February 14, 2012
Event Wrap-up

Email Summit 2012: Top 5 takeaways from the industry's largest research-based event


A good marketing event always gets you excited to return to the office and apply what you've learned. The trouble, though, is few of us remember everything we heard. Many more of us do not make it to the event at all, and we're out of luck.

That is, of course, unless you're talking about the MarketingSherpa Email Summit. We're back from Las Vegas, and we've gone through our stacks of notes to give you the top five insights to improve your email marketing. You get tips on deliverability, optimizing designs, boosting lists and more.

by Adam T. Sutton, Senior Reporter

We've said goodbye to sunny Las Vegas and we're back in the office, digging through our notes from MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2012. This year's event brought together the best in the industry -- from brand-side marketing managers with case studies, to email marketing insiders with in-depth knowledge of current and future practices.

Many speakers signaled the industry's drift away from "batch and blast" or "spray and pray" campaigns. Email marketers can no longer get away with sending a single email to a large database, hoping it will be relevant to enough subscribers to generate results.

Instead, in session after session, marketers described how they segmented their audiences, delivered targeted content, tested the best messages, and found ways to craft emails that spoke directly to subscribers' needs and interests.

For everyone who could not make it to this year's Summit, and for everyone who hates taking notes, we compiled the top five takeaways from Email Summit 2012 below.

Takeaway #1. 'Social login' can add subscribers and data

"Social login" is an emerging feature in online browsing. Visitors can sign in or register for a site using an account from Facebook, Twitter or another social network. Email marketers can offer social logins when requesting opt-ins so visitors do not have to fill out a form. They can sign up with a few clicks instead of typing out their information. This removes a significant barrier to conversion.

Loren McDonald, VP, Industry Relations, Silverpop, noted that this tactic is being used by the political campaign supporting Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum. During a panel session on emerging email tactics, McDonald also noted that Shazam, a music identification service, used a social login last year to significantly grow its email database.

"They brought their email opt-ins from about 700,000 to two million in the last year by using Facebook Connect as opposed to a regular registration form," McDonald says. (Facebook Connect is offered through the social network's API. See 'useful links' below for more information.)

Free data on subscribers

An added benefit of using a social login is that the networks provide additional information about subscribers. For example, Facebook, McDonald says, provides between 30 and 35 data points, including:

  • Name

  • Gender

  • Location

  • Birth date

  • Interests

  • Friends/Contacts

  • And others


Takeaway #2. Make it easy for subscribers to leave

Making it easy for subscribers to stop receiving your emails might have seemed counterproductive a few years ago. We spent so much time and money getting them. Now we’re just supposed to let them leave? Yes, says Joshua Baer, CEO and Founder, OtherInbox.

Baer contributed to the panel on emerging email tactics. He noted that too many companies have made it difficult to leave their email lists. This encourages irritated subscribers to take a simpler route to stop receiving emails: marking them as "spam" instead.

"You need to make unsubscribing easier than hitting the 'spam' button. If you don't, you're going to see the negative effects of that. It's going to affect your reputation. Your email delivery is not going to be as good," Baer said.

MarketingSherpa's research supports Baer's point. The second most effective tactic to improve email deliverability is to "provide an easy unsubscribe process," according to our 2012 Email Marketing Benchmark Report. With 56% of email marketers saying the tactic is "very effective," it is second only to maintaining an opt-in-only subscriber list, according to the report.

In years past, email marketers could get away with burying the unsubscribe link in the footer and disguising it as text, or removing subscribers from a single list when they requested to leave all lists. Today, in the age of sender reputation tracking, this approach is showing signs of wear.




Takeaway #3. Every part of the email matters

Marketers can limit their results by failing to realize that emails bring readers through a series of short steps, or "micro-conversions," says Dr. Flint McGlaughlin, Managing Director and CEO, MECLABS (parent company of MarketingSherpa).

In a keynote session on crafting effective emails, Dr. McGlaughlin railed against what he called "macro-distortion," a habit email marketers have of focusing on one or two aspects of an email while ignoring the others.

Instead of focusing on only the subject line or call-to-action, marketers should realize every email walks readers through a progression of steps, he says:




  • Subject line

  • Headline

  • First paragraph

  • Body copy

  • Call-to-action

Readers have to figuratively say "yes" at each step, building a series of "micro-yeses," or "micro-conversions," that build to the ultimate "macro-yes" we're looking for: a click on the call-to-action.

"It takes an unbroken chain of micro-yeses to get to one macro-yes, but it only takes one 'no' to stop all progress," Dr. McGlaughlin says. "Part of our problem with macro distortion is that we are looking at two or three big yeses and we don't see all the little yeses necessary to winning the macro-yes, so we cannot optimize our message for the maximum yield."

When they click the call-to-action, another series of micro-conversions awaits readers on the landing page, starting with the headline, Dr. McGlaughlin says.

"They will have to say yes many times in the email before they're ready to click that button. And the same thing applies when they move from the email and into the landing page."




Takeaway #4. Four rules for an effective program

Setting the guiding principles of your program can help you keep it on track. You can refer to the principles to decide how to combat day-to-day challenges as they arise.

Paul Ramirez, VP, Operations, Eventful, boiled the most important aspects in his team's email program to four such principles. He described them in a case study session that outlined his company's email program, which sends about 1.2 billion emails each week to seven million subscribers worldwide, he says.





  1. Relevance

  2. One of the most fundamental principles of any effective email program is relevance. At a basic level, relevance requires understanding what your audience wants and sending it at the right time.

    "Relevance is important," Ramirez says, "but I don't think it's any more important than the others I've listed."

  4. Management

  5. Ramirez's team established a set of operating agreements for its email program among internal stakeholders. The agreements set specific points of success and failure based on normalized benchmark data, and outlined a course of action for when the company is performing well, average and poorly.

    The agreements help maintain efficient email design, deployment and analysis, and set ground rules for how to handle the list in stressful times.

    "We're not going to send [some emails] no matter how much money they are making the company because the community is not responding well to those emails," he says.

  7. List hygiene

  8. Maintaining a clean list is "absolutely fundamental to deliverability," Ramirez says. "We learned from the school of hard knocks that if you are sending to abandoned email addresses, or if you're sending to people who are not engaging with your mail, then the ISPs will punish you."

    The infrastructure team set rules for bounced emails, and is not "jeopardizing good mail at the expense of bad mail," Ramirez says.

    "We're sending relevant content to active subscribers, rather than just sending it [to anyone] for the sake of boosting our send numbers."

  10. Control

  11. By giving subscribers a robust preference center to control what they receive and how often they receive it, the team is able to keep subscribers happy and response rates healthy.

    Looking over the principles, Ramirez says they are equally important.

    "I cannot prioritize them. I don't think one is any more or less important than the other. I think they are all fundamental, and any successful program has to incorporate and manage to those four basic principles."




Takeaway #5. Best practices can save deliverability

At the start of a panel on email deliverability, Sergio Balegno, Director of Research, MECLABS, noted that getting emails into subscribers' inboxes is a top challenge for email marketers. About 95% have some need to improve deliverability, and 54% have "great need." This puts deliverability ahead of segmentation and relevant content in terms of needed improvement, according to the MarketingSherpa 2012 Email Marketing Benchmark Report.

Ignoring your deliverability, or hoping that your ESP will take care of it, can lead to disastrous results. But with a few best practices, even a very poor campaign can climb its way to nearly perfect inbox placements rates.

Tom Sather, Senior Director, Email Research, Return Path, shared an example of his team's work with Dillard’s, a national retailer. The marketing team at Dillard’s did not believe it had a problem until an analysis revealed some frightening stats, Sather says. The company's email program had:



  • 20% inbox placement rate

  • 76% rejection rate (not delivered at all)

  • 100% block by AOL, Yahoo! and Hotmail

  • 17% bounce rate (about 84-times higher than the average 0.2%)

  • .68% complaint rate (about 7-times higher than the average 0.1%)

Even with this poor track record of deliverability, the team was able to establish best practices and pull its sender reputation from the dumps. Some of the steps taken:




  1. Feedback loops - the team signed up with major ISPs to receive reports when subscribers marked emails as spam.

  2. Remove complainers - after they marked an email as spam, subscribers were taken off the list. (They would probably do it again if not removed, Sather says, which would further erode the company's sender reputation.)

  3. Identify invalid email addresses - the team uncovered which email addresses were causing its astronomical bounce rates. Many of them were invalid addresses and removed.

  4. Adjust server settings - the team thought its email service provider would handle this task, but Sather noted that the ESP had "self-service" policy. It had never properly configured the server and left it to the company to worry about.

  5. Remove inactive accounts - subscribers were taken off the list if they did not open an email, click an email, purchase a product, or visit the website within 12 months. This helped improve the team's average engagement rates and gradually removed spam traps from the database. (Spam traps are email accounts maintained by ISPs that are used to identify spammers.)

  6. Applied for white-listing - after the team's metrics improved, it applied for preferential treatment from the major ISPs through their white-listing programs.

After taking these steps, the team's delivery-related metrics improved. It achieved:




  • 100% inbox placement rate

  • .07% bounce rate

  • .08% complaint rate

  • .02% rejection rate



Useful links related to this article




  1. Rick Santorum Facebook connect example

  2. Dr. Flint McGlaughlin slide

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