Ep #17 – Email Strategies

Where to Listen

In this special episode of ForTheLoveOfEmail Email Unplugged podcast, we discuss email strategy from the perspective of a 20+ year old veteran in the email industry.

This is the first episode of the series coming up in the next few weeks where we introduce guests from our upcoming online event Netcore “The New Email Rule Book”

Today, we bring in Ryan Phelan who is the Marketing Chief and Fractional CMO of Origin Email talks about what works and what has changed in the email marketing scenario with the COVID coming into the picture.

Ryan brings along extensive experience in building email strategies for companies from across multiple industries including B2B, B2C, FinTech, Education, and Travel and Hospitality and has run numerous multivariate tests scaling companies. One of his first successes was scaling a company from $1500 a month to $1.5 million in revenues. 

Since then, Ryan has been hooked into email marketing and has grown his business Origin Email out of creating customer focused email strategies for businesses.

They discuss

  • What is Email Strategy?
  • What are the fundamental pieces that companies need to put in place as their foundation to set themselves up for success?
  • What are the key methods that people are using to segment lists like city, state, etc?
  • How to build strategies to revive and reactivate dormant emails?
  • Thoughts on having the biggest list size
  • Thoughts on email hygiene services
  • Tests that have worked well and tests that failed and lost money
  • How to eliminate bias from strategy planning and think from a customer perspective?
  • What are some new strategies or “shiny objects” that are successful right now?
  • Closing discussion with a final tip on building better strategies now and post-COVID era

Transcript

Matthew Vernhout: Welcome to the limited edition 2020, ForTheLoveOfEmail, Email Unplugged podcast. This will be a short yet action-packed series to close out the year with three very special guests. I’ll be your host. Matthew Vernhout, vice-president deliverability for Netcore Solutions for North America. 

Our first guest will also be appearing alongside the team at the Netcore at the upcoming ForTheLoveOfEmails, The New Email Rule Book online event happening October 29th at 2020 at 11:00 AM Eastern time. Please welcome, Ryan Phelan, Marketing Chief and Fractional CMO with Origin Email to the show.

[00:00:38] Ryan Phelan: Woo.

[00:00:40] Matthew Vernhout: For nearly two decades, Ryan has focused on creating and leading innovative go to market strategies for high growth, SaaS software, and Fortune 250 companies, including Canadian Tire, Capital One, First National Bank of Omaha, and several others.

[00:00:55] Ryan has spent time with the marketing technology community as well with companies like Adestra, Axiom, Sears and Kmart, Blue Hornet, and Info USA. Ryan is one of the former chairmen of the Email Experience Council. This is now a position that I hold. So Ryan and I have a lot in common and have known each other for a long time.

[00:01:16]He’s also a board member through the association of national advertisers and a member of numerous other business and community groups. So, Ryan, thank you for joining us today..

[00:01:25] Ryan Phelan: Thanks, Matt. Happy to be here. And, this is going to be fun. We’re gonna have a good time.

[00:01:29] Matthew Vernhout: Yes. Yes. Always a good time to be had when the two of us get together.

[00:01:34] Ryan Phelan: Pretty much.

[00:01:35] Matthew Vernhout: We’ve been doing this conversation thing for many, many years. Ryan and I have probably known each other north of 15 years, I would say. Happy to have you here and looking forward to it. 

So, Ryan, I didn’t go into a lot of detail around things like Origin and what Origin does and sort of how you interact with the email space.

[00:01:52] So can you give us a bit of background on that and your personal experience that I just kind of lightly touched on.

[00:01:58] Ryan Phelan: Yeah, sure. I’ve been in this space 20 plus years, fell into it like a lot of us. I came out of college and was a club DJ for a long time. 

And then this internet thing started up and this startup started and this guy who was the founder of the company said, I like your creative thinking. I’m going to give you an email on the affiliate people. Why don’t you make something of that? 

And at the time it was doing like. $1,500 a month. And by the time I laughed and like two years, those two departments were grossing $1.5 million in revenue for the company. And from there I was hooked and, and did some stuff in the affiliate the world and then found email and said

[00:02:43] This is a lot cooler than the affiliate. Not that anything’s wrong with an affiliate, but I liked the email. And from there I’ve worked for some fantastic companies and met some amazing people like you and, and, really had fun with the organizations and just being a part of this, how I think of it, the email family.

[00:03:01]And, wouldn’t change my career for the world. Origin started two years ago after I left my last position. I was talking to my friend, John Caldwell, and. And, we decided to do a thing. And so, he had the Red Pill Email for a long time. And an Origin came out of the Red Pill. They had been very tactical, very, oriented on the process and integrations and migrations and all that stuff.

[00:03:26] And so we spun up Origin to be the strategy of Red Pill. And, and I have done strategy for 20 years working with some of the companies you listed. And so, decided to start that up. So Origin is a, for the most part, the strategy arm. We work with companies on how to, how to get the most at email, and how to maximize what they’re doing.

[00:03:48] And then along with that, since I’ve been in this space, an advocate for a lot of the companies I’ve worked for and onstage, and the last company I was with, I was in essence, the CMO of North America. I started up a fractional CMO practice to help companies with their marketing, to understand the space, to understand brand equity, to understand how you play in this space.

[00:04:13] It’s very unique. The email space is very tough to break into, but it’s very simple to think about sometimes. And so I work with companies to advance their goals and, in the SaaS world. So that’s pretty much me in a nutshell.

[00:04:29] Matthew Vernhout: That’s a big nutshell. That’s a lot of stuff going on there.

[00:04:33]we’re talking about email strategy today. So, I know strategy is a big word and it covers so many things. Right. But when someone comes to you and says, Ryan, help me with my email strategy, where do you see that as like, define that term of like, what is my email strategy for me?

[00:04:49] Ryan Phelan: Yeah. That’s a great question. I think it starts with, what do you believe about email? Because I always start with new clients or with people that ask the question, what do you believe? Do you believe that you should send the crap out of your email list and hit them as often as possible?

[00:05:06] Do you believe that you should be segmenting? What kind of programs do you have in place? Paint me a picture of how your beliefs and how email communication should work into what you’re doing and what you want to do. Because there’s, there are so many things you can do in this digital world, you have to have a belief structure.

[00:05:26] You have to have a belief system concerning the customer segmentation to provide relevancy, respecting consumer data, acting ethically, all of those things. Right? So somebody comes to me with the strategy it starts with what do you believe? And then it goes into, okay, what do you want to accomplish?

[00:05:43] What is the thing that is lacking that you need help with? And then what have you come up with already? Cause everybody’s got an idea. Everybody’s got an opinion about what they should be doing or how they should be doing it. And so I want to try and see where they are on the spectrum of sophistication. And my job as a strategist is to help pull them to the other side to pull them along. 

Now I can give strategy all day. I can sit down and write decks and write position papers and all that stuff. But what’s more fun for me is to teach the person and to enlighten them, right? To get that, that light bulb to click on. 

[00:06:26] Cause I’ve worked with large, huge brands and we’ll be conquering something or we’ll be working together on something and then I’ll explain something or ask them certain questions and they go, I finally get it. I see how the data fits together. And then this opens up and I’ve had it in my world. I worked with, it was, hysterical. I worked with Gretchen Shyman once on a project for Axiom.

[00:06:44] And I brought her in because she is way smarter than me on data and propensity and modeling and stuff. And I am enough of a guy to recognize that I have a deficiency. And so I brought her in. And she did the same thing with me. She’s teaching me all this stuff and she’s showing me this. And then all of a sudden in a meeting, one day, we’re locked in this conference room and she explained something and I’m like, I get it.

[00:07:07] I got my head exploded because I saw all these connections. Right. That’s the magic of strategy. That’s what I’m shooting for is how can I get the light bulb to pop on and you finally get it.

[00:07:20] Matthew Vernhout: Right. Absolutely. I think I’ve had those conversations with you over the years and hopefully, I’ve led you down the path there once or twice in the past few days.

[00:07:28] Ryan Phelan: You did! A couple of weeks ago.

[00:07:29] And I wrote about it in an article that I think just landed in, in one of the pubs that I called a friend of mine and said, Hey, I need some help on this. And the ideas you gave me were fantastic. I walked away and I was like, he is a smart dude. Not that I didn’t know that already, but not that you need the validation.

[00:07:50] Matthew Vernhout: So I’m going to switch gears just for a second and go a little personal here. Cause I’ve seen you speak at several events and you have a very unique style when your keynote.

[00:08:00] Ryan Phelan: Yes.

[00:08:00] Matthew Vernhout: So, can you just give us a little bit of where that style comes from? Just for our listeners who may not know you for sure.

[00:08:07] how you get up on stage and you just have that sort of, I would say you take us to church if you will.

[00:08:14] Ryan Phelan: Yes. This is part of my background. So I studied to be a Catholic priest. Now I’m going to pause while everybody picks their jaws off of the floor but I studied for four years to be a Catholic priest. And, I won’t go too much into that, but I just say, when I came out of that, one of the things you come out with is a very good sense of self, very good sense of who you are and your talents and whatever.

[00:08:37] And then I got into DJingand I’m telling you what. I have kind of a 

[00:08:43] Matthew Vernhout: a career change

[00:08:44] Ryan Phelan: But I spent four years in a Catholic seminary. It was like, hey, let’s do something fun. So, I will tell you that I could stand on stage and give a keynote to 500 people and not break a sweat but put me on the DJ booth with 600 or 300 people every hour filtering in through the club. That is stress, my friend.

[00:09:06]Matthew Vernhout: I’ve done that as well, I’ve been there.

[00:09:08] Ryan Phelan: You’ve been there. Yep. And my style is very much, I’ve been told that it’s like going to church. That I get on this preaching. And that’s kinda my style and I love it. And, and what’s surprising to some people is that I get on stage and my style has evolved to the slides, have five words and I have no notes.

[00:09:31] And I just walk up and I have in my head what I’m going to say. I know kind of the flow of what I’m going to say, but I have nothing written down. And so it’s all just kind of inspired by back to what my belief in the email is, what I see in the audience, what I see in companies, what I see in marketers, and I just speak from the heart.

[00:09:51] And that’s my energy. I try and get people excited about what we’ve got and inspire them to go to the next level.

[00:10:00] Matthew Vernhout: Yeah. That’s excellent. Yeah. I’ve seen you, I’ve sat in the audience and I’ve watched people, just sit and listen. It gets real quiet and people just listen.

[00:10:11]So that’s fantastic. And as I said, I just switched gears a little bit. Going back to email itself. When you look at someone who’s just starting a program. I’ve never had an email program or I’ve had one that’s been limping along because I haven’t had a real strategy. where do you look and go back and say, what are the fundamental things that, either someone getting into an email or someone who has an email program and they want to reinvent it. What are the fundamental pieces that they need to put in place as their foundation to really set themselves up for success.

[00:10:46] Ryan Phelan: Yep. And I’ve talked about that for years. So it’s the foundation of every email program, whether you’re B2C or B2B, whether you’re a FinTech or whether you’re travel hospitality, whether you’re retail, all email marketers have to have these things.

[00:11:01] They have to have the acquisition. They have to have promotions. They have to have a welcome. They have to have attrition and they have to have reactive and transactional emails. Right. Those five things are the core of everything we do. 

Everything that we do is built upon that from the data that we need for this, that, and the other thing too, how to properly communicate all that stuff.

[00:11:22] So when I work with marketers, I always start with that foundation because here’s the commonality that I see in most marketers is they created those programs years ago and they have not touched those programs years. They’re focused on the bright, shiny thing. And so what I tell marketers is that the program that you created and haven’t touched, that’s the first impression to your end-user.

[00:11:48] And if it stinks, you’re set up for failure. And so I encourage people to regularly update those, audit those, regularly look at does that even make sense anymore? And then build upon that, right. And put in things to get more data put in questions on the acquisition, put in an op-down when you’re looking at attrition.

[00:12:11]All of the things we do in email start with those five programs.

[00:12:16] Matthew Vernhout: And then, looking back, say since March. This year is unlike any other year, probably that anyone alive has experienced. Well, I wouldn’t say anyone alive, but most people are alive.

[00:12:29] Ryan Phelan: Most people

[00:12:29] Matthew Vernhout: This type of situation that we’re currently in regarding sort of the pandemic and how digital has become a core function for a lot of businesses where maybe it wasn’t before. 

[00:12:44] When you look back over between March and now and you think with your clients that had built their marketing strategy at the end of 2019, the like 2020 is going to be amazing. And then all of a sudden March, they kind of crinkle everything up and throw it away. What are you advising people now to do in that situation?

[00:12:58] Ryan Phelan: Yeah. I have written and thought about this a lot. So, I think since March I’ve seen these kinds of things. Number one, to your point, throw your marketing plan away. Nothing you thought before COVID is worth anything. You can shelve it. You can say I’ll bring this out in two years when it’s back to normal, but then it will be two years.

[00:13:25] I’ve told more companies to throw their marketing plans away and start over. Now, the starting over has caused some problems and we saw that actively in the space where authenticity was lost. You saw companies try to be authentic and failed. You saw companies try to be transparent and get into virtue signaling.

[00:13:47] You saw some companies didn’t give a darn and just kept emailing. Like nothing was going on. And so what I’ve surmised is companies were too addicted to the data to be able to react to an unknown factor. Right? And so they were unable to move that quickly.

[00:14:13] They were unable to do anything. And so they failed horribly and they were lost. And, and finally, now we’re coming out of it. But if I look at the next four months, next six months, next nine months, we still have that unprecedented time with customer behavior, because it’s not predictable. We don’t have data unless we’re asking our customers and that has an expiration date and we still have the problem that every city in the United States is experiencing this differently.

[00:14:45] So we’re back in March. Whereas your marketing is not only by segment but now it’s by geo and now it’s by region and it’s all the complexity has just gotten crazy. So what I’ve been working with marketers and doing is slow down and try new things. 

[00:15:08] Cause nothing you had planned or have tried before is going to work. So you got to think differently. Right. And so that’s where we just got to hang on and get a seatbelt for your chair and test test, test, test, test, test until you’re blue in the face.

[00:15:26] Matthew Vernhout: Well, I was going to say that leads to my next question nicely.

[00:15:29]What are the key differentiators or things that people are looking at differently? So you said things like Geo down to a city level or state level. Being Canadian, I also think geo needs to exist at the country level. Simply because, recently, I was talking with my wife about this Steven, Canadian Thanksgiving was a couple of weeks ago, right?

[00:15:53] Some companies are good at recognizing Canadian Thanksgiving, other companies aren’t right. Or they don’t ship to Canada, but they still sign you up for their email programs and promote their products to you like you could even buy from them. Right. Those types of things. So, what type of things are you looking at?

[00:16:09] We saw companies shutting down, we saw companies changing from an in-store to an eCommerce. What are those drivers that people need to think about in regards to these types of changes that are maybe even beyond their control that they need to adapt.

[00:16:24] Ryan Phelan: You gotta look at your customers, you gotta ask your customers, right?

[00:16:28] If focus groups are not part of your plan, then it needs to be. If customer outreach by your marketing team is not part of your plan then it needs to be. If progressive profiling isn’t part of your plan. I’ve encouraged some marketers that they should start actively watching the news. If they have a team of 12 in their marketing department, everybody should have a major city that they’re watching the local news on to educate you about what’s going on.

[00:16:54] And, and to brainstorm about that and to be authentic about it. Right? What does your brand stand for? What is your brand voice? Who do you want to be? But listen to your customers. They’re going to tell you whether or not they want to be an in-store pickup, or they want options. They want control. Right.

[00:17:10] But if you’re asking them, they’re going to help you to understand that. There was a Forrester analyst that said this time is very tough for retailers because you’re trying to navigate an attitude cycle that says, this is good this is bad. And if you come down on this, then you’re going to be labeled as X.

[00:17:30] If you come out on this, you’re going to be labeled as Y. On a company level it’s tough on a marketer level. It’s tough. It’s just tough. And I think the way it gets easier is that if you’re humble enough as a company, to reach out to your customers and ask them and have a conversation. And focus groups are a great way.

[00:17:50] When I was at Sears I had a small group of email customers, very active email subscribers. They had loyalty numbers on all of them, as far as how much they bought and every once in a while when we do a new campaign or something new, I’d send them an email and go “Hey, can I get your advice on X, Y, or Z?”.

[00:18:05] And I’d get my gift certificate and they didn’t care. But I had my little focus group to kind of check myself. Right. But that was because I didn’t assume I knew what was going on.

[00:18:18] Matthew Vernhout: Yeah. And I’ve seen, there’s a company, a company that I’ve done some work with in the past that is sort of like, for lack of a better term, it’s the rideshare of home repairs.

[00:18:32] Ryan Phelan: Yeah.

[00:18:33] Matthew Vernhout: There is a home repair, they pair you up with someone to come and do the work based on what you need. But they’ve even been looking at testing strategies over the last two years around weather patterns. So like you were saying, right, there’s a major snowstorm in Calgary. Well, they want to make sure that they’re sending out the snowplows, snow shovels, those types of snow removal type services, whereas there’s flooding out in the maritime province.

[00:18:56] So they want to make sure they’re sending basement repairs. They’re looking at those weather patterns. They’re looking at those types of news reports, much, like you said. And while it’s not part of their existing program and it’s maybe not automated, it’s already ready to go. They just need to say this city hit send.

[00:19:12] Yes. Right. So that’s one of those strategies I think that you would look at to say it doesn’t have to be something that’s part of your regular program. Just be prepared when it’s ready to hit send.

[00:19:21] Ryan Phelan: Yeah. Oh exactly. And it’s funny, you mentioned that because 10 years ago, however long it was when I was at Sears, we were starting to do exactly that.

[00:19:31] We had a feed from can’t remember the company, but they had a weather feed and it would come into our ESP and we had all these campaigns that we’re gonna need to set up. Cause if you think about Sears inventory it’s Craftsmen’s, its tools, its equipment, its clothes, it’s all this stuff. And we were setting up to do just that. 

[00:19:52] But it was this, this just in time or ready in time marketing. Van Buskirk from Forrester was talking yesterday at an event. And when faced with the question of what do you do when data doesn’t exist? 

One of her suggestions and this was the light bulb moment for me was like a lot of companies that she is talking to companies who are developing multiple models for multiple scenarios and being able to push the button to execute that model based upon this and that it fits. Now that ties perfectly into what you’re saying is you have to think. We would never say let’s develop 10 models and act on one.

[00:20:28] We would say, let’s take the one and just go. But that’s back to anything you’ve done in the past. Doesn’t make a difference. You got to think differently about all of this because it’s just different.

[00:20:43] Matthew Vernhout: Right. So when you’re, getting back to these sorts of strategies and getting back to the models and things like that, what type of advice do you give a company around prioritizing that?

[00:20:52] And like, how do you prioritize, I’m going to build these models, but maybe not execute on them right now, because I know that it’s a situation that’ll come up, whether it’s adverse weather or whether it’s a storm or whether it’s natural fires or any of those types of things, like, yeah.

[00:21:06] How do I build that into my plan? And that could be either I’m going to suppress marketing to areas in these regions because of whatever natural event is happening. Where do you see building those types of priorities and building those types of opportunities in the planning stage?

[00:21:23] Is this something that you, you get your base plan set up and you add this as an extra, or do you factor these in, right?

[00:21:30] Ryan Phelan: No good question. I’m a firm believer in a term I kinda came up with a long time ago, which is called incremental innovation. Which means the best way to implement something is to build on it over time.

[00:21:43] So in the example of weather, right? I would advise taking one city where a lot of your customers are that fit a couple of different scenarios and put that into place for that one city and test it out. And from that one city, what you’ll learn is what you have to have as the additive source. So what conditions does somebody need to meet?

[00:22:03] But then also the other source that takes away. So to your point, there are some times where you don’t email people where you want to pull back where you want to stop messaging. And so if you incrementally innovate, you learn those things. Without affecting the entire planet. And then you roll that out nationally and then you start again.

[00:22:24] I think that the best way to describe it is I was talking to a guy a long time ago at a conference. And he was showing me that he had something like 700 different triggers based on every different action somebody could take with the website or with an interaction, whatever. Right. You said, how did you start this?

[00:22:42] He says, I started with the first email. And then I built on that. And then I built on that and I built on that. And that’s really where, when you look at email marketing with funding challenges, with personal challenges, with all of these things, you have to incrementally innovate. Because if you think of the entirety of the project, if you think about doing weather-related events to everyone, then you’ll never get it done because the immensity of the scope of that project will paralyze you from getting it done.

[00:23:11] But if I start with one city and with one instance and one weather thing, and I get to test it on that, then I learn and I grow and, and it takes a 12 month period of time.

[00:23:23] Matthew Vernhout: Right. And weather is one of those things that you’re going to get, 10 different weather patterns in the country at any given day, right.

[00:23:29] You’re going to have the sun in California and excessive heat in Texas and snow in Colorado. Right.

[00:23:37] Ryan Phelan: Look at the forecast and pick a weather event that’s coming up, it’s kind of like, now I’d be shooting for snow in Colorado. Let’s test it for snow in Colorado, you know?

[00:23:47] Matthew Vernhout: Yeah. Now, are there other strategies that we’ve talked about now?

[00:23:51] You mentioned this at the time getting when as, as one of your sort of five strategies is, the retention win-back sunsetting style strategy. Right. And I know that those are all multiple different strategies, but they all sort of fit into that sort of list, health, less maintenance strategy.

[00:24:09]When it comes to these types of solutions, what are you recommending somebody who has never done a win-back campaign? They know they have a huge portion of inactive users, right? Like, if you’re not maintaining your list, your inactive file gets to be gigantic over time. Right?

[00:24:25] What are you looking at when someone says, Ryan, I want to win back some of my old subscribers that haven’t purchased from me, or even read my email in six months, 12 months, 18 months, 24 months. Forever. Right. Depending on how far back they keep data, what are you looking at when you’re building these types of strategies?

[00:24:44] Ryan Phelan: Yeah, I look at a lot of different things. Generally start with let’s break down that inactive list into period chunks, right? To your point, what’s three to six, six to 12, 12 to 1818 plus, right? Because beyond 18, plus it gets problematic and so then I asked, okay, what level of effort are you going to go after?

[00:25:07] See, I’m not a big believer in putting a lot of effort into the win-back because it takes you off the ball, right? You’re judged on active people, making purchases or clicking or whatever that end KPI is. And, I think we spend too much time trying to reactivate people that have ended their relationship.

[00:25:31]. It’s almost like a girlfriend. They just keep wanting to please come back, please come back and you will get some results, but I encourage people to look at the short term attrition groups. Those are three to six, six to nine, right? Let me try and win those back. Cause they at least remember who in the heck I am.

[00:25:50] I also want to look at, okay, what other channels do I have? David Baker is famous for saying sometimes email doesn’t work.If you look at propensity of consumers, some consumers are more predisposed to react and interact with emails than other channels. But some people are signed up for your email list that is never going to re-interact.

[00:26:13] But that banner ad that shows up on X, Y, or Z site is what they react to. So, channel propensity is something you have to consider is, can I take that nine-month group and then maybe target them in the media, do something else, maybe a direct mail for God’s sakes. But I look at how creative do they want it to be and how can we automate it?

[00:26:36] Right. Because I think if you come up with a running strategy, it needs to be automated. Whether that’s print on demand, whether that’s, exports into Facebook or to Google or whatever ads service you have/ I want to find ways to do it, but I do it scalably. I’ll start with an email reactivation, see what those stats are, and then I’ll switch the term and do all kinds of things.

[00:26:55] But I start with breaking down the ages and then say, okay, how much time do you want to spend on inactive customers? Because active customers need you to put in the time and effort to keep them active.

[00:27:08] Matthew Vernhout: Right. No, and I love the comment around automating it right where possible.

[00:27:12] That’s always one of the things that I recommend to people. And like when you know that you’re at that six months or nine-month window, if you’re not automating that campaign to drip out every day You feel the pain when you do it once a quarter because all of a sudden it’s 10% of your list and every quarter and you look at it, you just go oh my God, this is 10% of my list that I’m going to send this to and only 2% of people are going to respond.

[00:27:35] But you drip it out 10 people a day, you don’t feel that same pain and you might recover better.

[00:27:41] Ryan Phelan:Yes. Because you want to hit it. You want to find that window of the influenceable attrition. Right. So somebody that’s just to try to get a message to try and win them back.

[00:27:55] That suppresses all the other promotional emails that just singles out the conversation.That’s an active strategy that can have results and you can attach a KPI to and do all kinds of stuff. So you want that automation to find them when that sweet spot is.

[00:28:13] Matthew Vernhout: And what about, like, you’re talking about different KPIs around, retention and purchase and, just activity when an email, what do you look about when you hear someone say, well, my KPI is list size.

[00:28:27] What are your thoughts on I need the biggest list possible. I don’t care if they’re not active, as long as I can reach X millions of people.

[00:28:36] Ryan Phelan: Yeah. I worked for a company that had that. It’s painful. If your KPI is list size, then, okay. So I’ll give you a little inside baseball.

[00:28:50] So when I was at Sears, we had a very large list, huge, massive, right. And our KPI was list size. Now it may be different and I’m sure it is, but then it was list size. And so I said, okay, list size. Great. I can report on that KPI. I have this many contacts that I can email, but I don’t. I had contacts that went back.

[00:29:16] I mean, Sears, right. A hundred-year-old company. I had emails that went back 10 years, but I didn’t email them. What I did was take cutouts and. And get them to get those cutouts to react. I took my short term traders and tried to reactivate them, but I didn’t try to email everybody. Now you get into crazy politics and crazy things.

[00:29:39] I had one, this is a great story. So I had one of the departments come to me and say, I need the email people that are in the market to buy a washer and dryer. I said, great. Okay. So I went back to my data team. I ran it, all these models I kind of, and I came back to him. With 50,000 people nationwide that lived within a radius around a Sears outlet.

[00:30:00] And these were people that were in the market. We were high, confident that they would be shopping for Washington. And I said you have 50,000 people. He says, no, I need like 200,000. Is it, what do you need 200,000 for? Well, I need 200,000. I just need 200,000. I’m like, why don’t you need 50?

[00:30:18] It went back and forth. And finally, he said, if I put down 50,000, they’ll say that I haven’t tried hard enough. If I put down 200,000, then they’ll think that I tried hard enough. And so I went back and I said, okay. So I put in. So when I ran the 50,000 and then when I gave him the report, I just put that I had sent it to a hundred I put an extra 150,000 and he walked away happiest Scotch.

[00:30:46] Right. you gotta find those games to play, but we all know the consequences of emailing on size. Number one, it takes longer to send. I mean, our emails took 24 hours to send.

[00:31:01] Matthew Vernhout: Things have evolved a lot since then.

[00:31:03] Ryan Phelan: Yes. And that was, you know I think it was longer than 24 hours, but it was one of those that was like, geez, 24. But it’s all kinds of problematic. But there are other organizations that they just want to have a big list and it’s like, okay I’m still only going to focus on the 3.2 million active people!

[00:31:24] Matthew Vernhout: Right. What are your thoughts on list hygiene services, and how people use them? Do you have any pros, cons, thoughts around them?

[00:31:36] Ryan Phelan: The list of hygiene services was like the used car dealerships. I mean there was one at every corner. Every time you came online, there were two more.

[00:31:46]I think there are probably four really solid, reputable companies that are good for list hygiene. I think they all have their take and they all have their kind of thing. I think those four companies all participate and are active and thought leadership in the industry. But I think that there are misuses and good uses for list hygiene.

[00:32:11]If you’re looking to take 20 million records that you’ve had on your file for 10 years and want to spruce it up. Well, I think that’s probably stupid. But if you want to clean some lists that are marginally attrited, if you want to look at the health of your list, you got a lot of typos or you have an acquisition form that doesn’t check itself.

[00:32:33] I think that’s the biggest strength for some of the acquisition stuff, is can I check the lack of the validity of an email when it’s submitted and avoid typos. Those have some good uses, but I think a lot of people think that it’s, that it’s free to get out of jail free card, and it was not. Does that make sense?

[00:32:55] Matthew Vernhout: Yeah, no, it certainly does. A lot of people use it to say like, I got this list like you were saying, that’s old, let’s just clean up. I do like the idea of using it at data collection point more so than as a bulk host collection point. or I got in trouble, something bad happened to me  I’ll just do some hygiene on it.

[00:33:15] Ryan Phelan: Yes. Conference leads. If you’re a manual processor, right. Writing it on a chet and and giving it to the server and then doing manual transcription. there are some great uses for it, but a lot of people abuse it.

[00:33:32] Matthew Vernhout: What about, you’ve probably run a lot of tests over the years with your systems.

[00:33:38] While working with clients, I want to test, like you were saying, the weather in Chicago kind of thing. Was there a test or a scenario that you ran that real sort of surprised you or was counterintuitive in regards to the response? Can you just like, describe it?

[00:33:54] You don’t have to use brand names or anything, but sort of, yeah. I ran this test and it blew me away because I was expecting it to succeed and it failed or, vice versa. I ran when I was expected to fail and it really sort of surprised me.

[00:34:06] Ryan Phelan:  I have both, I lost money on one. We were running the next logical product, trigger.

[00:34:13] And so if you bought in the scenario was, if you bought the easy one is if you bought a washer and dryer without the pedestal, then the data suggested that you would buy a pedestal, you were more predisposed to buy a pedestal within 10 days of purchase. Because you would get at home and then you would discover one of the pedestals and then you would come in and buy it.

[00:34:35] And so what we want to do is shorten the time that you would decide to do that and make sure you bought it from us. Well, we did this with treadmills. What’s the next logical product or purchase after you buy a treadmill? Now I put hard money on tennis shoes!

[00:34:53] Matthew Vernhout: Okay.

[00:34:54] Ryan Phelan: Put hard money on tennis shoes and I lost. the winner, can you guess?

[00:35:01]Matthew Vernhout: I’m going to guess like a sweat towel.

[00:35:04] Ryan Phelan: Nope. That was also somebody’s guess. A mat to put it underneath the treadmill for the carpet or whatever. So if you buy a treadmill within 10 days, the customer is back then within 10 days you would go out and buy a mat. And that was one of those where the data surprised me

[00:35:26]. Right. the other one that I, that was funny, I was doing a challenge with this client and she had developed three emails and a win-back series. And she thought that that was going to work. She was convinced that was going to work. And I told her, well, if you mix up the emails and send this one first and this one second, and this one third, it’s going to work better.

[00:35:48] She was like, Nope, I think this is going to work. And so we went head to head and I won. And I was like, well, that’s kind of cool, but I’ll tell you, Matt, more times than not, I lose on tests. And, and that’s, I think, important for a lot of marketers to realize is that our view is tainted as biased. Either by the brand equity or our insulation, or the fact that we are not the consumer.

[00:36:17] Right.

[00:36:17] Matthew Vernhout: I say that all the time about email, right? Yeah. We’re not the consumer. So don’t expect how email geeks respond the same way that a consumer would. Right. I have these conversations with my wife all the time, simply because I want a consumer perspective.

[00:36:30] Ryan Phelan: Yeah. And it’s, and I do it with my folks.

[00:36:34] Right. Because it still freaks my mom out that I can tell what she clicks on in an email. But they’re the consumer, they’re the end-user. And so, I will most times lose that on tests because I didn’t rely on the data to inform my choice and I didn’t think about the consumer enough.

[00:36:55] And so I think with every test you have to go in with that objective mindset, and treat it as a do your hypothesis, do your validity to make sure you’re not doing a multivariate test. You’re doing a true AB and. Validate your tests. So don’t just do one and say, that’s the answer.

[00:37:17] The actual answer is to run it a few times and get the same answer and then decide that that’s the way to go.

[00:37:23] Matthew Vernhout: So, in that scenario, you were saying about the sort of three message win-back campaign, right? How do you remove your personal bias from that to say, like, you were saying your client was like, my order wants to be, ABC and you said, no, your order should be CBA.

[00:37:41] Right or whatever that order happened. Yeah. How do you step back from that? And then like, did you guys AB test it to run both at once and split and then see who won? Like somebody, sort of doing, I guess that AB test, maybe I answered the question myself, how do you remove your personal bias from some of these tests, scenarios that you’re, you’re talking about?

[00:38:03]Ryan Phelan: It’s an analysis of the consumer, right? My analysis wasn’t any better than hers. I just saw it differently. And I have the experience as a strategist and you’ll know this. Right. You can see the whole field. Not just the retail market, but what works in, in FinTech, what works in banks, what works in travel hospitality and, from all of those experiences, what consumers react to sometimes, and sometimes you’re lucky, right?

[00:38:33] I didn’t win a test. I just picked the right combination. But being a strategist is fun. Because one minute I’m working for a credit card company and the next minute I’m working for a large retailer and I can carry over different things. But the true way that you said to test it is to do an A/B head-to-head is to have an R&D budget for your email program to be able to test these things.

[00:39:04] Right. That has no, a true R&D budget is I’m going to try something with no expectation of ROI, but I’m going to try it to see if it works.

[00:39:15] Matthew Vernhout: Okay. Fair enough. What are you seeing right now? Like, what is the, if someone were to say like, this is the shiny object or the bright button or thing right now, like what is the number one strategy that you’re seeing clients want to try?

[00:39:28] Right now. And are they being successful with these strategies?

[00:39:32]Ryan Phelan: I think COVID has driven home the point that segmentation is something they should be doing. I’ve gotten more inquiries on how to segment, how to look at propensity, how to look at modeling. Even though we have a lack of data on consumer behavior.

[00:39:49] What we do have is a lack of knowledge in anything right now. And so people that are starting to understand that there is so much diversity in an experience that they’ve got to start segmenting.They’ve got to start doing that. We’ve been teaching this for 20 years, and I’ve been on stage, preaching it for 20 years.

[00:40:08] And I think marketers and companies have finally bought off. We have to up our game. Because we, because revenue is down and we’re doing nothing special to inspire more revenue instead of, and all we’re doing is sending more email, you know.

[00:40:26] Matthew Vernhout: Competition for the inbox is so much more. Nobody’s leaving home.

[00:40:31] Ryan Phelan: Yeah. Nobody’s leaving home. And for the next 45 days, really nobody’s leaving home and there’s a lot of things that are gonna show up in the inbox. I mean, on average and I remember the stat, I don’t know if it’s updated. Chad White used to put out that email volume would increase, 20% year over year in terms of holiday volume.

[00:40:51] And I think this year it’s 40. I think it’s just, I think it’s going to be ludicrous speed to pull in us, baseball’s reference. Between the election, COVID, post-election, a holiday, all those things. I think, the marketer’s ability to stand out in the inbox is going to be challenged unless they can do something quick and shiny because you should have spent the last 12 months trying to build a relationship so those people wanted to open your email.

[00:41:18] But now you’ve got to do some things like real-time personalization or those kinds of things, right. I’ve seen a lot of people start to look at real-time personalization because it bridges a technology gap between what the company can accomplish and what a system can accomplish that’s already built.

[00:41:38] Matthew Vernhout: No, that’s great. I don’t know if you’ve seen, but we do a lot of personalization stuff as well lately. So, some cool things going on on that front as well from even web personalization and email personalization and product recommendation engines and stuff.

[00:41:53] So some cool things are going on there. You had talked earlier about lack of data for segmentation or being addicted to data. Say you’re a company and you only collected first name, last name, email, where do you start with segmentation in that scenario?

[00:42:08] And then how do you sort of use that strategy to grow, your data set so that you can get better and iterate as you think you said, iterate, iterate, iterate. What you, what’s your recommendation for that? I want to start with the basics. I have three fields. How do I grow that and get better?

[00:42:24] Ryan Phelan: I would say you have, you start at three fields, but you’ve got if you haven’t emailed them before and they’ve never purchased then yeah you’re starting at three pieces. What I would try to do is hope that you got their primary email address, right? The average consumer has three email addresses, a real one, a fake one, and a junk one.

[00:42:44] Right. And now this is particular to us. And I can’t remember if Canada lets you do this, but I am a big proponent of buying data. Big fan of buying data and augmenting that to record and using that in your segmentation. That’s one thing, right? If you’re a company and most of these bigger companies already have contracts with data houses to buy augment data.

[00:43:10] Right?

[00:43:10] Matthew Vernhout: It’s not email addresses.

[00:43:13] Ryan Phelan: No, but like presence in the home income, those kinds of things, right. That’s not email. No, never will Ryan say, go buy an email address!

[00:43:22] Matthew Vernhout: We have data augmentation companies as well. Yes.

[00:43:25] Ryan Phelan: Yes. So I’m a big fan of that, right? And with an email address, if you have the primary email address, you’ll at least get a low percentage match, but you’ll get a match.

[00:43:34] The other way to do it is to ask the consumer, ask the end-user. If you have an email address and a first and a name, send them an email that says, Hey, Mary, can you tell us a little bit more about you so that we can send you a more relevant email? Now you’ve done two things. Number one, you’ve asked.

[00:43:54] And you’ve committed to fulfilling that ask. So you need to be ready to respect Mary for whatever she gives back. Cause if you don’t, she’s going to think that you wasted her time and that’s going to harm your brand. But the other thing is a lot of marketers don’t understand this is that data that Mary gives you has a clock on it that has an expiration date on it because Mary’s preferences may change in 60 days.

[00:44:21]So, what you do is you it’s a constant conversation to try and get Mary to tell you things that she likes, right. And you can do that through what does she click on in an email? What answer did she give me on a survey? Can I validate that? Or something against third party data, right. Start to think holistically about it.

[00:44:40] But the first thing, even if you don’t have a data house, do you have a relationship, is ask. Because of the beginning of the relationship, consumers are more predisposed to tell you what they want. Because they’ve bought into your brand. They’ve given you their primary address. You’ve got a relationship.

[00:44:57] So ask first, buy the data if you can, and be smart about how you use it.

[00:45:03] Matthew Vernhout: Great. Thanks very much for that. Just in closing in, because we’re coming up to time here. So I just wanna, if there was one thing that you wanted to suggest to somebody that’s looking at their strategy between now and the end of the year, right?

[00:45:18] What is that go out and test this, go out and collect that go out and what’s that one thing that you would recommend someone try or look at testing in their strategy for the last quarter of 2020?

[00:45:34] Ryan Phelan: Yup. There’ll be two things. Number one, I would pick up the phone and I’m going to assume that they have funding for this, right?

[00:45:40] Because in a blue sky, everybody has as much money as they want. I would call some of the real-time personalization companies and get a contract and get booked into. Use that in your emails. Because that can, that can dynamically manipulate the images that can move products around. That can change things in flash sales, you can have the countdown clocks that are as overused as everything, but there’s a whole suite of services that the real-time personalization vendors have that will up your game instantly because right now you don’t have any time.

[00:46:11] The time’s up, everybody’s pulling back black Friday, everybody’s pulling back on holiday. And by my prediction, it started on the 15th of October. So we’re on holiday right now. So, you need something quick. The other thing that I would say is I would call an agency. I would call your ESP and ask them what can we do?

[00:46:32] Because if you’ve gotten to gain time and you don’t have an idea, you don’t have time to sit around and think of one. What you have time to do is pick up the phone and have somebody smarter than you give you some ideas and help you get that innovation done in the, in a very rapid period, like 10 days, right?

[00:46:50] Because there’s just no time left. So that’s what I would advise marketers to do. If they’re sitting there going, I need one more thing.

[00:46:58] Matthew Vernhout: Like that idea. Like what’s the, maybe what’s the feature I’m not using. Yeah. What’s that easy to turn on feature relatively easy. Again, blue sky everything’s free funding is there, what’s that one feature that I’m not that I’m missing out on kind of thing?

[00:47:14] Ryan Phelan: Well, back in the days, users only use 20% of the functionality inside of an ESP. And that has carried on for years, except for Netcore. At Netcore they use like a hundred percent. But, people there are functionalities inside your ESP that people don’t know about.

[00:47:40] Matthew Vernhout: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more, there’s been lots of times, even that we’ve talked to clients recently that have been, what about this thing? And they’re like, Oh yeah, that’s exactly what I was looking for. And then it takes them automatically to that next level, which I think is a great conversation and it’s a win-win for the vendor and the client.

[00:47:58] As you said, you tighten that relationship by having those conversations. So, Ryan, I want to thank you for being part of the Netcore ForTheLoveOfEmails , Email Unplugged podcast. tell our listeners how they can get in touch with you. If they’re interested in learning more about our origin or learning more about Ryan.

[00:48:14] Ryan Phelan: Yeah. originemail.com. you can find me at RyanPPhelan on Twitter, where I am at a lot of times. If you want to see my latest cooking exploits, you can find me on Instagram. That’s one of my hobbies is being a home chef, and then on LinkedIn. So. Thanks for having me on this was a lot of fun man, and good luck to you and to the company.

[00:48:39] And this is a great resource for marketers and I hope people listen and take something away from it. Cause there’s a lot of good nuggets in not only this episode but a lot of the things you guys have been doing, it’s been fantastic to see.

[00:48:51] Matthew Vernhout: Oh, well thank you for saying that. and as Ryan said, we hope that you gained some insight and have some thoughts around, evolving your email strategy as a result of this conversation.

[00:49:00] If you have any other questions about email or how net core can help you please head over to netcorecloud.com to learn more about our AI-powered email delivery and campaign platforms. As a reminder, coming here, Ryan. ForTheLoveOfEmails, The New Email Rule Book Event happening October 29th, 2020 at 11:00 AM Eastern time.

[00:49:20] It’s a free event. So just head on over, like I said to netcorecloud.com and hit our events page to register. If you’re interested in the podcast, please do subscribe where most podcasts are available. So Spotify, iTunes, Google play, checkout netcorecloud.com for more information for our past episodes.

[00:49:41] And we hope everyone stays happy, healthy, and email safely. Build those reputations positively. And thank you again, Ryan, and to our listeners. We’ll be back again next month with another podcast and thank you everyone for your time. 

[00:49:56] Ryan Phelan: Thanks Matt.

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