There isn’t much we can guarantee but one thing is for sure: you receive emails. Few marketing channels are as widely adopted as email and in this episode, we'll explore why that is. Join our VPs for tips and tricks on how to make email a key part of your strategy in 2021.
David: Hello everyone and thank you for joining us once again. You are listening to 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. Well, this week we are getting 2021 rolling with an episode dedicated to one of the most widely used channels for reaching customers and that's email marketing. I'm sure many folks listening to this receive far more emails than they'd like to, but today we're going to talk about how to stand out in your audience's inbox with this highly effective marketing tactic. My name is David Caffey. I've Speak's Digital Marketing Manager and the host of A Little Off Topic. Joining me this week and every week is Speak's VP leadership team. Kindra Svendsen is VP of Client Partnerships. In addition, we have our duo of Matts. First is Matt Roberts, VP of Marketing and Sales, and last but not least, we have Matt Ervin, VP of Creative Services. In past episodes, we've brought you some bad examples of email marketing. So today we'll start off the show with some examples of email that we feel is powerful and effective. From there, we'll talk about some tips and best practices for planning email campaigns and finally, we'll share some brands and organizations that we feel are the best in class in this medium. It's a great chat today. If you're considering investing in email in 2021, this is the episode for you. As always, we thank you for taking the time to listen to our show today and I hope you enjoy today's episode of A Little Off Topic.
David: Electronic mail. Sounds like something out of science fiction, but it's here to stay. But, it's one of the most widely adopted marketing channels and we've talked in the past about how not to do email, but today we're going to change our course and talk about the right way to do email and how powerful it can be for reaching your audience. So let's get right to it. As I've said, we've talked about bad email marketing before, but email is definitely a powerful tool. Why do you think that is?
Kindra: Well, I know that Ervin will jump in and be a little bit of a hater of email. So I'll stick to answering your question. I have often said that I think the way things are going, people are looking for that personal outreach and I think the email does that. I think it allows people to consume it on their own time. It's a little bit asynchronous. It's active, so it's not that I'm scrolling through my news feed and happen to see something or happen to be driving by a billboard, you have to take the intention to click on it and consume it. So I think it's effective if you can get that click, it's one of the most active forms of advertising you can offer.
Roberts: Yeah and when you actually said active, I actually thought you were going in a different direction there, but the thing that came to mind for me is part of building a really great marketing strategy is how there are the inbound principles of trying to get people engaged with you and your brand. But you're missing opportunities if you're not doing some outreach as well and email can be a part of that. Of course, it can be part of an inbound strategy as well, but I guess my broader why it's effective is for at least a lot of us who work with other professional organizations. Email is in front of each of us all day long and it's just a really easy way to get in front of someone. You know, folks are checking email, they're engaging. So I'm sure we'll get into the construction of it all and some tactics around it, but if you can give somebody a reason to click or to tap on an email, you have a really great shot at getting some valuable messaging across. So it's certainly an effective tool and I know it's effective for us and for our clients. It's not always the first thing that gets brought up, but it is a really great tool.
Ervin: I have a question. Obviously, I'm the odd man out on email, at least a little bit.
Roberts: Okay, because we clarified this in the pre-show. I feel like we need to clarify that Ervin is...
Ervin: Trying out for the next Lego Batman movie.
Roberts: Yeah. That's even better. Alright. Go ahead. What's your question?
Ervin: Some kind of disruption in my upper respiratory system. It's wonderful. So anyway, my question was, in my mind, email as a marketing avenue seems to be, I would say more effective on me at the retail level than it is at the business to business level. You guys who have a lot more expertise in this type of thing than I do, what do you think about that? Am I wrong? Is it just me and my curmudgeon?
Kindra: No, I agree. I think on the B2C side of things, that's where it's most effective. Speaking personally, I will much quicker delete a sales email out of my work inbox. Whereas like when I check my personal email, it's because I'm there to check my personal email. It's not that I'm clearing it out throughout the day at work and so I'm much more intentional about interacting with emails in my personal inbox. I think that that's just the nature of the messaging. I know that they're not trying to actively set up a call to sell me something or the pitch isn't as hard when it's to the consumer, it's much more content-driven.
Ervin: It's a smaller ask.
Kindra: I would definitely say that it's more effective in a B2C format than B2B. Not that it can't be done or that we don't have success in it, but it's a smaller ask.
Roberts: Yeah, I can see the point that B2C email is generally more effective. But I do think it is still super effective. Super is a good descriptor, right?
Ervin: It's universal.
Roberts: It can be very effective for B2B companies as well and the use case that I talk through with clients sometimes is B2C emails are relatively easy, because if somebody has subscribed to you as a consumer-facing company, what they're hoping to get is emails with discounts, offers, and things. You've basically said, "Hey, I already value your brand in some way and I'm hoping that you're going to give me something at some point along the way, and I'm going to take advantage of it." Like Caffey with his pizza sweatshirt.
Kindra: The thing I think that B2C email marketing gets right, is that they focus way more on the data and who they're sending the emails to. They segment a lot deeper, I think, to the consumer path than the business path, because I think when you're targeting for business, not that you can't segment, but it's really easy to say, "I'm going for this industry" and you're focused on the industry message and maybe not whose inbox it's ending up in, versus a store goes to women with kids. I think the data is just better on the consumer end.
Roberts: The reason someone would engage with a B2B email is very different. If you're someone sending an email from a company that's selling to other companies and you're mass-emailing coupons and discounts, you're doing it wrong, man. Someone who is doing email marketing in a good way from a company that sells to other companies is a segment of folks who are the most successful at providing really good content and thought leadership. So they're providing insights that their customers would appreciate, and whether that's because of their position in the market, they're able to talk about trends that an individual company might not be able to see all that information or digest it or understand how other folks in that industry are performing. There are lots of really great ways to make B2B email marketing really effective. But it's higher up the funnel. I mean, you're not trying to get somebody to a transaction, you're trying to create an impression of your brand. So it's much more of a top of funnel or middle of funnel pursuit than it is trying to get somebody to jump on your latest offer or something like that. I think people know that, but I think it's worth saying that that's where your best email marketing is if you're doing B2B email.
Ervin: The other point about B2C email too that I thought of when Kindra was making an excellent point, is that statistically, it's just different. There are a lot more women with children than there are people who are making business decisions about new products that the company's going to spend thousands of dollars a year on.
Kindra: I think so and there are just different mindsets again, when you're checking a personal email versus work email. There are different budgets, there are different things that are at stake. When you're dealing with a sales email at work versus like, "Oh, I can buy a pair of jeans for really cheap."
Roberts: It's maybe worth saying that I think people already get this already, but the value of a transaction in both instances are very different. The value of an Old Navy email trying to get me to earn some super cash or whatever it is.
Kindra: Do not get me started.
Roberts: They're going to try to sell you a $30 pair of jeans and they're making some margin on that. A B2B email that goes out to a much smaller list. You know, a single transaction can justify that entire organization's marketing budget in some instances for the next year. So there's always the return on investment and what's worth doing and how to get people to the right place.
David: So one thing we say a lot about email marketing is that it's powerful when it's done right. I think we've touched on it a little bit already, but what does doing email right mean to you guys? I'll start this one because actually, this is all I used to do before Speak, for my last job was email marketing. It was for a national retail chain. The amount of time and effort and money spent was not on the messaging and the layout and the design of the email, but it was on the segmentation in the list and doing tests to make sure we're sitting at the right time and that sort of thing. So I think email done right is all about the prep work and the planning. For example, we were targeting people that worked in the hair salons and they weren't really checking email. Our best open rates were at 11:00 at night. When you're in that world, you're not really in front of a computer and really not even checking your phone. You're really busy. You're on your feet all day. So the prep work, planning, and understanding your audience is 90% of it, compared to the actual messaging of the email and I think that's what getting it right means, doing it everything on the front end correctly.
Kindra: I agree. I think that when we're doing an email strategy for a company, it's really, really easy to be like, "we just need to get the first email out. We just need to press go" and that's usually where I pump the brakes and really want the endgame in mind before that first email ever goes out. What happens if they don't open it? Do we take them down path A or path B? What happens if they open it, but then don't click anything? It's a choose your own adventure strategy that has to be developed, because we have that segmentation data, and if we're not using it, then we can't expect great results.
Roberts: It's hard to make yourself slow down and go through those first steps, because ostensibly if you're going through that process, you're behind the times because you should have already been doing all this already. So there is a certain amount of psychology to telling yourself that if you take the time to do this right, it's going to be more effective and we're going to have a better shot of creating a positive impression right out of the gate. So I think those are points well taken. I do think that you can get paralyzed by the complexity of trying to get your audience segment just right. So there is a testing component that you can only really get to by seeing how people behave and interact. But that's where those follow up emails and follow up actions and using a platform that supports that type of behavior to say, "okay, if they didn't open the emails, send another email a week from now that has a different subject line or approaches it from a different angle so that maybe we missed them on the first try, but we can get them on the second try. Or if they open but don't click, let's do this other type of email that has a completely different content. Maybe it's not an offer. Maybe it's somebody who needs to know more about our story as a company and want to connect with what we're doing in the world and how that's important." Give people lots of different ways to engage you. You just need a platform of support for a lot of those components.
Kindra: As far as business emails, there are some best practices that just haven't changed over the years. I don't think it's smart to send an email Monday morning or Friday afternoon if you're doing B2B emails, just because people are either ramping up their week and are not going to pay attention to you or are exhausted from their week and are not going to pay attention to you. There are lots of best practices that we do follow, but if you're a retail store, Monday and Friday sales are applicable and so just understanding where your audience is and how the message can best catch them at the right time and right day, all of that stuff is somewhat standard. Replicable, at least.
Roberts: For sure. Well, and that's where you really have to do the work of even after you have thought through your strategy and put it together and begun to execute it, you've got to look at the data that you're getting back. Then let that inform how your specific audiences behave. Just because we say your best time to reach somebody is on this day between these hours, you don't know until you actually start to see how people engage. You don't actually know that that's absolutely true. So be willing to look at data and make adjustments along the way.
David: So if someone listening is planning an email marketing campaign as part of their 2021 marketing strategy, what advice would you offer? What tips and tricks would you include in such a strategy?
Roberts: Emojis in the subject line, right?
Ervin: Oh man.
Kindra: All of the emojis. I think providers are really important. Matt, you touched on that, but understand your limitations and that of your team, and then look for an email provider that can meet that. So if you have designers who can custom code templates, then great, go with somewhere where you can do that. But if you need to rely on drag and drop, or maybe need to get with an agency to design some templates, I think understanding your limitations and finding the right one is really important. As well as your list size, I know MailChimp's a really great resource for smaller mail lists, but then their pricing goes up pretty significantly once you reach certain thresholds. So just selecting the right provider is really the first step.
Ervin: I think if I were to give advice about creating email for email marketing, I would say number one, keep it short. Especially if your intent is more along the lines of trying to encourage a transaction or an engagement. Obviously if you're sending a small newsletter or something, then it can be longer. But if your intent is to try to get me to respond, it's gotta be fast. I've gotta be able to read it and see if it's something I'm interested in or not and that's really true for business to business or retail-based. If it's retail-based, put the hook right up front. Am I going to get this pair of jeans for seven bucks? because if that's the case, I'm probably gonna buy them. But if it's business, I need to understand why you're offering me something that's gonna make things better for me in some way or my team.
Kindra: Along the line of "where can I click to buy those jeans?" A step that's often misplaced is just the QA of the email. At least once a week, I feel like I get an "oops" email as a followup to a previous email, from brands that didn't link right, or the link was broken or the website went down or something. So QA your email, please.
Ervin: Sometimes I think that's a tactic. I don't think always, but I believe sometimes.
Roberts: You're so cynical.
Kindra: We should try that. Can we try that?
Roberts: Oops! Sorry.
Ervin: You don't think that's happened?
Roberts: I certainly think it has happened, but I don't know that I believe that it's often.
Kindra: I bet the open rate of the "oops" email is much higher.
Roberts: Yeah, because you want to read, "Oh, how did they screw up? I didn't even read the email, I just want to know how they screwed up."
Ervin: Exactly. There's my suggestion. "Oops" emails. Get your open rate up.
Roberts: When you said QA, it made me think about ensuring that your emails look good on mobile. Again, that goes back to the platform choice, because a lot of platforms will simplify that for you these days. But it's still not a guarantee. So you need to send a test, look at it on your phone and you know, preferably if you've got a group of folks that you're working with, just have them pull it up. Because email browsers are not like web browsers where there's at least a minimum set of standards of how code is supposed to behave. Gmail behaves very differently than Outlook, which behaves very differently than whatever else it is on somebody's device. I don't even know that you can get Outlook on a device.
Ervin: Oh yeah you can. You can get it on your iOS device. I get emails from a certain customer that always says "sent from Outlook for iOS" every time. Why would you do that?
Roberts: So all that being said, just make sure you're testing your emails and giving it a good look on all devices. That's just generally the best practice. We've kinda hinted at it already, but subject lines matter. I'm sure we each have different philosophies of what works and doesn't work on subject lines, but it is largely the reason that somebody would choose to click or not on an email, so you certainly need to be thinking about it. Even more importantly, looking at different subject line uses that you've had and trying to try to figure out if there are patterns. So look at your data, look at your open rates, and try to draw conclusions, because you're actually able to see how people behave.
Kindra: There are some practical takeaways there too. I mean, using "free", using too many exclamation points, asterisks, and those kinds of things will get you flagged as Spam. So again, there are some best practices we know to follow, but I think that puns on the same line of emojis, I feel like if I get the right pun it's cute. But B2B emails with puns go to my trash can so quick. So I think you have to use them sparingly.
Ervin: How many exclamation points is enough?
Kindra: Zero. I would just avoid them altogether.
Ervin: Oops, I sent an email with many exclamation points.
Kindra: That will be flagged for sure. But getting an email with a pun in it from a service provider or a SAS product, I roll my eyes, whereas there's a tea company in Memphis we work with, My Cup of Tea. I got an email this morning that said "you have to chai these" and it was an email about chai tea. The puns just do such a good job and endear themselves to me. Way better than the HubSpots of the world.
Roberts: It's really funny that you mentioned that, because I actually thought, "Oh, that's actually clever. That was fun." Because you're telling me what you're offering me, which is great.
Ervin: Also if I got an email from My Cup of Tea, I'm reading it no matter what. They're just awesome.
Kindra: But if we look at the content of those emails and I can, because I do look at the content emails, it's great content. I want to open it because I know I'm going to find something worth my time.
Roberts: The things that each of you just said, good points, each of you.
Kindra: I hope we're keeping score.
Roberts: But the things that each of you just said boiled down to you being willing to attach yourself to a brand in a way that says, "Hey, if they send me an email, I'm reading it because they have really good content or I believe in what they're doing as an organization or their products are great or whatever." In the case of My Cup of Tea, all those things are true.
David: So other than exclamation points and too many puns, is there anything else that you guys would say an organization and planning an email campaign should completely avoid?
Ervin: Yes. Click on every link. Don't call your website provider and say, "we just sent out an email to 10,000 people and the link is wrong. Can you fix it?" We can't in most cases.
Kindra: That happens a few times a year. That's not hyperbole.
Ervin: No, no, it does happen. The other one is if you're not sure you're going to get the personalization right, don't do it. When I get an email that's addressed to somebody other than me that says, "Dear Jacob" it's gone.
Roberts: That's when they send the oops email later. Sorry we got your name wrong.
Ervin: Oops! Jacob, we sent you something incorrectly before. Well, I'll tell you another one and this is true in anything web related, whether it's email or websites. I tell my team that pragmatism is my religion and it really is, especially when you're talking about technical stuff. So don't make it more complicated than it has to be, because if you do, something's going to not work and that's where the comment about the personalization came from. If personalization adds a great deal to it, then go for it. But if it doesn't, then why add the complexity?
Kindra: Well, you said personalization in another frame, but the thing that I would avoid doing is not being personable. Said another way, I think that getting an email from a robot or a machine is not exciting. So find a voice and go with it in your email. I think that that's good advice, but I know we're talking about things not to do.
David: So I think we've listed My Cup of Tea as a contender here, but if there was only one organization you could get emails from for the rest of your life, whose are you keeping? This is a different way of asking "who out there do you guys think is doing email marketing right?" What brands or companies have you encountered that are good examples of correct email marketing?
Kindra: Hmm. I have a couple answers for this and I'll just use my personal email inbox and give you guys a peek inside. I always open Kate Spade emails. I think I have one Kate Spade bag, but her emails always use some animation or something fun. They have really cute subject lines. So I always open those and then non-profits, for some reason always get me. I like when nonprofits aren't always there with the heartstring story, but pull it out when necessary. I like just hearing the good they're doing, the progress, they're making that sort of thing. So I find myself opening non-profit emails really frequently.
Ervin: I don't know that I could pick one. I will say that I am really judicious about unsubscribing from things, like as soon as it comes in, if I know I don't want to get it, I unsubscribe. So that said, I do stay subscribed to "How to BBQ Right" emails. I get emails from Malcolm which I look at every time they come in, if it's something I've never done or I'm interested in, then I read it the whole thing. So that will be one. I get emails from Woot, which is Amazon's fire sale deal company and I look at that every day, because there may be something in there that is going to be really, really cheap and if I act now I can get it. I think those are probably the two that I would keep. Then I get other stuff like there's the Acoustic Blues Institute where this guy sends out a demo guitar video every Tuesday and I like those too.
Roberts: I don't have somebody that just immediately comes to mind as "if I could only get email marketing from one brand ever going forward..." This is much more personal probably than the question was intending, but probably it's going to be Arsenal, the soccer team.
Ervin: That's funny. What do they send you?
Roberts: I mean, it's all about the latest news, what's going on with the team, what the upcoming match looks like, where they're playing. They also have branded gear. They just signed a contract with Adidas about a year and a half ago. So they've got some pretty awesome gear that I'm actually really excited about. There was a bunch of Arsenal stuff on my Christmas list this year. I wish I had a better answer than that, but that's probably it.
Ervin: I think it's a pretty good answer.
Kindra: Well, the interesting thing is that all of our answers were so completely different, but that is the point is that they all are deeply personal to us. So, I think if you can find the content that really resonates with your audience, there you go. I wouldn't care. If an arsenal email came to my inbox, I mean, unsubscribe immediately. I don't care about it. Sorry.
David: You don't care about the fixtures? The match?
Roberts: Well done.
Ervin: So what's yours, David?
David: I've been getting the Chili's Queso coupons my entire life.
Kindra: Deeply personal, see?
David: I'll keep getting them after I'm dead. They'll never stop. They'll keep going. Chili's queso coupons are the most consistent thing in my life and I don't think I've ever redeemed one. I don't remember the last time I redeemed one. It's okay. You know, it's alright. But those coupons, man, they're there on time. They're always there and never expect anything in return. Well, they expect you to go to Chili's.
Roberts: Buy their food.
Ervin: There are a limited number of reasons to go to Chili's, but I would put their queso on the list.
Roberts: It's on the list for sure.
Ervin: That's said, I haven't been to Chili's in eight years.
Roberts: Wow. Okay.
Ervin: That's about right. I haven't been since I moved here.
Kindra: What a point of bragging, my goodness.
Ervin: It wasn't a brag. A humble brag.
Kindra: I haven't been in 3 months.
David: You went to Chili's... nevermind.
Roberts: I was thinking it too. I was thinking it too.
Kindra: I have two small kids. We're all about chain restaurants. I went to Applebee's last weekend. I'm not ashamed.
Roberts: It's your neighborhood bar and grill.
Ervin: Okay. One other email thing because I was looking through my work email to see which ones I pay attention to because I feel like this might be more useful. One other one that I really would recommend for everybody to get if you're listening to this podcast is called morning brew. I don't know why I went up in my inflection there, like morning brew? It's actually called morning brew. I'm confident of that. But it's got a really good roundup type of email with news stories happening in business and it's meant to be, going back to Matt Ervin's excellent point earlier about being quick and easy to read, it's got bullet points for lots of different stuff that's happening and links to go dig into it if you want to. But you even just scan the email and get a quick roundup of everything that's happened in the past day and it does go out every day. So that's a good one to subscribe to.
Ervin: So is Speak Creative's email. Like ours is great. It's really good, like it tells about what we're doing, it promotes the podcast.
Kindra: I'm glad you made that plug. That was nice.
Ervin: Thank you.
Roberts: That's a good shot. You miss a hundred percent of the shots you don't take, by the way.
Ervin: And that's what email marketing is all about.
Roberts: That's exactly right.
David: Well, that is it for today. I hope you guys enjoyed it. If you're interested in the topics we covered in today's show, we have a ton of content that covers email marketing, content strategy, web design, digital marketing, and more on our blog. Head over to madebyspeak.com to check out the latest and greatest. As always, if you have questions or feedback for today's episode, we'd love to hear from you. What is the best example of email marketing you've seen? Speak is on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, whichever social media platform you prefer. We are there. If you enjoy the show, I ask you to please subscribe and leave a review on your podcast platform choice. So from myself, our panels today, and all of us at Speak, thank you for getting A Little Off Topic with us.
Want more A Little Off Topic? Listen to last week’s episode about what not to do when applying for a job and the silly interview stories we've collected over time.