading before a user just says, "Oh, this is blank. I'm going to close out, delete it." Also the functionality is just going to be incredible. It's a total step change in email.



PJ Bruno: Nick, let's hear a little bit more about your story before we jump into all the facets of Google AMP and the functionality. So you're pretty excited about interactive email obviously.



Nick D'Amelio: Yep.



PJ Bruno: And I read on your LinkedIn passion for CRM and pizza, and I've learned now that you are also a pizza maker.



Nick D'Amelio: That is correct. Yeah. So that actually came before my time at Slice and I think resulted in my time at Slice, but always been a big chef, but pizza I developed a serious love for. I've got a ton of equipment in my apartment. I have a baking steel, which is kind of like an enhanced version of a baking stone. I once hacked my oven to get to temperatures that probably were not safe for a Weehawken, New Jersey apartment.



PJ Bruno: Hacked the oven.



Nick D'Amelio: Yeah, very irresponsible, but all in the name of good pizza. Yeah, and I've always just been really passionate about kind of the craft and artisianry of pizza making.



PJ Bruno: So a passion for CRM, a passion for making pizza, and you play Smash Brothers. Are you single?



Nick D'Amelio: No.



PJ Bruno: See there's the rub.



Nick D'Amelio: I have a very wonderful girlfriend.



PJ Bruno: There is the rub.



Nick D'Amelio: There you go.



PJ Bruno: Well, I hope she plays Smash with you.



Nick D'Amelio: Yep, she does.



PJ Bruno: Awesome. Well dude, why don't you just take us through your journey because it looks like you got a lot of really cool things that you've had on your plate.



Nick D'Amelio: Yeah, totally. It's been kind of an interesting little journey. So I majored in Media Studies and Communications and German in college, so a bit of a weird combination. Where that landed me was a little German medical publisher actually in the same neighborhood my office is in now, Flat Iron District. So yeah, they said basically, "Hey, you're a child and you know about the internet. Why don't you handle our content management system? Why don't you handle our social media and why don't you handle our email marketing?" And not knowing anything about any of these things I said, "Sure, that sounds great." Yeah. So I kind of learned as I went and of those three kind of components I really kind of honed in on email marketing. That was where I saw the most impact. At the time at that company it was really the channel that was most trackable so I could directly see the impact I was having on the business, how many textbooks we sold as I was sending out these emails. So pretty exciting for a young kid. That led to my next role, which was purely email marketing, email marketing specialist at Macmillan Publishers, a little bit bigger of a publisher. They had a really interesting program. I was kind of in charge of the technical aspects. We had a grand total of around 20 users in our ESP at the time, which was exact target, none of whom had any coding experience. So I was on kind of QA duty, cleanup duty, so I got to learn a ton about kind of the ins and outs of email and email coding in particular and really kind of coming to grips with the frustrations that Google AMP, is actually going to address in terms of layout, in terms of functionality, stuff like that. So eventually I got a little tired of dragging a very ancient industry behind me in terms of trying to do new things and digital marketing, so I moved over to the startup world. I was at an ad tech company in the travel space called Intent Media. That was mostly B2B focused, which wasn't quite as exciting to me. I was still kind of longing for that kind of interaction with a customer. So eventually that led me to Casper, the mattress guys. That was a really exciting phase.



PJ Bruno: I have a Casper actually.



Nick D'Amelio: Oh nice. How do you like it?



PJ Bruno: I do like it. Great mattress.



Nick D'Amelio: How do you like their emails?



PJ Bruno: I ...



Nick D'Amelio: Tread lightly.



PJ Bruno: Yeah. You know what? Are they a client? Are they a client? Do we know? They're not. It doesn't matter. You know why? Because I love the branding. It's all over the subway. Simple. Beautiful. Sold me on the branding and sold me at the end of the day, the product. Big fan, Casper.



Gurbir Singh: And if anybody from Casper is listening, you should come join Braze.



PJ Bruno: Yeah, come join Braze. Why not? We'll take good care of you.



Nick D'Amelio: Yeah. Go for it.



PJ Bruno: We'll take your email marketing campaigns. We'll make them beautiful.



Nick D'Amelio: It's funny. We're on a podcast right now and maybe we could get them to sponsor us considering that's kind of what they do.



PJ Bruno: That is what they do.



Nick D'Amelio: This is brought to you by Casper Mattresses.



PJ Bruno: I may or may not edit that out. So from Casper then, I guess how long have you been at Slice now?



Nick D'Amelio: A little over two years now.



PJ Bruno: Okay. So about two years ago made the jump from Casper to Slice. Pizza's your passion. Everything was starting to coalesce. This makes sense. What was the email programming like when you inherited that at Slice?



Nick D'Amelio: Needed a little work. It was at a period of time where they were struggling to find an identity. They had just rebranded from an entirely different experience a couple of years earlier. Slice was formerly known as My Pizza and then kind of brought in some new people and rebranded. Yeah, so still trying to find their identity in terms of the branding, and then in terms of the technical aspects of the email program, very limited. Not much in the way of engaging email templates. Their audience size was incredibly small. They had limited it for effectively no reason. I had the suspicion that the IPs actually had not been properly warmed because we were seeing incredibly low open rates that really shouldn't have been like that.



PJ Bruno: You didn't find out whether it was improperly warmed or not? You just were like, All right, well let's just find a solution.



Nick D'Amelio: Yeah, kind of the assumption based on what I knew at the time about engagement levels and now based on kind of the improvements we've seen, I think there was definitely some behind the scenes stuff wrong with the deliverability.



PJ Bruno: You got got to warm those IPs.



Nick D'Amelio: Yeah. Yeah, Very important.



PJ Bruno: Like a pizza.



Nick D'Amelio: Exactly.



PJ Bruno: You're going to eat cold dough?



Nick D'Amelio: The difference is pizza is still good cold. IPs are no good when they're cold.



PJ Bruno: You've got to preheat. Get those IPs up.



Nick D'Amelio: Yeah, that's true.



PJ Bruno: For those of us who don't know what Slice is, why don't you explain what Slice is for those sad, sad folks that don't have it in their lives.



Nick D'Amelio: Oh yeah. We've got to correct that. So yeah, Slice is basically online ordering for pizza. People have used online ordering platforms for their favorite restaurants before. We are exclusively focused on pizza, which lets us do a couple of things. We can provide an experience that's explicitly tailored to pizza. So a lot of other places, getting half pepperoni and half peppers and onions involves writing out special instructions that the shop may or may not see. We kind of have a little bit of a pizza builder within the app so you can choose which items you want on each half, which is technology that local pizzerias have been kind of slow to adopt.



PJ Bruno: Because that's the charm of the mom and pop set up, right?



Nick D'Amelio: Exactly. Yeah. It's kind of low tech. It's very homey, very local, but the problem is these guys are kind of getting killed in the space by some of the larger pizza players. So we really want to kind of get them into the digital age and get people ordering online because that's where our customers want to be. Yeah.



PJ Bruno: So what's the differentiator for Slice? What makes you guys stand out above the rest?



Nick D'Amelio: Yeah, so there's a couple of things. A lot of the other places you can get pizza online, you've got the big chains and then you've got kind of the, what we call aggregators, kind of the big, big online ordering companies. Main difference between us and the larger chains, you're getting that mom and pop quality, which is really important. Main difference between us and the big online ordering companies is that those companies actually take kind of an enormous cut out of the restaurant's pocket when a user orders online. Basically what we do is provide marketing and technology and online ordering, paid search, a ton of services to these pizzerias for a very small flat fee on every order, which really allows them to grow their businesses and keep local pizza alive.



PJ Bruno: God, I love that. Gerb, you're a pizza guy I've got to assume.



Gurbir Singh: I do. I love pizza. [crosstalk 00:14:57].



PJ Bruno: What's your type? What's your poison?



Gurbir Singh: I actually just like a nice, good margarita pizza.



PJ Bruno: Oh yeah.



Gurbir Singh: If you can do that well, I'm a customer.



Nick D'Amelio: Oh yeah, absolutely. Did you know that yesterday was the official birthdate of the margarita pizza?



Gurbir Singh: I did not know that.



PJ Bruno: What year was that?



Nick D'Amelio: 1889. Queen Margarita of Italy visited a small Focacceria in Naples and he kind of adorned the pizza with the traditional tomato sauce, but also basil and mozzarella to represent the colors of the Italian flag. She apparently wrote a letter kind of praising this creation and yeah, that was the birth of the margarita pizza.



Gurbir Singh: I'm surprised you didn't order some margarita pizza today for this podcast. I'm kind of disappointed now.



PJ Bruno: Well, you know what? You guys just ruined the surprise because when we wrap up, guess where we're going?



Nick D'Amelio: Oh man.



Gurbir Singh: Margarita pizza.



Nick D'Amelio: Nice.



Gurbir Singh: Or is it just Margaritas?



PJ Bruno: When was the birthday of buffalo chicken slice?



Nick D'Amelio: Oh, I do not know that.



Gurbir Singh: It was like 10 years ago.



Nick D'Amelio: Yeah, probably.



Gurbir Singh: It doesn't matter. It's not real pizza.



PJ Bruno: Not my slice, man. Not my slice.



Nick D'Amelio: Yeah. Yeah.



PJ Bruno: All right, cool. Let's jump back into your time at Slice because you take the reins. You had to clean house a little bit with IP, with deliverability. Obviously you have to create some of kind of like your first onboarding user journey things. When did interactivity become a priority for you?



Nick D'Amelio: So yeah, we've always wanted to provide kind of a delightful experience to the user because pizza is inherently delightful, so we explored some other vendors for interactivity a couple of months into my time, but none of them were really a great fit. But now with Google kind of putting this out there, basically giving it away for free, we're really excited to start jumping into it again.



PJ Bruno: It's just free then.



Nick D'Amelio: Pretty much. I mean, Gurbir, correct me if I'm wrong, but there's no charge to use it and yeah, it's just ... Yeah.



Gurbir Singh: Yeah, AMP's free. You just have to basically register with Google right now. But I believe that's also going to change in the long run as it becomes a more community-focused initiative.



PJ Bruno: Of course. They're probably looking for champions and then eventually it's like ...



Gurbir Singh: Yeah, I think right now it's like you get registered so your email can render within Gmail, but as soon as some of the other ISPs like Yahoo and Outlook who have signed on make this change on their end, I think that process is going to slightly get updated as well.



Nick D'Amelio: Right, makes sense.



PJ Bruno: Let's get into the nitty gritty details. How is Slice leveraging Google AMP for email?



Nick D'Amelio: Yeah, so we've got a couple of use cases lined up. We have a working prototype of our AMP emails right now, which is awesome. We have an email coder out in Macedonia on my team. His name's Arso. Arso, if you're listening, you are the man. He basically was able to ...



PJ Bruno: Shout out to Arso. He is the man.



Nick D'Amelio: He is the man. He was able to put this thing together in no time flat. So we are ready and raring to go once we have everything in place for him. But yeah, there's a couple of use cases that we've gotten really excited about. One as we've kind of alluded to is just the layout and design options that you get. Anything just as simple as an accordion menu or a sidebar or an image carousel, who doesn't want to scroll through a bunch of images of delicious pizza? It just kind of gets people in the mood.



PJ Bruno: I'm starving right now actually.



Nick D'Amelio: Yeah, I know me too.



PJ Bruno: Just talking about it I felt my salivation gland just start going insane.



Nick D'Amelio: This is my life every day by the way, is just stock imagery of pizza and photo shoots from pizzerias just constantly on my screen. Oh, it's torture.



PJ Bruno: All right, so what else? Other functionality.



Nick D'Amelio: Yeah, other stuff that we're incredibly excited for, gathering customer feedback just directly within the body of the email. So Google AMP will have form submission available for emails. I would love to just have a user review a pizzeria just right in their inbox. Just make it incredibly easy so we can surface that data up to all our other users and continue our mission of just being the authority on pizza.



PJ Bruno: That's exciting, man. You guys are on that. That front wave.



Nick D'Amelio: Yeah, exactly. It's exciting times. As we've talked about email hasn't changed in, you know, basically since the inception of HTML email. So this is the first real turnabout in a very long time.



Gurbir Singh: I'm curious how this change for you guys, because I've heard this comment from other email marketers where a lot of the attribution they do today is driving traffic towards a website and a lot of the functionality you're actually talking about right now will allow customers obviously to remove that friction and just do it within the inbox, but now you're not going to be able to track website traffic.



Nick D'Amelio: Exactly.



Gurbir Singh: Email budgets when they're handed out at corporations, they're typically on what can you drive to the website? Now all of a sudden you're going to lose that. I'm wondering does Slice have a strategy for that or any thoughts on that area?



Nick D'Amelio: We have not gone into it yet. You're right, just because this is such a step change, it's going to be kind of difficult to explain this to a lot of folks, especially when there's money involved. But if we can prove out the ability to kind of interact and eventually hopefully even transact in the body of an email, I think things will start to change slowly over time.



Gurbir Singh: Cool.



Nick D'Amelio: So no plan yet, but thank you for putting that in my head because I'll probably need to plan for that.



Gurbir Singh: I just want to make sure Arso gets paid. That's all.



Nick D'Amelio: Oh yeah.



PJ Bruno: Well guys, this has been awesome. Nick, thanks so much for coming in.



Nick D'Amelio: Yeah, absolutely.



PJ Bruno: Gurbir, thanks for giving me some of your time, bud. Always appreciate it.



Gurbir Singh: Anytime.



PJ Bruno: And Rocket League.



Nick D'Amelio: Yeah, let's do it.



Gurbir Singh: Rocket League and pizzas?



PJ Bruno: Rocket league and pizzas.



Nick D'Amelio: Boom.



PJ Bruno: Thanks for listening, guys. Come back again and see us.