Surviving Conferences as an Introvert

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.

connections

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.

  1. Take it all in, but focus your time on the things that are important to you

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.

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How I, a millennial email marketer, optimized parts of my life with startups (and stopped using email to shop)

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).

Fashion

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.

Food
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.

 

 

Brand Marketers are not a prize to be won.

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:

Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 10.33.51 AM

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
Excerpt:

Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 10.43.19 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 10.52.36 AM
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.

Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 10.54.29 AM

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.

 

NO JOKE! I wrote an April Fool’s Roundup post!

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:

  • Your April Fool’s marketing email should be a joke, not a prank.
  • Ideal reaction: You want to make people do a double take, maybe fool them for a moment, but not upset them.
  • Be funny and clever.
  • Do something similar enough to something that your brand would normally do that it throws people off, but make it very clear that it’s not real.
  • Involve cute animals in some way. It just works.

Email Content Cliches (April Fool’s section starts at slide 16) >>

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!

  1. Mood Fabrics – “Thank you For your swatch order”
    This was genius. Mood Fabrics is a lovely, huge fabric store in the garment district. I take classes and shop there VERY regularly. You may know the store from Project Runway – it’s where they get their fabric for their challenges. So, fabric is expensive, and is bought by the yard. It has to be cut off a large bolt in whatever amount you want to buy. At Mood, you can get a “swatch” (small cut square) before buying it to make sure it’s what you want for your project, because it can’t be returned once cut. Mood Fabrics also has a store mascot – an adorable Boston Terrier who can frequently be found sleeping in the store. His name is Swatch.

    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.

    swatch1swatch2swatch3

    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 >>

  2. Boden: You won’t BELIEVE what we’ve done to our dresses

    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 >>
    1

  3.  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:

    dinopatch

    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.

    kategabrielle

    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?

The problem with the 20 best email marketers ever

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.

If I write about birthday emails, you’ll know about my birthday

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.

bdayparade

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.

This is how I've spent the last week of my twenties. #yolo

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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.

Thirty isn't that different from 7 – 29.

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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.

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.

51 (More) Thoughts I had while reading Disrupted

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.

  1. Wow. That must have been frustrating. They must have really hated him to not let him coach Halligan for that interview.  I thought that they were all about doing what’s best for the team/company.
  2. I majored in PR in college (it was part of the journalism program at my school, so I took a ton of journalism classes). I’m really glad I didn’t go into it as a career. I’d rather be what is being pitched than be the one doing the pitching, you know?
  3. I’ve read about (and, um, perhaps worked at) startups that prefer to hire younger people because they “have fresh ideas” when really it’s because “they’re cheaper and younger than the CEO.” But the ones I worked with, for the most part, were excellent, smart people and good co-workers.
  4. Why is he Facebook friends with his co-workers, especially given the relationships they have? I LIKE my co-workers but generally don’t friend them on Facebook if we’re currently working together. At least hide the post from them if you’re posting stuff about work. Or, if you know that you have that many people reading your page, maybe don’t post ANYTHING about a job you kind of want to keep? Jeez.
  5. When I was in college, taking PR classes, we had some annoying homework assignment that no one wanted to do. Everyone complained about it. The professor said, “You know how in A League of their Own, Tom Hanks says ‘There’s no crying in baseball?’ Well, there’s no WHINING in PR.” Hey Spinner – get a thicker skin. There’s no WHINING in PR. My professor said so.
  6. His co-workers sound like morons when he’s trying to explain his point of view.
  7. Ah, yes, a technicality. I think being treated horribly at work would be worse than being fired, no?
  8. This is kind of blowing my mind though. I’ve quit LOTS of jobs over way less than any of this.
  9. I remember reading that Buzzfeed article about the “old” guy who worked there. And I remember relating to a lot of it… as a 29 year old at a startup. Yeah.
  10. At a startup I worked at, cultural fit was a huge part of getting hired. It’s likely changed a bit since then, but when I was hired, if you made it to the interview, it was assumed that you were perfectly qualified to do the job, and the interview was just to determine cultural fit, and that carried as much weight as anything else. We were asked about things likes “What websites do you read for fun?” and “What was your best Halloween costume?” Cultural fit there also included caring about the social good aspect of the company, and caring about the product. (As a glasses wearing do-gooder who loves Halloween costumes, I got in, even though I was nowhere near as cool as my coworkers). 
  11. Re: Groupthink + Culture: At my old job, we had an unofficial uniform. In 2012/2013 when I was there, everyone seemed to own a chambray shirt and black pants, and every day, at least a few people would be wearing that outfit. We had a whole section on our internal wiki for “twinning,” with pictures of people unintentionally wearing the same outfits.
  12. Yeah, aside from clothing – when I first started there, it wasn’t very diverse (but, by the time I left, it got a lot better). I remember my first few months there, there were 5 white women who all had long brown hair, who I couldn’t tell apart. (And the weird thing is, I am a white women who had long brown hair at the time…)
  13. I wonder if ageism will still be a problem in the tech world by the time I’m old enough for it to affect me. Maybe not. I’m the same age as Zuckerberg.
  14. Ugh, this is disgusting. But I’m glad he names names with companies. I don’t really have any intentions of ever going back to a startup, but thanks for the list of places to avoid. 
  15. The politics at Hubspot are mindboggling. But, that being said – not completely uncommon. I remember once when I had a performance review that said I needed to schedule a lunch with a co-worker to become friends with him, because we should work together more. (Why did I have to schedule it?) We had already worked together for a year, butted heads about a few idealogical concepts around lead gen. Anyway, we didn’t really want to have lunch, and our boss made us. We didn’t become friends afterwards.
  16. The person I was supposed to have lunch with was def. the “Wingman” of the company. 
  17. I was the Zack. (Only, you know, competent. And I didn’t get fired.) :/
  18. Like, seriously. This blog team. WTF. 
  19. This is what happens when you have kindergartners babysitting toddlers.
  20. Oh no, a coworker is actually having productive conversations with his boss. Yes, blog team, ostracize him.
  21. These people really need to not be friends with each other on Facebook. This is a ridiculous amount of drama. 
  22. Oooh, you’re almost at IPO time! Hang in there, Dan!
  23. Oh, JK.
  24. Okay, so I have questions….  How much did the Silicon Valley writing gig pay? I thought writing jobs on hit shows paid really well…. shouldn’t he have quit Hubspot at that point? Would a leave of absence be worth it?
  25. Ugh, Spinner. This isn’t about you. And your ideas are dumb. And now I kind of hope he writes a caricature of you into the show.
  26. Aw, his family seems so much happier in LA.
  27. I can’t imagine the minds behind Beavis & Butthead having a non-hostile work environment, tbh.
  28. Aw, he found a workplace that’s an appropriate cultural fit for him. 
  29. Even though I’m sure that writers’ room was fun… I don’t know that I would be comfortable in a workplace like that. I’m assuming this show doesn’t have any women writers (just as someone who has watched the show). Let’s save sexism in Hollywood for a different discussion, but I’m not sure that it’s any better than sexism in tech. 
  30. Does he really NEED anyone to “help him understand he’d be happier leaving Hubspot”? He’s a smart guy.
  31. Ugh, this whole “Glassholes” chapter was kind of boring. But, story time again: When people thought Google Glass was going to be a cool thing, there were a ton of rumors going around that WP was going to design the glasses. It was…interesting to work there when that leaked. (Never ended up happening…)
  32. Next chapter. Kind of weird that it’s taking several pages to explain a dumb Facebook post. Again, why are these people friends with each other on Facebook? I love purging my list at the slightest hint of any content I find unsavory.
  33. That’s gotta be unsafe for his children if he’s having an insane work conversation while trying to drive them through LA traffic.
  34. Hmm. Around this time, I got orange branded headphones at an email marketing conference. They broke immediately.
  35. This work environment sounds unbelievably stressful. I’d be gobbling Tums like they’re M&Ms if I had to deal with these people, and I’d probably have a very cracked phone screen from throwing my phone across the room every time I looked at any emails from them. 
  36. There are only three podcasts I’ve ever listened to with any regularity: Savage Love, This American Life, and Gilmore Guys. Work gets enough of my headspace. I don’t need marketing podcasts ever, no matter how interesting.
  37. Seems like a great opportunity for him to sabotage Cranium and go out with a bang.
  38. Trotsky sounds so needy and insecure. Or as the kids (and likely most Hubspot employees) say, “OMG no chill”
  39. Status: writing this from my hotel at Connections, a digital marketing conference. Inbound sounds… fairly comparable?
  40. So much petty drama. 
  41. Seriously, Trotsky sucks.
  42. Dude, you know you’re a grownup and you can leave this abusive relationship with your boss/company, right? I’m glad you got the eventual payoff of content for your books and show, but this is no way to live. 
  43. I’m kind of loving all these ridiculously insane marketing ideas he’s pitching. I wonder if “Mary” is reading his book and will try them.
  44. Seriously, the startup world is so messed up. How are these companies having these IPOs when they’re doing so poorly???
  45. Okay, the “Get back to work” thing was pretty good. 
  46. Oooh, Gawker. That’s about right. 
  47. I would have either done a table flip or cried through that entire performance review (secret: I may have done one of those things during more than one meeting at a startup I worked at.)
  48. It seems pretty clear that this kind of company hasn’t earned the right to proper notice when someone plans on leaving. 
  49. What’s wrong with Trotsky?? Did he treat anyone else like this?
  50. Uh, good call on not signing that nondisparagement agreement. Pretty sure this book would have violated all of it.
  51. I’m really glad he got out of all that. Yikes.

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).