All posts by Annabel Youens

Annabel Youens

About Annabel Youens

I'm a co-founder and CMO at AE. I believe that truly successful internet businesses have to connect people. {wave} When I'm not online I'm exploring beautiful Vancouver Island. Things I love: everything scifi, literary fiction, coffee, Google Music, my workhorse sewing machine and board games.

Every two years, Jeff and I try to visit our Enterprise clients. For this reason, traveling has become a constant part of our lives as co-founders. To be honest, when I first started traveling for work, it felt rather glamorous. Now it’s just a fact of our business lives. (Jet lag is no laughing matter!)

One of the reasons we make time to travel is that it’s so nice to meet clients in person. Sometimes I talk to people over email for years before I finally get to meet them in person. It makes the biggest difference to see someone’s smile and hear their voice. I also love seeing people’s personalities come through in how they sit, how they laugh, and what they wear.

I’m not a huge fan of the term “building relationships” because every marketer tosses it around, but that’s exactly what these trips do. I get to know people beyond their email addresses and their product needs. I hear about a recent vacation to Italy, find out what it’s like to be an empty-nester, and learn where to find the best coffee in the area. It’s a great reminder that we’re all unique people and we all want to be understood.

Our recent trip over the Atlantic took us to the UK.

Appreciation Engine co-founders Jeff Mitchell and Annabel Youens in the UK.
Co-founders Jeff and Annabel take a rainy selfie in the U.K.

On this trip, I finally got to meet members of the French team from one of the major labels we work with. It felt like meeting old friends… ones I’d never met before.

Jeff and I visited a number of record label offices. We caught up with technical partners and visited new media companies we are just getting to know. There was a lot of discussion around data privacy, the upcoming GDPR regulations  — and not to mention, how on earth did Cambridge Analytica get access to all that data?

Our clients’ data security is always top of mind for us. Finding insights in customer data is what we do, but we’ve never engaged in scraping data. We have a strict policy of being transparent about what we use and why we use it. In the end, our insights are meant to increase trust between companies and their customers. Our social login tool is a digital handshake that lets the customer say, “hey, here’s some of my data” and the company says “Thanks. We’ll keep it safe and use it to make your life better.” Data insights can be used to send you better offers, recommendations, and tailored content. Wouldn’t you love getting emails that talk about exactly what you’re interested in?

Data & Privacy: Where do we go from here?

Our discussions about customer data in the EU vs. in the US got me thinking about how to help my fellow marketers make sense of what’s going on with data privacy right now. At the moment, I’ve got a bunch of arrows, lines, and scribbles written down on a piece of paper. I’ll be transforming it into something you can use to make decisions and build better privacy practices for your company. Stay tuned — you’ll be the first to know when our data and privacy flow chart is ready.


Appreciation Engine co-founder and CTO Jeff Mitchell having a pint in London.
Co-founder and CTO Jeff enjoys a pint in London.

There is a lot of digital chatter about the GDPR changes coming in May and Facebook’s announcement earlier this month that it will overhaul the way it ranks content on its news feed. Both of these things make me feel better about marketing because true marketing work is about building relationships.

Building relationships is no easy task.

You have to look at every customer touch point and focus on the fact that the end user is a real person. That person is busy, they have families and friends to spend time with, grocery shopping to do, bathroom sinks to clean and time to rest at night.

These changes mean that brands and companies who treat their end customers like breathing humans with limited time will be winning. And that makes me happy because the hard work that smart digital marketers are doing every day will be paying off.

Digital Marketing in 2018 is NOT About:

  1. Pushing out content
  2. Buy, buy, buy
  3. Unboxing (ugh!)
  4. Impersonal marketing (Hello customer xyz!)
  5. Black Friday specials
  6. Faceless emails

Digital Marketing in 2018 IS About:

  1. Being useful
  2. Exposing me to new ideas
  3. Resonating with my values
  4. Brands not taking themselves too seriously
  5. Respecting my time
  6. Being genuine


Build Real Relationships

If you’re a marketer who cares about building real relationships with your customers, try a few of these:

1. Be Useful

Nobody likes a friend who only talks about themselves: “…me!” We’ve all had one of those friends!  If we don’t like people who behave that way, why would we like a brand that behaves that way? A “me-me-me!” brand is one that always talks about itself and its problems and successes. If you’re building a brand and doing that, stop it right now!  Be a brand that comes from a place of service and share stories your customers can use.

Leslie Ziegler interviewed for First Round on branding.
Image courtesy of First Round

First Round Review — Getting Useful
A startup fund that produces amazing content for founders. 

This article on brand strategy gives you a great taste.

“The branding choices you make now are building your company as much as the programming language or CRM software you select.”

— Leslie Ziegler, Rock Health (interviewed by First Round)

2. Show Me New Things

Doing the same old thing is comforting. I love walking to work the same way every day because it feels nice. But science shows us that doing things differently — even changing your route to work — changes your brain. It helps you retain more information and be more successful. The same thing happens when we’re exposed to new ideas.

Be a brand that brings new ideas, challenges your customers, and helps them master their world. Open up those neural pathways and offer something new and valuable.

The Story of Microfibers video by The Story of Stuff.
A screenshot from The Story of Microfibers

The Story of Stuff — Bringing New Ideas

A movie kicked off a movement focused on how we buy and use our stuff. 

This video about microfibers is a wealth of new information.

Every time we wash synthetic fabrics, whether they’re made from recycled bottles or brand new materials, super tiny pieces of plastic called microfibers wash off and flow down the drain — up to hundreds of thousands each wash.” — “The Story of Microfibers”


3. Resonate With My Values

We naturally surround ourselves with people who feel like members of our tribe. Most likely this means that we have similar core values. Values are important because they are guideposts that help us make decisions in our lives and remind us what we stand for.

Just as we all have our own personal values, brands also have values. When these values are clearly posted, you quickly get a feel about what the brand stands for. Today values are having a resurgence. It’s becoming clear that not only do you have to state your values, but you have to follow through with actions. Be a brand that takes a stand and lives up to that.

Some zany art for Lyft's Round Up & Donate initiative.
Image courtesy of Lyft

Lyft — Sharing Values 

Their values couldn’t be more clear and different from Uber. I love them and what they stand for.

Lyft’s Round Up & Donate initiative is a perfect example.

“The more we ride, the more we raise. Support the causes that you believe will make the world a better place.” — Lyft

4. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously

Let’s be honest, most companies we interact with everyday are not saving lives. They want to be successful, make money and return money to their shareholders. If you’re not a successful business, you can’t survive. But being a successful business doesn’t mean you have to be uptight.

I love a brand that reflects humor, spontaneity and positive messaging in kooky ways. It’s an important part of our daily lives to step back, reflect and inject humor where we can. I like to think of humor as the connective tissue that holds our relationship together. Be a brand that isn’t a stuffed shirt.

MailChimp made this graph showing the top emojis used by their clients over the holidays.
Image courtesy of MailChimp’s blog

MailChimp — Being Lighthearted
An email platform that m
akes everything fun. How can you not love that monkey!

This fun article is a great example of MailChimp showing its playful side!

“There was a 34% increase from 2016 to 2017 in total emoji used by MailChimp customers during the holiday season. ? was the top emoji used in subject lines, followed by ?, ?, ?, and ?.” — Kasia, MailChimp writer

5. Respect My Time

Don’t make me jump through digital hoops to get on your mailing list. Don’t tease me with content and then not provide it when I visit your website. Don’t send me an email newsletter every week just because you should (no you shouldn’t – see Be Useful).  Don’t send out a Black Friday coupon because everyone else is doing it. Be a brand that delivers something meaningful to your customer.

An example of a newsletter from Note to Self.
Image courtesy of Note to Self

Note to Self — Delivering Meaningful Content

One of my favorite podcasts, Note to Self, gently prods me when a new podcast is online and always includes other content that’s valuable. They curate for me and save me time.

In this episode of the podcast, Note to Self talks to Anya Kamenetz to provide meaningful content.

“How do we know if we’re doing screen time right? Even if we don’t have kids, just for ourselves. Well, that is the answer that we’re looking for today — with help from my friend, NPR’s Education Correspondent Anya Kamenetz.” — Manoush Zomorodi, Note to Self host

6. Be Genuine

Stop doing what everyone else is doing. You don’t have the same customers as your competitors. Those customers don’t have the same problems. Everyone’s customers care about different things, so why on earth would you be trying to communicate with them in the same way.  Be a brand that respects the time I take to read your newsletter and click on your links. And most of all, make it personal so I care.

The team at Sago Mini being genuine.
Image courtesy of Sago Mini

Sago Mini — Being Genuine 

This brand for kids’ apps and toys is always about being themselves. In this blog post, a team member gives a candid account of how she came up with an idea for a new game.

“I started thinking about the brutal but beautiful winters in my hometown of Edmonton, and all of the fun activities we used to do in the snow.” — Teena Saur, Sago Mini Director of Brand & Marketing


How do you form connections with people as a marketer? We want to hear about all your smart marketing ideas! Tell us in the comments or on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or LinkedIn.

“Morning, team!” I call out as I swing into my office. I run a technology startup company with my husband. We’re co-founders, growing our company in the close-knit tech community of Victoria BC Canada, and we’re parents. We’re raising a business at the same time as we’re raising a preschooler. It’s everything we wanted… and it’s all happening at the same time.

My brain sometimes fizzes over with a potent mix of thoughts related to running the company and managing our family life. Here’s a glimpse at some of the thoughts typically running through my head, before little feet pitter-patter into my bedroom:

Okay, first I’ll answer that question from Tom about the problem he’s having with his account.

Anthony needs the final copy for that marketing piece.

My mum is calling.

What am I going to make for dinner tonight? I think we have one onion left…

We need to get that form in for A’s preschool.

Oh man, there’s an alert from Google telling me I have a Skype call in 10 minutes.

Is there any more coffee left in the kitchen?

Does that sound familiar? For most of us who work online, our work lives and personal lives are colliding, at an overwhelming rate of speed. It’s exciting — and exhausting. From the moment I open the doors of our office, until the time I bundle up in my coat, I’m fizzing like a coke float. Most days I love being switched on, but at 5 pm, I don’t want any more stimulation. I want to be more like a mug of earl grey tea.

An old-school hack to unplug, de-fizz and find my focus.  

Last year I tried something I’ve been meaning to try since I was 8 years old — sewing.

When I was little, I was terrified on Halloween by our fun-loving neighbours down the road who jumped out at me from the bushes. I screamed and laughed… and loved it. Halloween is my favourite fun holiday. What’s better than being a completely different personality for a night?

I start thinking about my costume in early January — yes, right after all the tinsel and mince pies. My favorite part is planning, looking at ideas, thinking about the key pieces of the costume and then figuring out construction methods. I’ve always been a stapler, papier mâchée, and glue kind of costume maker — which gets the job done, but can be very limiting. But I’ve envied the home-sewn vampire cloaks and patchwork Raggedy Andy outfits.

Every year, I’ve vowed, ONE DAY I WILL SEW MY OWN HALLOWEEN COSTUME. So when I turned 40 last year I figured it was time to get that needle and thread stitching.

Darth Vader Halloween costume in high schoolDarth Vader in Junior High — notice the cape, a tied piece of black fabric. Yeah, I’ve always been a Star Wars fangirl.

Why sewing works for me:

I’ve tried many “hacks” to de-stress from the startup lifestyle. Meditation, walking, knitting, cooking and going out drinking just don’t have the effect of working on a sewing project that’s meaningful to me.

Sewing is the perfect foil for my startup life. It forces me to slow down because I’m a beginner. I’m deep in the early stages of mastering a skill and I have to use my whole brain to figure out how a one-dimensional picture on a website becomes a two-dimensional group of pattern pieces and then I have to turn that into a three-dimensional piece of clothing.

Sewing patterns for digital marketersTrying to sort out adjustments across 8 seam lines with the help of Nancy Zieman.

I am forced to think about one thing very intensely for a long period of time. You can’t just switch over to answering a text message when you’re figuring out how to add 2 inches to your waist pattern across 8 seams without a marked waist point — sewists in the house give me a boo-yeah!

How it benefits me:

After spending deep time with my scissors (seam ripper!) and trusty 1972 Husqvarna, I am calmer. I don’t have that fizzle in my brain — or my stomach. That deep gut fluttering, so common after one hour in my email, disappears. I’m also more focused and less keen to pick up my phone and check out Instagram, my social media addiction of choice. The less information I consume, the less I want to consume. It’s a nice feeling to have and one I’m determined to hold onto as much as possible.

Sewing machine for digital marketerMy mother’s 1972 Husqvarna in my care.

What would work for you?

Is there a complex skill you’ve always wanted to learn? Woodworking? How to play the guitar? Cooking indian food from scratch? I say give it a go. I know you don’t have time and you feel exhausted when you get home from the office. But, I know it will support you to be more productive.

Let’s all band together with a rallying cry for less distractions and more focus. Go forth and learn my friends!

Handmaid's Tale costume Halloween 2017This year’s Halloween home sewn cape and cap for a Handmaid. Praise Be!