Insights, Wisdom and Lessons Learned from the 2015 Email Evolution Conference

Insights, Wisdom and Lessons Learned from the 2015 Email Evolution Conference

Earlier this month I had the pleasure of joining many of my fellow Influencers in Miami at the Email Evolution Conference. Hosted annually by the Direct Marketing Association’s Email Experience Council (eec), the event kicks off the email conference year by bringing brands, advocates, vendors and thought leaders together under the south Florida sun to discuss, debate and share innovations and pressing issues central to email marketing.

Here without further ado are key insights, wisdom and lessons learned (including my own) from this year’s event:

Lesson: All Things Old Are New Again

Email Evolution 2015 was a terrific conference – my first since re-entering the email industry last year.  In dozens of conversations as well as the day two keynote and our own breakout session, I was delighted to hear that the professionals in this industry have stayed true to why we leverage email for driving customer engagement: because it offers the highest value channel for treating different customers/subscribers/members/ stakeholders differently.  Personalization may be an old topic, but with today’s technology and access to data we have a chance to actually revolutionize how we talk to each other using email! 

 - Robin Green, VP Sales, PostUp

Lesson: Inbox Deliverability and Engagement Myths Finally Busted!

There were two stand-out sessions for me at this year’s event: 1) the first and one of the most talked about was the closing keynote panel on deliverability and inbox engagement, featuring experts from four major ISPs: AOL, Google, Microsoft and Comcast.  I had seen a similar panel – including most if not all of the same panelists – at Message System’s user event in San Diego last November.  Having been in email marketing for nineteen years I’ve seen and heard a lot of things, but hearing directly from the ISPs about how to deliver to the Inbox held my attention closely.  I’m sure that these kinds of discussions are standard at events like MAWG, but rare on the marketing circuit until now. 

The other stand out for me was 2) Matt Caldwell’s session on Mobile-Ready Email.  While Matt provided current mobile email statistics and emerging mobile patterns, what I hope that attendees to his session didn’t miss was the importance of structure and procedure outside of layout and code.  It’s that structure and those procedures – that apply to more than design and coding – that maintain consistency of production, reduce the possibility of mistakes, and increase the overall production abilities of those involved.  While Matt’s session was focused on Mobile-Ready Email, I walked away with much more than how to code mobile-ready email.

It’s only taken about 20 years, but if this keeps up I think it’s safe to say that our industry is finally growing up rather than just growing old.

            - John Caldwell, Founder, Red Pill Email

Lesson: There’s No Substitute for Face Time

My biggest takeaway was the networking. It was great to meet some of the thought leaders of the industry who I have been following for years via OI, blogs, Twitter, etc.

In terms of content, there was one piece of information that came out of the deliverability panel, which surprised me. For years, I have heard and read about the importance of subject line copy in relation to SPAM scores and inbox placement. The four representatives from the ISPs which host most consumer email accounts unanimously said that this is not the case. The only way that the subject line copy could negatively impact a sender’s inbox placement is if the recipient interprets the email as SPAM based on the subject line copy and flags it accordingly.

I will not be shouting “Free” in all caps followed by exclamation points in my subject lines any time soon, but I will no longer put my subject lines under as much scrutiny either.

-       Shalyn Waits, Email Product Manager,

Lesson:   Email Engagement Means Different Things to ISPs and Email Marketers (aka opens and clicks don’t affect deliverability as much as we thought!)

Nothing the closing panel said about deliverability was anything that 99% of brands and professionals in the room didn’t know already and aren’t already being proactive about doing right. In fact when I put it to the panel that all of us in the in the room (and members of the Only Influencers) list are senders of the 5% of wanted email and not the “crap” that constitutes 95% of email hitting ISP in-bound servers, they concurred.

I was however very encouraged to hear them agree with some of my long held views. This article on the subject is one I wrote way back in 2010 stating that there was no evidence ISP’s used clicks to measure engagement:

In summary we had confirmation that:

What I found encouraging about the session is that it removed one of the biggest reasons given by some people to justify removing inactives from your list - a practice that could be costing the industry millions in revenue.

            - Dela Quist, CEO AlchemyWorx

Lesson: Poor Engagement Doesn’t Always Negatively Affect Overall Sender Reputation

Although clicks are not one, there are a number of engagement actions the ISPs track that do affect reputation and individual delivery, including some of the following:

  • OPENS are good
  • DELETE without OPEN is pretty bad
  • FILING an email is good
  • REPLYING to an email is very good
  • Adding to the ADDRESS BOOK is good
  • Moving from JUNK to INBOX is very good
  • Moving from INBOX to JUNK is obviously bad
  • The SPAM button is also obviously pretty bad

Gmail also stated that there’s a higher probability that someone will click the spam button if your email is in the “inbox tab”, and less likely if it’s in the “promotions tab”.  The message was:  don’t fight the tabs, they’re a good thing.

            - Al Bsharah, Co-Founder and CEO Email Copilot

Lesson: Attribution Remains a Key Challenge for Email Marketers

My biggest lesson was that though we're still in the infancy, attribution is becoming an increasingly important challenge for email marketers. The increasing number of touch-points and communications channels means increasing budget competition and attribution is the key to determining where to best spend your marketing dollars.

            - Derek Harding, Managing Director Javelin Labs

Lesson: Email Address Validity and Integrity Is Fundamental to Program Success

At the conference attendees learned about all sorts of cool stuff that can be done with email, e.g. inserting video, optimizing for mobile, dynamically changing images, sending at the precise time each individual user is most likely to engage, etc. 

But what struck me most is that the entire success of any these efforts is completely gated by the quality of the actual email address.  No amount of money invested in whiz-bang creative or deployment optimization will overcome the problems of an undeliverable or inaccurate address.  Thus it is more important than ever before for marketers to focus on the fundamentals of acquiring and maintaining the best possible email addresses of their customers and prospects.

            - Austin Bliss, President, FreshAddress

Lesson: Ask and You Shall Receive . . . and in turn Deliver More Value

Don't underestimate your customers' willingness to provide data in exchange for value.  When it comes to personalization and targeting, the more accurate and up-to-date your data is, the better - but many brands are hesitant to ask for it. The worry is that consumers will be put off by the request, but that's only if they don't understand how they would benefit by providing it. If you are clear about how the data will be used to provide them value in terms of experience, service, knowledge, etc., many consumers are happy to oblige. Just make sure that you're prepared to deliver on whatever you promise to provide in return. You are building trust, so your actions will either build or damage this invaluable commodity. 

            - Jason Klein, Senior Director of Corporate Marketing, StrongView

Lesson: Woman Are Thriving in Email

For the first time since the eec began its awards program, this year’s winners were both women. Alessandra Souers of JibJab won the Email Marketer of the Year award, while Justine Jordan of Litmus took home the Email Thought Leader of the Year Award.

In the fifteen years I’ve been in email marketing teaching workshops and seminars, I’ve seen a continuous increase in the number of women in email jobs and leadership roles, with a distinct spike especially in the last five to seven years. These days, the seminars and workshops I deliver for associations like the DMA, ANA, MarketingProfs and others are almost exclusively female.

It’s encouraging to see more women in the technical/digital marketing channels beginning or furthering their careers in roles where they can develop both left-brain and right-brain skills – applying both the “art” and “science” of marketing to email.  They are coming in fairly young – and realizing that they can make a significant impact – if they are in an organization where email directly contributes to revenue, as it does for JibJab.

            - Karen Talavera, President, Synchronicity Marketing

Lesson: There Are More ESPs Than There Are Stars in the Sky

There is no shortage, nor does there appear any type of decline, in the variety and number of email service providers (ESPs). Realistically, there are 350 or so in the space, and there was strong representation of that group in Miami.

            - Gabe Richman, Director of Sales, Opt-Intelligence

Did you attend the event and have a lesson or insight you’d like to share? If so, please contribute in Comments below.