March 04, 2014
Event Wrap-up

MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2014 Wrap-up: 5 takeaways to transform your email program

SUMMARY: At the ninth annual MarketingSherpa Email Summit, marketers gathered from all over the globe to cover philosophical marketing issues such as why do people say "yes" -- a valuable topic even beyond the convention hall, as attendees later asked themselves why they sat down at that blackjack table.

In this wrap-up article, we've pulled the lever and hit the email marketing jackpot from our notes and resources from this year's event at the Aria Resort & Casino.
by Courtney Eckerle, Manager of Editorial Content

"What happens in Vegas … "

That phrase is usually an attempt to cover up lost money or dignity (usually both) on the glitzy Las Vegas Strip. For many marketers at MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2014, it was a point of pride — the rally call for evolving better marketing practices.

"What happens in Vegas comes back to our office and benefits our customers," according to a phrase tweeted by one attendee that made the rounds on #SherpaEmail.

Las Vegas isn't obviously associated with in-depth discussions and thought-provoking presentations, but it's not just attendees who can have those Summit takeaways.

This article will get you a seat at the most coveted table on the Strip — all of the winnings without the gamble. With more than 20 speakers and nearly 1,000 attendees conversing, sharing and collaborating, we all went home as winners.

Takeaway #1. Break away from the script — discover why people say "yes"

As Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director, MECLABS, said in his keynote session, "Contemplation without action is anemic; action without contemplation is dangerous."

Marketers need to think through every perspective. Marketers frequently, despite the best of intentions, fail to see things from a customer’s perspective.

This may be because we as marketers confuse logic with intention. Walking through a campaign, it seems as though you understand the move a customer will make — the trouble is, people aren't often propelled by logic.

"When we think about things that motivate us, we think about objectives, goals and aspirations," Dan Ariely, Professor, Psychology & Behavioral Economics, Duke University, said in his keynote Tuesday evening.

However, he added you can also be driven by things that are knowingly bad for you.

"It's not that we don't have goals, it's just that they don't really matter that much. So what is that gap between what we want to do and what we actually do … if you think about daily behaviors, there is a disconnect," he said.

It is possible people will take the action you want them to, Ariely said, but "it is also possible that people hate to do anything."

People don't want to deviate from our routine – when there is a much better outcome, sometimes the energy it takes to get there isn't worth it, Ariely said.

Ariely asked the audience, "How many of you have a subscription to some magazine, some channel, that you should have cancelled? That is the thing about small things: Tomorrow is always a good day to do them, and of course, tomorrow never comes."

Marketers need to think about how we test things more broadly. Things like logic, appeal and reasoning are much less effective than you would think.

When people look at your emails and say, "Let me deal with this later," it's not going to happen.

According to Ariely, there are two elements that are most important for reaping the benefits of obsessively figuring out barriers for good behavior:
  • Environment

  • Details

"Figure out, what are they doing? How are they looking at it? What are the chances they will take a different behavior?"

Why do defaults work?

Defaults work, Ariely said, because it is the path of least resistance. Too many choices overwhelm customers, and then they don’t buy.

"When we get confused, we go for the default,” he said.

As products become more complex, the point at which complexity overwhelms decision comes sooner and sooner.

Choice architecture

There is an art in how we arrange things, what Ariely referred to as "choice architecture."

He gave the example of organ donor sign-up rates. Similar countries had vastly opposing numbers, and how it was displayed to people had a huge impact — because inherently, people are the most motivated to do nothing.

Check the box if you want to participate in the organ donor program

  • People don't check the box and don't join

Check the box if you don't want to participate in the organ donor program

  • People don't check the box and join

"The way the environment is being formulated for us will dictate the decisions we make," Ariely concluded.

Persuasion and influence

Noah Goldstein, Associate Professor, Management & Organization and Psychology, UCLA, spoke in his Wednesday keynote about persuasion, and how seemingly meaningless ideas can have a powerful influence.

For instance, similarities — people look to others to guide their behavior when they are uncertain, even when those similarities seem meaningless.

People also want to act consistently with their traits, values, beliefs, commitments and previous actions. If you assign a person with traits, attributes, attitudes, values or an identity in line with your goal, they are more likely to comply. People don’t want to let down positive perceptions — label your customer as loyal, and they will be.

Drawing attention to a head start can also be effective, Goldstein said, because “pointing out progress customers have already made on a task tends to increase their commitment to the test and their desire to complete it."

For instance, saying that a customer has “35% profile completeness” encourages them to simply complete the task rather than leave it unfinished.

Goldstein also spoke on the concept of scarcity: the less available the resource, the more people want it. He suggested framing messages in the terms of what your audience will lose if they fail to act.

"People are more affected by the idea of loss than the idea of gain," Goldstein said, adding that sending "don't lose your airline miles" is much more effective than "keep your miles."

"'Waste' is a loss frame message. Loss and wasting is much more effective than just saying 'use this,'" he said.

Takeaway #2. Make subscribers feel like they’re part of something special

"What people perceive of our offer, that’s what it is," said Brian Clark, Founder and CEO, Copyblogger Media.

To increase its email list, Copyblogger moved away from the traditional newsletter opt-in, and instead developed a content library that required registration.

"A modern website is not a collection of pages, it's a process ... which inherently creates an experience," Clark said.

The concept of access to the "MyCopyblogger" space, filled with valuable and evergreen Copyblogger content, allowed those who registered to know that they will be constantly updated with new content — which is enticing, according to Clark.

"Even if they're not into it at the moment, there is this psychological pull that says, 'I'll just stay connected for now,' because they don't want to miss anything," he said.

Not only did Copyblogger build up its email list by 400% with MyCopyblogger registration, but almost one-third of all site traffic is logging in after arrival. cultivates content with underutilized assets

“ESPs are not fans of our peaks and valleys of email sends,” said Marcia Oakes, Senior Online Marketing Manager,, in her morning session.

E-commerce site is highly seasonal, according to Oakes, and despite sending roughly 50 million emails per year, there is “a big portion of the year that we struggle to deliver compelling content.”

Her team was sending mostly promotional emails, where they were “only talking at our customers, not really talking with them … we wanted to evolve beyond that.”

Oakes wanted to evolve constructively, and not only cultivate engagement in the email sphere, but ensure that other aspects of marketing benefited as well to bolster the entire brand.

The solution was to embark on creating a newsletter, and to launch it, Oakes and her team had to:
  • Manage expectations — previous promotional emails had high revenue expectations

  • Look at what resources are already available — use existing evergreen content

  • Understand time expectations — create a content calendar

In this case, two main underutilized assets were found — a trademarked phrase “Flip Day,” which is the first day of the month when people flip their calendars to a new month, and social media content.

Flip Day gave the newsletter a name and a brand-enforcing reason to reach out once a month, and social media provided the newsletter a fun voice that also put a spotlight on valuable social media and blog content to drive email subscribers to.

The Flip Day newsletter produces a positive ROI (despite low conversion rates), has increased open rates, increased traffic to the blog and garnered positive customer feedback.

The better the campaign, the bigger the hurdles

Once the success of the newsletter campaign became apparent, Oakes and her team had to fight to keep it a success by constantly adjusting. As with any new undertaking, it is difficult to anticipate every problem, and marketers have to be nimble.

For instance, the Flip Day newsletter was developed in the off-season, and in-season, it caused messaging conflicts and concern about list fatigue.

To solve this issue, the team tested combined Flip Day with a promotional campaign, but to poor results. Their real solution came by strategically selecting an audience for Flip Day, made up of recent purchasers who are suppressed from promotions anyway, and those who had previously engaged with Flip Day.

Takeaway #3. B2B marketing does not have to be boring

"B2B marketing does not have to be boring. Boring is a choice," said Christine Nurnberger, Vice President of Marketing, SunGard Availability Services.

Her advice is to look outside of your industry for campaign inspiration, as long as it still answers "yes" to the following questions:
  • Can it communicate the right message?

  • Can it reach the right audience?

  • Can it be communicated in a way that will resonate with our audience?

In the summer of 2013, those elements converged for SunGard, and the team launched a zombie apocalypse preparedness campaign. Combining email with several different elements gave customers further incentive and avenues to engage in.

A direct mailing of a flash drive with "Critical zombie information: open immediately" written on it was sent out first, alongside emails that included an infographic on "How to build a highly available cloud and win the world war against zombies" and another detailing steps on how to recover from IT disasters.

By clicking through to enter contact information on a landing page, customers were entered into a contest to win a "Survival Kit" with a backpack, "World War Z" movie tickets, brochure, compass, flashlight and a zombie survival guide book.

Once entering, social media was brought in and people were offered the option of sharing the campaign via their social media accounts — "Because friends don't let friends get eaten by zombies" — to increase the chance of winning.

SunGard's campaign was shared on social media almost 2,000 times, and the email campaign achieved a 1.2% higher click-to-open rate among the director level.

Be different, just not too different: Each step of the SunGard campaign linked how migrating to the cloud as a business option aligns with surviving the zombie apocalypse.

By using a cultural trend to convey the importance of its service, SunGard distinguished itself. Also, integrating email with old standbys like direct mail and newer assets such as social media, customers were given every possible chance to interact.

"Even in today's B2B marketing and digital era, direct mail may not be as dead as zombies," Nurnberger said of her takeaways, adding that leveraging social media amplified the message exponentially.

Shake it up — but test changes

"I was brought in to shake it up — do something different," said Chris Hawver, Team Leader, Americas Marketing, Tennant Company.

When he arrived at Tennant, a global manufacturer of cleaning equipment, outmoded B2B practices were rampant, with email campaigns only conducted once a quarter, and no testing was done.

At that time, the focus was on products, not solutions.

"The customer was left wondering, 'What's in it for me?' Cleaning the floor isn't a revenue generator, it's an expense. So solutions are key," Hawver said.

Tennant is a 140-year-old company, and is "highly conservative," according to Hawver.

It was at that point in the presentation that he took off his khaki jacket and revealed a leather motorcycle vest.

"We wanted to go out and establish a best practice for Tennant, and kick some butt at the same time," he said.

The concept Hawver came up with for a new email design was "Hard core riders for hard floors" and "Don’t be left in the dust — the road to shiny floors is an upgrade away," displaying two industrial floor cleaners and a call-to-action of "I wanna ride."

No matter the roadblocks, marketers can't promulgate and clone what was done before, but "the only person who likes change is a baby with a wet diaper," he said.

Change has to translate into results, because "numbers talk, words walk," Hawver said. "If you can't report on what you're doing for the company, what are you doing?"

Moderate change wins in Tennant subject line test

Hawver and his team conducted a test featuring traditional, non-traditional and hybrid subject lines:

  • Traditional: Meet the NEW Tennant B10 and T12 — 26.6% open rate

  • Non-traditional: Wanna Ride? Take the New T12 and B10 for a Spin — 24.9% open rate

  • Hybrid: Take a Ride on the Wild Side with the New T12 and B10 — 33% open rate

The hybrid subject line, focusing on a mix of product relevance and target audience appeal, outperformed the traditional subject line.

Through adding testing, Hawver and his team were able to introduce just enough change to transform Tennant's email marketing. It launched 64 other solution-focused campaigns for the company.

"If you don't embrace change, then your market will lead you, not vice versa," he concluded.

Takeaway #4. Ensure value through relevancy

IHS was doing batch and blast, and achieving lots of website traffic, but no conversions for global information, analytics and insight website IHS Jane's.

The team knew almost nothing about their customers and lists were riddled with unqualified leads. Their immediate issue was getting the right content to the right people at the right time, and providing real value instead of generalities that may or may not pique interest.

To get the right content to the right people, marketers have to understand how it is relevant to a customer. IHS developed six primary personas, and after reviewing those with Sales, developed secondary personas for further relevance.

"A blessing and a curse — we now have to support these six personas," said Byron O’Dell, Senior Director of Demand Management, IHS.

Giving away content to gain interest

"When I joined IHS ... I thought, 'Oh, I will never lack for content again,'" O'Dell said, adding he soon discovered that even content companies struggle with content.

There was a scarce amount of content for people early in the buying process, who were unsure if Jane's was right for them.

"Content takes much longer to produce than technology for a multi-touch email program," he said.

For this early content, the team had to zoom in on the value proposition and show people what they would be getting.

According to O'Dell, a common company response was, "You can't give that away, that costs thousands of dollars. If you give it away, we can't sell it."

The reality is, he added, that if you don't give it away, people probably won't continue on in the funnel. You aren't giving it away for nothing — you're giving it away for interest in the company.

"It's not selling, it's relevant, breaking news topics that are interesting … so we use that opportunity to say if you like that, you'll probably like this," he said, which primes people along the sales path.

Versus its batch and blast beginnings, IHS saw massive increases by focusing on providing relevant, valuable content to prime leads. A 1,112% increase in clickthrough rate was achieved on the first email alone, and an 83% increase in marketing's contribution to revenue for IHS's aerospace and defense division was also experienced.

Takeaway #5. Learning from quick wins

Email Summit offered many in-depth marketing stories that offer great insights into email marketing trends and creative campaigns. But what attendees gain that is difficult to convey in an article are the small nuggets of actionable takeaways.

So this last takeaway is a few quick and actionable ideas taken from multiple presentations.

Believe in the power of the GIF

GIFs in emails give many marketers flashbacks to the cheesy and cartoony ones that ran rampant in the 1990s.

Dave Sierk, Consumer & Small Business Email Strategist, Dell, spoke in his presentation about how his team resurrected the technology to display the functionality of a new product. Dell sends 1 billion emails a year, and has one or two product launches, which are usually a new laptop.

"It's tough to get people excited through email about a new product — it's pretty straightforward," Sierk said.

This campaign's particular new product, the XPS 12 Convertible Ultrabook, can convert into a tablet. Its functionality, however, goes a bit beyond catchy copy.

In this case, using a quick GIF cut the amount of copy required, and most importantly, it quickly and clearly showcased the value of the product.

Customers responded to the clear value proposition — the email saw a 109% increase in revenue compared to benchmark data from the previous year.

Go to your customers, don't make them come to you

Sierk and his team at Dell always thought the "perfect time" to send an email was 9 a.m. But after collecting six months of engagement information, his team was able to score the hours at which people engaged the most and determine an individual optimal send time.

For instance, "Lisa" engages at 8 p.m. more than 25% of the time — her 9 a.m. engagement score is zilch. By ignoring this important data, she could have been totally bypassed through enforcing a bulk send time. In this testing effort, Dell saw an 8.2% increase in unique clickthrough rate compared to the 9 a.m. control.

Just do it — mobile or bust

Mobile, which has currently captured the majority of opens at 50% against desktop and webmail, according to Litmus Email Analytics, creates a lot of pressure for marketers. The mobile channel marketing has to follow customers throughout their entire journey, not just the email, but through to the landing page as well.

“Mobile makes you take a hard look at your emails and remove things that aren't necessary,” Justine Jordan, Marketing Director, Litmus, said during the responsive email design panel.

Brian Clark of Copyblogger also spoke on mobile responsive design in his presentation, and said that with responsiveness and HTML5, you can "create an app-like experience in a browser without the app download."

Elements that are mobile-experience friendly are:
  • Incredible photography

  • Video

  • Short but effective content

Mobile is costly and resource intensive, but "you're losing customers by not doing it and not being there yet ... the best experience is going to win," said Wacarra Yeomans, Director, Creative Services, Responsys, during the panel.

Creative Samples

  1. MyCopyblogger

  2. Flip Day newsletter

  3. Flip Day challenges

  4. SunGard Disaster Recovery

  5. SunGard Survival Kit

  6. SunGard social media

  7. Tennant email #1

  8. Tennant email #2

  9. IHS personas

  10. Dell Ultrabook


BlueHornet — Premier sponsor


Dan Ariely


ExactTarget — Email Awards sponsor

Noah Goldstein




Related Resources

MarketingSherpa Email Awards 2014, presented by ExactTarget — Complimentary PDF download of all the award-winning campaigns

B2B Email Marketing: How a publishing company used marketing automation to increase CTR 1,112% — Email Awards 2014 Best in Show, Lead Generation

Email Marketing: E-commerce site increases online ticket purchases by 66% with relevant content — Email Awards 2014 Best in Show, E-commerce

MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2013 Wrap-up: Top 5 takeaways for email marketers

Marketing Automation: Key challenges a global information company overcame to transform from batch and blast to persona-driven email marketing

Email Marketing: Copyblogger's email list grows by 400% using free paywall to access "MyCopyblogger" content

Email Marketing: Weekly newsletter sees 400% lift in reactivation of inactive subscribers with personalization

Email Marketing: Dell lifts revenue 109% via GIF-centric campaign

Improve Your Marketing

Join our thousands of weekly case study readers.

Enter your email below to receive MarketingSherpa news, updates, and promotions:

Note: Already a subscriber? Want to add a subscription?
Click Here to Manage Subscriptions