Email is the Only Channel You Can Own
That’s what Scott Harris tells his clients before giving them a master class in how to best use outbound marketing techniques to reach and grow their audience.
In this episode of Expert Marketing Matters, Lauren and Chris talk with Newfangled’s in-house email marketing expert Scott Harris about the continued effectiveness of email campaigns that “stay human in this digital world.”
We cover the complexities of technical setup for marketing automation systems, evaluating email performance and engagement metrics, and the eleven signals of email success and failure…
You can listen to the episode using the player embedded above, or you can read a full transcript below.
Chris Butler: Welcome to Expert Marketing Matters. I’m Chris Butler.
Lauren McGaha: I’m Lauren McGaha.
Scott Harris: I’m Scott Harris.
Chris Butler: So Scott, this is your first time on the show. Welcome.
Scott Harris: Thank you. It’s great to be here.
Chris Butler: Maybe you could share with the audience what you do at Newfangled and then we’ll get into the topic.
Scott Harris: Yeah, absolutely. I work with Newfangled clients to set up their digital marketing ecosystem. And what that basically means is helping them integrate their website with their marketing automation tool, sometimes their CRM and our insight engine. And then once all that is set up, I am a coach for them, specifically for demand generation. And what that means is I help them with email marketing. I help them with their LinkedIn ads and website conversion optimization. Pretty much everything in the digital marketing realm.
Chris Butler: Awesome. So that makes you pretty much the expert we need when it comes to what we want to talk about today, which is email. But before we get into that, we thought we’d try out maybe a little bit of an appetizer. Just throwing some ideas around, things that are on our radar right now. We’re going to call the segment What’s Up. So Scott, you go first, something that’s on your mind, something that’s relevant that the audience would be interested in.
Scott Harris: Sure. So for me, what’s up is I’ve been revisiting RSS feeds, remember the glory days of RSS feeds?
Chris Butler: Very much so.
Scott Harris: Yeah. Basically I’ve been using them to curate news, and opinion pieces, and content for my college sports websites and social media feeds. For a while that was a lot more difficult when Google eliminated their Google News RSSV, but that’s been back. And I’ve kind of been revisiting it, and filtering RSS feeds to generate content creation stream for those accounts.
Chris Butler: You are making me nostalgic for 2007.
Lauren McGaha: The good old days.
Scott Harris: Oh yes, they were good. So that’s what’s up for me.
Chris Butler: That’s a good one. How about you Lauren?
Lauren McGaha: So we were kicking off with a new client yesterday. And what that process entails is once a new client comes on with us, [Mark] and I have a deep conversation with their full team to ask them about their vision for their marketing, and to talk about what their impediments to digital marketing have been in the past, and just sort of set the stage for how we’re going to be helping them. And give them an opportunity to air any grievances at the outset, and also just sort of paint a picture of what a better future might look like for their firm, in going through this work with us.
Lauren McGaha: But I was talking to one of the owners at this firm, and he was talking about the difficulty that he’s had developing messaging, and really being disciplined about content, and then feeling motivated to write it, and feeling like it’s actually doing anything for him. And I was explaining how our process has helped other owners through that. And he was asking me a follow up about the editorial process and our involvement. And he was like, “So you’re going to be copy editing, and just making sure everything’s grammatically correct, and that I sound smart.” And I said, “Well sure, we’re a second pair of eyes, from a copy editing standpoint, but that’s not really where the value is. What we do is we make sure you’re saying something.” And he was like, “What do you mean, we’re saying something?” And I said, “Well, just that. That the messaging that you are investing your time in creating actually has a point of view. That it means something.”
Lauren McGaha: And most of the coaching, when we’re teaching people to be better writers, most of the coaching, it’s got very little to do with grammar rules, it’s got to do with, are you saying something that matters at all? Are you writing something that’s going to make the reader either nod their head yes or shake their head no? That’s where we want you to be, because you have those perspectives, and you have that point of view. And that’s good content marketing. When you’re brave enough to put a stake in the ground, knowing that it might be a controversial opinion.
Lauren McGaha: And he was really kind of taken aback by that perspective. And it was interesting to me that this was kind of a new thought for him, but it was essentially, he had been so obstructed by the formula that comes along with content marketing, like, “Oh, I’ve got to publishing this regularly and it’s got to go out on these platforms.” And he had been so kind of distracted by the tactics of it that he had kind of lost sight of the point of it. The point of putting forward something that would really have a lasting impact on the reader. And this guy has stuff to say. And so it was just interesting to me how common that actually is. That the mechanics of content marketing actually gets in the way of doing it well, and in a meaningful way, even when you have the ability to,
Chris Butler: Yeah, that’s such a great story because, in a nutshell, it basically sums up what all of us could struggle with, which is just getting sidelined by details and forgetting the point.
Lauren McGaha: Totally.
Chris Butler: And actually the thing that I wanted to share is along similar lines, but in the design realm. I’ve been using Sketch as a tool, instead of Photoshop, for I don’t know, three years now, four. And it’s great because it’s designed to be a interaction design or a web design tool. As opposed to Photoshop, which sort of evolved into being used for that. But it comes with its own problems. As a piece of installable software, version control is trouble. There’s licensing issues. If you’ve got an old file, or someone passed it to you and it’s not in the same version, there can be some glitchiness.
Chris Butler: And I kind of got fed up with that and started using Figma, which is another competitor, but the nice thing about it is that it’s in the browser. And that makes a world of difference. You can download a local version. But having the entire creation tool, in the browser, makes that whole experience of making something, and then showing it to someone else, seamless. So if you’re listening to this and you’ve thought about exploring that tool, I would really encourage you to try it out and maybe even make the switch.
Lauren McGaha: Cool. I wonder what that means for systems like Sketch.
Chris Butler: Well, yeah, I mean there’s pros and cons to both tools. I think Sketch will have a healthy future. But for me, and given the work that we do, which involves a lot of collaboration across teams that are not under the same organization, having a tool like that, that’s seamless from creation to browser, is really key.
Lauren McGaha: For sure.
Chris Butler: So with that, let’s transition to some expertise from Scott. We have been eager to talk about email with you for a long time. You’ve been working on a heap of content around email that will come out in the next few months. And so we thought that this would be a great way to kick that off by sort of just talking to you about the nitty gritty around email. And before we get into that, my question for you is I hear over and over again that email is dead, but you say it’s not. So tell me more about that.
Scott Harris: No, absolutely. Email is alive and well. In fact, email is still the most profitable marketing channel out there. The ROI is massive. For every dollar you spend on it, there’s multiple studies out there that suggest anywhere between 35 and $45 return. And it’s low cost. And it maintains a longterm value because people keep their emails. And that differs from other tools, like different social media accounts and things like that. And that’s really the other reason that email is so important. It’s really a channel you can own. You’re not at the whims of a Facebook and API changes, or getting into their newsfeed.
Lauren McGaha: Can you talk a little bit more, Scott, about why it’s important, in your opinion, to preserve at least one digital marketing channel that you’ve got some control over?
Scott Harris: Yeah, absolutely. It’s really important because it helps you build that relationship with prospects, and clients even. Over time, every email you send, you can build a deeper, more meaningful relationship. And with email you can continue to have that one to one email. And what’s really cool about it is, if you know your prospects and you have information on them that allows you to continue to customize those emails, then you can send emails that are very personalized, and relevant, and valuable, to those individuals. And when people come to get your emails in your inbox, they’re excited that you’ve sent them that email because they are getting valuable, and it is relevant. And you own it.
Chris Butler: That’s something that’s underneath a lot of conversations we’ve had with our clients and internally, that email has evolved from being the primary way you make first contact to being the primary way that you nurture relationships. And so what you’re talking about, in terms of building that depth of relationship over time, it’s where the value grows. As opposed to the way I think a lot of people think of email, which is the value highest at the beginning and then it might trail off over time.
Scott Harris: Yeah, that’s a great point. And what’s also cool about email is that it even extends beyond just the email channel. We use email when we’re targeting people on LinkedIn. And you can target people in multiple platforms by having their email address. So there’s a lot of value in that as well.
Chris Butler: Yeah, so in talking about that value, the first thing, of course, I started thinking about is what could obstruct you from capturing that value? And I start thinking about the technology, some of the technical elements of set up, performance, and this is something that you know a ton about. You’ve been in the trenches of email for years. And so I’d love to hear from you about some of the things, I guess primarily, that effect the setup side of email that from your experience a lot of people don’t think too much about but are critical to building a stable platform.
Scott Harris: On the technical side, there are some things that you want to set up. And the reason you set these up are so your email will land in a primary inbox. When you send an email, it’s either going to land in somebody’s inbox, maybe go to a junk folder, or it may even be blocked from being delivered altogether. And to help prevent that what do you need to do is you need to set up some records that will improve your email deliverability and your inbox placement. What we recommend are setting up sender policy framework, which is also known as SPF. Domain keys identified email, which is the DKIM record. And then once you have those set up, you can also set up a DMARC record. That’s on the technical side.
Scott Harris: And then in terms of how you want to ensure your emails are landing in a primary inbox. When I’m saying primary inbox you might use Gmail and in that case you have a primary inbox folder. And what helps your email land in a primary inbox is engagement. And with email, engagement begets engagement. There are also some signals within these email providers which help tell them whether they should place your email in the primary inbox.
Chris Butler: Right, so signals of success. And before we get into that though, you just rattled off a lot of technical information. There’s the records stuff, there’s acronyms. Things that I think are going to be potentially scary to a listener. And obviously your clients have the benefit of working with you and being through that with you. Are there resources around that, that you would recommend, in terms of if there’s somebody listening now that says, “Okay, I’m furiously taking notes on what you just said, but is there a place I can go where I might be able to find some of this stuff later?”
Scott Harris: Sure. There are a ton. And once we do launch the series, I’ll provide even more of this, but some just off the top of my head are, the ones that we use probably the most often are mxtoolbox.com. There’s a super tool which you can look at various aspects of your technical setup, can check your email sending domain for black listing, and you could also look at the records and whether they are valid and working as they should, and there’s a Sender Scores tool that also will evaluate your email sender reputation. You can go just Google Sender Score to find that.
Chris Butler: That’s all good stuff. I was trying to tee you up for a plug, which is that we are going to have a lot of this stuff on the site. We’re really hoping that this content becomes sort of a point of record on the subject. So look forward to that. And within that coverage, you’re going to be talking about those signals of success that you just alluded to and I’d love to get into that. What are the things that happen to an email, or that are reflective engagement, that should indicate to the sender, to all of you marketers out there, that this is working?
Scott Harris: When you think about signals of success, that would be a positive engagement. You have things like opens, clicks, replies, forwards. When someone marks an email as important, or adds you to their address book. They can also tell how long you’re viewing, so if they view your email for a longer period of time. If you happen to move a specific email into another folder, it can be a positive signal. Or potentially if you hadn’t landed into a promotions tab initially, and that email was placed into the primary tab, that can also be positive.
Scott Harris: On the flip side, you can look at the signals of failure. And those include things like hard bounces, someone marking your email as spam, soft bounces, sending the same message multiple times to someone who has not engaged with your email, sending bad links. So if you have a link that is invalid or pointing to something different than it is indicating. Authenticated records, going back up to what we talked about initially when we were saying you should set up these specific records for your email. If those don’t exist, that can be a negative signal. And then one of the other big ones I would say is a high image to text ratio of your email.
Chris Butler: I love that because first of all, both lists, the signals of success, signals of failure, you’ve got 11 items on there. And I think in both cases it’s really the first three that most people tend to think about the most. So signals of success, how many people opened the email, how many people clicked the link, and maybe if there is some direct activity like a reply or a forward. But we don’t think about all these other things that might happen to an email or might affect an email’s existence in somebody’s inbox.
Chris Butler: And it’s interesting, three out of 11 is not the majority. Obviously it’s the closest action to the recipient. But whether somebody marks something as important, or adds it to their address book, or the length of time they spend viewing the email, or things like double opt in, or creating the folder, all that stuff, it’s indicative of how they value the email and the correspondence itself. And I think that’s really a fascinating thing.
Speaker 2: You’re listening to Expert Marketing Matters, a podcast about generating ideal new business opportunities, by creating and nurturing digital marketing systems and habits that have a measurable impact on your bottom line. This podcast is brought to you by Newfangled, a digital marketing consultancy focused on empowering experts to do better digital marketing. You can learn more about Newfangled’s digital marketing method at newfangled.com.
Chris Butler: There’s one thing that you mentioned in signals of failure, sending bad links, that I thought we would be interesting to extrapolate on, a little bit today, for a lesson learned. We had an instance where we sent an email out that was a very basic text email, sent directly from the writer. And in that particular case all we wanted was people to reply and so we didn’t include a true URL. The only link in that email was a mailto link. That was the first link in the signature of that email. And that created an unexpected series of events for us that was not good. And it really blew my mind that we’ve been doing this for over a decade and a half, and that had never happened to us before, and you were able to help us sort that situation out. So I’d love for you to share what the solution was. What your insight was and the solution, for those people out there so that they can understand that even a tiny little thing like that can completely change how an email program can go.
Scott Harris: Yeah, absolutely. That was a fun situation. The situation in this case is related to how email providers potentially filter emails that are coming into their system. So in this case we’ve noticed that certain spam filters that these email providers may have, will check links within an email that’s sent to recipients there. And what that means is you may get a lot of false clicks from your emails. And the point of that, from their perspective at least, is just to ensure that the links that are being sent to people who are receiving these emails are valid and not potentially like a phishing scam or something to that effect. And what happened in this situation was the first link that was a valid URL was our unsubscribe link at the very bottom. And the way these tools work is they typically check that first link on the top of an email that’s sent. And since we did not have one before that unsubscribe link, anyone who had employed these filtering tools that check links, or check the first link in this case, were automatically unsubscribing.
Chris Butler: Right. And that was a stressful time for us. And I’m just really glad that you were a part of that because, given your background and expertise, you are able to troubleshoot that for us. Because we didn’t see anything wrong with the email and hadn’t thought about what you just described, which is email server level filtering that would take an action, like unsubscribe, without the recipient even seeing the email. Which is great, in theory.
Chris Butler: So I’m curious, Lauren, as you’ve been listening to Scott talk through all this technical detail, and sort of reinforce the importance of email. What are your thoughts as a content marketer, as someone who thinks about the material that gets sent out? How do you process all of this? How would you add onto this conversation in terms of reinforcing the connection between the work that you and your team are doing, and what Scott is talking about?
Lauren McGaha: I think it’s interesting to lay the technical foundation here because if you don’t get these things right, then it kind of doesn’t matter what it is that you’re sending. As is evidenced in that little glitch that we had. I think these are all really, really important details to keep in mind when you’re establishing your outbound strategy through the email platform. But what I’m curious to hear, and kind of discuss beyond the technical set up portion of this, is how you navigate the nuances between messaging when you are trying to establish relationships with people via email, or at least build up credibility slowly time. Because even though we’ve seen that that’s harder to do, it’s not as if the email channel is completely useless at that. We still advise our clients to be using this channel to foster relationships over time, but the messaging looks different.
Lauren McGaha: And when we think about the way that you would establish credibility early in your relationship with a prospect, versus the way that you nurture and grow that credibility once they’ve demonstrated more of an active interest, and kind of raised their hand more times that they want to hear from you. Those two things look a little bit different.
Lauren McGaha: And so when we think about sort of that earlier stage, Scott, I know you’re faced with this all the time, where you’ve got a prospect who’s purchased a list. And maybe they’ve just cleaned that list and so they feel confident that the names on that list are valid, but they’re trying to figure out what are the considerations that they need to be holding in their mind when they’re starting to build that relationship. Are there any technical considerations or any email strategies that you tend to go back to, again and again with your clients, about how to manage that newer list as they’re trying to build that trust?
Scott Harris: Yeah, great question. And there’s definitely some things that I recommend again and again. First off, what we always recommend is, as you mentioned, that list cleanse. And when you do a list cleanse you will have different categories of emails that will come back. And as far as starting out a email campaign to those cold purchased lists, who know nothing of you before they get that first email potentially, we always recommend only sending to the verified emails. And what that means is, it’s a valid email that will receive what you’ve sent into their inbox. Then it gives them an opportunity to engage with you. And that’s just on the technical side.
Scott Harris: Beyond that, thinking about really all emails, I think this would apply to both cold and warm, but I’m always telling clients to focus on the relevance of your email. And I think that dovetails very well with the persona work you do with clients. And then too, the value of your email. So if you are providing relevance and value, you’re doing a lot to engender trust and build engagement with that colder list, so it will warm up.
Lauren McGaha: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Scott Harris: Yeah, so relevance and value are really the two things that I try to get people to focus on the most. Especially during those first few months really, as you’re building that relationship. Because if someone doesn’t trust you, they’re not going to engage with you.
Lauren McGaha: Yeah. It’s a helpful reminder because I think sometimes our marketing objectives, or the marketing objectives of the client, might be at odds with what the prospect really needs in order to trust that email sender. And so what I mean by that, is we work with a lot of firms who, there’s a lot of energy behind getting this new list in place. There’s so much thought, and effort, and care put into, “Okay, who are the right people? What are the right industries, the right kinds of companies?” I mean, they’re not going and just spending their budget on purchasing names that they don’t think they’ve got something to say to.
Lauren McGaha: But from the marketer’s perspective, they’re ready to go and they’ve got all these marketing objectives. “We want to increase conversions on our site. We’ve got all this great content, that we’ve been really investing our time and effort and energy into. We’ve got our website in great shape for the first time in years.” There’s this momentum on the marketer side. And I think sometimes that excitement and that energy can be a little jarring, if it is delivered into the inbox in a way that’s not really carefully considering meeting the prospect where they are.
Chris Butler: Yeah.
Lauren McGaha: I’ve seen that manifest itself in like, “Let’s start with our brand new list. And we’re going to send them, for the very first time, an introduction of who we are, and why we’re so great. Or announce our new website.” Even though this prospects never heard of them. Or send them a gated piece of content that we’re going to ask them to click through and then go fill out a form, before they ever have an opportunity to learn anything about us. It’s interesting just helping marketers kind of get ahold of that excitement, and that energy, and apply it in the right way, so that it’s still thoughtful in nurturing the prospect, given the fact that the prospect is not meeting the marketer with that same level of excitement.
Scott Harris: Right? Exactly. Yeah. Give, give, give. I would say initially. And then beyond that, just as another little technical tip related to the list cleanse and the verified emails, you don’t want to send too many emails at once. I think typically when you have these different personas you can segment out, so the lists aren’t giant. But that would be another signal, you get a poor response to a large list, that your inbox placement won’t be very good moving forward. So you don’t want to send too many emails all at once. So what we do is we stagger our emails, and then once we get a positive engagement, we ensure that we send an email that has all of our engaged folks in there. And we kind of stack them up so there’s more and more engaged people, and we add a portion of the colder list to that, which also helps with inbox placement.
Chris Butler: I’ve been impressed, behind the scenes, with hearing your two teams collaborating around these things. And really thinking deeply about how the relationship elapses over time, and how it’s mediated technologically, as well as through messages and communication that people pour their heart into really. And I think it’s kind of fascinating, Lauren, where you’ve taken this conversation. Which is to sort of think about, we’re all sort of in our own little cave here, and we’ve got our idea about what reality is, and the role we play in it as an organization. And then we send these messages out far and wide, and they get stuffed into other people’s caves, and we have to do as much as we can to anticipate what that reality is on the recipient side. It used to sort of just be, we’ll just write the email and send it, and see what happens. And what you all are talking about is a much more rigorous, thoughtful, deliberate, and slower approach to connecting with an audience over time.
Lauren McGaha: Yeah. You talk about building relationships with people through marketing. And you hear that, and those words don’t mean what those words actually mean anymore, because you hear it so often.
Chris Butler: Right.
Lauren McGaha: But when you think about building a relationship with any person. If you had to go into a room with a person you’ve never met, you’re probably not going to sprint into the room and give them a giant bear hug. There’s a natural way that human relationships progress, in any context. And I think a very difficult part of digital marketing is just we’re talking about building relationships with the masses, and it kind of dehumanizes it in a way. It’s easy to forget that the email address, that firstname.lastname@example.org, is a person who you don’t know, but who you eventually want to know if the circumstances align, if the stars align.
Chris Butler: Right.
Lauren McGaha: So for a lot of our coaching, and this is what makes our job so interesting, it’s the marriage of having the technical acumen, and having the expertise, and really understanding what are the ground rules, what do you have to get right. And those rules change all the time. And our job is to understand what those rules are and how to give you the best shot possible at connecting with these people. But then it’s also about remembering, kind of coaching people, on how to stay human in this digital world.
Scott Harris: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Chris Butler: Yeah, that’s probably a great place to wrap. Stay human in this digital world. Maybe that’s the title.
Scott Harris: I love it.
Chris Butler: Actually it can’t be. We need to put email in there somewhere, but I think that’s a great message and it is at the root of what we’re talking about doing. Ultimately it can sound disingenuous to talk about building relationships, and wielding empathy, and all those things, when it comes to the fact that ultimately we’re trying to sell a service. But in this context where we’re selling a service from one business to another, that’s highly calibrated around a unique problem that somebody has, if those things aren’t true, then it doesn’t work. If I’m buying a pair of shoes, I don’t really entertain the notion that the shoe seller cares about me and and my foot problems. But in this context I do, and it does matter. So let’s wrap with that.
Chris Butler: But before we fully close out, Scott, I want to put you on the spot. If there’s one thing that somebody who’s responsible for email marketing should think about after this message, like maybe one thing to double check, or one thing to make sure that they do the next time they send an email, what would that thing be?
Scott Harris: I’m going to go with something that is probably most ubiquitous, and that would be to segment your lists. And that really ties to making sure whatever you’re sending is relevant.
Chris Butler: Right? So what you mean there is chunk your lists up by demographic information. You might have interest based information. You might have, and cater the message that you send to that list to what you know about that collection of people.
Scott Harris: Exactly. Because if you can connect and engage in that way, your engagement will go up and your email dreams will come true.
Chris Butler: Awesome. Thanks, man. Oh, this has been a real pleasure. Thank you for coming to my house to record this. Scott and I are sitting in my home office. And it’s been great to have you on the podcast finally. Thank you, Lauren, for coordinating.
Lauren McGaha: Absolutely. Thank you, Scott.
Chris Butler: If you’re listening to this, and you’re interested in this material, just know that right around the corner is going to be an inundation of content from Newfangled around not just email, but demand generation in general. There’s all kinds of other peripheral topics to that, that you’ll be seeing on the site, so check out newfangled.com. In the meantime, you can find this podcast everywhere you find podcasts. If you’ve enjoyed the show, please take a moment to rate and review us, particularly on Apple podcasts. That is the best way for us to continue to build our audience. So thanks again and take care.