This interview with John Thies, Co-Founder of Email on Acid, originally appeared on Stream Creative Marketing Blog.
Not only is email marketing alive and kickin’, more than half of all B2B marketers say that email is their most effective marketing tool, according to BtoB Magazine. Marketers, however, are looking for tools and techniques to help their content stand out from the flood of other messages in people’s inboxes.
John Thies is co-creator of one such dynamic tool called Email on Acid. This technology helps marketers make sure their emails look good every time, no matter which email service recipients use. Many a marketer has been frustrated by how an email can look great in Outlook or Gmail and suddenly transform into a hieroglyphic mess in another email platform. John’s tool can fix that.
Not only does John know how to make an email look good every time, but he’s got a lot of expertise on how to use email to engage audiences and keep them coming back for more. And isn’t that what’s most important?
John will be a featured speaker at this year’s Experience Inbound marketing and sales conference, a can’t-miss event for B2B marketers being co-presented by Weidert Group (that’s us) and Stream Creative (they’re pretty cool, too). Our friends at Stream sat down with John for an interview to glean his wisdom about email marketing, and here are some of our top takeaways.
Some have raised the question: Is email marketing dead, or is it still profitable for businesses to use this tool? What are your thoughts?
Email isn’t going anywhere. Just look at how many are in your inbox. People wouldn’t be sending email if it wasn’t effective. Companies that really do it well understand the whole experience of a subscriber, and I think that’s really at the core of effective email marketing. How is it received? How is it interpreted? And what action do you as a marketer want subscribers to take?
Our goal as marketers is to inspire people into taking action. Email is that one-to-one channel where, if you do it right, the person has to opt in and say, “I give you permission to send me this email.” As you start to collect information based on subscribers, you start understanding their habits and needs, what they like, what they don’t like, and so you can really cater that one-on-one message to a single person.
I think subscribers now, especially Millennials, are expecting that customization, but it means knowing something about them. For me, I don’t like the whole Facebook thing and all this information sharing, but Millennials have grown up with an understanding that people will have their information and they’ve come to expect that brands will too.
Email is ideally very direct and one-to-one rather than a broad message. Granted, you have campaigns and you have targeted personalized messages, but people still expect you to understand who they are and what they want.
We always talk about the subject line — the hook. Do you have any tips on creating a great subject line, or is there more to it than that?
I think it’s more, honestly. I think subject lines should be A/B tested to find what works, but I don’t think people should put too much emphasis on them. There are really three things to consider: your brand/name, your subject line, and your preheader or preview text. You have to get all three right.
For example, a brand like Southwest Airlines doesn’t necessarily need a catchy subject line for me to open its emails. It’s good to have a solid subject line and preheader text that eludes to what’s inside, but if you have a brand that people trust and want information from, then the subject lines aren’t as relevant or important as people want to make them out to be. Now, if you’re cold emailing people or sending to a purchased list (which I’m totally against, by the way), then the subject line might be more critical. But if you’ve built up that brand and your subscribers understand who you are and like what you’re doing, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. The combination of brand, subject line and preview text all work together to encourage that open.
You believe accessibility for everyone is important. What do you mean by that?
We as marketers don’t often think about accessibility and we should. There are 330 million people in the world who have some type of visual impairment. To put that in context, there are 325 million people in the U.S. alone. That’s a lot of people. As a marketer, you want to make sure you’re sending across the same, consistent messaging to every single person and that every one of them can engage with it. The mobile revolution has been incredibly impactful for those with visual impairments because most mobile devices have various accessibility tools to help them. They can now get information anywhere and not be tied down to a computer at a desk with specialized equipment.
There are a lot of accessibility considerations from a visual standpoint. Are you using green on black or green on white? These are color combinations that are really difficult to decipher, especially for those with visual impairments. There are also contrast ratio standards, and how you code your email is important, too.
You don’t just want to focus on making sure the email is accessible; you want to make sure the landing page is accessible as well. Marketers need to remember that email is a driver; it’s not a conversion tool. You don’t convert people from email; you drive them to where you want them to go, and if that’s not accessible either, then they can’t do what they want to do.
Look at Google Home and Alexa — both have been driven by accessibility technology. You can just talk to a device and it will engage based on auditory commands. At this time, if you ask Google Home to read your last email, it will respond and say, “I don’t know how to do that yet.” I think what’s really interesting there is the word “yet.” It’s coming. Actually, Siri already has the capability to dictate your last email to you, and you can reply using auditory commands.
From a marketing standpoint, we have to understand that accessibility tools are driving where we’re going. There’s going to be a point in time where marketers and people — including those without impairments — are going to engage with email through auditory commands and drive action through auditory commands as well.
What should we look at when it comes to email metrics?
I think many of us are looking at the wrong things. Since email is a driver, why are we always looking at open rates? I think it matters, but it’s only a metric and not a key performance indicator (KPI).
I would never measure my marketing team on how many opens our emails get because those metrics aren’t accurate. You can’t get a full picture of engagement because of image blocking and other factors. You can get a better sense now that Gmail and iOS load images by default, but users can easily turn that functionality off.
What you can get accurate data on is clicks. That’s what we look at. You can have a lot of opens and no clicks, or a few opens and tons of clicks. Again, email is a driver, so you need to look at where you want people to go. Then, look at conversions from a landing page perspective.
Clicks and conversions are the two most important email metrics. But another one that people don’t really talk about a lot is subscriber engagement. What we do is track an average of how long it takes subscribers to become disengaged. That’s really critical because it tells us how good we’re doing as marketers, how we’re engaging with our subscribers and whether they like the content we’re sending. What I measure my marketing team on is how well they lengthen that average — the time it takes an average subscriber to disengage. If that timeframe shrinks, then I ask questions: What are we doing differently? What content are we sending out? What are we not doing? Then we adjust accordingly.
If you’re doing email marketing right and organically growing your lists, there’s money and hard work that you’ve put in to get that subscriber, so now that you have them in there, you need to do what it takes to keep them engaged and that takes knowing what’s engaging to them.
You’ll be presenting at Experience Inbound, an upcoming inbound marketing conference in Green Bay and Milwaukee in June. What can an attendee expect to walk away with when they attend your session?
What I do in my sessions is take marketers through the whole journey of a subscriber and examine his or her interactions. Yes, we’ll cover subject lines and preheader text, but we’ll focus mainly on engagement strategies and how a company can better understand what its engagement strategy is, how to fix it if necessary, and ways to re-engage with people. We’ll also look at what a subscriber’s experience is once the email is opened from a design perspective, and we’ll also take a deep dive into the whole accessibility issue. There’s a lot of really interesting stuff going on in that arena and I have a lot of videos and examples showing how devices engage with emails.
Good stuff! Want more? Join John at Experience Inbound held June 5th at Miller Park (Milwaukee) and June 6th at Lambeau Field (Green Bay), Wisconsin.
We hope to see you there!