If you're ready to do some email marketing myth-busting, Episode 514 of the Marketing Smarts podcast will certainly help you out.
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In the episode, host George B. Thomas chats with B2B Forum speaker Michael Barber, and parts of their conversation could surprise you.
Is email dead? Hardly. "We've been having this conversation about the death of email for 15-ish years at this point," Michael says. "What we've continued to see....is that email continues to drive incredible success for marketers who do it well."
Lists of emails purchased from a third-party are always bad, right? Well... not quite. "This idea of never buying a purchased list....It works in some cases, but you have to be very cognizant of where that list is coming from...Let's say you're a major sponsor of a tradeshow and that is a part of the registration and part of your sponsorship, I think there are really strategic ways that you can use that for good."
The biggest bust from Barber goes to the importance of how many subscribers you have. What matters, he insists, is engagement. If you have 500,000 subscribers but nobody clicks on anything, it's "hurting our campaigns worse than anything else," Michael says. "Worse than unsubscribing, worse than marking as spam."
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George Thomas: I don't know about you, but I send emails. Do you send emails? Of course you send emails. Every B2B and B2C and B2-everybody marketer sends emails. Today, I'm super excited because we're going to talk about email tips, tricks, and hacks for you, the B2B marketer. Of course, I have brought on my friend and an amazing human, Michael Barber. We're going to talk about what keeps Michael up at night pertaining to B2B marketers and email, we're going to talk about how to get started, how to build amazing email strategies in 2022 and beyond, what success looks like, and so much more. We even get some words of wisdom from Michael.
Speaking of which, Michael's career began at Mighty Interactive, the agency founded by Jay Baer. He went on to hold leadership roles in strategy and planning at Sitewire, Nomadic Agency, and COHN before establishing his own consultancy Barber & Hewitt. In late 2017, Barber & Hewitt joined Godfrey, one of the largest B2B agencies, and Michael was named one of Marketo's Fearless 50, an award that recognizes the top marketers around the globe, driving fearless marketing and digital transformation. Over the last year, he has worked with brands like MeUndies, Johnson & Johnson, Church and Dwight, Haas Avocado, MagniLife and so many more.
Marketing Smarts listeners, are you ready to get into the good stuff?
Michael, I'm super excited because, first of all, email is a topic you're going to be speaking at B2B Forum about, but it's also a topic we get to dive into today. I love starting these podcasts lately with this question. It's kind of fun, it's kind of weird, but let's just get into it. What about B2B marketers and email keeps Michael Barber up at night?
Michael Barber: I think this would be a combination of boring and caring about list size over anything else. Those are the two. We just have to get past this perspective that somehow when I step into my office, whether you're at home or actually in the office these days, that you become this different person and you're not expecting an experience around an email campaign like you would from a B2C company. I think that's one that keeps me up at night. The second would be just caring about list size. We have to get past list size and be focused on engagement more than ever. Those would be the two things.
George: I want to go off the beaten path for a second. First of all, I totally agree with you. Boring email, and we'll probably get to dive into that a little bit later and why people are saying what they're saying when it comes to email. This idea of engagement over list size, dig into that for a little bit and talk to me about why that's so important, maybe what has changed. Why should everybody listening to this be focused on engagement, not the actual size of the list that they're sending to?
Michael: If you look at the ISPs, the internet service providers, those are the gatekeepers of the inbox. We're talking about Gmail, Yahoo, Verizon, Barracuda, the spam companies like Spamhaus, and a variety of them that are out there. They're essentially the gatekeepers to the inbox. They're looking at what your subscribers are doing when they engage with your campaigns.
The biggest negative signal that they've told us that they look for is not doing anything. The individuals, the subscribers we keep on our list that don't actually open, click, reply, folder, or do something with our campaigns are actually hurting our campaigns worse than anything else. Worse than unsubscribing, worse than marking as spam. The lack of engagement is killing your ability to be successful in the inbox.
What I would say to any marketer, B2B or otherwise, is really start focusing on those engagement metrics. Your KPIs for email need to be things like opens, clicks, replies, forwards, conversions, what they're doing after that click, more than the size of the list. At the end of the day, if you have a million people on a list but only 2 – 3% of those subscribers are doing anything, you have 97 – 98% of that list that is just bloat. What you should be focusing on is increasing those KPIs so that you're well above the industry averages, which would show that you have really robust list health, that you really care about those individuals that are engaging, and that you're letting those people that are ignoring your campaigns go and sunset them off your list.
George: I love this. I'm sure there are a couple of savvy marketers that are listening to this that are like, "Wait. Worse than unsubscribes?" I don't remember if it was a webinar that I was on with you or somebody else, but I know it was a MarketingProfs webinar where somebody was describing the unsubscribe as... it's at least an engagement metric. Those people that are doing nothing are actually the worst that you can have. I'm so glad that we dove into that.
Here's the other piece. This is where I kind of alluded that we might get back to boring, but I'm sure there are other topics around this. The next question that I have to battle against, because I swear it's around almost every turn on the internet, some naysayer is shouting out, "Email is dead. It's conversational marketing, it's influencer marketing," or it's this, that, or the other thing. What would you say to those naysayers that are shouting out email is dead now?
Michael: I'd say two things. One, that we've been having this conversation about the death of email for 15-ish years at this point. What we've continued to see, especially through the last two-and-a-half years of this pandemic and post-pandemic, if you consider that we are in a post-pandemic or endemic period of COVID, is that email continues to drive incredible success for marketers who do it well. You need only look at the stats that are out there. I'm not a big individual on saying it drives X number of ROI or conversions for organizations. There's plenty of that research that's out there. I would say that first.
I would say the second thing is just consider your audience. If we know, and this is particularly true inside of a B2B audience, a B2B subscription list, that the vast majority of them make decisions, buying decisions, and insights around the content they see inside of their inbox because that is where they're spending the vast majority of their professional time outside of meetings and actually doing the work is responding to email. It's a place where we can meet B2B buyers in a place where they're very receptive to information. Just the stats speak for themselves at the end of the day.
We can continue to have this argument that email is dead. It might change and evolve, but it has not died by any stretch of the imagination.
George: I love that you leaned into the term you used, doing it well. When I think about doing it well, I think about tips, tricks, hacks, what's working now. I think about just the idea of getting started and having an email strategy versus waking up one morning and I'm going to send an email and wondering why it flopped.
We are going to get to those questions, but more importantly than that, I think about the thing that maybe some folks aren't thinking about, and that is when doing it well and thinking about privacy and how that plays into this whole email conversation. With that, what are the top two or three things that B2B email marketers should know or be thinking about on email privacy in 2022, 2023, and beyond?
Michael: When we talk about privacy within email, I think one of the things that is going to be top of mind for everyone is the changes that are happening around Apple iOS and their mailbox. Why do we care about Apple iOS, particularly when it comes to email? Because it is the inbox that drives the vast majority of opens when we look at mobile opens inside of the inbox at an aggregate level. That may not be the case for every brand that is listening, but at least at a global macro level, it is probably the highest or second highest inbox that is reading campaigns.
We're talking about any form of Apple Mail, if you will. Those being on iOS on your iPhone device, on an iPad, or on your Mac. The biggest single thing that Apple has put forward ever since iOS 15 is this idea of mail privacy protection, which essentially we know probably about anywhere from 75% to 85% of users have upgraded into iOS. I think those were the latest stats for iOS and iPad OS 15 and Mac OS.
We know that's probably the usage patterns at this point. Of those individuals, 90% or so are opting-in to mail privacy protection, which means as marketers we're losing all of that essentially pre-click data on our subscribers. We won't have access to things like when they opened, if they opened, where they opened, and any number of things that we do with an open metric, whether it be for automations or how we track KPIs.
As we think about privacy in the context of email, the tip or trick that I would say probably falls into a couple of key categories, at a design level and a content level, we have to optimize for things that drive a click, or a reply, or a foldering, or some action that we're looking for, because that is really going to be number one on the ISP side on those people that determine your deliverability, that's going to be what shows them that you have an engaged subscriber. It's also going to be for us as an email marketer, knowing that individual is there and that they're taking an action that we're looking for. Our campaign content and our design has got to be geared towards driving an action that allows for us to understand if that person is doing what we need them to do.
Then as we think about things from a strategic level, it's about making sure that we're approaching that relationship with a subscriber with content that they really care about by creating a design and content that is driving for an engagement action. We have to use those signals that they send us, or don't send us for that matter, a click on something that they find interesting as a signal of what they're caring about. Figuring out at that level, at a strategic level if we know that they're clicking on these things, what does that tell us about our subscriber? What can we do with that subscriber? What can we nurture them down the funnel with?
Taking a look at what those subscriber's actions are doing and what that tells us and how we can provide personalized content in the future for them, I think will be increasingly important as we consider email and privacy.
George: So good. Hopefully, Marketing Smarts listeners, you have your notebook out or your iPad, and you're jotting notes. There's so much rich information in there that you have to pay attention to. I think it leans into why more now and in the future than ever we have to have some type of strategy around the email. You said in that last section things that they care about. Do you have a voice of customer? Do you have the data in front of you? Are you paying attention to these things?
When I start to think about that and unpack it in my brain for the B2B marketers who are listening, the next question that I want to think about is; how can B2B marketing teams start to build not just a strategy but an amazing email strategy in 2022 and beyond? What should they be putting in place? What should they be thinking about? How can they get started on this strategy?
Michael: There's a lot to unpack there. I think I would start at an understanding of do we understand what our audience is actually doing with our current campaigns or our current content. If we don't have email, then we need to understand what's the relationship that they have with our products and services. If we do have email in place already, what are they finding most interesting?
Then we need to potentially back that up with zero-party data and ask them that question. For our engaged subscribers, "Why are you here? What do you care about? What is driving this relationship of keeping our emails inside of your inbox?" I think that starts the base of your strategy, because that just informs so much from a design perspective, from a content perspective, from a cadence perspective, from determining maybe if you have some missing automations or drips that you need to build around your email strategy.
As I'm thinking about how to advise B2B teams for 2022 and beyond, it's really starting at that audience level and understanding what they care about, why do they care about it, and then building email programs from top to bottom, from what you put in your from name through the subject line, through the preheader, through the content itself that builds back to understanding what that subscriber is interested in and why they are a subscriber so that you can reinforce that relationship over and over again.
George: It's interesting. That entire time that you were talking, my brain was going in this direction, and you even ended with relationship. This thing of I think a lot of marketers pick up the email tool and they envision that they're holding a megaphone versus email being a conversational tool. The way that we engage in conversations, you have to listen to have a conversation. It can't be just one-sided. We all have that person we've met where it's a one-sided conversation in the human world. Imagine if that's what you're doing in the email world. You have to be listening, it has to be thought of as communication.
With that then, I'm super curious, what are two or three email marketing tips, tricks, or hacks when you think about what is working right now? What can somebody after listening to this podcast pick up, start to implement in their email strategy moving forward, this is going to at least get you 1% or 10% better than what you've historically been doing?
Michael: There are two relatively simple things that I think you could go implement tomorrow and see how they impact your campaigns.
One would be doing some from-name testing. We know that probably above all the reason why someone decides to open your campaigns is who it's coming from. Experimenting between potentially friendly froms or an actual name versus your brand name could be a really important test that you could run that could have some very important impacts, at least at an open rate perspective, to try to drive interaction and engagement with your campaigns. I would start there.
The second one is to start to potentially test different content types. What I mean is the difference between our lovely branded HTML style campaigns and something that feels like it's coming from a regular human being, something that is text-based, that has copy in it that feels like a human being versus somebody who dropped it into a copywriting generator. Focus on potentially that kind of test between our fancy branded HTML emails and something that is coming or feels like it's coming from a real individual.
You could also leverage that test within your automated campaigns, your operational campaigns, mixing up branded campaigns versus those that are coming from a friendly from and the text-based content that is in those sorts of campaigns. I think those are two fairly simple potential things, tips or tricks, that email marketers could start tomorrow and see some downline impacts on their campaigns.
George: I love this so much. The moral of the story, and hopefully listeners heard it, is are you testing. If you get this mindset of testing, it can lead to so many more things. Are you testing the subject line? Are you testing the call to action, whether it be the verbiage or the color? These two tips that Michael leaned in on, it is so important to test. By the way, testing is actually part of listening because you can see two sides of the conversation at once and which one worked better. We always try to keep it on a human level, even though we're doing B2B marketing for this podcast.
We have a strategy, we're paying attention to privacy, we're testing the crap out of all of our emails, we're trying to communicate instead of having that megaphone mentality. What does success look like? We're on the Olympic platform, the number one position, we have the gold medal around our neck. How do we know that we've arrived, if you will?
Michael: This is sort of an interesting question to tackle. I would say an interesting KPI, if we're going to look at this as qualitative and quantitatively, let's look at the quantitative side for a second. I would say you're blowing away industry averages. The one way to look at success or comparatively year over year, you're impacting the business in bigger ways through the inbox.
Maybe that's driving conversations with sales because your marketing efforts are really driven on developing that inbound lead flow to your sales team. Maybe it's a different KPI. Potentially adding a service to a product that is bought. Maybe it is just a simple e-commerce conversion. Whatever those things you can look at, aggregately you can look at making sure you're well above those industry averages and thinking about that as success. Then specifically looking at how you are impacting the business.
Ultimately, these days we're judged a lot on the revenue that we drive or at least the conversations that do drive revenue for our organizations. So, I think you could look at it in two ways. It's looking at those industry averages and it's looking at how we're impacting the business through the inbox.
George: Try as we might to get on that number one position with that gold medal around our neck, we all are humans. B2B marketers, we're human. One of the things I like to do on the podcast is alert people to the hurdles, the potholes, the places where they might get stuck, so that they then don't get stuck and they can do better and get successful with their email marketing quicker. With that said, what are some of the hurdles you've historically seen get in the way of success pertaining to people doing great, amazing, authentic B2B email marketing?
Michael: I would go back to the list size conversation, particularly around challenges that a lot of marketers will face. For some reason, many executive teams will look at reach, impressions, list size, and the size of your list as some sort of moniker of success. I think that is a hurdle that often happens when we're engaged with, regardless of it's B2B or B2C, that marketers may face is just having to talk about why list size is not something we should care about in the future.
The biggest single challenge that I see email marketers is thinking that us as humans sort of change when we look at our personal inbox to looking at our "professional" or business inbox. It's the same person at the end of the day. They have the same needs, they have the same feelings, they're motivated by the same things, they have the same values, they have the same attitudes. Understanding that we don't need to think of B2B, especially in the inbox, as anything of trying to approach someone in a different way.
Sure, there are selective words, there may be selective nomenclature that we use because of the industry that we're in, because of the expertise of the people that are on the other side of that conversation in the inbox. But we don't change as human beings, we don't react differently to different types of campaigns just because we step inside of our B2B or business related professional inbox. Just encourage yourself to maybe try campaigns that you've seen aspirational brands or brands that aren't even in your industry do to see if they actually impact your engagement with your subscribers.
George: I love that you went back to this list size. Actually, something popped into my brain, so I want to go off the beaten path again for just a quick few minutes. It might be longer than a few minutes because I understand how fully loaded this question that I'm about to ask is.
When you think about list size and you think about B2B, many times, and I've been doing inbound marketing since 2010, it was happening then, I still run into clients that it's happening now, I want you to unpack your brain, your thoughts on this topic, this conversation when it comes to list size and email lists of buying lists versus building lists. Can you unpack that for a little bit?
Michael: Sure. We've had this ongoing conversation, it really doesn't matter what industry you're in, on the value of list acquisition. There are two ways that we acquire subscribers.
Organically, those are coming in from our owned channel. That could be at a retail location, that could be on your website, it could be coming from your call center, it could be coming from a form, a tradeshow booth where they drop their business card. Those are all places where someone says to us, "Yes, please email me," they're giving permission for you to email them. Those are your organic sources.
Then what you've touched on is this idea of buying lists. I want to say this first. I'm a purist when it comes to this conversation where when you look at the data, at least the brands that I've encountered over 16 years or so of doing this, the vast majority of those brands, the higher percentage of lists that are purchased inside of their subscription data, the lower their engagement scores are. That's what also the outside research tells us. As a purist, I would say stop buying lists.
I'll say this. There are very good ways that you can acquire lists that are a lot warmer than going out and talking to a list broker and buying those. There are different ways that we can be doing this. I'll leave just one tip. If you are doing that, I would just make sure that you're monitoring those lists to make sure that you are seeing some engagement from people that you are procuring lists from, because my guess is that after the first campaign their attention for your campaigns goes way out the window. You can build processes into your automation platforms that say only potentially email person whose list source is purchased list one time, and if they don't do something with it, then slop them into that suppression list.
I don't think there is a right answer here. I know that in the past you and I have talked about this idea of never buying a purchased list. I don't think that's potentially the best strategy long term. It works in some cases, but you have to be very cognizant of where that list is coming from. If it's coming from a list broker, probably the worst thing that you can do. If it's coming from, let's say you're a major sponsor of a tradeshow and that is a part of the registration and part of your sponsorship, I think there are really strategic ways that you can use that for good.
It's just making sure that those individuals that are coming in from list sources that are purchased, whether that is a list broker or some sort of sponsorship agreement or co-branded opportunity, that you're monitoring them and getting them into a suppression list as quickly as possible if they aren't engaged with your content.
George: That was an amazing, delicate tango around the conversation of buying lists versus not. You're right, there is no right or wrong answer. The thing that I'll throw in here before I ask our final question for you, which is going to be some words of wisdom, is I feel like a lot of people will buy lists because they think it's easy, but buying lists actually in your mind should equal a level of complexity that gets added to that. Like cleaning the list before it ever hits your CRM. Exactly what Michael said, think of it maybe, but you have to watch it like a hawk.
Michael, we have added a bunch of value around this topic of B2B email marketing and things that people can be thinking about and doing. As we close out the episode, what are some final words of wisdom that you would want to leave the Marketing Smarts listeners of think this or make sure you do that, what are some words of wisdom?
Michael: Act like humans inside the inbox, if we're keeping this at the inbox conversation level or topic level. Just act like a human inside of the inbox. I think the brands that I see do really impactful work in the inbox, they understand at the end of the day it's just another human being that's at the other side of that conversation. Think about that individual before you hit that send campaign button.
George: Marketing Smarts listeners, did you take lots of notes? I have to ask, what is your one thing, your number one execution opportunity after this podcast? Make sure you reach out and let us know in my inbox or on Twitter using the hashtag #MPB2B.
I also have to ask are you a free member of the MarketingProfs community yet? If not, head over to Mprofs.com/mptoday. You won't regret the additional B2B marketing education that you'll be adding to your life.
We'd like it if you could leave us a rating or review on your favorite podcast app, but we'd love it if you would share this episode with a coworker or friend. Until we meet in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast where we talk to Jim Longo about leveraging marketing research for B2B marketing success, I hope you do just a couple of things. One, reach out and let us know what conversation you'd like to listen in on next. Two, focus on getting 1% better at your craft each and every day. Finally, remember to be a happy, helpful, humble B2B human. We'll see you in the next episode of the Marketing Smarts Podcast.
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Published on September 22, 2022
Michael Barber, a brand consultant and marketing strategist. His career began at Mighty Interactive, the agency founded by Jay Baer, and he went on to hold leadership roles in strategy and planning at Sitewire, Nomadic Agency, COHN, and Godfrey. In 2018 Michael was named one of Marketo's Fearless 50, an award that recognizes the top marketers around the globe driving fearless marketing and digital transformation. He helps organizations like Aptean, MeUndies, Charter School Capital, Ithaca College, Johnson and Johnson, Church & Dwight, and Hass Avocados with their brand and marketing initiatives.
LinkedIn: Michael Barber
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