I’m going to be speaking on a free webinar tomorrow at noon (ET) with my friends at Litmus and Really Good Emails about best practices for email marketing in a crisis.
If you missed it, check out the recap and recording.
The last time my city shut down for a while due to ~unforeseen circumstances~ was in 2012 during Hurricane Sandy. The subways weren’t running, and it was impossible to get anywhere below 34th street. My office was closed. We were asked to work from home if we could, but for me, that just meant sending a few emails about delayed orders. It was a week after I got back from my wedding and honeymoon, so I happily used the downtime to write my wedding thank you notes.
This time’s a little different. This time – everyone’s affected. This time – it’s not just a forced staycation. This time’s pretty scary.
While companies try to continue “business as usual” (only, you know, at home, and with canceling every in-person event), marketers are trying to navigate the right balance of how to do our jobs. Pretending nothing’s different and sending out normal promotional messages doesn’t feel quite right, but every single brand sending a message about how they’re responding to COVID-19 feels weird too. Like it or not, the reality is, we’re the ones putting a lot of noise out into the world and online. We have an opportunity to influence peoples’ mental states, and a responsibility not to make things worse. We shouldn’t take that lightly. But we also have to continue to do our jobs.
It can feel jarring to see promotional messages about something unrelated when your entire headspace is about something else major going on. I’ve seen this on Twitter, particularly during very sad and difficult moments in time: celebrity deaths, mass shootings, your favorite candidate dropping out of the election (for example… ahem), devastating natural disasters. If you’re grieving and scrolling through an inbox or social media feed that is mostly people talking about the thing you’re grieving, and then suddenly see a brand shouting “BUY MY STUFF!”, it can really make you see that brand in a negative light. Like, read the room, Brand! I’m a little forgiving of pre-scheduled and automated messages in the immediate moments after a crisis breaks, but it’s still something brands should consider, and have a plan for handling when these things arise.
While every company’s situation is different right now based on their business and location, here are some things I would consider as a marketer:
1) Look at all scheduled or automated emails or social posts, including ads, welcome series, and anything else that you normally might not review frequently.
Is there anything that would normally be fine that might seem inappropriate or insensitive now? Are you promoting travel items? Do you have welcome or thank you emails with cutesy subject lines about hugging your customers or shaking their hands, or giving high fives? Trying to get people to buy luxury items, even though many people might be out of work for a few weeks and struggling to pay their bills? Telling new Girl Scouts about traditions involving holding hands in a circle? (Um, for example). Pause and/or rewrite it.
2) Is there a good reason for my brand to comment on this?
We all know that health and safety is of your utmost concern. That should be a given, always. You don’t necessarily need to alert everyone who has ever given you their email address. Some brands do need to comment on it: if your service is being shut down or changed, your event canceled, etc.
If it’s directly affecting a person’s relationship with your brand, it might need an email. Otherwise, you might just be adding to the panic and anxiety a lot of people are feeling right now. If you do have a reason to send an email like this, I don’t mind seeing companies share steps they’re taking to ensure safety and well-being of their employees. Especially if it’s something like ensuring sick leave/PTO for people who are unable to work or whose jobs can’t be done from home. It can help position a brand positively. But just like in any other situation – the best email to send is the one that has a good reason to be sent. If you’ve got nothing to say, then say exactly that. Relevance is always relevant. Et cetera.
3) If you are sending a general message about COVID-19, don’t send it as a transactional email if it’s not a transactional email.
A message from your CEO telling people to wash their hands and that health & safety are of utmost importance, and that you’re going to start sanitizing your store every day (…start???) is not a transactional email. People who haven’t heard from you in years who have unsubscribed probably don’t need to hear from you now. If you’re alerting someone about a service change or cancellation of something they’ve spent money on – yes, that’s transactional. Send that email.
I’ve gotten several emails this week that are letters from the CEO saying how much they care about their employees’ safety. Great, so happy for your employees, but like – I unsubscribed from your emails 4 years ago. Why are you sending this to me? Don’t.
4) Don’t capitalize on peoples’ fears and anxieties.
I’ll admit – it’s been a rough week for me. I had to cancel my son’s first birthday party we were supposed to have this weekend. I’ve been anxious and had trouble focusing amidst everything that’s going on. I am clicking on just about everything that mentions this virus looking for news and updates. I don’t want you to read that sentence and interpret it as “Cool! More clicks! Let’s do an email about this!” I want you to read that as “My subscribers are real people who might be genuinely very worried right now.” Don’t try to sell them “wellness” packs of yoga classes to prevent illness. Don’t send emails that will make people more anxious, and don’t try to profit off of a worldwide public health crisis.
Here are a few types of emails I would like to get right now, if you’re trying to decide what to send:
In the words of Jerry Springer, “Take care of yourselves. And each other.”
It’s recently come to my attention (via a very nice article featuring me as a Woman to Follow in email – and we know how I feel about articles like that) that it’s been almost two years since my last post. I’ve been renewing this domain every year, and thinking, “oh, yeah, I should write something,” but alas – writer’s block.
Well, writer’s block – and a little side DIY project. A little side project who is almost a year old, has six teeth, and is trying very hard to stand up and walk. A few weeks after I wrote about surviving conferences as an introvert, and after about 7 months of trying, I found out I was pregnant! I did two more very small speaking gigs that Fall as I started my second trimester, but then kind of disappeared for a while. Obviously had other things to focus on, and My Career was not really one of them.
I became One of The Pregnant Ladies at work. I work with mostly women, and at any given moment, there are usually 3-10 pregnant women in my office. A nice thing about that is that the majority of my co-workers are also mothers, and they were all very sweet and compassionate during my pregnancy and when I came back to work. They ask about my son, and always indulge when I excitedly offer to show them a bunch of pictures and videos. (I won’t post them online because I want to respect his digital privacy, but I will happily show you pictures in person if you ask!)
It’s admittedly been difficult for me to figure out my new identity as a working mom. I’ve been asked to speak at several conferences this spring, and declined for various (perfectly reasonable) reasons, but the biggest reason I’m not naming is “I don’t want to be away from my son for very long, and my husband doesn’t know how to do bedtime.” I know plenty of moms travel for work, but I just can’t imagine it right now, even though I miss it and feel like speaking at conferences was a big part of my identity for a while. I feel like I put everything on pause, and I don’t have time to keep up with the industry. And honestly – I feel off my game. It’s a lot harder to be good at your job when you’re sleep deprived, or have had a cold for three weeks because your child is in daycare and LICKS OTHER CHILDREN WITH RUNNY NOSES ON THE FACE, THEN COUGHS IN YOUR MOUTH. (He’s really cute, but SERIOUSLY WHYYYYY).
I do want to write here more, but motherhood has taken up just about all of my mental energy that isn’t being spent on work right now. I feel like I’m kind of a shell of myself at the moment, and it sucks. I know it won’t be like this forever. I know “I’ll miss it when my baby’s too big for me to rock him to sleep.” I know that I still have the same brain I had two years ago – there are just a lot of other things floating around in it taking up space right now, and I can’t let them drop.
I’m slowly trying to come back to who I was pre-baby. Even writing this is the first (baby) step (see what I did there?).
I just spent an amazing week at Salesforce Connections. I’ve been to (and spoken at) Connections several times over the years, in addition to many other conferences. This one was a little different. Salesforce asked me to be interviewed about Women of Email during the keynote, and they presented me with the Trailblazer Golden Hoodie while I was onstage. If you didn’t know…. this is A. Thing.
People who only know me from Twitter and seeing me onstage probably think I’m more outgoing than I actually am. But the truth is – while I love and thrive on being surrounded by other #emailgeeks, it doesn’t change the fact that I find crowds, noise and small talk incredibly overwhelming. I do much better in small groups of people I have something in common with. That’s one of the things I like about meeting people at email events – we can skip right past the “what’s email marketing?” part of the conversation and get straight to the good stuff.
There’s a certain rush to being on stage and talking about something you’re passionate about. I’ve been fortunate to get to do it a lot. But for the hour or two after I get off stage (and after I’ve answered questions to the inevitable line of people who run up to me after the session ends), I usually need to go hide in the speakers lounge, and catch up on any tweets that came through while I was on stage, get my heart rate down, drink some tea, and just breathe. It’s an adrenaline rush, but I can’t keep it up all day. I need time to get back to normal. So if you see me beelining in the direction of the speakers lounge–or bathroom– after I’m on stage, please let me go. You can find me later, or connect on Twitter. I’m much more fun to talk to when I’ve had a chance to recharge, I promise.
Since I’ve been to so many conferences as a speaker and as an attendee (and introvert), I’ve developed some survival skills I think might be helpful for other people like me, whether you’re attending to learn about email or being featured on the keynote.
Look at the schedule in advance and pick/register for sessions you want to go to. At the larger events, they may fill up fast. When I’m attending a conference, I gravitate toward the more hands-on sessions that’ll help me use technology I need for my job. I also really like seeing case studies of people doing interesting things that I want to do.
Conferences are about networking, and sometimes it’s more beneficial to spend an hour talking to someone who has a job similar to yours than it is to attend every session. Email jobs are weird, and at times it can feel like you’re the only one who knows what you’re going through. But not at email conferences. You meet other people who have done the same work, and may have found solutions to technical problems you never would have thought of. And many of them are more than willing to talk about it. Find those people. It may mean talking to a lot of people to find the one, which can be hard as an introvert. You also sometimes run the risk of getting stuck in a boring conversation. If you’re bored or just want to end a conversation, it’s always okay to say, “It’s been so great talking to you, but I’ve got to run to [a meeting, a session, a work call, whatever]. Let’s connect on Linkedin. Here’s my card.” You don’t have to sit there and pretend to listen to a sales pitch you’re not interested in. It’s better for everyone involved if you don’t, because then the other person can move on to other people who might actually be interested.
2. There are lots of different ways to connect with people.
Are you overwhelmed with requests to meet up? Get creative! You don’t have to go for a drink or a meal with everyone, and you don’t need to book up every single night for socializing and networking (but if that’s your thing – go for it). It’s also okay to decline meeting with people if you don’t want to or don’t have time. Everyone knows that conferences get busy. They’ll understand.
I’ve had conferences where there were a lot of people I knew who wanted to meet and catch up, but I was booked solid. So I got creative – one time I had 45 minutes between sessions, and really wanted to get Starbucks, but that was the only window of time I could catch up with a friend. The Starbucks line was extremely long and would’ve taken most of the 45 minutes. So the friend and I caught up while we were waiting in line, then just brought our lattes to our next sessions.
Another way to spend time with people you want to see is to plan to attend sessions together. There’s usually some downtime waiting in line or waiting for the session to start once you sit down. That’s a great time to catch up with someone. And then as a bonus – after the session, you have something new to talk about with them. Another benefit of that is that there are clear starting and ending points to the time, so you’re less likely to have someone monopolize your entire day.
3. Self care is important.
Conferences can be tough. You’re traveling, walking a lot more than you normally might, and you might be in a totally different time zone. I struggle with anything on the west coast because I wake up at 4 AM and have trouble sleeping. And while in many cases, you’ll be fed well with fancy dinners and cocktail parties and free boxed lunches, the overindulgence can leave you feeling terrible physically.
My advice there is: do what you need to do to take care of yourself. For me, that means making sure that I’m eating fruit and yogurt at breakfast instead of sugary pastries (even if they look amazing), and I try to pick the salad option for lunch if I can. Carry a water bottle and refill it constantly. If working out makes you feel normal and happy – work out at your hotel gym, or sign up for a boutique class where you are.
This next one is a personal choice that I’ve made, and I recognize that it might not work for everyone – but I don’t drink at conferences, events, or much at all in general. I don’t actually enjoy alcohol, and my body usually reacts badly when alcohol is paired with sleep deprivation, fancy meals, and exhaustion. At events, I’m usually sipping a seltzer with lime or maybe a ginger ale or a water. When I stopped drinking at events, I thought I would need an excuse or explanation about it, but it turns out — I don’t. Hopefully, most people will be understanding and not try to pressure you into drinking if you don’t want to, especially in professional situations. There are a million reasons why someone would choose not to drink, and people should respect that. The few times people have given me a hard time about it or offered me drinks multiple times, I’ve demurred with a simple “I’m speaking tomorrow morning and don’t want to be hungover,” “Medical reasons,” or an even simpler “No thank you.” Anyone who keeps pushing after that is being a jerk.
Another form of self care at conferences is knowing yourself and choosing to spend your evenings how you want to. Depending on your role, there may be some unavoidable dinners or meetings, but it’s completely okay to decline parties. I do it all the time, and make plans (even if the plans are only with myself) to do something else I’d rather do. I know that after a long day of walking around and talking all day, I might not feel up to going to a party (where the main activity is…drinking) or a concert (where I likely don’t even know the band). If you would prefer to spend the evening in your hotel room Skyping with your family and ordering room service – do that. A few years ago I started packing a Sephora sheet mask and a Lush bath bomb when I go on work trips, and treating myself to a relaxing evening after a long day. If you are open to doing something – it doesn’t have to be the official events. Meet up with a friend who lives in town, go see a local museum or theatre production, or get some retail therapy if you want. I bought a Hamilton ticket for this week and got to spend three hours quietly enjoying one of the best musicals of all time instead of yelling over loud music. That worked perfectly for me.
4. My last piece of advice? Do it again every chance you get.
Conferences are a valuable tool for your career. I would not be where I am professionally without them. I’ve met people, learned about email technology and strategy, gained confidence as a speaker, and traveled to cities I probably never would have otherwise. It can be stressful and exhausting, but it’s usually worth it.
As a millennial (technically – I’m what has been referred to as an “Oregon Trail Millennial” or a “Xennial“) who has worked in email marketing for about a decade, I’m so tired of hearing about how millennials are killing everything. Within the first five minutes of every single email conference, someone on stage will mention the word millennial. And most millennials will probably roll their eyes and tweet about it. Complaining about all the generalizations about millennials has become a pretty common generalization about millennials, and maybe one of the only accurate ones.
But – maybe millennials ARE killing everything, and that’s okay. Within the last few years, I’ve completely changed how I shop. And, this may be troubling for many readers of this blog, but – I don’t use email for shopping in the way that we as email marketers think people do. That’s not to say that I don’t think there’s a place for email marketing anymore. There is. But it’s shifting, and should be more about relationship building than discounts and sales. This isn’t a new idea, but many brands still don’t get it.
Direct-to-consumer brands are popping up all over the place, shortening supply chains and eliminating the need for big chain stores. I’ve almost completely shifted all my consumerism to these companies. I’ve eliminated a lot of little decisions that normally have to be made every day, and found ways to save time. I’m not spending more money than I would be otherwise, just spending it differently. When I have a need for a new product, I’ll do research, but once I find a brand or method I like for obtaining it – I’m loyal af.
So, here are some of the companies/apps I use to optimize my life (and my referral codes for them, obviously).
In the last few years, I’ve almost completely stopped buying fast fashion. I sew, and knowing the work that goes into producing a garment, I can’t justify buying something that someone was paid pennies to make, in usually terrible conditions. It’s wrong. I’ve been exploring ethical fashion – buying vintage/secondhand clothes at sample sales, and things made in the USA (where someone had to at least be paid minimum wage). That usually means spending a little more on clothes, but I’m not contributing to the demand for mass-produced garbage. I’ve been buying less things, but much higher quality. MM.La Fleur has been my go-to for clothes when I buy them – they make a lot of them in NYC, they’re timeless styles, and look professional. M. Gemi is where I’ve been buying shoes – they’re made in Italy in small batches, with new styles every week. And another bonus – these are both women-owned companies.
There’s also the factor of the amount of time that goes into picking an outfit in the morning. I was intrigued when I first read about having a work “uniform,” but also love clothes too much for that to last long term. I needed something that would give me flexibility and variety, but not too much variety every morning. I don’t work at the kind of company where I can wear jeans and t-shirts (and even if I could, I wouldn’t. I don’t like jeans and t-shirts. I like dresses and skirts.)
Enter Rent the Runway Unlimited. I think most women know about Rent the Runway. If you don’t – it’s a company where you can rent designer dresses for special occasions, for MUCH cheaper than it would cost to buy them. I’ve recently starting using their unlimited program: 4 garments at a time, you can keep them as long as you like, and then swap them out whenever you want. All in, it’s about $170/month, and I’m wearing DVF, Tory Burch, and many other designers I otherwise wouldn’t be able to buy very frequently – every week. I won’t have to purge my closet every few months, and I don’t have to deal with dry cleaning. I’m not spending time shopping, but when I feel like shopping – I just go to RTR and add things to my “hearts” to rent later. I’m spending less money, wearing more, dressing better, and consuming less.
Blue Apron – I like cooking. I hate the mental energy that has to go into grocery shopping and meal planning. Blue Apron has been a lifesaver in ensuring that we don’t order takeout every day, we’re eating healthy, and not spending too much on food (1 week of Blue Apron = 1.5 nights of takeout). I like taking a few minutes every few weeks selecting meals for the upcoming weeks. It makes it so much easier during the week -we’re not choosing from an infinite number of meals. We’re choosing from 3. There have been a lot of articles recently about the emotional labor women do every day in managing a household, and Blue Apron has helped eliminate some of that work for me.
For lunch – I’m happy to report that a company has finally figured out a good way to use QR codes. A few NYC lunch chains (Hale & Hearty, DigInn, Fresh&Co, and others) use a program called “LevelUp.” You can download apps for each of these restaurants or just use the general Levelup app, but instead of paying every day, it accumulates your purchases, and just charges you once a month. It saves the restaurants credit card fees, and saves me time/money. All of the restaurants have some kind of loyalty program, so there are rewards for frequent purchases. I’ve been using it about 2 years, and I’ve saved more than $200. When I’m checking out at the restaurant – I just scan a QR code from my phone instead of having to deal with money (which is really nice and fast, especially during lunch when I might not have a lot of time, and there’s a long line behind me). It also makes my decision making easier – I usually just go to one of a handful of places, and have a few go-to meals I get every time.
Other life stuff:
Home: We use Handy to get the apartment cleaned once a month. Obviously, we still need to do SOME cleaning in between, but this ensures that things like dusting, mopping, and bathroom cleaning actually happen. Before, my husband and I never got around to doing certain tasks, and then resented having to spend our weekends deep cleaning when we actually did get around to it. So we threw a little bit of money at the problem, and it helped. It freed up our weekends too. It also helped with that whole “emotional labor” thing.
Periods: I use Clue to track my period cycle. It sends me eerily accurate push notifications letting me know when it’s about to start and when I’m most fertile, and links throughout the app explaining the biology behind everything. They also send very informative newsletters. I’ve also completely switched to Thinx. It’s a much better experience for me physically, better for the environment, and I don’t have to remember to carry (or buy) supplies. It seemed weird at first, but I got enough Facebook ads from them, read a lot of articles, and then finally went to a popup they had at a local boutique and bought some. Totally worth it. (And no, it’s not gross. They feel like wearing a swimsuit bottom). And they also send a great newsletter. So, think about that – I bought a product that lasts a long time, that I’ll probably only buy 1-2 times a year, and I still regularly open and read their emails. And I regularly tell other people about the product. I’m excited to see women-owned startups like this, because they’re solving problems that have long been ignored and stigmatized.
Pets: We adopted a very cute puppy last summer. She’s a terrier mix, and loves to play, run, and chew on things. So we signed up for Barkbox, a monthly subscription box for dogs that comes with a few toys and treats. Does she destroy the toys immediately? Yes, usually. But Barkbox has started developing toys specifically for dogs like her that play a little more rough. We just got a really cute pineapple squeaky toy that had layers: when she ripped open the first layer of fabric, there was another one with a different design, and when she ripped that one open, it was a rubber squeaky ball. Barkbox has always sent great emails – usually full of fun doggy content. They have a fantastic brand voice. And while they sometimes feature products in their emails, they are filled with cute dog gifs and helpful articles. I stayed a subscriber after my last dog passed away in 2016, even though it was almost a year until we got Sprocket.
Local Businesses: I try to shop locally when I can. We send out our laundry using a neighborhood laundromat (again, getting chores done in a much easier way and removing the emotional labor involved). We get our dog food at Whiskers, a wonderful local holistic pet food store. I buy greeting cards and gifts at another local store, Lockwood. I buy my fabric and sewing supplies at Mood. I get emails from some of these companies (if they have them), but that’s not what brings me into the stores. The need for the product is what brings me into the stores.
For everything else: There’s Amazon. 🙂
Was this blog post about email? Not really. But you know what else isn’t really so much about email? The way I, and many other ~millennials~ shop. I get emails from these brands. Many of them have adopted the strategy of sending valuable content that’s relevant to their products, without outright selling or promoting them. They don’t do frequent sales and discounts. They don’t send emails more than once or twice a week (and for many of them, the only emails I get are transactional, but I’m still a very loyal customer). I want to be in control of my consumerism, and don’t want or need brands telling me when or what to buy. I know that makes it harder for brands, but I think it makes it better for everyone in the long run. Marketers need to adapt.
I’ve been a brand marketer for pretty much my entire career. A BRAND marketer. Not a “client side” marketer. I’m involved in several email industry groups (well, I was. I recently left a pretty big one) whose members are a mix of brands, agencies, consultancies, ESPs, and other email vendors.
It’s strange being a brand marketer in industry groups, which are mostly all the other types of companies. It often feels like we’re the goal or the trophy (which is sometimes nice, but usually draining for introverts like me). The group I just left frequently refers to brand marketers as “client side” marketers, which has always felt weird to me. I’m not your client, and won’t ever be if you keep referring to me like that. And guess what? Brands have their own customers or clients, so it makes zero sense for you to be calling us clients. Just call us brand marketers.
The group I recently left has a conference. A few months ago they sent out an email about it to the entire membership of the group – again, a mix of different types of companies – about sponsorship for the conference. One of the testimonials from a previous (vendor) attendee was this:
This email was sent to a large group of people – including many “client side” marketers who were deciding if they wanted to attend. I can’t speak for other people, but for me – this made me cringe and decide not to go to this conference (but did I fly to that city that same week, and stay at the same hotel as the conference to hang out with friends? Um, maybe). I already get 30-40 cold sales pitch emails a week in my job. Why on earth would I want to attend something that would invite more? Hi, I’m a person, not a prospect. I get that that your job might be to sell your product to me, but I have my own job to do (you know, marketing my product to my subscribers), and I don’t want to be in a position where I’m bombarded with people distracting me from it with products and services I really don’t want or need.
I don’t know if this was careless (lack of) segmentation or general cluelessness, but it feels like the people who send these emails only care about sponsorship money, and don’t realize how much they’re alienating the people their sponsors are trying to target. But like – literally every single person you’re emailing about this is an email marketer. Learn to segment. We know you have data about where we work.
This week, I got another email from another conference for email marketers that I’ve attended for the last three years.
Subject line: Direct Access to Elite Brand Marketers
Again – as someone who would fall on the “attendee” list, they’re promising access to people like me. It’s exhausting to attend conferences like this, because there are usually more vendors than brands attending, and while the brands are just trying to maybe learn something new that will help them with their jobs, they’re being heavily networked at by everyone around them. It’s exhausting. Again, I’m not sure if this was mistakenly sent to their whole list, or lazily sent to their whole list, but emails like this make me really want to avoid conferences like this altogether. And this one’s usually fun, so that’s a shame.
My LinkedIn feed seems to be full of annoying/bad posts that other people in my network have liked or commented on. That’s how I saw this steaming pile of nonsense.
I hope/think he meant this is a joke, but based on the comments, a lot of people seem to want to actually try this. Since I really didn’t want to be subjected to this nonsense from salesjerks, I commented on it.
Here’s the thing – sales reps think they have to be pushy to get their foot in the door. They don’t. They just have to have a product that I actually need, want, and can afford. They usually don’t. I get all these cold pitch emails all the time, and I usually just ignore/delete. If it’s someone I’ve actually met and like, I’ll reply a polite decline. Some of the people I ignore send several rude follow-ups with condescending messages like, “You didn’t respond to my first 7 emails, so you probably don’t manage email at your company. Can you please connect me with the person who does?” Yeah, THAT’s the reason I didn’t respond. Not because your product is irrelevant to my business. I’ve also gotten emails where they’re attempting to personalize their message to my company, but they say things like “We can help you sell more Girl Scout Cookies!!” which pretty much tells me that they understand absolutely nothing about my organization. (If that’s confusing to you – I haven’t sold Girl Scout cookies since I was 12, when I was a Girl Scout. The girls are the ones selling the cookies, not us).
I work at a nonprofit and pretty much never have budget for anything. Aside from our ESP, I only work with two other email vendors – Litmus (because duh) and StoryPorts. Both of those companies have fantastic products that I actually need in order to do my job. They also don’t have pushy sales reps. I learned about StoryPorts a few years ago when someone I knew was working there. I already had a good, friendly relationship with her (she had been my account sales rep at a previous job, when she was at a different company). I took the demo call because the product sounded interesting (and it is!). But we weren’t ready for it yet in terms of business needs and budget. Almost two years later – she had left the company, but had put me in touch with other people there. I was in a meeting at work where someone was talking about wanting us to automate blog post digest emails, and I knew it was something StoryPorts could do. A few months later- we’re now working with them. The point of that story is – it’s a long game. I’m only going to seek out your product if I have a business need for it, not the other way around. You can’t force it just by emailing me a bunch of times.
April Fool’s day is one of my favorite days as a marketer. I like my content creative, weird, and funny. I haven’t done a roundup of emails in a billion years, but this morning I woke up to some gems (and some “No Jokes”, which are just….no). I talked about how to do April Fool’s Day emails at Litmus’s Email Design Conference two years ago.
In my presentation, I talked about a few guidelines for successfully executing an April Fool’s Day marketing campaign:
And stop using “No Joke” and “No Fooling!” SO boring and overdone. You might as well do just a regular email.
It’s only 10 AM as I’m writing this, and I’ve already had some great April Fool’s emails!
Their April Fool’s email was a shipping confirmation for a swatch order – only the order was for Swatch the Dog. It was funny, well-designed, and involved a cute animal. YES! The only downside is – now I want to order a Swatch.
Lower in the email, they clarified that it was an April Fool’s joke, and offered 10% off everything. They also featured some of their products that have Swatch the dog on them. All in all, it was perfect. View full email >>
Boden’s done it again! A few years ago, they did a hilarious “recall” of a dress that had a print of a beach scene that “accidentally” had very tiny naked people on it. That email made me buy the skirt in that print.
This year – it’s a clickbait subject line, with scented clothing for sale! Their products are very bright, cheery, and colorful. I WISH they were scented to match the patterns. I think what I like about this the most – on mobile, they probably tricked some people into scratching the “scratch and sniff” icon that had a gif of a hand scratching it. This was cute and silly. View full email >>
Kate Gabrielle – limited release: chocolate scented easter bunny brooches 🐰
Kate Gabrielle is a jewelry and accessories company I probably found through a Buzzfeed roundup of cute feminist things I need to buy immediately. I bought this (immediately when I saw it) from her a while ago:
Kate sent her (maybe) April Fool’s email late Friday night. It features cute Easter bunny brooches that look – and smell – like chocolate. When I got the email, I thought it was cute… but also wasn’t sure if it was an April Fool’s joke or an actual product. If it is real… I want one.
It seemed plausible and timely – Easter’s in a few weeks, and her designs are quirky and always have a “wink” to them. Clicking through to the email shows them as sold out, and restocking at 12PM on 4/1 – which kind if indicates it’s an April Fool’s joke. She has a signup for a waitlist/restock email. I signed up. (I’ll update this post if/when she sends something).
View full email >>
I’m not even going to bother featuring the less clever April Fool’s emails. I’ve had a lot of “No Joke!” emails that essentially just did a normal email with some reference to their amazing deals not being a joke. Yawn.
What were your favorite (and least favorite) April Fool’s emails this year, internet?
You’ve seen the tweets, or maybe even the blog posts showing up in your feed. “The 20 best email marketers on this PLANET!” “35 Email Marketers you should be following on Twitter!”
Then you click on it to read it. If you’re arrogant/competitive like me, you click on it to see if you’re on the list. If you’re not on the list, you’re mentally filling up your “Email Article Cliché” bingo card with the people who ARE on it. (Is that why you clicked on this blog post/tweet? Sorry about that.) It’s almost always the same people. It’ll be about 80% men. The same men. Always. For years. It’ll have maybe 3 or 4 women. The same 3 or 4 women.
Honestly, they’re easy blog posts to write. I’ve been featured on a few of these lists. It’s flattering, but I take it with a grain of salt. Skim any email marketing hashtag for a few minutes, or pick three of these types of articles (literally any three), or most email conference speaker lists, and you can probably get an idea of who most people think of as the ~best email marketers ever~. And as a bonus – you’re sure to get a lot of shares from the people who are listed in the article, and a lot of comments if people think you omitted someone important.
The problem with all that?
They’re not necessarily the best – they’re just the most vocal. I say this as someone who is on these lists – I know what my strengths are, but I also know there are plenty of people out there doing more interesting email marketing than I am. These people are vocal because it’s their job, and they’re good at their jobs (or, if they’re me, they desperately need an audience to validate their snarky one-liners). They speak at conferences. They write blog posts. They tweet too much (hi!). They have the types of jobs where they’re encouraged and expected to do these things, whether as a professional thought leader or a business owner promoting their company. And not to say that they aren’t good at these things. They are! I’ve seen them speak. I’ve read their tweets and blog posts. I’ve met a lot of them personally, and have tons of respect for them.
All of this points to a bigger problem that I wrote about last year on another blog: gender imbalance in the email industry. Because it’s usually the same people speaking at (and organizing) conferences, and the same people writing the blog posts about them, there’s a perception that there’s a short list of good email marketers, and that it’s hard to find “new” names. There isn’t a lot of of diversity in the email industry (or at least, there isn’t a perception of a lot of diversity since it’s always the same people being presented as industry leaders). There’s actually a ridiculously long list of people in the industry who are awesome, but most of them are busy designing, writing, and coding emails and don’t have time to write blog posts or speak at conferences (or even tweet). In the past 8 months, I’ve gotten to know a lot of these email marketers through a group I’m involved in (um, more on that in a few weeks).
About a year ago, someone emailed me about a company they were starting that would rank “leaders” in certain industries based on available content about them online. They wanted feedback on if I’d use a list like this for email marketers. I skimmed through it, and didn’t see any of the “email big names” on it, and immediately dismissed it as useless. Not just because I didn’t see “big names” – I didn’t think their data was accurate/useful, as it’s only based on what people had on their LinkedIn profiles, and the “quality” of the companies where they worked. Also, they spelled my name wrong. The only names I recognized were a few people who had previously reached out to me for advice. I just tried to look up the site, and it doesn’t seem to exist now. With something like this, it would be too easy to game the system, and it would be about as useful as Klout. (Is that still a thing? Was it ever?)
What if, instead of just writing lazy articles rounding up the same best email marketers, and trying to rank them, we all dug a little deeper? When we get an awesome email from a company, try to find out who made it. Who wrote it? Who came up with the creative? Does it have a bunch of complex behind the scenes queries or code that make it work? I want to hear from them.
August 23rd is a weird day to be born. I was born precisely 9 months after Thanksgiving, so that’s a fun data point about my parents. I’m a Leo-Virgo cusp. Growing up, some magazines classified me as a Leo, and some as a Virgo. I don’t really follow astrology or know the characteristics of either zodiac sign, so I usually just picked whichever horoscope I liked better. But aside from that – for my entire childhood (and college…), my birthday was always the first week of school (you know, before teachers have planned out how they recognize students’ birthdays. And before you really know your classmates well enough to do a party). And since I have a weird August birthday, my parents had the option of me being one of the oldest students in my grade, or one of the youngest. They picked the extra year of pre-school, so I was always one of the oldest. I usually got new school clothes or tap shoes or whatever I would need for the school year. When I turned 5 I got to lead a bike parade with all of the kids in my neighborhood.
My first birthday in NYC was very weird. It was my first day at a brand new job, and no one knew it was my birthday. I actually have a history of either getting or starting a new job on or around my birthday. It’s weird – as an adult, it’s considered selfish to tell people when it’s your birthday. And if you’re like me and tend to hold back from friending co-workers on Facebook, you often find yourself in situations where no one ever knows. Two years ago, my 30th birthday was at the end of the most stressful work week of my life: my office was going to be closed the following week for a “summer week,” but decided they still needed me to keep the normal (already overwhelming) email schedule, and I had to code 27 emails in a week. It was…bad. Really, really bad. And again, I was new at the job, so most people didn’t know it was my birthday.
After that awful work week, I celebrated my actual birthday (on a Saturday morning) by myself in the best way. It was the first “Every Simpsons Ever” marathon on FXX. I had a cupcake for breakfast and watched classic episodes of the Simpsons, and it was perfect. Then I went to my favorite spa, Aire, with my husband. Much better.
But this blog is about email, and hang on – I’m getting there. A lot of brands send birthday emails, and as a person who has a weird relationship with birthdays — I really, really, like birthday emails and celebrating my birthday with brands. I know I can always count on my free Starbucks drink, a nice free sample product from Sephora, a 15% off discount at Anthro, and $10 off a haircut at my (now former…) salon. One year I was getting that haircut, and an earthquake happened while she was drying my hair, and none of us even noticed or felt it. Anyway, all of these regular birthday gifts from brands have almost become annual traditions for me and for how I spend my birthday. Especially on the years where no one knew it was my birthday. So last year, I tried to test things out on Twitter and see if I could get more brands to help me celebrate.
Got my normal latte for my free birthday Starbucks. I guess that means 31 will be pretty boring.
— kristin (@kristinyc) August 21, 2015
Does @16Handles have a “16 Candles” promo where they give you free froyo on your birthday if everyone forgets about it?
— kristin (@kristinyc) August 19, 2015
Does @BaskinRobbins give free ice cream to people on their 31st birthday since 31 flavors is kind of their thing?
— kristin (@kristinyc) August 19, 2015
It didn’t work. 😦
For those of us who have a history of solitary, sort of lonely birthdays, brands can have a lot more impact than they realize. It’s stupidly easy to automate a birthday email. It’s not expensive to offer some kind of birthday gift, whether product or a special discount – not everyone will redeem them, and the ones who do will be delighted (and will probably buy other things). But it can make a huge difference for people who are really bummed out and experiencing their own Sixteen Candles story. As I write this, it’s still a few days before my birthday, and I’ve already received a few birthday emails. I know some brands do a batch at the beginning of every month, and some send the email a few weeks or days before. Twitter now does an adorable balloon drop on your page when it’s your birthday. Even the Hillary Clinton campaign sent me a birthday email last year. Some people joke about brands being the only ones to wish them a happy birthday, but in cases when that’s true – at least it’s something.
The Skimm lists subscribers’ birthdays at the bottom of every email. I’ve never been listed in that, even though I’ve been a subscriber for a few years. I usually scan the birthday list most days to see if anyone I know is on it. I investigated a little, and realized they never asked me for my birthday. They have a preference center (well, they have that hideous ExactTarget preference center that’s existed for 1000 years), and they don’t even ask for birthdays there. I don’t know if I was too late of an adopter or what, but it turns something that’s supposed to be a nice gesture into a disappointing slight.
Last week at the Litmus conference in Boston, Vicky Ge did a great talk about how we need to remember that we’re marketing to people. People who aren’t just a subscriber of your brand, but are also many other things. We have to treat our subscribers like humans instead of clicks and conversions. That means thinking about other things they might be thinking or caring about beyond their relationship with your brand. Birthday emails are one of the easiest ways to do that.
I’m writing this at 7 AM on a flight to a marketing conference in Atlanta. I’ve been awake since 3:45 am, so this is obviously the best time for writing a coherent blog post. This is my third blog post in the last week, which is kind of weird considering I had previously written approximately three posts in the last 6 months. Part of Disrupted talks about Hubspot’s business model around content marketing, and it triggered kind of a “Oh yeah, I have a blog. And I actually do like writing when I have something I want to write about” feeling. So here we are.
Anyway, I finished reading the epilogue of Disrupted this morning at 5:30 at the airport. A few days ago, I wrote some of my thoughts about chapters 1-14. So here’s a continuation of that, starting with chapter 15.
Okay, I may need to do the Epilogue in one final post. It’s 11 PM now (um, I had to put this away when my plane landed around #76, then had 14 hours of conference stuff, then wrote this, and now my brain is done).