Growing Your Email List in 2018

Why growing your email list in 2018 is important, via Only Influencers:

Fast forward to today. Ignoring the need to add new email subscribers to your list is no more an option now than it was before. Your list is either growing or it’s shrinking. Shrinking is not a good strategy for any email marketer. Besides, email is not just for retention. New subscribers have a funny habit of becoming customers.

The above quote from Chris Marriott succinctly positions the email marketing industry in 2018. There are many rules, written and unwritten, that those in email marketing need to follow. The consequences of not following those rules, however, have never been greater than they are today. It’s those consequences that are the reasons why you should be growing your email list in 2018 the right way.

Consequences of buying your email list.

Seven years ago, I started a new position in corporate marketing at GreatAmerica Financial Services. I learned all about email marketing while on the job, and can safely say that I’ve learned how buying or renting an email list is bad news. As Chris Marriott explains in the aforementioned article, many marketers previously found ways to “justify” buying or renting email lists, mostly because the consequences were equivalent to a slap on the wrist.

Attendees at the numerous email marketing conferences began to follow their own version the of the Rules of Fight Club from the 1999 movie of Fight Club starring Brad Pitt and Ed Norton:

  1. The first rule: you do not talk about Email Subscriber Acquisition
  2. The second rule: you DO NOT talk about Email Subscriber Acquisition!

My experience match Mr. Marriott’s, and one not-so-proud-moment in my own personal marketing history follows. I acquired a list of several thousand email addresses via one of those infamous “business research companies.” When we sent out the email blast – remember that term?! – we were immediately inundated with an email bounce rate greater than 30%.

What was our punishment or consequence? Nothing. Not internally, not from our ESP, not from a blacklist, nothing.

Consequences of poor email list hygiene

Fast forward to this year. One email that we sent to a customer list had a bounce rate over 10%. While this certainly isn’t good – nor is it typical of our regular email sends – we quickly received notice from our ESP inquiring about the situation.

  • Was the list created through permission-based practices?
  • Was the list purchased or rented?

And so on. It was clear that our ESP was ensuring that we, their customer, would operate under the guise of permission-based marketing. No longer would the ESP tolerate even a 10% bounce rate, let alone the 30% bounce rate we saw a half-decade ago.

Advances in email list best practices

It took me the better half of a decade, but our company finally came around to what Marriott calls “The New Rules of Email Subscriber Acquisition.”

  1. Don’t jeopardize the inbox.
  2. Quality is in; quantity is out.
  3. Don’t rely on dumb luck.

And just as my personal experiences reflected the “not-best” practices of yesteryear, today my experiences closely mirror the New Rules.

We care about the subscriber.

We’re not blasting every message, to every list member, all the time. No. We ensure that those on our email lists are there because they want to be, because they signed up to be there.

We care about the message.

Is this what the subscriber signed up to read about? Is the email relevant to the recipient? We ask and answer those questions before each email is sent.

We care about the data.

Every number, every subscriber, every open, every click. All of these help tell a story. It’s important to me and my team members that we listen carefully to what story the data is telling.

Growing your email list in 2018 is not sexy.

It’s hard work, and the dividends are difficult to see in the short-term. The consequences of growing your email list the wrong way are too great for email marketers to ignore in 2018. Yes, it’s not sexy. Consumer trust – or a lack of consumer trust – dominates today’s marketplace, and doing the right thing, no matter how little, is worthwhile to keep or gain that trust.

Choosing a Purpose-Filled Career

Finding a purpose-filled career looked a lot easier before college.

My high school calculus teacher pushed me to be an actuary. My high school principal said engineering by way of the Naval Academy would be a keen choice. Another adult suggested radiology because of my interest in physics – and the unbiased fact she was also a radiologist. My early interests certainly leaned towards STEM-oriented fields, but I ended up in the most liberal arts major possible: Communications. How the heck do you find a purpose-filled career in Communications?

What a decade of the “real world” taught me about finding a purpose-filled career.

After graduating with a degree in Communications1, I can safely say that I am nearer to a purpose-filled career than at any point in my 11 post-graduation years. I’ve accomplished this by re-orienting my professional goals to more closely relate to those aforementioned STEM-oriented fields.

Sidebar: I will admit, this post is greatly inspired by two recent reads. The first, “How to Choose Your Purpose-Filled Career” by Leo Babauta, triggered the immediate thoughts of needing to write this post. The second read was an editorial in the Journal of Applied Marketing Analytics. And I promise, I will connect Zen Habits to the Journal of Applied Marketing Analytics before the end.

Zen Habits and “How to Choose Your Purpose-Filled Career”

Babauta begins his post noting three common ways people say to find a career:

  1. Think about what you like to do
  2. Think about what pays enough, that you can do, and that doesn’t sound so bad.
  3. You’re already doing it

Babuata says, however, there might be another way to choose:

Try to do something to help others or make the world better, that you might enjoy.

After listing examples of careers people commonly aim for (i.e. doctor, teacher), Babauta advises

The point isn’t how you serve the world, but just serving the world in some way will help you feel filled with purpose.

How I Lost Sight of the Purpose-Filled Career.

Early on in my professional career, I did find my career path aligning with a purpose-filled career. I was producing episodes of academic lectures to be aired on Iowa Public Television. My first professional job combined all the things I came to love in college: television and video production, working with teams, creating a quality product, and having access to world-renowned speakers.

My next job — Producer/Director at KSMQ Public Television — is when I began to drift away from a purpose-filled career. I found myself simply trying not to drown, to keep my head above the proverbial waters. While I loved the experience gained, I truly believe those 4-1/2 years as incredibly detrimental to my professional career.

I tried to focus on serving and giving back to the communities I served. Whether through community outreach, community-based programming, or attending community events, I tried to ensure my professional focus was one of service. Looking back, I realize how little I had in terms of professional support and mentorship, and this lack of mentorship contributes greatly to a lack of professional growth and a lack of a purpose-filled career.

Finding a Purpose-Filled Career Today with Marketing Analytics.

Remember at the beginning of this treatise I wrote about being encouraged to enter STEM-oriented fields? If there was ever a student looking for a STEM major in college, it was me. I looked at Big Ten universities with engineering programs. I looked for schools on the cutting-edge of science, computers, and engineering. Then a scholarship came from a liberal arts-focused university. The University of Northern Iowa had everything I wanted, save a world-renowned engineering program. One semester and one Mass Communications course later, I was a declared Communications major.

Was this change one of necessity? Of course. That change, however, has brought many good things in my life, including most importantly my wife, whom I met in my major.

That said, I find myself coming full-circle back towards the fields that inspired my college search over fifteen years ago.

What about the Journal of Applied Marketing Analytics?

Over the past few months, I’ve traveled deeper and deeper into the world of SEO, analytics, data management, and marketing automation. This road recently brought me to the Journal of Applied Marketing Analytics, whereupon reading the editorial in the latest edition I knew that I found my professional home for the next decade – or more.

Data management practices have not evolved as fast as data science and analytics. While the analytics field has attracted experts from various areas, including maths, physics, finance, marketing, computer science and business in general, the data management field has remained primarily dominated by information technology people, with strong technical backgrounds.

I fully understand marketing analytics isn’t the “bees-knees” for everyone. I’ve discovered an entire world of academics and marketing professionals like me. Two pages of editorial is all I needed to know I am on the right track for my career.

What does this mean moving forward?

I envision my professional focus on analytics and data management only increasing in scope and importance. I hope through my writing my professional goals will bring me closer to a purpose-filled career.

Why Unilever and ad money can’t clean up Facebook and Google.

According to prepared remarks from Keith Weed, CMO, Unilever will pull its large amount of advertising dollars from Facebook and Google as a result of them failing to improve the online environment of their respective networks.

“As one of the largest advertisers in the world, we cannot have an environment where our consumers don’t trust what they see online. We cannot continue to prop up a digital supply chain—one that delivers over a quarter of our advertising to our consumers—which at times is little better than a swamp in terms of its transparency.” – Keith Weed, Unilever

There are two main reasons why I see this more as a bluff, rather than a threat.

You put your money where the people are

The advertising dollars go to Facebook and Google because that’s where the majority of customers live online today. I cannot imagine Unilever or other companies of the same magnitude saying “We’re going to move our Facebook advertising to Twitter.” Or “We’re not going to use Google Ads. Period.” You just can’t do that because there are no legitimate alternatives to the scale Facebook and Google provide in 2018.

People are not going to leave Facebook (or Google)

While there certainly are concerns from advertisers and investors about people spending less time on Facebook, the overall numbers look good, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. The same goes for Google. What other search engine is a verb? People turn first to Google for everything, and the only company that can play catch up is possibly Amazon through Alexa.

Only time will tell

Time will tell how Facebook and Google clean up their networks and decrease how bots affect their ad networks, if at all. If they don’t, there’s certainly the possibility that Unilever’s announcement is only the beginning.

My Beef with Pardot

Remember, it’s a bad idea to assume that Pardot and Salesforce abide by the same rules, but once you’re aware of the quirks and accept their ways of integrating, then you will be able to run streamlined, impactful, Marketing and Sales funnels.

12 Things Salesforce Admins Should Know About Pardot,” written by Lucy Mazalon over at Salesforce Ben came across my feed the other day. I read with great interest to see what someone else thought my Salesforce Admin should know about Pardot.

First things first, the article should instead be titled, “12 Things About Pardot for A Person Who Knows Nothing About Pardot.”1 I do think that Mazalon approaches the topic from a good perspective, as it is also my experience that professionals with “sound knowledge of the traditional ‘core’ clouds” do hesitate when it comes to Pardot.

Lack of integration between Salesforce and Pardot

Mazalon notes in her introduction that “the Salesforce Pardot team are working very hard to integrate the two technologies into one powerful platform,” I personally have yet to see much fruit from those labors. We’ve been using Pardot at GreatAmerica Financial Services for almost four years and the product we use today is 95% the same as the product we signed up with back in 2013.

As we signed up with Pardot shortly before the Salesforce purchase, the first two years or so of using Pardot we were told (if not promised) that the purchase of Pardot would lead to greater functionality, focus, and investment from Salesforce.

Lack of seemingly coherent long-term strategy for integration

One such area, as Mazalon notes as a difference between SFDC and Pardot, is Salesforce Campaigns and Pardot Campaigns. This was a learning curve for us – albeit, small – that only added to the confusion between how Pardot and Salesforce can and should work together.

While we now know the difference between the two types of campaigns, it’s my professional opinion that users of both Pardot and Salesforce shouldn’t have to know the difference.

There needs to be a clear strategy for how Pardot and Salesforce work together, not as two separate products. I understand this falls more on the Pardot team, rather than Salesforce, due to the scale of the differing products. However, in both talking with Pardot reps at Dreamforce and in reading Salesforce marketing materials, one can easily get the impression that Pardot is truly a part of Salesforce, when that could not be further from the truth.

Lack of reporting options

If you’re looking for reporting other than the standard “How did my email perform?” then you’re out of luck. We ended up running most reports in Excel. Yes, Excel.

Why do we use Excel for reporting? Because there’s truly a lack of robust options within the Pardot platform to parse your lists, contacts, or data of any type.

A note of my own bias

As a Certified Pardot Specialist, I feel that I have a little bit of experience with Pardot. I was also the person at my company who drove the original decision to use Pardot several years ago. So, it pains me to list some of my complaints here publically, but when my team and I encounter the same obstacles repeatedly with little-to-no improvement from Salesforce, the high opinion of Pardot becomes a little stale.

As of October 2017, we are no longer a Pardot house. We used the summer and fall of 2017 to transition our company to HubSpot and we are not looking back.

Pardot Lead Grading: Why Default Grades Don’t Work as Intended

One of my co-workers is in the final stages of implementing lead grading for their prospects. This has been a long process, both because of deciding what we want to grade and because of deciding how to grade what we want to grade.

Being this is the final stages before releasing to our customer-base at-large, we tested the grading process internally. Everything worked as planned…

…except one test.

Out of 15 tests, all but one had a grade associated with the prospect.

This is the one prospect out of fifteen that didn't have a Grade.
This is the one prospect out of fifteen that didn’t have a Grade.

Why didn’t this one prospect have a grade?

We looked at everything. We compared this prospect against the other 14 to see if there were any differences. Looked at the Audit tab to see if there was a reason why the Automation Rules didn’t run.

Nope, nothing.

Next step, we looked at the fields in question, the ones that drive the grading and the Automation Rules. This is where things got interesting.

“The Perfect Storm”

One by one, we looked through the fields and tried to determine if the test answers should have changed the prospect’s grade. What we found out was a perfect combination of answers over five fields that did not adjust the prospect’s grade.

And due to Pardot not displaying the default grade of “D” “until it changes either positively or negatively at least once,” there was no grade displayed for the prospect.

Our initial assessment that the prospect didn’t have a grade was incorrect. What happened was the prospect did have a grade, and did go through the grading process, but continued to have a default grade.

It’s our suggestion that Pardot remove this limitation on Lead Grading. If a prospect is assigned a Profile and has run through a Grading process, they should clearly have an assigned Grade, even if it continues to be a default grade.

Head over to the Ideas section at Salesforce to upvote our idea.

Pardot Workaround: How to Upload Files with a Single Pardot Form

I recently wrote on how to upload files using Box.com and Pardot Forms. That solution wasn’t totally clean and simple, as it required placing two embed codes on the page – one for the Pardot Form, one for the Box.com Upload Widget.

I am happy to write that I was able to embed the Box.com Upload Widget within the Pardot Form itself! This allows you to only place one embed code in the final landing page, and allows for a cleaner layout.

What you need:

  • Pardot
  • Box.com

Step 1:

Create your form as needed in Pardot. In our case, we were having customers place orders for branded marketing materials. This particular form needs to gather standard shipping-type information (name, address, etc.)

Pardot Form - Pink Button

Step 2:

Go to your Box.com account. If you haven’t created a folder for the uploads, do so now. Click on the […] icon to the right of your folder, and click “Upload Widget.”

Box.com Upload Widget Animated GIF

Step 3:

Fill out what you want the upload widget to say. You can place instructions here if you want, rather than on the resulting landing page.

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-3-40-24-pm

Step 4:

Copy the embed code from Box.com.

Step 5:

Now, instead of placing the embed code for the Box.com Upload Widget on your landing page, you get to place it directly in the Pardot Form! Edit your Pardot Form, and go to the “Completion Actions” tab. Click the Source Code button, and then paste your embed code for the Box.com Upload Widget.

pardot-form-thank-you-code

You can also include your Thank You message before the code, along with any upload instructions you want your audience to see.

Now you’re all done! Here’s how the final form and upload widget work together.

pardot-form-completion-box-upload

 

Make sure to test out the form and upload widget before releasing to the masses.

Workaround: How to Upload Files with Pardot Forms

If you Google “upload files with pardot forms,” you’ll find plenty of people asking for this feature or offering workarounds with Google Forms.

Here’s something we came up with the other day. (Note: This is more of a two-part solution, but can be varied — probably — for a one-column, or single-form solution. I’ll be trying to create that shortly.)

What you need:

  • Pardot
  • Box.com

Step 1:

Create your form as needed in Pardot. In our case, we were having customers place orders for branded marketing materials. This form needs to gather standard shipping-type information (name, address, etc.)

Pardot Ordering Form

Step 2:

Go to your Box.com account. If you haven’t created a folder for the uploads, do so now. Click on the […] icon to the right of your folder, and click “Upload Widget.”

Box.com Upload Widget Animated GIF

Step 3:

Fill out what you want the upload widget to say. You can place instructions here if you want, rather than on the resulting landing page.

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-3-40-24-pm

Step 4:

Copy the embed code from Box.com.

Step 5:

Open the source code of the landing page that houses your form, and paste the embed code from Box.com where you need the upload widget.

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-3-41-35-pm

Now you’re all done!

Make sure to test out the form and upload widget before releasing to the masses.

Something I may be testing out in the near future: The ability to place the Box.com upload widget directly in the Pardot form. I’ll keep you updated!

Update: September 23, 2016: I wrote another post on how to do this with a single Pardot form here.

How To Piss People Off In The Email Marketing Industry

Funny story.

Scrolling through Twitter this morning and I see the following:

Shit. This is quickly followed by:

This just got real. And I’m thinking to myself, “I do this.”

A few weeks ago, I set up an IFTTT recipe to add any Twitter user to a list when they use #emailgeeks in a Tweet. I thought this was a pretty harmless way for me to see who is talking about email marketing on Twitter.

Email Marketing Twitter List
832 Members! Whoa…that IFTTT automation is a little too successful!

I should have realized that when my list reached 500 users that I needed to re-think this method.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really think about this until I saw the aforementioned tweets. Nothing like a good public shaming to get people to change behaviors.

So, IFTTT recipe is no more! Tweetdeck is now “on deck” with a tab devoted to #emailgeeks.

Tweetdeck #emailgeeks tab
A snippet of what my #emailgeeks tab in Tweetdeck looks like.

What did I learn from this?

  1. Automation is not always your friend.

I’ve been on Twitter since 2004, so I have a pretty extensive list of people I follow.As anyone on Twitter knows, it’s hard to cut through the noise of the real-time updates from your entire network. I used the IFTTT recipe to be more efficient in my Twitter time and “curate” my Twitter Feed so I could get the pulse of the email marketing industry.

This method backfired like a boss.

  1. There’s probably another way.

In the Twitter conversation, I mentioned my reason for the IFTTT recipe and the list automation. One participant quickly pointed out Tweetdeck and it’s ability to save hashtag searches as “tabs.” This allows me to have a feed, per se, devoted completely to #emailgeeks.

As suggested, I will now manually add future #emailgeeks users to my list based on what I see in my Tweetdeck tab.

  1. Trust your community.

Whether it’s my time in the Pardot Success Community on Salesforce, or #emailgeeks on Twitter, I take tremendous pride in being a member of those communities. There are hundreds of people using those tools on a daily basis in ways different from myself, bringing hundreds of different perspectives and experiences. Trust those differences. Trust the community.

  1. Discuss. Don’t Freak Out.

I think the reason why I was humbled by this conversation, and not upset, was the way the community handled the conversation. When I mentioned that I could be one of those “bots” added people to Twitter lists, the conversation turned from address those “crazy, unknown robots” to “here’s a better way to do what you’re trying to do.”

That pivot means everything as Twitter can be an extremely hostile environment. The #emailgeeks community is anything but hostile, and that proved to be true in this instance as well.

 

Why GIFs are better than video

I check my personal email frequently throughout the day. Yes, big admission, I know. Not really. Most of the time I do this, however, is through the Mailbox app on my iPhone. Why do I feel it’s okay to do this? Because I just swipe-delay my messages until that evening. It cleans up my Inbox and brings back all the important messages that evening when I have more time to go through the messages.

But all that info is definitely not why you’re reading this. It’s to know why an almost 20-year-old feature of the web — the .gif — is better than video, in my mind, in one particular case. *Note: there are probably many reasons why the .gif is better than video for many cases. I believe this is just one such case that came to mind and I was non-sober enough to write about.

Used poorly, the .gif reminds many of the days of GeoCities:

But used correctly, GIFs can look like this:

This was in an email I got from The White House, and the .gif grabbed my attention more than anything else in the email.

If this was communicated through video, here’s what I would need to do to get the info.

  1. Click the thumbnail in the email.
  2. Browser opens if not open already.
  3. New window/tab loads in browser.
  4. Click video to play.
  5. Wait 30 seconds for ad or loading.
  6. Video plays.
  7. Finally get information I clicked on, almost 2 minutes after getting the email.

What do I need to do with the .gif? Open the email. It just works.
*Note: .gifs don’t work in every email client. Here’s a great chart from Campaign Monitor of who supports animated .gifs.

So, if you’re looking to use the versatile .gif in an upcoming email campaign, here’s what you should remember:

  1. Keep it concise and clear. The White House communicated one thing and one thing only through the above .gif.
  2. Keep file size smaller. Since this is loading when the email opens, a large .gif will take time to load.
  3. Know your audience. Use the above chart and your email analytics to make sure that your audience will be able to see your crazy, awesome, .gif magic.
  4. And remember, don’t blind your reader with flashing neon, construction signs, or dancing babies.

Lessons Learned After The First 5 Years as an Email Marketer

This post is a tongue-in-cheek response to a post by Joy Ugi over at Only Influencers about her first 12 months as an email marketer. 

It’s your fifth year as an email marketer.

Then you blink and a whole decade has flown by. It happened to me, and I bet it already happened to you. After five years of email marketing, you haven’t learned everything there is to know, but you damn well feel like you know everything.

But then you still get those rude awakenings when you feel a disturbance in the email marketing Force.

Learn. Do Something With What You Learn.

It’s easy to read what other email marketers are doing. I do it every day. I have a weekly blog roundup listing those same articles and posts I read. We go to conferences and attend webinars where we learn to be a better email marketer.

But all of that is for naught if we don’t do something with that knowledge. This is the biggest thing I’ve learned over the last five years in marketing, specifically as an email marketer.

It’s easy to see the new Engagement Studio from Pardot, get some best practices, some example drip campaigns, and go to your team saying, “Look at this great new addition to Pardot!” But what separates you as a “veteran” of email marketing is your ability to do something with that knowledge, something to make your marketing efforts and campaigns better.

Be Humble. Educate.

It seems as though the egos of those in Marketing are only second in size to the egos of those in Sales. It’s easy for us in email marketing to feel that we “know better” than most, because outside of marketing, most people still think of email marketing as spam. It’s easy for us to look down upon those who “don’t know better.”

Why educate someone who wants to buy a list and blast out the latest sales promotion?

You- the email marketer – educate them because it makes the entire organization better. You are only as strong as your weakest point, and if the stakeholders in your organization continue to believe email marketing stands alone and is meant for blast emails, well, you’re not doing your job. Period.

So you need to be humble and educate those around you. Teach them the same values you hold dear about clean email design, responsive and mobile-first principles, connecting email with marketing automation and your CRM. All of these take you, your colleagues, and your organization to the next level.

Be More.

Many organizations, mine included, don’t have the luxury of having one staff or employee focusing solely on email marketing, let alone having multiple staff focusing on email marketing. Here where I live and work in Cedar Rapids, I know a few email marketers from GoDaddy. They’ve presented to local marketers a few times about email marketing best practices. Now, they have the luxury many of us don’t: dedicated designers and dedicated writers. Awesome!

Most of us don’t have that.

And so we need to do more. Show value and bring value in other ways. For you, is that marketing automation? Analytics? Digital Campaigns? Social? Take the strengths you’ve developed working in email marketing and transfer them to another interest, find ways to bring value to your organization with your strengths.

It’s A Journey.

When I took my current job almost five years ago, I would be hard pressed to imagine where I am now. I code in my sleep. I know Pardot menus in my dreams. I know what Custom Fields are linked from Salesforce, and what Custom Objects we can only report on in Salesforce.

It’s been an incredible journey. And it’s not over, yet. Just keep swimming.