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Splat Chat Episode 03: Boosting Email Engagement as a Modern Marketer


Here’s yet another challenge for the modern email marketer. We’re tasked with boosting email engagement, and the best way to do that is by providing more personalized email experiences. But can email personalization go to far?

Personalization works. According to eConsultancy, 74% of marketers say it improves engagement rates.

Subscribers want a personalized experience. SmaterHQ reports that 72% of consumers say they only engage with personalized content.

At the same time, however, many people are worried about the way their data is used. McKinsey found that 87% of consumers would not do business with a company if there were concerns about privacy and security.

Is email marketing different? Should consumers trust email more or less and why? That’s one of the topics I discussed with Naomi West on this episode of Splat Chat.

Naomi is the email marketing manager at Invoice2Go. We chatted about everything from brands that have an excellent email engagement strategy to a certain social media company with a somewhat annoying approach.

Watch the full episode below and be sure to check out the show notes at the end of the transcript for more info! For more watch the recording of our webinar, Engaging Email Content: How to Earn Attention and Drive Action.

Monica:

Welcome everybody to Splat Chat Episode three. My name is Monica Hoyer. I’m the director of marketing at Email on Acid. With me today is Naomi West, email marketing specialist at, Invoice2go. So Naomi, welcome. And thank you for joining us today.

Naomi:

Thank you. Yeah, I’m happy to be here.

Monica:

Tell me a little bit more about your background and what you’re doing these days.

Naomi:

Yeah, so I’ve been doing email marketing since 2016. I started in the SaaS space, so I’ve been working kind of on an online product or subscription-based marketing programs since then. I’ve worked out of London in the UK at an automation platform called Braze as an onboarding manager there. So I got to work with a lot of cool clients as they migrated from one tool to the other. And yeah, I’ve been doing email marketing in-house back in Vancouver since 2019 now. And I’m currently at Invoice2Go, which is a San Francisco-based FinTech company.

Monica:

Awesome. Well, thank you again for joining us. And we’re excited to dive in and start talking about engaging content. We like to start these off with a lightning round of questions. And for this episode, we’ve gone with some questions that are a little bit off of what we’ve done in the past. So talk to me a little bit about teleportation or flying, which would you do?

Naomi:

Definitely teleportation. I cannot stand waiting. So that would just be good if I could get from one place to another.

Monica:

What about popcorn or M&Ms?

Naomi:

Uh, popcorn. I have popcorn like every day. So that would it that’s just a given yeah. Everywhere.

Monica:

At the theater do you, do you have them add butter or is it just,

Naomi:

Yeah, no, like butter, definitely at the theater. At home, I just put some nutritional yeast and salt on it. It’s quite good. But butter is like a treat if I go to the theater right. These days.

Monica:

Would you rather give up your smartphone or your computer?

Naomi:

I would give up my smartphone. I think I like, almost having all my notifications off on my smartphone. And so computer, you can just do more: bigger screen, more games, online shopping is better. Yeah. I would keep my computer and get rid of my phone.

Monica:

Jumping into the questions and our topic or this Splat Chat around engaging content. Historically speaking, we’ve had a mentality that batch-and-blast is a good way to reach customers, but now with personalization and segmentation, there are so many better ways to engage with our subscribers. What strategies do you use actually for peak engagement? And then maybe provide us with some strategies that you might recommend? Because I think using and recommending could be slightly different.

Naomi:

Yeah, definitely. I think the newsletter has been this email that brands have felt that they’ve needed to send continuously or start to send because everyone else is doing it. And it also is this piece of content that creates a consistent touchpoint with their subscribers. But I do find that with a newsletter, there’s not always a goal associated with it. And it is a difficult conversation for brands to say, all right, maybe the newsletter isn’t doing what we want it to do. So, taking your email strategy further beyond just this one batch and blast send that is often done in the form of a newsletter and seeing where personalization and segmentation can come into play. I usually formulate the initial thinking back to the very main value prop of why your subscriber came to your list in the first place.

And so I work in SaaS and in the e-commerce space quite often. So usually, when I’m looking at strategies and why a user signed up, It’s because they’ve signed up to a product or they’ve signed up to a subscription. With e-commerce, it could be that, you know, they purchased something. Maybe a subscriber came and signed up for a specific piece of content.

And so when you’re looking at how to create better email programs, you do need to keep that main promise that you made to your subscriber. When you said, all right, come to our email list and we will give you, you know, weekly updates or we’ll give you better advice on, let’s say social media strategy, something like that, and formulate your strategies based on that. So why did they initially come to your email program? Theorize, you know, what are some tests you can come up with and start running A/B tests?

So maybe if you’re an e-commerce company and your subscriber base, 90% originated from purchasing something, you could test the strategy that maybe, you know, they want to repurchase, or maybe they want to learn about your brand, but what are the goals that you want to define as well? Because the strategies will depend on what you really want from that user as well. So if it’s the goal of repurchase or long-term retention, you definitely want to encourage them in some way to go and repurchase. So maybe teasing the product that they had bought and what other users buy with that product. If you’re trying to get them to refer a friend, maybe you want to put in some customer testimonials of how other people that use your product or have purchased from you feel about your product as well. I would say if you want to explore new avenues of testing, see what data you have on your users, what you initially promised them, and come up with some tests. Because at the end of the day, there’s no wrong way of going about building out a new program.

Monica:

Right. And, also what I heard you say is just make sure that you’re holding true to that brand promise that you gave them at the beginning. And kind of going back to basics. Right? Making sure that you’re sticking to that. So what companies do you think are doing a good job in promoting, engaging content?

Naomi:

Yeah, I am on like way too many email lists for being an email marketer myself. I sign up to everything.

Monica:

Well, exactly! That’s what our industry likes.

Naomi:

And I like seeing how other brands do it as well. So, I’m always looking for new areas of inspiration and seeing how brands kind of create not only new designs but how they speak to different industries and audiences. So me being in SaaS, I gravitate towards a lot of online tool newsletters because that’s where I look to for inspiration.

Broadly speaking, I think my favorite email program is Grammarly. They have this hyper-personalized automation report that is sent once a week, outlining engagement statistics, and where I stack up against them. So it’ll be like, you’re serious this week or you used 80% more accuracy than our other users. And I obviously don’t know if that’s true or not, but I’m like, that’s so cool.

I see that report come into my inbox, I think on a Monday morning and I open it up every time. I think the setup for that email probably was quite hefty to understand all of these different data points that Grammarly holds on a user, but the end result is this really, really cool report. So I like that quite a bit.

Other brands that I think are doing a good job. I’m also on another newsletter. It’s Dan Oshinsky’s Not a Newsletter. And he does this once a month, roundup of email news that he’ll send out as an email, but it links to a Google doc. So it’s completely different. It’s a completely different strategy. But the value prop in both, I signed up to his because I wanted all this email news and he’s been consistently providing it for years now in the same format that is reflected in that value prop that he initially promised me.

And same with Grammarly’s. I signed up for a tool that was supposed to help me type better and formulate sentences as if I’m a highly educated person. And it’s helped me, not only like in its tool, but in the emails that it sends me. And I think that’s really important.

Monica:

What about the fear of, you know for instance, on the Grammarly,e xample that you gave us, do you have any fear around that data that they’re collecting about you and, and what’s happening with that?

Naomi:

I personally don’t have too much fear. I mean, you know, if they’re collecting how many periods I misuse or like, I don’t have a comma in some of my sentences, I have to take a step back and think like, what are they actually going to do with that? Probably nothing. So it doesn’t, it’s not something I lose sleep over. And, and at the end of the day, it’s a tool that helps me be a lot better. So if they do want to go in and target me with ads over people with bad grammar, they can do that or try and pitch me like a dictionary here and there through a paid ad. I’m like, okay, if you guys really want to, you can, but yeah, I’m not too fearful of it.

Monica:

Okay. Sorry, that was a little off topic, but data, data and personalization really does go back to the information that these brands are collecting on us. So, it’s definitely something, I think that as email marketers, we have to keep top of mind when we are targeting our customers with any type of communication, whether it’s now or in online advertising.

Naomi:

I think the foundations for email marketing are like, are you collecting the email address? And can you collect a user’s first name to be able to put that in a subject line to say like, “Hey Naomi, here’s your new subscription.” And that I think is a baseline approach that all brands take, but the Grammarly side is like the extreme. They’re probably using every single piece of data that they collect on a user such as, you know, they logged in, when was their last purchase? How many times did they type out this word? They are using everything. And I think it’s a use case where I’m not fearful of what they’re doing with that data.

Monica:

Well, in reality, that’s where our personalization segmentation comes in. We want these highly personalized messages from brands, but at the same time, there is that fear of what is this information? What are they doing with this information? So there’s a balance between how personal do we get and impersonal do we get, because people are asking for that personalization. But at the end of the day, they also don’t want to give up too much of their data.

Naomi:

I will say I’m more fearful outside of email as a channel. Like when I see things popping up in my Instagram feed, if I’m researching a book and the next day it’s on my Instagram feed, that’s when it freaks me out. I’m like, wait a second. How did you get this? Whereas email I’ve kind of said like, yes, I want to hear from you. And in my mind, when I opt into a specific tool like Grammarly, I’m like, tell me everything. How can I be better? Help me? So with email, I feel better about it. It’s the other channels like Instagram, when I see an ad pop up that I was thinking about, but I didn’t say …

Monica:

Yeah, that’s a great point. You’ve given them the permission to provide that information to you and on a highly personalized level. And that actually, that, that relays nicely into what about the interactive emails like forms and sliders. Do you think those can provide a boost in email engagement?

Naomi:

Yeah, definitely. I think a lot of us have like this inner child within us where we are drawn to forms of interactivity, because it’s fun. It’s not like this plain text boring thing that we glance over once. I personally love any kind of dynamic element within an email, whether it be like an image with my name taped into it — Really Good Emails does this quite frequently. I think we lean on Nifty Images to create a dynamic header with my name, Naomi on it, or an, an email survey where it’s kind of an easy one-click piece. These are all things that are eye catching to me. And I’m like, “Oh, cool. Like this is fun.” But I do understand with these new dynamic elements, there is a learning curve as well.

I think with AMP for Email starting to ramp up, I catch myself like in a learning moment, quite often, one example that I can give is like the other day as an end-user with a Google doc email, you know, you get the notification that is like, so-and-so commented on your Google doc. And it allows you to respond directly to the comment in your inbox. I had this moment where I paused and I was like, “Wait, should I respond from my email? Or is it more beneficial if I open up the Google doc and see the full context?” And obviously responding in the email to the comment was time-saving, but it caught me off guard.

So I think as a marketer, you have to still put yourself in your user’s shoes and understand, you know, there is a learning curve with these dynamic pieces, especially with newsletters where your audience, it can be segmented and it can be personalized, but broadly speaking, it’s going to be a larger group of users. And they won’t maybe all be on the same page with that excitement for interactivity or knowledgeable of, of what it is. It could be like, how did you get this? Or like, what is this? Or if it links you out to another kind of page, it could be a hoop to jump through. So design-wise, it looks really cool. And I think if you have a user base that is tech-savvy, it’s going to have great results, but you do have to keep in mind that it’s something new for everyone too.

Monica:

Yeah. I also noticed that, Facebook tends to do that. Like so-and-so commented on your post, but then they didn’t give you the context in the email. So you have to click through to get into the application in order to see what happened. And that’s all about driving engagement and being in their software and in their application. And so, yeah, I think that there’s, you know, we as email marketers, especially, we want to drive a certain behavior and what is the ultimate outcome of that behavior? And so, that’s where that interactivity has to come to play is what is your end goal, essentially.

Naomi:

What is your end goal? And another thing that I try and think of is, in line your Facebook example, are you being sneaky in your end goal? Is this going to as an end user, is it going to be annoying to receive this email, like frustrating that you don’t know exactly what’s happening?

And I do I get the strategy that you’re driving users into the app, but I get an email like that. And I’m like, what is it? So I don’t want to go through another hoop. It just depends on who you want to be as a marketer,. If it aligns with your brand to be on the sneakier side or like the Google doc side, where it gives you a snippet of what you’re responding to.

Monica:

I had actually, I just opened one of those Facebook messages. That’s why it’s top of mind for me because I opened one today. Because I was hoping that they changed their strategy, the same thing. Just in case you were wondering, don’t bother opening this.

Naomi:

It doesn’t surprise me. I get it.

Monica:

Talk to me about design and content and some tips you might have for enticing customers to read or click through an email, especially in newsletters.

Naomi:

I think when I’m thinking about design and content, it always goes back to the main issue of accessibility and making the email as accessible as possible for all audiences. And I cannot stress this enough. I’ve worked with brands that make these beautifully aesthetically pleasing image-only emails with their custom fonts and fun graphics.

But if your user can’t even read or view that email due to having images off, or, you know, troubles reading, non-left-aligned text, or their wifi connection is slow so the images don’t load — you’re completely out of luck. And if you have a massive email that is so nice to look at, and you’re like, my products are displayed beautifully and the font matches my website. If your email then clips, you won’t even know if your email was opened. And if your button is built onto an image and a subscriber who relies on a screen reader, or who has their images off, you won’t have that click-through because they will never see that button.

So, my recommendation when it comes to design and content is striking a balance between that beautiful imagery and design and that accessibility element and asking yourself the question, “If this image doesn’t load, am I okay with the user never seeing this piece? Is it going to significantly impact the value of my email if I lose out on this design to this beautiful design?” So yeah. Accessibility.

Monica:

Yeah. And if it does it impacted, then you got to go back to the drawing board.

Naomi:

You have to go back to the drawing board. Yeah. And too, like there’s obviously so many inboxes out there so many different, like you’ve got mobile and you’ve got dark mode and you have regular desktop. An email could look really, really good on, on a specific inbox on your desktop, but those emojis and anything you use could be translated horribly to an Android mobile device.

So you have to keep in mind your entire audience base, unless you know, that every single person reads that reads email on like Apple Mail.

Monica:

Right. Or be willing to sacrifice a portion of your engagement. Moving over to the data side of things. So you’ve got your email created, you got it sent out, it looks beautiful in all devices. It’s accessible, that kind of thing. Now we’re moving to data. So you sent the email, you’re looking at your numbers and data really talks about what’s resonating, what works and what doesn’t work with your users, how are you using metrics and what metrics are most important to you to determine future campaigns, um, as well as how do they affect what you’re creating, in terms of engaging experiences for customers?

Naomi:

Yeah. So I think this one’s, again, kind of goes back to the main initial value prop that you pitched to your subscriber and then what the goals you have are as a brand. So if I’m thinking about an initial welcome email, usually the data that I’m looking at for that initial piece that reaches your subscriber right away when they enter your email list is going to be open rate. Are they receiving that email? Is it landing in their main inbox is the subject line resulting in them, clicking through to the opening, the email. And then the very main value prop as a brand.

So if I’m an e-commerce business and I’m capturing a user, when they opt-in to the email program, I probably want them to then go and purchase the product right away. I want them to go buy like a new dress or a new smoothie or something like that. So that main call to action is going to be relating to that conversion event like “buy now.” So I want to not only track, you know, is a user receiving email from a deliverability standpoint and clicking through it, but how is it then driving to conversion?

So the metrics I think from a high level are always going to be, you know, the open rate, how is the subject line converting? And then the click-through rate, what is the call to action in the email? And I don’t think all emails actually require a call to action. If you’re creating a newsletter that is simply meant to deliver value within the email itself, you probably don’t need to be measuring click-through because there’s nothing to click through.

But you also have unsubscribe rate, which I think will tell you if the email is resonating with that value prop that you initially said, you’d provide the user. And then you have your bottom-of-funnel metrics as well. So it could be anything relating to that purchase event or that conversion event that provides you as a brand new business revenue. Straight through to, if you’re coming up with a really engaging onboarding series or a product, and you want to showcase, you know, over three emails across a week period, maybe you have a specific event that relates to activation or an event that, that tells you as a brand like this user is going to be a retained user because they’ve done some event X amount of times.

So yeah, every email I think, needs to have a specific metric. That’ll say if it is successful or not, unless it’s a, an email that provides the value within the copy itself.

Monica:

So making sure that you think about that, um, when you’re actually creating the email so that you know, what that measure of engagement should or what you’re really trying to measure there.

Naomi:

Yeah. And all brands are unique too, right? Ideally, as a brand, you have a unique, I guess, proposition, right? You’re selling something that no one else is selling. You’re a product that is solving a specific problem that no one else is solving. So the benchmarks that you lean on that other brands might lean on, aren’t going to be a one-size-fits-all for you as a business. So I think you can look to certain data metrics from Google to mark as red flags to watch out for. Like If your unsubscribe rate goes over X percent, that’s something to watch out for.

Naomi:

But an ideal conversion rate will be always unique to you. So just keeping that in mind, you have to figure out what programs will best suit your business. And then what events your audience I guess fits in with most. because your audience is going to be unique as well. So the conversion rate should be unique to them too.

Monica:

Right. So one of the questions that we ask as we’re kind of wrapping things up is what’s your piece of advice to give teams to boost their email engagement in 2021?

Naomi:

My one piece of advice is always to let go of subscribers that no longer serve you. Uh, I think there’s a fear of, you know, if you let people off of your email list, even just leaving them out of sends based on engagement, that you’re losing out on this clout of a massive list. Maybe someone hasn’t opened your email in a year, but maybe they’ll convert. Right? But I think, you know, a smaller list size, doesn’t always equate to less success and people change and interests change.

And if you’re a brand that sells mini-fridges, unless you have like an amazing educational email experience that talks about, you know, the foods that thrive in mini-fridges or how to clean them best, or you’re probably gonna get like a lot of emails subscriptions around the time that university students move into their dorm rooms and then they’ll never need a fridge again. So you have to be able to look at your subscriber base and be able to come to terms with letting them go after a period of time is okay when they stop interacting with your emails and letting people go, won’t hurt you, but then marking you as spam or them unsubscribing in masses or them continuously deleting without opening your emails that will hurt you in the long run.

Naomi:

So just keeping that in mind that letting go is healthy. It’s very, very healthy,

Monica:

Not just in email.

Naomi:

Not just in email. It’s very applicable to multiple situations.

Monica:

But we’re not here to give life advice. So with that, fill us in on any closing comments, brand pitches, personal promotions, things that you’ve got going on from an email perspective in your career, um, and with Invoice2Go.

Naomi:

Yeah. So I am speaking, at Ad World from May 3rd to 5th coming up on iterating on email engagement statistics. So the basics that we all have in front of us. So if you’d like to tune in there, you are welcome to I am quite active on LinkedIn as well. So I share a lot of like favorite tools that I’ve come across in the email world, as well as articles that I found very helpful to me as an email marketer. So definitely follow me on LinkedIn as well, if you would like.

Monica:

Wonderful. Thank you so much for joining us today, Naomi, and thanks to everyone for watching this episode of Splat Chat.

Naomi:

Thanks for having me.

Monica:

If you’re looking for more email marketing insights, head on over to EmailonAcid.com, check out our blog for articles, infographics, and more, and subscribe to our YouTube channel to see who’s on our next episode.

Email on Acid is an email predeployment platform for email teams of all sizes. We are on a mission to make the complexities of email marketing simpler and help you deliver email perfection. With Email on Acid. You get unlimited testing, accessibility, and end-to-end content checks, inbox, display optimization, deliverability insights, and plenty of other amazing features. It’s all designed to give email teams more flexibility and give you confidence when you hit that send button. Try us out with a free seven-day trial or request a custom demo. Just head on over to EmailonAcid.com. We will see you next time.

Splat Chat Episode 03 Show Notes

Related resources from Email on Acid

Boost ROI with Accessible Emails!

People all over the world live with visual impairments. How many of them are on your list? Can they read and act on your email campaigns? Email Accessibility is about more than just improving your reach. It shows empathy for every subscriber. Use Sinch Email on Acid to check accessibility before you hit send.

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