April 26, 2017
Case Study

Sherpa Summit 2017 Takeaways: The five best email tactics for customer-centric marketing


MarketingSherpa Summit is all about what you’re able to take home with you and apply to your marketing to see improvements with customers.

Whether you attended Summit 2017 or not, these five takeaways from some of our email sessions can help you implement tactical changes on both a small and large scale.

by Courtney Eckerle, Senior Managing Editor, MarketingSherpa

Email marketing is one area where the customer journey can clearly be put on display. This means it’s one of the richest areas to implement a conversation where you put their needs and concerns ahead of pushing your product or service. 

We talk about customer-first marketing a lot — and never more than at MarketingSherpa Summit. That’s when it becomes real for us, too. When we get to see our year-long project become a three-day customer journey for our readers and attendees.

It starts off with planning of the show floor and goes all the way through each session and piece of content, where we try to imagine every attendee’s journey and how they can maximize their time with us.

For all marketers, sometimes this means taking ourselves out of the equation and figuring out how we can bring customers together.

Tactic #1. Grow email channel using brand strengths

As the world’s fastest-growing watch brand and a bootstrapped start-up, MVMT had done most of its early growth on social media.

“If something happens to Facebook or Instagram, we want to make sure our business doesn’t die,” said Blake Pinsker, Marketing and Brand Director, MVMT.

Pinsker had actually participated in the live optimization session at the previous year’s MarketingSherpa Summit — he had his email critiqued by the audience out of a desire to focus the team’s effort on email growth.

They decided to work from their strength and take a social media approach to the email sphere. Starting out, the team decided to grow the list with a social media contest that required people to give their email address as a requirement for entry.

“Everyone was sent a coupon code for entering,” Pinsker said, adding that the contest collected 6,000 email addresses, and 3% of participants were converted.

From there, the team focused on driving email channel growth through announcing a new product on social media.

“[We] told followers if they wanted first access to the collection, they could click through on the post and provide their email address,” Pinsker said.

The team collected 4,933 email addresses and saw a 55% open rate on the subsequent email about the product launch.

The important aspect of scaling as quickly as they did, Pinsker said, was to use email to deliver value.

The MVMT demographic is younger and “doesn’t want to be sold to,” he said.

They diversified campaigns being sent out into product focused, versus content focused, and, currently, the “content-focused emails now sell just as well as the product-focused ones,” he said.

User-generated content versus staged photo shoots

Working between the two styles of email marketing led to testing over the most effective style of imagery to include in emails.

“User-generated content vastly outperformed expensive model shoots,” Pinsker said.

By giving MVMT content a user-generated content feel, or at times using social media to turn customers from around the world into content creators, the team created an endless content arsenal.

As a result, the team saw an 88% decrease in cost per order and a 461% relative increase in engagements.

Dedicated landing pages for email campaigns

When sending out emails on specific collections, a dedicated landing page would be created for customers to click on in order to go directly to the relevant products.

The landing page would even be filled out with content, like a blog post, to guide customers through an idyllic journey they could take with the watch, as was with the “Winter Escape” campaign.

That campaign saw a 44% relative increase in conversion rate and 1.4x higher revenue.

Tactic #2. Use data to guide your customer journey

Marketing at Mr. Lube Canada was a constant tug of war between corporate and the service professionals, according to Andrea Shaikin, Former Director of Customer Experience & Engagement, Mr. Lube Canada.

No one was really thinking about the customers — or their perspective.

Shaikin and her team established a customer journey timeline, and they set up emails that would reach them at those critical touchpoints. Starting at their first oil change, the life cycle goes all the way through to 300 days from the initial touchpoint.

The team enhanced the emails by adding social media icons to the header and adding in a headline image. From there, the call-to-action was a button that asked people to “View My Service History.” 

Also, each customer was ensured to have a unique journey, with data about a customer’s average mileage between services driving the send cadence. Email send frequency is calculated based on prior visit frequency, mileage and history, instead of just the previous visit.

Between the legacy and advanced emails, the team saw a 222% relative increase in clickthrough rate as well as a 29% relative increase in open rates and a 20% relative decrease in bounce rate. 

Filling out this customer journey, Shaikin and her team developed a SEM landing page, responsive to mobile, that allowed people to find coupons and schedule at a Mr. Lube nearest to them. They also added services and improved their promotion strategy — for example, adding in free wiper blades in with any oil change.

They also enhanced social media tactics, increasing coverage of services and customer engagement. Alongside that, they updated the customer feedback section of the website, encouraging people to submit comments with a promise to send a response within two business days.

“Marketing is about more than hitting numbers; it’s about engaging people — both inside and outside your organization,” Shaikin said.

Tactic #3. Always provide a clear conversion path

AccountantsWorld provides cloud-based software solutions to accountants as well as a daily newsletter that provides valuable information about the accounting industry.

Unfortunately, many of the newsletter’s readers were never aware of the services AccountantsWorld provided, simply because they were rarely mentioned.

“People loved our content, but not everyone realized we sold software,” said Div Bhansali, Vice President of Marketing, AccountantsWorld.

Bhansali and his team began mindfully adding branded content to the newsletter, selling the banner space to other companies 25% of the time, but using it to promote AccountantsWorld products 75% of the time.

To provide a clear path from the email marketing, when customers clickthrough on the banner ad, they’re placed on a lading page that provides a clear next action that fulfills the promise on the banner.

The most important thing was that, in this transition, that the team was always providing valuable content that identified customers' top challenges. If that content was promoted in the newsletter, it had to contribute to the overall value. 

Tactic #4. There are no boring subjects, only boring marketing

Simple is an online banking company that distinguishes itself with a customer-first approach where it “[doesn't] profit from customer confusion,” said Sarah Esterman, Lifecycle Marketing Manager, Simple.

The bank wants customers to feel confident about their financial decisions. This means relying on email as a means for education and communication to eliminate any customer anxiety.

For example, because the entire support team is in-house, marketers can rely on that team to learn more about the customer. This led to sending confirmation emails to eliminate commonly asked questions such as “did you receive my information?” or “is my account all set up?”

Sending a confirmation email resulted in a 36% decrease in related support cases.

Like any bank, Simple is legally required to follow certain rules and regulations with customers. One of those is the “Regulation E” email send. Regulation E covers electronic fund transfers, and Simple is required to send the exact wording of it to customers yearly.

Obviously, there isn’t a lot of wiggle room in that. Esterman and her team could just send the document, fulfilling the legal requirement, and wash their hands of it.

However, they decided that that approach wasn’t customer centric, and it didn’t fit within the brand goals. After all, how are customers supposed to feel financially empowered with heavy legalese to trudge through?

The team did, in fact, send the “Legally Required Annual Celebration of Privacy Policy Updates and Disclosure of Regulation Guidelines for Electronic Fund Transfers!” email.

They just decided to provide translations for each of the sections — a “No Fear Shakespeare”-inspired move that lead to nearly 200 replies to an email that otherwise would have passed by unnoticed and unread by customers.

The email also had a 55% open rate, and customer contact via customer support increased by 70%; engagement on Twitter skyrocketed, and the team received more than eight handwritten letter responses to it.

Tactic #5. Jeff Ma teaches the Sherpa audience how to (not) gamble on testing

During his keynote session that closed the first day of Summit, Jeff Ma, a member of the famous MIT Blackjack Team and the inspiration for the main character in the book Bringing Down the House and the Kevin Spacey film 21, taught us a thing or two about gambling.

The best part is, Jeff Ma isn’t a gambler. That’s because every move in blackjack has one correct decision. It’s just about understanding basic strategy and implementing it. Remove human instincts, or “gut feelings,” and you will stack the odds in your favor.

Just swap out the word “blackjack” for “testing,” and you can use strategy to help understand what your next move in testing should be. 

Currently the senior director of analytics at Twitter (after selling his startup to the social network) and a former predictive analytics expert for ESPN, Ma spoke about how to use data and analytics to come out on top with customers.

By using data to overcome emotional biases, Ma said, not only can marketers win big with customers, but they’ll also build influence within their organizations.

It all begins with increasing your odds by using basic strategy.

“A lot of people don’t use basic strategy, which is why we’re so bad at making decisions as a people,” Ma said. “Decisions are best when you have data behind them.”

One common mistake people fall prey to is omission bias. Basically, people don’t want to be perceived as the agent for harm to themselves — or their company. As Jeff put it, people would rather make a decision with a lower chance of success if the “dealer” or “fate” beats them, rather than going with a higher chance of success that, if it fails, will mean they’ve made a “bad” decision.

Or to put it in Vegas terms: big risk, big reward.

Don’t make testing decisions to avoid conflict

“The hardest thing to do is to stick with it,” he said. “I’m sure you guys have quarterly sales you’ve got to get to. But that can oftentimes lead to bad decision making.”

Marketers need to approach testing with an understanding of the difference between the right decision versus the right outcome. Win or lose, a decision fully informed by data was “absolutely correct,” he said.

Like in blackjack, when testing, marketers can make better decisions by keeping this long memory in mind, avoiding loss aversion and groupthink.

“You can’t make decisions to avoid conflict. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to innovate,” he said.

This is the philosophy of focusing on “the process over the results,” he said, and fully trusting the process — even in the face of a few unfavorable tests.

Blackjack is a beatable game because what you see impacts what you’re going to see, Ma added. It’s a game “with a memory like an elephant,” he said.

That’s why it’s important that marketers understand a scientific approach to testing and data. What that means, he said, is taking a long-term perspective.

Having a long-term perspective and planning for being data-driven is vital. What separates the “winners” in testing is a dedication to sticking to the plan and believing in the system.


MarketingSherpa Summit – May 8-9, 2018 at the ARIA Las Vegas

MECLABS Institute (MarketingSherpa’s parent company)


Mr. Lube



Jeff Ma

Related Resources

To read about our award-winning Summit campaigns, download the MarketingSherpa Awards Book

Missed out on Summit? Get the presentation slides from each session

Summit 2017 featured speaker Catharine Hays was unable to attend, but you can see her featured speaker session in a webinar on May 3rd

Live from MarketingSherpa Summit 2017: Making your customer the hero of your campaign

Live from MarketingSherpa Summit 2017: Jeff Ma on harnessing the power of analytics to better understand customers

Email Marketing: How MVMT Watches increased holiday revenue gains 262% with optimized content

B2B Marketing: How an accounting solutions firm uses a daily digest newsletter with industry content to build trust with audience

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