We often discuss the importance of email marketing on this podcast, and this episode is no different. There is no other platform that allows you to own your continually curated list, and no fear that it could all disappear tomorrow if Facebook or any other platform you use to market on suddenly disappeared. That email list of yours is still there, and it’s still your property.
We spoke with Jenna Tiffany of Let’s Talk Strategy, who also is an evangelist of email marketing. She got us excited about some new email marketing trends to look out for this year, and clued us in on some of her tired and true tips – including building and keeping your list clean -that continue to help propel her client’s businesses forward.
Rich: My guest today has been recognized as one of the Top 50 marketers to follow in the world. She’s the Founder and Strategy Director at Let’s Talk Strategy, providing strategic consultancy services across the digital marketing mix. She’s a chartered marketer and awarded Fellow of the IDM, with over 10 years marketing experience.
She has consulted on email marketing strategy with brands such as Shell, Hilton, and World Duty Free. She is also an elected member of the prestigious DMA UK Email Marketing Council, the chair of the Research Hub, developing the latest email insights. She’s a teacher, public speaker and publisher, and she speaks regularly at hundreds of marketing events.
Her new book, Marketing Strategy: Overcoming Common Pitfalls and Creative Effective Marketing will be published in May of 2021. Today, we’re going to be diving into email marketing strategy with Jenna Tiffany. Jenna, welcome to the show.
Jenna: Hey, thanks for having me, great to be here.
Rich: So it sounds like you have experienced a wide variety of digital marketing disciplines, but your focus is on email. What is it about email that you feel so passionate about?
Jenna: Yeah, so I started my career across all of the marketing channels from traditional to digital. And what really interests me about email is that it’s typically the channel that just works in the corner. We know we need to send emails out when you’re in the business and in any organization. And sometimes it’s very much overlooked, but actually it’s one of the top performing digital marketing channels. And that’s what really interests me because it not only connects the customer, it actually drops in and out of the customer journey throughout this. It’s probably one of the only channels that tends to pick up on all of those touch points from the very beginning of a prospect all the way through to actually becoming a customer at the end of it.
And that’s the bit for me that I find really interesting and analyzing all of that data and seeing the responses through email.
Rich: Yeah, I completely agree. We’ve been saying on this show forever that you need to be developing an email marketing strategy. You need to be building your list.
Now you work with some well-known brands, which I mentioned in the intro, on their email marketing strategies. When you come into a new project like that, what are some of the first things that you do?
Jenna: Yeah. So the first thing that I really want to understand, and that my company also comes in and consults with those types of companies, smaller as well not just the big names, we also do out with a lot of startups. But the first thing that I’m really keen to understand is what’s the objective. And that might sound like a really basic question, but you’ll be amazed at how many times the answer is, “Uh, well, we haven’t really thought about that actually”, or it’s very simplistic, “We just want to increase sales”.
Yes, of course, every business wants to increase sales and revenue, but actually, what is your fundamental goal? How can the channel help to contribute towards that? And that’s really my first starting point. Because if that isn’t clearly defined, the value of your marketing is never going to align. It’s going to be very misaligned. It makes budget conversations really difficult, and it means that it’s not necessarily pulling in the same direction as the business. And so that becomes very disjointed.
Rich: That makes a lot of sense. Now you mentioned you work with some big companies, you work with some small companies. I’m guessing that companies who have been doing this for a while have a really big list. And then companies that are just getting started obviously have no list whatsoever. What approaches do you take depending on the size of the list?
Jenna: Yeah. So really interesting kind of perception that you have there, because actually I have worked with some really large companies that have small marketing lists, particularly after GDPR, and changes in data legislation in Europe had a big impact on a lot of organizations and their list sizes.
But if you’re starting from zero, do think about what that value piece is. So, what is the value in subscribing to email marketing? Because if the value is only for the company in well, we get to capture their email address, we get to send them content and send them sales and offers and so on, then it’s not necessarily the value to the subscriber. That’s very much business focused. Always thinking about what that the customer is in the center, what they’re getting from it.
But also think about hooking in other channels. So I’ve seen a lot of success, particularly with smaller startup organizations of using other channels like Facebook advertising, and using that as a way of lead gen, lead capture, and capturing those email addresses provided you have consent to market to them. And that can be really effective and then you start to build up your list that way.
And also thinking about the more traditional approaches. So online events are really effective. And the reason why it is so effective is because the value’s really clear there because you’re giving away some information for free. And that’s the bit that’s really important when you’re thinking about email. How can you treat your subscribers in a way that makes them feel like VIPs, that people want to subscribe because you’re giving away something that you don’t already have in a website or in your store, if you have retail stores as well.
Rich: I completely agree. And that is a great way of also getting those emails is by giving them access to something that they might not otherwise get. If a company has a big email list, they’ve been around for a while, how important is it to review that list and cleanse the database on a regular basis?
Jenna: Yeah, really important. And actually we’ve just been working in the last couple of months with a client that had a reasonably sized list that hadn’t been cleaned for a number of years. They started to see some issues in the sender reputation. So this is the reputation that Google and Yahoo starts to assign to your email domain, your email sender domain. And based on what your engagement looks like, the type of quality of data that you’re sending to, whether people are opening and clicking regularly, and those volumes that you’re sending as well. We started to see a massive decline and they didn’t quite understand what had happened. Like, where’s this decline started, how have we got to where we are today? We were getting really good open rates only six months ago. And actually it was because there was a lot of spam traps, invalid email addresses. A lot of data hygiene activities needed to take place.
So I would say it’s really important. It can seem like a really arduous and boring task that nobody really wants. But it’s one of those that it helps keep the system clean. It’s almost like thinking about your car engine and making sure you have an oil change. It’s very similar approach to that. Leaving your list and just letting it grow and then not really checking in with that, checking the hygiene of that every six months or maybe more frequent depending on how big your list is growing, is really, really important. And there’s free tools available that will scan your list for you and tell you whether or not there’s some areas to be concerned with. And then there’ll be some other services that can help you actually clean those lists for you and take out any potential invalid or high-risk email addresses.
And because the risk of not doing that is that it could actually affect your emails not getting into the inbox, not being seen by your customers, and impact your overall email program. So it really is a core fundamental area to be focusing on.
Rich: I think a lot of companies are going to be surprised to find out that they have a ‘sender’s reputation’, and that sending emails to defunct email addresses is hurting them on some level.
Do you know if there is there a place you can go online and find out what your sender’s rep is? And a lot of people send out emails through like a MailChimp or Constant Contact. Is the sender’s rep more about Constant Contact or MailChimp, or is it more about my business when I’m sending things out?
Jenna: Yeah. Great question. It’s more about the reputation that Gmail, Yahoo, and Outlook are giving you. Gmail in particular have their own tool and it’s called Google Postmaster Tools. It’s free, but you need to make sure you activate it. And if you have a high proportion, which the majority of people do that have Gmail addresses and G suite and so on, then definitely do sign up for that. It’s really quite straightforward to set up, and that will then tell you what your reputation looks like in the eyes of Google and Gmail, which is really important.
There are other tools available, there are free tools online if you just Google ‘sender reputation’, there’s lots of tools on there where you can actually put in your email sender name and it will give back a quality score based on what that looks like.
The way to think about it is how Google ranks websites in the search results. It’s very similar in the way that it’s looked at in terms of your sender reputation. So your website would be looked at in terms of its speed, its quality, whether or not you’ve got a high bounce rate, and very similar for email marketing engagement as well and how that is actually calculated and given a school.
Rich: All right. When we’re getting started or when you come into a client for the first time, are there some basic campaigns that you recommend running for that email? And if so, what kind of campaigns are those? What does that look like?
Jenna: Yes. The number one campaign is a welcome campaign. So welcoming all of your new subscribers, saying ‘thanks for subscribing’, setting some expectations, a little bit of promotion about you, but also a great opportunity to find out more about your new subscriber. You might have different products based on different customer needs, so an interactive way, if it’s through imagery or a preference center, to capture that information is really, really useful later on in the email journey. And really good starting point is out of that welcome journey. So that could be three, four emails that you send there.
The next one would be thinking about your confirmation emails. And that might sound like, “Okay, that’s quite a basic one. Surely that just goes out automatically.” But actually a lot of organizations are still sending unbranded, not checked through, old order confirmation emails. And these are the ones that your customers, particularly if they make a purchase, are wanting to see in their inbox immediately. So really making sure that they represent your brand, they look like your company, and that they really fit into the overall branding and look and feel and the customer journey.
And the next one to think about, and it’s less of the campaign to send, but actually to think about the journey and the experience that your subscribers go on. If a subscriber selects the ‘unsubscribe’ link. I know we dread it, sometimes you have a natural churn and that’s a good thing. That’s a positive thing. What does that experience look like? Because I actually went through this process. It’s January now, I went through this process that started the year and going to declutter my inbox. As you can imagine, I subscribed to everything, so my inbox is crazy. So I started to unsubscribe to see what these processes were also like. And I was amazed at how many organizations would take up to 72 hours, four days, or not action my unsubscribe at all, and continue to send me emails until that unsubscribed went into the system.
So really think about what that process looks like. Are you making it really simple and easy for your customers? Because ultimately you want them to unsubscribe rather than mark you as spam, which goes back to the sender reputation damage it could cause as well. So testing that out, because that is a process that will sit there in the background. It’s not the most sexy one in email, but it’s really, really important to make sure that it’s as streamlined and as efficient as possible.
Rich: Okay. Now as we’re crafting emails and whatever kind of content we might be sharing, any tips or suggestions as we write these, or any tips or suggestions around the subject lines?
Jenna: Yeah, subject lines gets a lot of conversation. There’s lots of great tools available. There’s some free subject line generator tools if you’re looking for some inspiration. Sometimes it can be a challenge, and AI plays a big part in that as well. I’ve seen lots of success of AI being used to generate subject lines. But the key element here is to test. To A/B test what works best for your audience because there isn’t a one size fits all. You know, company subscriber is very personal to that company based on what their expectation is with that brand to an organization.
So really think about testing different words. Emojis use with caution. I have some clients that love emojis, but subscribers start to start to get really kind of bored of seeing emojis over and over again. So keep that testing, keep the monitoring performance.
In terms of content, think about what the key goal is for that particular campaign that we were talking about at the very beginning, Because each campaign that you send won’t necessarily drive sales, but it might be that actually you want your customers to read more or to go to your website or to download a white paper or whatever that might look like.
So thinking about testing those call to actions that you have in your campaigns. The wordings that you’re using and testing the different colors can have a really big impact in your click through rate as well. So testing should be a really core fundamental part of your email marketing. And the fun bit is where you get to learn a lot more about your subscribers.
Rich: All right. Now whenever we hear about best practices and email, there’s always that conversation around segmentation. So what I’ve discovered though is very few people, even the people who are talking about segmentation, actually do segmentation. So I’m curious to get your take on this. Is there a list size that’s too small for segmentation or should we always be thinking about it? And if we are going to make it part of our plan that we have very different audiences are very different products and we need to segment this list, what are some of the best ways we could do that to really have diverse segmented lists?
Jenna: Yeah. So I think on your kind of first question, is there a list size that’s too small. I think if you’re looking into the hundreds, that could potentially be too small. Then when you get into the top end of a thousand, then that would be a good starting point for segmentation.
The starting points for thinking about what different segments you could have, is whether or not your subscribers have purchased with you and what that is. So that you can then start to send them content based on that recent purchase. So it might be that you want to up-sale, you’ve got products that are similar, that you can cross sell. Also thinking about the engagement piece, so subscribing and segmenting your subscribers that unengaged. So maybe they’re not opening every three months. Maybe they haven’t clicked an email in a long time. Maybe they haven’t purchased from you as well. And that’s a useful segment to have to put them into what’s called an industry or nurture program. Re-engagement programs to bring them back in to keep them interested.
And then also looking at what I’ve seen really, really successful results from is looking at what your high value subscribers, who they are and segmenting those. You might have some subscribers that always purchase from you full price, depending on what type of organization you are. They might always renew every single year. And so sending them a campaign that is sales promoted, has got heavy discounts, isn’t necessarily going to engage that audience. And actually it’s going to hit your bottom line if they always purchase full price. And that’s where segmentation starts to add in some volume.
Segmentation is really, really useful, but it does come with a maintenance overhead. And that’s the bit I think that when you start adding 20 different segments, you start going a little bit down a rabbit hole. So really think about what the overall objective is. What could you get from putting that segment in that? Like what value do you get, what value does the subscriber get? And how’s it going to help you to achieve those goals and objectives as a business?
Rich: So, it’s interesting. So when I think a lot of, at least small businesses think about segmentation, it’s about when you sign up for the list, are you interested in A, B or C? And then we’re going to send you emails based on that, even though we never do. But what I’m hearing from you is, maybe a better approach to segmentation is based on triggers. So when somebody does or doesn’t do something, you or the email system that you’re on, will then segment them to say this is somebody who likes to buy at full price, or this is somebody who hasn’t opened our emails in three months. So, it’s more on the back end than asking people upfront what kind of content that they’re interested in. Do you find that to be more successful?
Jenna: Yeah, you could do a mixture of both. I think the challenge with the first option is that subscribers typically aren’t necessarily all going to be very forthcoming with that information. So you can get quite sophisticated in the backend by having those triggers, as you said. That and customizing that journey based on the activity and behavior. And that tends to be where segmentation adds a lot more value.
Rich: Okay. Now I’ve heard a little bit about some AMP or AMP emails lately. Can you kind of explain what that’s all about?
Jenna: Yeah. So AMP email is a really interesting area to keep an eye on. It kind of, it started a few years ago now. It’s been very heavily promoted by Gmail in particular in the last month or so, Yahoo has also now given support for AMP emails. So I think now we might see that adoption rate grow now that it’s a little bit broader.
What it means is that when an email campaign is sent, instead of having to go through the email, click through landlords to the website, select the product, add it to basket and purchase, you do all of that within the email campaign itself. It becomes much more interactive, it removes some steps from the website. And it means that email has a little bit more of a role to play in the purchase sediment rather than just directing traffic to the website itself. So it is a really interesting space. It means that you can create some really quite interesting and interactive and much more movement-driven email campaigns rather than looking quite static.
There have been some security concerns, which is why it’s not taking the adoption at the speed that Gmail expected or would have liked to have seen at the very beginning. But I hear a lot more about it in the industry. I’m very excited about it. I think it gives that kind of 21st century element to email. Because we’re very restricted in terms of coding. We’ve got a lot of different platforms and outlooks to render for and different devices, and makes it very, very complicated. It’s not as flexible as websites so this gives it that really kind of really good injection, brings up to speed, really makes it very interactive. I think it’s really going to be very successful for subscribers and makes the journey a lot easier. It makes them get a bit more engaged in the inbox as well and gives them like a full experience.
So I think watch this space and keep an eye on it. I think we’ll see a lot more adoption this year from brands.
Rich: Yeah. So you mentioned that AMP is kind of a Google thing, and now Yahoo is doing it, too. But obviously there’s a lot of people who don’t use those two email platforms, they use Outlook, some of them use their own apps. Do these emails just not work in those platforms and then you click the link and it takes you to the website where it does something? Is that how that behaves?
Jenna: Yeah. So Outlook is a nightmare, number one, for anything email marketing related. It’s the bug fair for email marketers. It’s just such data technology. Now email marketing is really built on very data technology, and Outlook in particular is very restrictive. So yes, it wouldn’t work in Outlook, But it will now work in both Gmail and Yahoo, it’s supported. I think in terms of whether or not it’s going to be as widely adopted as possible because it’s not going to work in Outlook. I think we’ll see it much more in a B2C sense, than a B2B environment because of those Outlook challenges.
But there are a lot of organizations that use Google suite now, and that is Gmail, so that would work there. So I think watch the space and see what that adoption rate looks like. But from the initial case studies of last year when I have spoken with the Gmail team directly, there’s some really interesting results and it does drive engagement with subscribers. So I think it’s almost like what subscribers are wanting to see in their inbox as well. I think it brings almost the Instagram type of experience into the inbox directly, rather than having to go to a website. It might not be mobile friendly, and so I think watch this space, keep an eye on it.
Rich: Speaking of watching this space, you’re obviously in this world more than the average person. Besides the AMP pages, is there anything that you see coming down the line that you’re excited about or some opportunities for email marketers out there?
Jenna: I think AMP is definitely one of those. I think the second one for me is AI. I still think it’s got a way to go for email. And not only for subject lines, but also the content within the email as well. So it’s kind of a more simplistic version that we’ve discussed about before is dynamic content. So where the content isn’t just based on when the marketers press ‘send’, it actually changes at the point of when the subscriber opens the email. So it might be that actually it changes based on the weather. So you might have different clothing or different products appear based on the weather or where that person is and their location.
You can also change by device automatically. So it might be that you actually want to promote your app and serve your website depending on who’s opening your emails and what device they’re using. And also be based on location entirely. So somebody’s gone from one location to another, not so relevant now, but pre-COVID and after COVID, you can change that content and make it completely personalized.
And I think that element is still something that we’re not seeing. It’s still something that could be very widely adopted within the email space within email content. For me, AI is like another layer on that, where it becomes much more focused on the subscriber’s behavior. You know, it’s learning all of the time with machine learning and just gets more and more sophisticated. And I’ve seen huge amount of success with brands using AI to really drive that engagement with their subscribers.
Rich: Interesting. Now there’s obviously a lot of different ways to send emails. And a lot of companies, most companies I assume, rely on some level of an email service provider or a CRM with ESP capabilities. Do you have a couple that you recommend in general to companies who are looking to get into email marketing, and have some of these additional triggers, and have some segmentation options, and all that sort of thing?
Jenna: Yeah. I think there’s more than 250 different email service platforms available globally. I don’t have my go-to, it really depends on the organization, what they’re going to be using email for, how the business is set up. Because each one is very different to the other and it might be that actually one ESP is going to be really successful for that particular type of organization, but isn’t necessarily going to integrate with a lot of their internal systems and that’s going to cause a problem. So whenever we’re recommending ESPs, we always do it in a one-to-one basis and want to understand a little bit more about the company itself.
Rich: All right. Makes a lot of sense. Jenna, this has been great. I know I learned a lot, I’m sure everybody else did. If they want to learn more about you and your company, where can we send them?
Rich: Awesome. Thanks so much, Jenna. I really appreciate your time today and come back anytime.
Jenna: Thanks so much for having me. It was a pleasure.
Jenna Tiffany’s passion is consulting with businesses on their digital marketing strategy and continuously moving them forward across all marketing channels. Check out her website where you’ll find her informative blog, and be sure to follow her on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn.
Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.