The Death of Email Blasts


Are you obsessed with email marketing? We’re a little email marketing obsessed at Overit. We just love it. That’s why I’m excited to check out this session about the death of email blasts! Can it be?

Our speakers are Rob “Spider” Graham and Dave Hendricks. Our moderator is Bill McCloskey.

Spider and Dave are going to speak in a point, counter-point method. So this should be super fun to liveblog. 😉 For our purposes, Spider will take a pro-segmentation stance, Dave will take an anti-segmentation stance.

Spider: One size fits all marketing doesn’t work in email blasts or any other broadcast channel. As a consumer, there are plenty of things that he is never going to buy. Things like tampons, lipstick or a snow shovel [one of those things is not like the other…]. As a consumer, he’s constantly evolving. Stuff he once bought and cared about (like buying  a hair brush), he doesn’t need anymore (now he has no hair – aw). We want to look at the things I do want to buy, and want to buy now. That’s what segmentation is based on – identifying what he wants. To do that, you have to get good data.

Dave, of course, disagrees. He says one size fits all works for some things like hats, socks and umbrellas. We don’t need different sizes for socks. [But…socks come in sizes? I’m confused.] There are so many things in life that work in a one-size world. Sometimes, a single item will work well for an entire audience. When there is a time for segmenting, there is also a time for things that fit everyone. Fair enough, I say.

Spider says we are not all the same person, with the same needs. This should be obvious and something to keep in consideration. Dave disagrees. Everyone buys an iPhone. Spider says, hold on, he has to check his Droid. Hee. Apple is a big fan of using a single message for its whole audience. How many Droids are out there? Too many.

Spider says we need to send the right person, to the right person, at the right time. Dave says, good luck doing that.  If only people were so predictable. Even if your data is five minutes old, it’s probably flawed. People are constantly moving. If you spend time getting the “right message” at the “right time,” you’re going to miss your window.

And, really, what do marketers know anyway? Marketers are dealing with a limited set of customer knowledge. Marketers can be arrogant and linear when they use their data to assume what you want to see. Why do you think your message is my top priority?  Dave argues that the data marketers are using is very old. People don’t change their preferences, ever, unless its to update an old credit card. There are thousands of these preference centers marketers have created.  They’re like the graveyards of customer data.

Spider looks at his email and doesn’t know why he’s even ON some of these lists. The message should have a reason for being there. You shouldn’t just kick it off and hope it does something. You need to identify who the message is for and what you want them to do with what you’re sending. You also need to know how to measure it. It’s not enough to know someone got an email and opened it.

Marketing isn’t just about communication. You want users at the other end to DO something. It’s about getting a message and then acting on it. People have different needs. They need different messages.

Dave says there is thing called A/B testing. You can use it to find the emails that work better – without getting bogged down in over-segmenting. He says the amount of time it takes to create a “1 to 1 message” is more than the return on the investment you will receive. Creating micro-segments takes too long. Instead, change your blast frequency or your cadence. Don’t try to get “too cute” by segmenting too closely. Maybe you just have to catch people at the right time. There’s no such thing as the best time to send an email. You’ll never know when someone is going to open your email or what they’re going to open it on. You need to be prepared for luck – that means having the right message that is responsive when they open it.

Spider says email list creation needs to be done ethically to be effective. Three options for building email lists:

  1. Steal them
  2. Buy them
  3. Build them

Don’t do the other two, he says. You want to build your list. How do we build them so we have an opportunity to really create a relationship with the people we are trying to talk to?

The best way to build an email list is actually in email. You can also use a registration on your site, a registration at time of purchase, and that’s it. Don’t use fishbowls, don’t use sweepstakes, don’t buy lists.  These tactics will hurt your email reputation. When you collect an email address, immediately confirm it with the person and reach out. Do a “hello” just to make sure.

If we’re going to have conversations with our customers, we need to segment our list. We need to understand where this person is in the conversation cycle – are they a current customer or someone you don’t know? That’s a very different conversation. Think of the in-flight safety speech you hear every time you fly. There are people who travel frequently and people who have never flown before. That message is relevant to the new flyer, it’s not relevant to the expert traveler. The expert flyer ignores it.

Dave says most of your users will ignore you. [He’s great for the ego.] As such, he recommends sending them mail over and over again.

An email address is a piece of owned data which gives you the ability to reach consumers where they are paying attention. You can reach people for a decade in a way that a cookie cannot do. You don’t want to have to pay for people over and over in search.

We need to think about where we are in the conversation. Was the email delivered? What is opened? Did it trigger a conversion? Did you get a response from a new customer? Did you get a response from an existing customer?

Email is like a party. Non-segmented email assumes you’ve never had a conversation with the person before. You want to have a progressive conversation. You want to pick up where you left off. That’s what segmentation does. It allows you to stop having the same conversation over and over again and to move the experience forward. Ticketmaster knows what kind of bands you like. Amazon knows what you’ve purchased before. ThinkGeek knows how many points you have. It’s personalized messaging, and it’s helpful. So you pay more attention to it.

Doing this requires:

  • Setting actionable KPIs
  • Measurabing benchmarks
  • Reapplying new data
  • lather, rinse repeat

During the Q&A moderator Bill says, to him, segmentation is about delivery. It’s about low spam complaints and people aren’t unsubscribing. He asks the speakers to address the delivery problem.

Dave: Absolutely. If people don’t open and engage with our messages, your email reputation goes down. If you have a low score, your emails will go into junk. You want to produce material people will want to consume. So don’t blast people with the same message all the time.

Spider: One of the most important things to do is A/B testing.

Hmm, so what’s your verdict? Are you a list segmenter or an email blaster? Or is there room for both? Think about it. We’ll see you after lunch.