Speak Creative | A Little Off Topic Podcast

A Little Off Topic, a Podcast by Speak Creative

Around the office, you'd constantly hear witty banter around marketing, business, and everyone's favorite 90's movies. While we were all working from home we started to miss that natural flow of knowledge (and laughter) from one person to the next. We're always dreaming up ways we can pass along our expertise to our audience, so we thought why not hit record an make a podcast? 

We hope you'll listen along to hear our watercooler chat on digital marketing, business, and all the things we encounter along the way. In this episode, our VPs had an off topic conversation about email marketing and the language we use. They also discussed why we shouldn’t address our emails “dear humans” and why we should use business ethics. Click the link to see what happens and pull the green light. 

Clear > Cute | Episode 1 

David Caffey: Hello and welcome to the very first edition of A Little Off Topic, one agency's water cooler chat on digital marketing, business, and all the things that get in the way, presented by Speak Creative.

My name is David Caffey and my official title at Speak is Digital Marketing Manager. But I guess as of a few seconds ago when I hit record on Garage Band here, my other title is now Podcast Host, so I'm probably gonna hit up LinkedIn after this and make sure that's updated. Do not let me forget to do that, you guys.

Today, I'll be joined by an expert panel made up of some of my fellow Speak team members. Speaking of titles, I forgot their titles when we started recording this, so what a way to kick off our first episode! But nevertheless, we had a great conversation with the theme today of all things communication.

We started off our chat today by checking out a few marketing emails we've received recently, picking out the good, the bad, what we'd change, what we use for our own campaigns — some really great takeaways about email marketing there.

That led us to a little back and forth on why words matter and being intentional with language, not only in marketing, but in your day-to-day life.

This was in part inspired by some phrases that have become a little played out recently. Like "in these uncertain or unprecedented times.” I think we've all heard those a thousand times by now. We even put together our power rankings of our own pet phrases or buzzwords or business lingo. I know "synergy" came up a lot and that comes up a lot for everybody, but that somehow led us to come up with some of our new catchphrases of our own. So in talking about cliches, we generated about five new cliches. Finally, we closed that with some of our favorite quarantine activities so far, I know mine has been TikTok. I think that goes for everyone at this point though, because let's face it, once you start scrolling through TikTok, there's really no turning back.

So once again, thank you for clicking and/or downloading today, whatever you had to do to listen, and I hope you enjoy A Little Off Topic.

David: Thank you for joining us today, we have assembled the "top brass" at Speak. We've got three VPs with us today, so I'll introduce these folks. First, we got Matt Ervin, VP Creative Service? Is that right?

Matt Ervin: Hey David. Yeah, that's right, Creative Services, I think. It's more than one.

David: Creative services. Excuse me, I'll make a note of that in our records. Matt Roberts, VP Marketing and Sales?

Matt Roberts: That's right.

David: Very nice. We got title changes at the first of this year, so I'm still a little behind, I'm getting updated on these.

Roberts: No man, you nailed it. That was great.

David: And then we've got Kindra Svendsen, VP Client Partnerships?

Kindra Svendsen: Something like that. Yes.

David: I did not prepare on the name segment of this podcast. I just did the rest of it. Well we got through it, we survived. Okay, so, Kindra, you are fired up about some marketing emails you got. So today's first topic is marketing communication, marketing emails, sales emails. What's wrong with them. What's good about them?

"Why did you call us all here today?" is the question I have for you.

Kindra: So I get emails every day, just cold call emails. I'm pretty used to it, but I have two to share today, you guys, I just don't know what to do with them. So the first one is just awful.

I just want you to hear it and never do it.

I don't even know what kind of company they are, honestly, because it was so bad I couldn't get past the first couple of lines. I got it a couple weeks ago, actually, and it's still in my mind. I'll read the first couple lines.

"To software or digital marketing agency/software house/firm or business of any sector. Attention: respected CEO or Executives in IT department. Dear sir or madam, note: if you're already our company customer, please neglect this email. Hope you're doing well" and then it goes on.

Roberts: Oh my gosh.

Ervin: So the nerd in me is like "Hey, he wrote a regular expression to make sure that we got the right people in the segment here.”

Kindra: Oh, I never even thought about how those were probably fields. Oh well, there's that.

Roberts: It seems like it could be simplified with "Dear humans"?

Ervin: Or “yo.”

Kindra: Yeah, so he's calling all of the categories then saying, "dear sir or madam" and doesn't know who he's talking to. But then also, "if you're already our customer, don't worry about this email." So, I pretty immediately deleted it but took it out of the trash for the purpose of this call. I found out he offered third-party services that maybe we would have been interested in, had we had the need, but I never made it past that awful opening.

David: I think it's very easy to say, “Oh, this is so bad, this is so bad, or this is not working.” What do we think the core elements are that make an email not work? What are the things that right off the bat you can't come back from if you make those mistakes in email marketing?

Ervin: Oh big time if it just is camouflaged in the background. If you think about all the noise that we have going on in all the other digital marketing emails that I get. If this one looks and sounds and feels the same as everything else and there's nothing that makes it stand out, it's useless.

Kindra: It certainly wasn't personal, right? Like, "Dear ANYONE" here's this email. So it came to my inbox, which is just for me, but then it was clearly indicating to me that it was mass sent. There was no personalization. They have no idea who I am or what I am.

So I think that targeting and segmenting lists is really important. Clearly, that was missed here.

Roberts: Yeah, that's kind of the first cardinal sin of email marketing is not doing good email list segmenting, and it's not hard. So this kind of boils down to the same type of person that you'll get an email from four days from now, that will say exactly the same thing. It's just, I guess, a strategy of mass. You wouldn't think that this would be an effective technique at all, but it doesn't stop people from trying. So it does make me wonder what the success rate is, I don't know. That seems like a big miss for sure, the segmentation.

Ervin: I got one this week sent to matt.ervin@madebyspeak.com and it said "Dear Jacob". That was a miss.

David: So what about subject lines? The thing we always say in email marketing is that a subject line is almost your most important factor, in terms of open rates. So what are some things in subject lines that we see not working at all? I know one thing that's been popping up every now and then is emojis in the subject line. A lot of those kind of flashy weird fonts and weird symbols and stuff always end up in the spam folder. But is there a way to make that work? Do we see subject lines, taking risks on them as effective or is it something you wanna be a little bit more guarded and conservative with?

Kindra: I think they have a place.

Roberts: Yeah, I think that's right. I think that the first person who put an emoji in a subject line, everybody looked at and was like "Oh my gosh, I noticed that email that came through my inbox with a smiley face!" That was probably pretty smart. Since then, I think everybody in the world has gone that way at some point with probably mixed results because it's not super effective. From a marketing standpoint, if you're going to put out a message, I think it's worth certainly taking some risks with subject lines, but as a calculated thing.

Ervin: There's a brand aspect to it as well, though right? Because the subject line is your first shot at somebody, assuming we're not talking about automated spam. Depending on what it is that you're trying to sell and to who you're trying to sell it, an emoji may send the exact wrong message. Like if you're selling professional services and you come across with any emoji in the subject line, you don't look professional.

Kindra: I think something to pay attention to with emojis is how they look on different platforms. Emojis are unicode, but a TV on iOS looks like an old fashioned TV in Gmail. I can't get past the emojis, I don't know why Gmail won't upgrade them. They look like gumdrops that have melted. So if you have a face, I use that joy face with crying tears all the time, but it just looks like a melted piece of candy in my Gmail inbox. So it doesn't translate well.

I think that I've seen that happen too. If you're using a big screen 'cause you think that you're high tech and you're promoting something having to do with visuals, but then it comes across as an old fashioned TV in my inbox, your message is moot at that point.

Roberts: Yeah, I think that's a really good point. That's great.

David: So that leads into, if those are good practices for subject lines, what are good practices in general? 

I think one thing that stood out to me that we talked about a few minutes ago was targeting. I think that in this day and age, the amount of information we can gather on a user (I know that's kind of a gray area in terms of how good that is), but we have a lot more information to work with, in terms of how we can target segment emails. I think one thing we identified right off the bat was that without any kind of personalization at all (and even to the extent of making it clear that it wasn't personalized/that it was taking shortcuts to personalize it), I think that's immediately where you shoot yourself in the foot. 

So in my opinion, I think that if there's no targeting at all on the front end, nothing at all can happen. It's just not gonna work when the email is actually sent. Do you guys agree with that?

Kindra: Well, we've been doing a lot of email currently with our clients, and we had a message that we really wanted to send out to most of our clients. It was a good timely message and we were ready to hit send, but then it seemed like pretty immediately we built the email, and then we're like, "Well this group might not have this" and "Oh wait, let's look at this other group" So we had different segments that we really just had to redo the email for. 

It's not because the message wasn't the same, it was because we needed to be sensitive to Nashville clients and not say "let's weather the storm"** or we had to not talk about a feature of a CMS and send it to clients who weren't on that CMS. So once you look at your message, you might have a great message that's for the masses. You have to look at your segments, and it's not going to meet the mark for every segment that you have.

Ervin: Look why is that, right? The reason that you have to do that is because if it's going to have any chance at succeeding, you've got to meet a need. It has to be a need that I know I have. It's going to be a felt and recognized need. And then you've got to, in some way, get me to believe, at least for the amount of time it's going to take me to open the email and start reading, just a little bit that you might offer some help.

Kindra: I don't think it needs to be personalized in the fact of like, "Hi Kindra". If that email would have been like, "Good morning, Matt" You would have actually looked at it. But, when it said Jacob, it was one tiny detail that they missed and it took away any point the email was trying to make. I don't mind. I think people understand that there are fields that can merge names into the right spot. It doesn't have to be personalized for me to pay attention, but it has to be relevant.

Roberts: There are so many different ways to build a list, and if folks are signing up for email on your website or you are looking to do some outreach, doing even just the blocking and tackling of making sure that you're doing those things well, that you're allowing people to give you information that's useful or that you're following up behind somebody who submits their email address and going and doing the research on who that person is and what organization they're part of and what industry that organization is in... You can do a lot of really good work and there's some systems that do some of that work for you. I think we're all familiar with what those systems are. 

To have some sophistication to let you do really good segmenting just makes a big difference or at the very least, applying human effort to those things makes a big difference so that when you do get around to sending your marketing email, it's as well-segmented as it can be. It's certainly not just gonna happen by magic, you’ve got to apply some thought and some strategy to it.

Ervin: I think one of the things you just said there though, that is a huge key. You mentioned somebody who has given you their email address, so that person has some idea of who you are. So your message to them is an entirely different thought process. It's an entirely different approach than the random cold call reach out email. I don't know if we have any numbers on it, but I would imagine that emailing people that have said 'I'd like to hear from you' is much more effective than random reach out.

Roberts: Yeah, for sure, and there's a place for each, but you still have to be intelligent in both scenarios.

Kindra: Well, you said something about automation or alluded to drip campaigns. I think that's something that is so important, that I sometimes feel like I preach about, is that if you're going to do a series of emails or some kind of automation, thinking about the end before you start is so necessary. Because what if they click a link, but don't do anything? Well, what if they click two links, what happens? When do they get to the end of the funnel? When do you just consider it a lost opportunity? All of that has to be planned before that first email is sent.

Otherwise, you kinda get what my second email is, which is a personal touch. It's definitely not automated emails, but it is too much. So if I can share the second email… 

A service provider that we were interested in, I had a call with them, found out maybe they weren't quite the right fit, but it seemed like a really great conversation. A good contact to have. So, give them the whole “now is not the right time, little down the road, maybe it'll be a better time”, and I started getting weekly check-ups. "Is now the right time? Is now the right time?" Sometimes there would be email and then it seems like a couple of days later, it would be a phone call.

Well one day I was checking my voicemail and instead of hitting play, I hit call back, and it rang for maybe two seconds, right? Maybe two seconds. Stopped it, listened to the voicemail, moved on with my day. Got a pretty immediate phone call back. Like, "Hey is now the right time? I saw you called me." So I had to be pretty honest and be like, “Actually I kind of butt-dialed you, sorry, it's not because I needed to talk to you. I was just listening to that fourth voicemail.” So, anyway, he was really gracious. We made it through everything was good.

A week later. I got a weird email from him that said, "Hey so I had another missed call. Was this just a butt-dial or is now a good time?" I did not call him. I checked. I checked my cell phone, I checked my work phone, I did not call him at all, and it's gone on since then. I got another follow-up yesterday.

He's also in a weird time zone. I won't say where, 'cause will be a little too apparent. It's not like California, it's way off. So he calls me like 8 o'clock at night to leave these voicemails. It's his strategy. I wouldn't say it's a good one or calculated one. I think it's just kind of a free-for-all. That also puts you in that unprepared or bad category to me, if there's not a method of taking stock of where you're at. He's just following up because I'm a name on the list at this point.

Ervin: Well, and you actually had good will building there for a while, and then when he lied, that pretty much did it in for good.

Roberts: Yeah, this reminds me of Billy Madison and business ethics. That was not cool man.

Going back to the idea of automation and planning out your funnel, I think that can feel really intimidating to people to try to visualize every piece of a drip campaign. How's it going to end? What are we going to do with every type of interaction? Then, what's the end?

A quick tip for that, if you don't quite know exactly how you want that to wind down or you're still trying to figure it out and you need to get a campaign going, an easy thing to do, is just have a placeholder automation at the end of your funnel that has a capped out timer on it. That says something like, “after 999 days, do X.”

And it just becomes a thing that you can change in the future so that everybody who gets a group up into that last phase is in a holding pattern until you decide that you want to do something more with them. Then you can change that whenever you're ready to continue the funnel on.

I don't want people to get paralyzed by complexity and feeling like they have to plan out everything. There are some really easy kind of little cheats to let you buy some time to finish a funnel, if you need to, but certainly going in with a plan should be step one, for sure.

Kindra: Yeah, I think that's a good tip. The other thing that I see a lot is maybe the first email underperformed expectations, maybe the second one didn't do it, so instead of reviewing the rest of the funnel or making some changes, it just stops and then likely your message has been like "soon, we'll talk about" or you've alluded to something and then never delivered.

So, I think not stopping just because it underperformed is not a good deal. We need to revamp it, we need to re-edit, we need to push forward, see what is going to help. Maybe A/B test it, split it out, but just stopping is not going to end successfully either. Then, you've likely put in, gosh, how many hours? in planning all of that out.

David: So there's probably gonna be situations where either you don't have the resources to do that full-fledge planning of targeting an audience or building out a drip campaign. There also might be times where in terms of how much time you have to prepare for it, and especially today in the environment we're living in where you might have to get an email turned around, maybe even less than 24 hours. 

What are the few things that you have to do no matter what, what are the essential steps for sending out an email that you’ve really got to check off?

Roberts: Well, if it's a quick turn email and you don't have the luxury of a lot of segmentation and running it through automation and all those kinds of things, you just have to recognize where you're coming from. Which is, you can't be terribly sophisticated with the message, but you still need to be clear on what it is that you're trying to say. 

If there's something driving the short-term need, then you have to be very clear about what that need is or what the message is. Just recognize you're not going to get the value of trying to do personalization on the cheap or quickly. Just go with what Kindra was saying earlier, like a generic greeting or a straightforward message. You don't have to be sophisticated. Just get the message out to folks quickly and any old email program will help you do that.

Ervin: I don't send a lot of emails like this but I receive tons of them, and I would argue for simplicity either way. The simpler the message, the simpler it is for me to digest, the greater chance you have of me not clicking the "report spam" button and possibly looking or paying attention to the next one that comes in from you.

Kindra: Yeah, if someone says we have 24 hours so we have to send something out, my first question is why? I think that if we get to the point where we have to send an email so quick, we're probably at risk of being more noise. So understanding what's unique and why you need to send an email, that's important.

Ervin: Yeah, that's huge.

Kindra: We're talking about all of the COVID-19 stuff and all the different emails that are out. I saw a tweet a couple of weeks ago from Chrissy Teigen that was like, "can someone let me know if we're all in this together, or if we'll get through this?" or something to that effect, and it really made me stop in my tracks. Actually, I did go back and re-write an email that was in draft mode, because it is just more noise at this point, so you've got to have something unique.

The other thing that I've seen with quick turnaround emails is the end game. What's your conversion point? 

Because there’ve been countless times where people say, "well, I already put this link in an email or on a poster, so I need to make sure it goes to something" and not thinking of that endgame again, just like automation, it sets you up for failure. You have to have the article or the video or the white paper or the form or whatever it is, ready to go before you hit send on that email.

Ervin: I just test it. I mean really, if you're going to put a link in an email, before you send email, click the link and see what happens. Just common sense.

Roberts: Oh man, I've had that happen a couple of times.

Ervin: Ready, Fire, Aim!

Roberts: Yeah, that's exactly right.

David: If there's one take away from this in general, it's just "click the link and see what happens"

Roberts: That's right, that's your bottom line.

David: In terms of emails, we talked about targeting a lot of data-driven points. Make emails effective and communication effective in general, but there's still, the words in the text of the email. So, our next topic is being intentional with language, avoiding cliches. 

So the first question I have for you guys is: what are some of your pet peeves in either a marketing email or just in communication day-to-day, in general?

Kindra: Where do we begin?

Ervin: For me, honestly, there's two, one is overused business jargon. Everybody likes to make fun of "synergy" and that's great, but there's so much more to make fun out there than just synergy. That's one. 

My other one is when somebody... You're in your third or fourth email from them and you've put them in spam every time and they're like, "okay, so now you've either fallen into a hole or driven off a cliff or you're really busy, or something else. Just respond with a number." 

That's one of my favorites, actually.

Kindra: So let me know you’re safe!

Ervin: Yeah, thank you for being concerned for my safety. Now that I'm in this hole, could you come get me?

Roberts: But I've still got cell service at the bottom of this hole. Send help, please!

Kindra: I can only imagine, though, that if you responded with a "2", they'd be like "Matt? Are you okay?" They probably aren't even aware of what's going out.

Roberts: Going back to language, I think the thing that frustrates each of us is that it's safe to say that the three of us care a whole lot about just good use of language; that words mean something, that there's kind of an elegance and precision in saying something well and clearly. 

The things that frustrate us are to see things like business jargon which doesn't mean anything to see cliches which are misappropriated, or overused. Just all the things that, from a professional standpoint, just kinda make your eyes roll when you get that email or you get that message and you just say, "Could you not have just used your words to say this better?" It's kind of frustrating. 

I'm okay with...Put me on the record as being okay with a well-used cliche.

Kindra: I know you are.

Roberts: I'm a sales guy so of course I do.

Ervin: We just can't put the cart before the camel. I mean we've gotta be careful with this.

Kindra: Yeah, so maybe it's a little bit of a confession, but I've used cliches wrong in the past or have mixed a couple up and that is just the worst feeling. One example is “pull the green light.” I think that that doesn't make sense. 

So, I have been deeply embarrassed when I've mixed those up before, but I think it's pretty common to do actually.

Ervin: That's when you're working for the city and you gotta change the light bulbs and the traffic lights and you've gotta pull the green light. That's amazing.

David: So I think we're living in a golden age of cliches right now. So I wanna ask you guys your power rankings or your Mount Rushmore of COVID19 corporate communication phrases. 

I think my favorite from the beginning is "we're closely monitoring." I think Domino's Pizza was closely monitoring. I think Midas Muffler was closely motoring. Man, I haven't called Midas Muffler in a hundred years. I don't know why I just said that. But yeah, everybody was closely monitoring from about late February to mid-March. That's gonna be the one I saw more than anything.

Roberts: Yeah, that warms my heart!

Ervin: They are doing daily polls and crunching the statistics all the time, just coming up with new insight all the time, so that you would know when it was safe to get your muffler, right?

Roberts: Yeah, closely monitoring is good. Kindra already mentioned the, "We're in this together" that's pretty high up there. I'm not in fact in this together with American Airlines, during COVID.

Ervin: I'm as far away from them as I could be.

Kindra: I love those memes that are like "Were we in this together when my luggage was 51 pounds?" I love being called out for that kind of thing.

Roberts: Yeah, I'm trying to think of other good ones that I've seen.

Ervin: Oh! "These unprecedented times" "In the face of uncertainty"

Roberts: Oh yeah, those are good.

Kindra: "Times of uncertainty" that's the one I've both guilty of and notice the most.

Roberts: The one that I got this week that I think it was my favorite was, "I think we all know that COVID 19 has presented some challenges"

I didn't, but I was so glad you wrote to tell me.

Kindra: Yeah man, tell me. Tell me more.

Roberts: I appreciate that there is room for uncertainty there.

Kindra: Yeah, it goes back to what we were saying about the emojis in email. It was really cool the first time someone did it, right? So there was a great message. Wow, if someone did bring along this unity of togetherness and that was a great message. So let me do that too. And now it's just kind of devolved into everyone doing it, but I think it worked probably at the beginning, the first people to do it.

Roberts: Yeah, so this is confession time, so I prepare for your judgement, but on probably the first week we were...

Kindra: You should always be prepared for that.

Roberts: I'm always bracing for impact.

Yeah, so about the first week that we were working remotely, doing the whole work from home thing. I changed my signature. Typically, my signature says, "Best, Matt Roberts" just whatever, and then it has everything else. I changed "Best" to "Elbow bumps," and I thought that was really, I thought that was really clever. So, I'll put myself on the list of people who should be chided for trying to be clever with COVID-19.

David: I'll respond to it with the other cliche is that “you miss 100% of the shots you don't take.” So, I mean, I appreciate the effort behind that one.

Kindra: I just watched that episode of The Office last night.

Ervin: You should always shoot for the moon because if you miss, you'll still land among the stars, Matt.

Roberts: Oh gosh.

Ervin: You're warm and fuzzy now aren't you? Like you get a little chill.

Roberts: Can we plan in a future podcast to have a segment about successories? Because I feel like I have some good content there.

Ervin: Well, we've done entire meetings where we try to speak in nothing but cliches primarily to illustrate how other people in the meetings only spoke in cliches, but they were just doing it 'cause they didn't know what else to say.

Roberts: Yeah, that's right, it goes back to what Kindra said earlier. Sometimes people just lean on a cliche because they don't have anything else to say but they're trying to fill the air.

David: But at the end of the day...

Roberts: Nailed it.

David: Going back to the COVID-19 response stuff: it's kind of a lose-lose in that sense, because when the world is changing every 24 hours, and you’ve got to get something out the door, you don't really have time to take the temperature of what kind of language people are using. You don't really have time to prepare a statement, you have to be sensitive, cautious and just get something out there. So it's easy to say in hindsight, that "oh look at all this corny stuff!" 

But that's what we're working with, and I think it's kind of a lose lose in that regard. Would you guys agree?

Roberts: Yeah, I wholeheartedly agree.

Kindra: Oh, boy. I think that it goes back to: what's your unique position? I don't care if people say "We're all of this together" if they've also provided me new content. I think we can use those "turn of phrase" points. I don't know if I used that right, but the content has to be unique and the targeting has to be right, and the message has to be relevant. Then I'm definitely going to overlook the little things that I've heard a hundred times.

Ervin: Yeah, the question that I would want to ask if I were put in charge of being critical of a piece going out like this would be, at what point is it okay to take advantage of a crisis? or when have we gone too far in trying to use something like this to relate to everyone?

Just consider this, the same thing that we're saying where the world changes every day is the same thing that six months ago and longer people are saying about the internet. With the internet, things change all the time. So we were really just recycling old ideas. I think it still boils down to: you've got to meet me with something, you’ve got to provide something that meets a need, or that solves a problem that I know I have.

Roberts: Yeah, I think that's right, and I think the capstone thought there is: meet a need, segment well, and just use good, clear language. Don't try to be cute.

Ervin: And then always click the link and see what happens, right?

David: So that is it for our very first Speak podcast to hope you guys enjoyed it.

I'm going to immediately get to work on getting some t-shirts printed with our new catch phrase right after this. I got to cash in on what I can only assume will now be the next cultural phenomenon. I'm sure it will be the trend of the summer, so I'll hopefully have some T-shirts here soon. If you enjoyed today's episode, I invite you to head over to madebyspeak.com or find us on social media.

The team has been sharing some lately, covering all sorts of subjects including email marketing. 

A little self-promotion, I uploaded a little presentation, I guess a webinar, on some changes happening within Google as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic. We'd also love to hear feedback from you guys, maybe let us know your pet peeve cliches or buzzwords. We'd love to hear from you. So from myself and the entire team at Speak Creative. Thanks for getting a little off topic with us. 

**Editor’s Note: Nashville was hit with a devastating tornado outbreak on the night of March 2, 2020.

Listen to Episode 2 Now!

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