Jun 26, 2020

The Art & Science of Email Marketing

Karen Talavera photo

byKaren Talavera

Posted on Jun 26, 2020

" ...Email is one of those channels where there are so many nuances. You could get pretty deep in the weeds. There's an art and a science to it, and people are often so busy in the trenches, that they don't have time to come up for air, figure out what they should be doing, how they can do it better, and really put some true strategy to this channel. "

Experienced email marketing consultant Karen Talavera covers all the bases of this tried-and-tested technique which is going through a resurgence. In chatting with Will Francis, she explains how to evaluate email ROI, the best programs to help you, how to make a plan, common mistakes and her predictions for how email will evolve.

Podcast Transcript - Email Marketing


Will: Welcome to "Ahead of the Game," a podcast brought to you by the Digital Marketing Institute. This episode is a big Q&A, where we explore an area of marketing through a leading industry expert. I'm your host Will Francis, and today I'll be talking to Karen Talavera, a digital marketing specialist based in South Florida, U.S.A. Karen runs Synchronicity Marketing, a data-driven digital marketing consultancy. She's recognized as a global expert, having helped some of America's most recognizable brands improve their e-commerce performance. And, of course, a key channel for doing that is email, something Karen has deep experience and expertise in, and she's going to share that with us in this episode. Karen, welcome to the podcast.

Karen: Hey, Will, thanks. It's great to be here.

Will: Thank you. Thanks so much for your time and joining us to talk all about email marketing today. But first of all, before we get really into that, tell me what you do in email marketing. Just on, you know, a day to day level, what's your involvement in email marketing?

Karen: That's a great question because there's a lot that somebody could be doing in email marketing. Where I focus is on strategy, education, and optimization. So what that means is I'll come in as a consultant, a subject matter expert, a thought leader, and work with clients who need to figure out their programs, how to really optimize use of the channel, get better performance from what they have, and really wanna succeed. And these days, that is most companies. Most companies have already been doing email marketing for a pretty long time, you know, at least a decade. But email is one of those channels where there are so many nuances. You could get pretty deep in the weeds. There's an art and a science to it, and they're often so busy in the trenches, that they don't have time to come up for air, figure out what they should be doing, how they can do it better, and really put some high level thought, some true strategy to this channel. So that's where I come in. I also do a lot of professional education in the form of training, seminars, workshops, at conferences, or with, you know, all kinds of learning companies and associations. But really, I wanna help people be able to use this channel to get so much more out of it because I think it's a connective tissue of digital marketing. And it's one of the first digital marketing channels we had and going strong today.

Will: That's right. So connected with all the other channels, isn't it?

Karen: Oh, exactly. Yeah. It's this beautiful... It's like at this nexus of online and offline. That was certainly true in the early days when, you know, early adopters were moving from traditional direct response channels, like mail or catalog over to the internet and e-commerce. But now we've got everything from, you know, I don't know how many social media platforms, to mobile, to in-app messaging, YouTube, Slack, everything, yeah, that it needs to connect to.

Will: But that's the thing with all these new channels, these social channels apps, lots of different ways to communicate with people. Hasn't that sort of contributed to some sort of resurgence of email because you're kind of cutting through the noise, you're going straight to people's inboxes? And I think a lot of brands stopped... They took their eye off email for a while and got distracted by social channels and what have you. But now a lot are coming back to email and realizing the importance of it. Are you seeing that?

Karen: I'm absolutely seeing that. I'm glad you brought it up because there was this, I don't know what to call it, interim period. You know, if we take email back to being about 20 years old, at this point, you know, it really kind of started around the dawn of the millennium, where it got a lot of traction, slightly before that but, you know, about 10 years in is when social really flourished. Smartphones were, you know, commonplace. People were texting like crazy, everything evolved. So marketers, they had to go learn all this other stuff. We had to learn the whole system and the totality of it. But the whole time, email was there... You know, it's very unglamorous but it was the workhorse. You know, it's like the plow horse of digital marketing doing its job, carrying the weight, bringing in sales online, growing awareness, and the smartest brands and the best brands, you know, kept it going, even though they may not have paid a whole lot of attention or they may not have had time, you know, for a lot of that strategic thinking that I think they're coming around to now. And there were tons of predictions about email's demise, right? Email is dead. Email was dead and has come back to life at least about seven times by my count. My colleagues and I in the industry just laugh every time there's, you know, some other article about that.

But, you know, to just pay that a tiny bit of justice, yes, there was a shift in personal communication, for sure. You know, instead of emailing jokes and messages to everybody, your friends and your family, people went to text, but on the business and commercial side, the marketing side of things, that really didn't happen. And even though marketers, I think, had to explore social and had to see, you know, is there something that's gonna work better for us? They couldn't find anything as universal as email and as private and as permanent, and with as much real estate to get a message and an experience across. And that is what has, you know, I think sort of illuminated its resurrection, if you will, you know, or capture people's attention yet again to see that it's been doing its job all along and it still works really well for certain things, for a lot of things. And hey, you know, marketers are saying, "Let's really take some focus, look at what we can do with this and probably increase our investment. And that is what I'm seeing today, a lot of increased investment in doing email better and smarter. And that's probably gonna lead to something else we're gonna talk about, which is technology. You know, doing it smarter also means a lot more sophistication from the tech and the platform standpoint.

Will: And do you think in those kind of dark days for email anyway where social took the limelight and you write the worst stories about...I remember hearing stories about new university students weren't even being given email addresses anymore and, you know, in the future, these people weren't gonna have email addresses. Of course, what actually happened is they grew up, they needed to get a job, and they needed an email address. But in those earlier days, I think there was some...email had a bit of a tag of having some quite shady practices, you know, the buying of lists around it. It was a bit like the email guys in an agency were a bit like the SEO or the SEM guys. They maybe had a slight dark arts aspect, element to them, but also it was on the face of it quite boring as well and not quite as much as shiny ball. Do you think email is a more ethical and honest channel, especially in light of kind of recent regulations, things like GDPR?

Karen: Yeah, I think there's always been a really ethical and honest side of email and there's always been a shady side, but that's true of...I'm gonna argue that's true of any digital marketing channel.

Will: True.

Karen: I've seen it, yeah, with search affiliate. I don't wanna necessarily use affiliate as a dirty word, but unfortunately, the connotation that comes up for a lot of people when they hear affiliate marketing is, "I'm going to get stuff forced upon me. I'm gonna get an inbox flooded with spam. I'm going to get, you know, pop-ups and, you know, windows, and display ads, and stuff targeted at me when I'm browsing the web that I can't get out of or I can't get rid of, and I don't want it." And unfortunately, yeah, that stuff was there in the early days of email. So on the acquisition side of marketing, which was a scramble to just get new customers, there was a lot of affiliate stuff going on. There were some shady data practices that are a little harder to get away with today, but were happening. But I also remember in the years of early adoption, the retention side of marketing, so using email to speak to customers that a company already had, retain them and grow their business, was really where most of the adoption was happening, because the line in the sand that got sent very early, and I would venture to say globally, but certainly in the U.S. was that this is not gonna work unless we had people's permission.

If this is not an opt-in channel, we're gonna ruin it. And, you know, a lot of those affiliate and, you know, unsolicited campaigns that were going out the door and the stuff that shows up in junk boxes, junk folders, and everything today, have proven that true because if someone doesn't want to hear from you, they're gonna shut you out of email, they have the means to do it technically today that they might not have had 20 years ago or they're going to ignore you. And it's just not gonna work and it's money, you know, down the drain. So, again, from the beginning, you know, about two-thirds of the use was for retention. And the smart brands were collecting email addresses from their customers, getting them to grant explicit permission to say yes, to opt in to check boxes, you know, whatever took, asking them over the phone. And that opened the door and they've grown it from there. So, luckily, you know, any of the kind of shady or acquisition stuff that was going on, hasn't really gained that much traction, I would say. Yeah, and it hasn't been a bad apple that has spoiled the whole bushel.

Will: Funnily enough in the last couple of years, probably the most common question I get asked by clients, by delegates, is usually something to do with the social algorithms. And, you know, marketers feel really frustrated by social algorithms and how low organic reach has gone. Do you think that's a big reason that people have started to put their efforts more into email?

Karen: You know, there's been a whole generation of maturity that's happened since the early days of email. So much has changed, it's almost impossible to pinpoint exactly where the inflection points are. But one of the big inflection points was understanding the difference between paid and owned media. And, you know, once that lexicon was in place and marketers were thinking in those terms, email is owned media. You get an email address with a permission to use it, ideally, which now GDPR and CASL and, you know, legislation far stricter than what is in the U.S. has mandated and you have this open channel to communicate with your customers the way you want to and you own it. And you don't own communication with your Facebook friends or followers or, you know, social media audiences. That's co-owned with those platforms. Those platforms change their rules or, you know, as in search, Google changes their rules. The whole game changes on you overnight. That has not been the case with email. There's nothing really like that happening in email. The ISPs where people, you know... Again, Google, a big player in there, Microsoft, AOL from the early days, Yahoo, would have you...the big hosters of email addresses, of email accounts, while they enable people, you know, to have this, they are the gatekeepers to a certain extent. They are far less determinative of what can be communicated and how it can be communicated than they are in social and search.

Will: It's true, that. It's a really good point, actually, isn't it? The fact that email is proprietary and you can take it, you can export even if your email platform goes down or shuts down or whatever, you can take that data and take it somewhere else and it's yours. Whereas you're absolutely right, who knows which social platforms are even gonna still be here in 10 years, let alone what are they gonna look like and how might they work, and how welcoming they might be as a place for brands? It's really a good point. In light of that kind of trajectory of email into 2020, who do you think are the best brands that are doing it now? You know, and what makes them good at email in 2020?

Karen: I always look at two categories. They've been leading the pack for a long time, e-commerce marketers and publishers. And for obvious reasons e-commerce, now that's a broad category that includes traditional retailers that have gone from brick and mortar to online to really their multi-channel, their omnichannel, to pure-play e-commerce, you know, Amazon, probably eBay the first in that and then, you know, we've got tons of DTC brands that have never had a brick and mortar store. Of course, they have a physical product but they're selling purely online to small, you know, independent mom and pop, like the Etsy sellers of the world, for example. But, you know, let's go back to, like, if you say there's a foundation in retail marketing, in that e-commerce sector, retailers, they've gotten this. They've totally nailed data-driven marketing, audience profiling, all of the basics from years ago. And anybody who's come from, you know, that consumer marketing world and is selling directly online is gonna understand that. So they've always been on the bleeding edge of email. Now, where they've shifted from is from doing heavy promotional kind of buy, buy, buy messages, which in the early days was great. You know, that's like we needed something to do. That's what we wanted to do. There was convenience.

Well, after the inbox gets flooded with, you know, a hundred of your favorite brands asking you to buy every day, you're not gonna be able to keep that up. So they had to find a way to keep people engaged with the brand through this channel. So there's this dual engagement factor. You wanna keep people engaged and in love with getting email and not turned off to the channel, and also engaged if not in love with the brand. So those e-commerce marketers, that whole sector, has very nicely transitioned from heavy promotional cadences to a really great mix of content, of a little bit of entertainment, of a much better frequency, volume. They moved away from one size fits all messaging into much better audience segmentation so they're able to pinpoint exactly who needs what at different times and, you know, really segment and categorize their different customer groups. So they're not talking to everyone the same way, which means right message at the right time. And that turns out to be stuff that people want. The other group I mentioned, the other sector, publishers, they obviously have content. Their whole business is editorial content, often supported by advertising. So they've also had to be nimble and innovate from the beginning. And they have a high relevancy factor. People want content. If you're subscribed to, you know, "The Wall Street Journal," or the "Daily Skimm," or "The Guardian," or whatever it might be, chances are, you know, it's because whatever they're gonna send you, if it's five times a day, if it's once a day, or even if it's once a week, you're gonna put eyeballs on, you're really interested in.

So they've done a better job of almost going the opposite way of instead of just constantly pushing content and editorial which, of course, they're in the business to do, also bringing relevant offers and promotions that align with that editorial, and bringing other experiences to their subscribers that make life easier for them, that enable them to use the content better, or dive deeper, or make their day more convenient, or condense information better. I just started subscribing to something called Axios, which I think has been around for a while. Yeah, just super summarizes, you know, like, what's going on in whatever sector you're interested in, you know, business, science, finance, entertainment because that's what people need. You know, we need stuff boiled down for us so we can digest it faster. So what I've seen in both of these sectors that I would say are, you know, emblematic of the verticals and a lot of the brands that are doing it really well and doing great is they've realized variety, convenience, and enablement is the path to getting people to stay engaged with their inboxes and engaged with them as senders of email. And one size does not fit all. So variety is the spice of life and people are going to tune out, you know, if it's just, you know, the old days of batch and blast, which, if they're not dead, really need to die. If there's anything that needs to die in email, it is the idea of blasting.

Will: Absolutely. Yeah. The key thing that I think has changed is brands have realized that people need value, that people are not gonna take notice of marketing...people are bombarded with hundreds of pieces of branding and marketing every day on the internet. If you don't engage them with something that's truly valuable for them, whether that's in email, or social, or wherever else, then we just...we've actually evolved to become really good at being blind to it. You know, we're blind to lots of marketing maybe because we've tuned out from it. So like you say, they've realized they're about to move from selling to actually dropping something in our inbox that, like, we're quite glad that it arrived there, "Oh, there's something to kind of chew on here, you know, something of value for me, rather than something from a brand that's just for the brand that's asking me to do something for them essentially. And like you say, it's interesting you picked editorial and DTC because their lives depend on it. So they have to...I mean, it's the oxygen of their businesses really, particularly, with direct to consumer and e-commerce because it's so clearly linked to acquisition, to sales. How do you think email has played a role in this absolute boom that we've seen in the last few years of direct to consumer brands, which for anyone listening who doesn't know is as you say a brand who's never had a bricks and mortar store, who doesn't go through wholesalers and retailers, they sell direct to their customer base, and they have a direct first-party relationship with them and their data? So yeah, what role do you think email has played in that?

Karen: You said it best. It is the oxygen, it is the air they have to breathe. Because of all the digital channels, one thing we know about email is it is the number one driver of sales. So when you start to look at ROI, return on investment for every dollar spent because email is so super low cost, it usually gets the highest ROI in terms of just dollars or pounds or, you know, whatever currency but it also usually is the best, from an attribution standpoint, the most direct attributor to sales. So there are influencing channels. And there are, I think, you know, true commerce driving channels. And email, you know, sells. Now that speaks to something we haven't really talked about which is context. As consumers, as people, we have different expectations of different contexts online. If we are in a search engine, we wanna find something. We wanna get questions answered, right? We just wanna get to our destination. If we're in a social media platform, we wanna be in community, we wanna connect. We might be looking for validation. We're not really there to buy in social. Something might spark our interest and we might decide to go down that road, but it is a very different context. And back to search, I mean, we might be in a buying mode and search but we can't assume that about people because they're gonna fire up a search engine for all kinds of reasons.

Now in email, these days, and for most of it, are usually there to, one, get critical information like, "Hey, my bank statement just came, you know, my credit card statement," so we're trying to operate our lives. Two, we're consuming content. So we're getting our alerts and, you know, our editorial, like we talked about, delivered to us. We're getting that little digest size version of info that we need, either because we're super loyal to the source or it's actually more convenient, and more reliable, and more trustworthy than getting it through the other channels, or three, and this is a big one, we want all the offers, promotions, and deals, and we're looking at purchase oriented communications all day long. So we are happy to be buying when we're in the inbox. But, you know, if we're getting heavy promotional stuff pushed on us in social or, like, mobile in-app messages, it might be a turn-off. So that context, that mindset, that people come into these different channels with is huge and DTC brands know that they could sell all day long in email, you know. Now they might have to break that up a little to give people a mental rest, and also tell their brand story, and show their personality. So that's why, you know, some variety, some content mixed in with promotions, some engagers, as I call them, you know, trivia or surveys or whatever, is always helpful. But yeah, email more than other channels has really been that lifeblood of DTC survival.

Will: And where do you think it has the biggest ROI in terms of, you know, the funnel? Is it in the consideration stage or do they get more out of it with repeat buyers? You know, is it a bigger driver of that in terms of its overall ROI?

Karen: Yeah, that's a really good question. And I'm gonna qualify it down to, you know, let's talk consumer products, consumer brands, versus B2B because funnels are much shorter in B2C versus B2B. B2B, long funnels, email is more of an influencer. It's a long game. It's like, you know, dating someone for years and then finally proposing marriage, and there's a lot of information that needs to be exchanged, and a lot that people need to get to know about each other. But in B2C, you know, you're buying cosmetic products, personal care products, and electronics, even a phone, you know, or a Fitbit or whatever, you could probably make your decision pretty quickly. And certainly lower the price point, you know, the faster that is. So search, and to a lesser extent, social, but search and display, as well as mass media channels are the great drivers of getting people aware and interested, and in the door. But the minute they're in the door, and that email address is captured, then you start to see the return on those email dollars by building and really, like, confirming, building, and growing the customer relationship. So, I would say the most ROI is definitely gonna be in repeat purchases because email usually is not the channel that brings somebody in for the initial purchase, anyway.

The initial purchase happens, the email address then gets captured as a result and, you know, the rest goes from there. What the DTC brands are really good at though, and what the publishers are really good at, is monetizing the traffic to their sites because they're also spending a lot to create that awareness, to get those eyeballs to where they need to be, so those businesses can thrive. And one of the ways they do that is to make sure there are copious opportunities for those visitors to sign up for email and that there's a value proposition. And we kinda skirted around that. You said something about value, but really understanding the value prop, understanding what is in it for the subscriber, for the customer is essential to doing email successfully. There is no question about it. It's central to getting people in the channel in the first place and it's absolutely critical to continuing to deliver value down the road. So, you know, even though a lot of, let's say, consumer brands retail, e-tail, e-com can and do get people signed up for their lists before anybody makes a purchase, a vast majority of the time a new subscriber comes in as a result of becoming a new customer. Those are one and the same action. So that's why I have to say, you know, the real ROI is on the long tail of building and enhancing, sustaining the customer relationship and getting people to stay a customer.

Will: Hello, a quick reminder from me that if you're enjoying our podcast series, why not become a member of the DMI so that you can enjoy loads more content from webinars and case studies to toolkits and more real-life insights from the world of digital marketing. Head to the digitalmarketinginstitute.com/aheadofthegame, sign up for free. Now back to the podcast. 
So that's really interesting, actually. So here's a question for you. If I've got an e-commerce brand, should I focus energy on capturing non-customer email addresses? Say I'm a beauty brand, and let's say I start a weekly newsletter with beauty tips in, you know, is that worth spending time and money on building because they're highly likely to convert with email or should I just concentrate on turning as many people into customers as possible and I've got their email addresses anyway?

Karen: Well, those are really good questions. I'm hearing a couple of different questions in there but I think the first thing I heard was should I focus on getting email addresses? Okay, yes, if you are selling anything online, in any category, please, you know, for the love of all things marketing, like, whenever you get the chance, get the email address. Now, assuming you've got, again, short funnel kind of low purchase threshold, most workers will focus on getting a first purchase. You know, like a content program, a newsletter or a bulletin is not gonna be a primary objective. I think it's a very worthy secondary objective for subscriber retention, for channel retention, but it's also a huge investment. All of this content that happens in content marketing, which is a perfect, you know, often forgotten, like, sibling channel to email, I mean, it takes a lot of time and money. Somebody has to create it all. So I'm always leery of advising, I guess I would say, you know, like, true e-commerce brands and marketers to put too much investment into content, just for the sake of having it if they don't already have an existing content program. The advice is more if they have an existing content program, you know, for heaven's sake, leverage that in email, repurpose that content across, you know, a variety of ways. It's a great engager. It's a great asset. But if you don't have it, you should be focused on selling.

Will: That's a really good point, actually. And it's one, just to clarify, is that, yeah, if it's a low price point product, so if you're selling $10 cosmetics, go for the sale. Of course, if you're selling much higher price point things, like cars and houses, and maybe, you know, furniture or what have you, then yes, acquiring emails that are not customers that you can nurture over time because they're much longer funnels, they're much longer-term purchase considerations, that's a good one just for listeners to think about, I think.

Karen: Yeah, I think what we're really saying, Will, is, you know, the best email programs tightly aligned to the customer journey and brands need to know their customer journeys, what they look like. And all of that has to do with the length of the funnel. How many funnels? You know? You know that. When you know that, you know exactly where to put email and what to do with it.

Will: Yeah, yeah, agreed. And so a lot of listeners, I will assume, have dabbled in email marketing. They've probably got a list on a platform like MailChimp with some subscribers and they're blasting them all the same message. They're just doing some very basic stuff. So they're not really fully leveraging email marketing yet. What would your top tips to setting up good platforms, good processes, good working practices to get more out of email? What would be your top tips to those listeners?

Karen: Yeah, that's a great question because I come across smaller businesses all the time that, again, email can be a resource-intensive channel for them. I totally get it. I feel the pain. I've seen the pain. The struggle is real, right? So whether you, you know, are on something like MailChimp, which is more of a small business DIY type of platform or a super sophisticated enterprise-level platform, like a, you know, custom version of Salesforce Marketing Cloud, Adobe, Selligent, you know, I'm not trying to drop names or anything here, but just to give people an idea of the difference, the number one tip I would have is start using the automation features that are available. So even in the more entry-level platforms, like MailChimp or even Constant Contact, there's some basic automation. And automation is, you know, getting technology to do work for you. So, setting up a welcome email, setting up cart or browse abandonment messages. These are triggered programs that just automatically launch and fire off based on subscriber or customer behavior. Now there's more upfront work in getting that done than there is in just blasting everybody on the list with the same message or the weekly special or what have you.

And like I said, when I said the struggle is real, I get that sometimes that's all people are really capable of doing given the resources that they have available to them. But it's worth it to set aside some time and think through a couple of key triggered or automated campaigns that can do a lot of heavy lifting and have a proven track record of bringing money in the door. Welcome campaigns, birthday emails, cart abandon, browse abandon, post-purchase thank you, I've seen in programs literally account, like just those 4 or 5, account for 25%, if not more of all the revenue that comes in from email. And their volumes, like, the number of people they actually get sent to is minuscule compared to the size of a full list. So, you know, you're getting, like, this massive return from the automated programs. You're getting sort of, like, the 80/20 rule happening, where you might send the whole list, promotional emails, and maybe that's 80% of your subscribers, but to that other 20% that's getting the trigger programs, they might actually only be contributing 80% of your revenue. So it's a very interesting mix when you start to look at the data and the numbers behind the efforts.

Will: So automation basically may...is taking some of that heavy lifting and reaching people at quite key moments when they're potentially very highly engaged or highly engageable. So are there any specific kind of tools that you could...other tools you could name check that could help with that? I mean, do you use things like Zapier and, you know, centralized automation platforms?

Karen: You know, there are a lot of value-added platforms. They've always been around in email to either enable automation or better creative. Zapier is great for integrations and middleware. So, you know, if you're an e-commerce marketer running on Shopify, you know, for example, or Magento, super common commerce platforms, and you need those to speak to whatever your email service provider is or email marketing software, then chances are, there is a connector in Zapier. And those are important because if you can get your purchase data and all that purchase behavior and history somehow reflected in the list and the data that's stored in the email marketing platform, then you can do the real hyper-targeted campaigns. But yeah, as far as other things, I've seen some kind of light analytics and, like, customer, almost data science-driven types of things. Windsor Circle comes to mind as a platform that's out there. A lot of these end up getting acquired, so the names change. But, you know, what some of those, kind of, like, analysis audience targeting, automation enablement platforms do is they act like mini customer data platforms, CDPs, which are usually big company types of investments and places where they put all their data, and they do all kinds of analysis on it and targeting, and then they output it to whatever's gonna send the campaigns.

More and more of those kind of features are showing up in email sending platforms and email marketing software. Again, it's gonna take a little more time, investment of time to learn those features and functions in a platform or it's gonna take... So this is, you know, for all of the smaller businesses out there that are on something like MailChimp, and I've nothing against any particular platform, and I think MailChimp is great and I've used it for certain things, but it might take stepping up to the next level of platform that's gonna give you, you know, a few more features, and some more robust connections, and some built-in, pre-built, you know, integrations, or automations, or data analysis. So you don't have to cobble together a couple of different things and figure it out on your own. And yeah, I can name names for those great mid market platforms that are out there. There are so many and some of them are starting to get merged directly with e-commerce platforms. But just as an example, you know, we've seen dotdigital be a leader in the U.K. for a long time and in Europe, you know, and have incredible integrations with Magento. You know, I think they're like a platinum Magento partner. We've seen platforms like Bronto, like Klaviyo, you know, also very strong in that sector and moving that way.

Will: Yeah, that's great. Thanks. So to that same listener, who's, you know, wondering how to improve more generally, their email marketing, if they were about to run a new campaign, through email, what would be your top tips on that kind of more micro level? In terms of setting up a new campaign, what are the things that you think a lot of people miss and what are the things to just make sure that you do and include in an email campaign?

Karen: Well, first know why you're doing it. So, it's gonna boil down to some of the pillars. These are, you know, tried and true foundations of direct response marketing. Audience offer creative, you know, why are you doing it? Who's it going to? What's in it for them? The offer, what's its value prop? What is it gonna look like? Now how does all that translate into email? If you know why you're doing a particular campaign or program, maybe it is, we'll just take a super simple consumer example, you know, clearance sale. Okay? You're gonna do it, whether you do it through email or old school or whatever, who's it gonna go to? Probably everyone. What's in it for them? You know, savings. What needs to happen in email is how do you put some kind of twist on it to make it even more timely, even more interesting? What products do you feature? What do you put in your creative? What do you know about people in terms of what they bought before that might allow you to version or create multiple versions of the message, you know, to different groups? So really thinking through all of that, you know, is job number one. And then, you know, going further and adding more advanced bells and whistles, I guess goes from there.

But to take this up to just sort of, you know, a more 30,000-foot view, what I would say to anyone just getting started in email marketing is before you start firing off campaigns, which tend to be kind of one and done, you know, I wanna promote this this week and this next week is have a plan. And, you know, somebody like me comes into a client with a list of these are the types of campaigns you can do. Let's talk about what's gonna bring revenue and opportunity in the door, and what you are technically capable of doing with the tools that you have, and prioritize. So a lot of those must-have campaigns are automation-driven. And they're not rocket science these days. Like I said, you know, even the entry-level platforms are capable of doing welcome campaigns, you know, and some retargeting. So, figuring out what campaigns should be in the mix and then who you're talking to, and what you should be saying to them, and how often.

Will: That's great. Thanks. And just on the back of that, what do you think are the most common mistakes in email marketing and how can we avoid them?

Karen: Oh, well, that's another great question. The most common ones probably have to do with data practices, believe it or not. It's always fun to, you know, see or point out creative mistakes because they catch the eye. But the ones that can be really damaging are poor data practices. So what I mean by that is getting third-party email list, purchase data, trying to put that into an email sending platform and then, you know, having recipients complain, market as spam or have the platform, you know, shut somebody down or aging data. So, who knows? You know, a company might have acquired another company and the email list is several years old, it hasn't been touched in a long time, a lot of those addresses have gone bad. And lo and behold, the brand tries to send something out, and then there are deliverability issues. So, this is like a very sticky... These waters of permission data and deliverability are a treacherous, you know, ocean to navigate, I guess I would say and all very interconnected because bad data will inevitably result in reputation and deliverability issues for the sender that can be difficult to recover from. And it becomes a matter of people not knowing what they don't know. I would say, like, that's what scares me the most is people don't really know the nuances of how all of that works. It's kind of the hidden side of email marketing that until you're really in it, as a brand, committed to the channel, you may not have encountered so, you know, the best advice I can give to people is if you're starting out, if you're building a list and however you're building a list, get opt-in names with permission, get subscribers to voluntarily sign up, and you will be in the clear and avoid a lot of those rookie mistakes.

Will: Would you use a list cleaning service like NeverBounce or something like that?

Karen: Absolutely. And for all of my clients, and especially anyone that has a list of more than even just a couple of thousand names, which in most B2B...sorry, most B2C situations, a couple of thousand names is a really small email list. But in B2B, it might not be. I always encourage them to use email hygiene. Those services are great. There's a ton of them out there. And any number of them, you know, would work and be reliable. I'm not gonna steer anybody away from anything or toward anything because a clean list is better. However you get it cleaned is better than something that might be really toxic.

Will: It's true. It's a good point about deliverability. And it's not something people talk about much. But it's true that obviously, all the email sending platforms, they essentially rank or they rate the email that goes out based on how people respond to it, how many people open it and engage with it. And they limit its deliverability if they believe it might be spam or it might be to a list that's been bought or that's low quality in some way because it's very important to them to stay whitelisted with the email hosts, isn't it? And so, yeah, it's a really good point about keeping your lists clean, and anyway, you know, who benefits from sending 10,000 emails to email addresses that don't exist or aren't being looked at and engaged with and aren't even relevant people, you know?

Karen: Absolutely. This needs to be a quality, not a quantity approach. In fact, you know, the mantra of this channel should be quality over quantity. But what I've encountered a lot, and this is a legacy mindset from the early days of direct response before digital when people were doing, you know, catalogs and direct mail, the thinking was, "I just wanna get to anybody I can, you know. If I am Macy's, every household, you know, big retailer in the U.S., every household is a prospect for me." So the more the better. And it was darn expensive to do that. You know, well, the rules of the game are different with email. You know? You can't just show up in the inbox uninvited. So, the idea is to find out who's really interested in you or who's already a customer, you know, and then deliver value and you will continue to be invited back. But I see a lot of that legacy mindset, you know, showing up, which is, "Oh, I just gotta, you know, get email addresses any way I can or these are old or they might be bouncing, but I'm gonna just try it anyway." It could really undermine a program.

Will: Indeed. Well, I'm aware we're nearing the end of our conversation. It's been really interesting, but I'd love to know from you, from your experience, and from what you're seeing out there in the industry, what do you think the next few years looks like for email marketing? Do you think that...? And I mean, big changes in the way that we as brands use it, but also in the way that the audience consumes it, what are you seeing emerge there?

Karen: I see a couple of different things. The brightest spot on the horizon I see is increased use of AI-driven tech for email. And that might sound really complicated but artificial intelligence, machine learning, you know, algorithms which, of course, we've all seen in Amazon, and Google, and how they present results to us are getting applied to email in a couple of different ways. There's a company in the U.K. I love to use as an example of this called Phrasee, which is using AI for subject line optimization. So, language-driven decisions are made in terms of what copy is gonna work the best, what...in the subject line and the body of the email? And that can extend to creative, you know, to design choices where, literally, you know, machines can take in...the technology we have available, just can take in these large amounts of response data, of how people have actually behaved to previous efforts, and make better decisions than we as human beings can. Because, you know, a lot of email optimization testing, you know, happens through testing. So we try to test different treatments and see which one is a winner. And if we are limited to our own minds and our own imagination to come up with these treatments, we might miss some of the really interesting combinations, that if they're data-driven, you know, again, that artificial intelligence behind it are gonna be the true winners.

So that's already happening and I expect that to continue to grow. As far as on the consumer side, the recipient side, I think, you know, we've already had kind of email all the time for a long time, but we're going to see it be more accessible. So if we want all our messages read to us, or maybe organized in a certain way, I think we're gonna start to see, you know, tools or whether it's tech-driven, like, you know, a smartphone or you can get email in your car, or there's a tool that now is a dashboard for your email, your Slack messages, your Skype messages, you know, all your messaging platforms, your social media, we're gonna start to see email get accessed in different ways as part of a total message mix, and be able to get to it faster and easier, and get through it. Because the reality is inboxes have been really full and overflowing, and overloaded for a long time. And, you know, it's maybe a shadowy side of email that it can have a nuisance factor because it's so popular. And we as recipients, you know, in kind of our consumer lives or even our business lives have struggled to manage the volume and how we deal with it. Because, of course, we're, you know, dealing with work emails as well as the personal stuff that we want.

Will: Yeah, absolutely. That's interesting. Okay. So how do you think that this year's big news story, the coronavirus crisis, how has that affected the way that brands have been communicating with their audience, how they've had to adapt their messaging? And what do you think the long-term effects of that will be on the brand relationship with consumers specifically through email?

Karen: Yeah, we'd be crazy not to talk about this because it is contributing, I think, to so many shifts, worldwide, but in marketing and in commerce, in particular. What's been really interesting is, email was the most ubiquitous channel that brands had. And the fastest, meaning, everywhere, all the time, fastest, most direct way they could get to their customers for any kind of communication, when the pandemic started impacting daily life. And they all turned to it immediately, you know, everybody and their brother. Even brands you didn't even wanna hear talk about what they're doing in response to the pandemic had to send a COVID-19 email. So, you know, we were kind of... You know, some of my colleagues and I were joking about, you know, are they COVID washing their email? For the most part, no. But what that did is immediately illustrate to brands and consumers alike the entrenched importance of this channel. Like, this is it. This is the fast lane. This is the, you know, express lane into being able to communicate with people in a crisis. Because not everybody is gonna be on every social platform. Not everyone's gonna see, you know, what you might have on social or on your website. But email is one of those ways that can drive people to those other places, as well as just disseminate the information, you know. So that is one huge factor. I think it's contributing to the resurgence of email that was already happening. But then we have all the changes in commerce, right? Now, at the time we're doing this, most of the U.S. is reopening the economy, a lot of the world already has or it was never fully shut down. And yet, people instantly turned to e-commerce. That was the only other option available. You know, the research is in, the prediction is in, a lot of them are going to not turn back from that. A lot of that is going to stick. There will be many, many traditional brick and mortar shoppers that have now crossed into e-commerce world and they're gonna stay there. A percentage at least of their shopping is not gonna go back to traditional. And what does that mean? Even more opportunity for email.

Will: It's a very good point. You're absolutely right. You know, a lot of people have seen how much easier in some ways e-commerce is for things that you know you want, even some things you don't. And you're right. Email is just a key channel, isn't it, to broker that relationship. Yeah. Well, that's been absolutely fascinating. I feel like I've learned so much in the time that we've talked, just a short time packed full of insights there. Thank you. I really appreciate your time, Karen.

Karen: Oh, you're so welcome. You know, that's what keeps me in email. And I've been in it since the early days. It's constantly changing and evolving, you know, as is e-commerce and everything digital. So, you know, I hope anyone out there who's inspired to do more, now's the perfect time. And if you're already pretty sophisticated, there's a lot more exciting stuff coming on the horizon.

Will: Indeed. And just tell our listeners where they can find you online and find out more about you.

Karen: Oh, thanks. Go ahead, visit Synchronicity Marketing. And I'm on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, pretty much, you know, all the platforms. So if you follow @syncmarketing, @syncmarketing on Twitter, you'll find me there.

Will: That's great. Thank you very much, Karen.

Karen: Thanks, Will.

Will: See yah.

Karen: Have a great one.

Will: If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And for more information about transforming your marketing career through certified online training, head to digitalmarketinginstitute.com Thanks for listening.

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Karen Talavera

Karen Talavera is the founder and principal of Synchronicity Marketing, a data-driven digital marketing consultancy. As current Vice Chair of the Email Experience Council she is a recognized global expert, thought-leader, speaker and professional educator with 20 years’ experience in email and digital marketing strategy.  Karen has contributed to e-commerce performance improvements for countless brands in DTC, financial services, travel, healthcare, retail and tech including Google, Disney, Kendo Brands, Lenovo, City National Bank, AAA, Fidelity, Amway and many more. Previously, Karen held senior marketing positions at Yesmail, Acxiom Digital, and Experian.

Follow Karen on Twitter and LinkedIn.