This is my 16th year in email marketing, and I can honestly say it has been one of the most enlightening.  A few years ago, I was introduced at a conference as a “Global Thought Leader” in email marketing and, while flattering, it has always bugged me.  I consider myself a student of this craft, and one of the things I constantly set out to do each year is learn as much as I can to not only better myself and those around me, but ultimately to drive new and exciting strategies for clients.  I am a practical sort of guy, and I don’t always subscribe to the latest shiny objects in the marketplace, because I believe that optimization begins with the fundamentals.

2016 was a year of learning, and it came with some incredible yet rewarding challenges.

Here are the top five takeaways:

COI Is Much More Than Just COI

I was involved in a multi-month COI project for one of our clients and learned more about patterns, usage, word-count performance, and a whole lot more than I thought there was ever to know.  I learned that word count and cadence can have dramatic effects on performance and, also, that simplicity often works.  Pundits have debated COI for years on many different fronts and, as a result of this project, I can say that COI cannot and will not work for everyone (despite what the deliverability people might tell you). In order to do COI right, you will need to invest in testing — especially testing of tone, cadence, and messaging, because it’s not just about sending the confirmation anymore.

If you have a COI process or are thinking about moving to one, I encourage you to get in touch with us since it could mean a significant difference in long-term engagement and, ultimately, revenue.

Email Is Still the Offensive Line

Email became somewhat cool again in 2015 when marketing folks realized that it’s still one of the most profitable and measurable tactics in all of digital marketing.  I wrote a post earlier in the year regarding the chatter about its resurgence and just how preposterous such chatter was for companies that had invested in it all along.

I have long said that email marketing is the offensive line of the marketing department.  Offensive linemen are often not recognized in big, important games. In fact, an offensive lineman has never been named MVP of the Super Bowl and, when the Lombardi trophy is raised, you almost never see the tackle or guard on stage with it on TV.  For you see, offensive linemen are the guys that “Get $hit Done” and almost never receive any accolades.  Sometimes, they are big and ugly (just like email marketing can be), but without them, the QB cannot throw a pass and the RB cannot find a hole to score.

Email will always be the offensive lineman of the marketing department … getting $hit done, moving the pile, and making way for others to take the glory.  In this past year, I have finally learned to accept that it’s okay not to be flashy and tell everyone how great you are.  I have learned not to say things like “leading email agency” or “award winning…” simply because I want to do great things and let our work speak for itself.  I would rather let our customer- and employee-retention rates do the talking, and I am perfectly fine with being on the O-Line.

The New Kids on the Block Are Impressive

Whenever someone asks which Tier 1 ESPs or vendors are out there doing things like personalization, cross-channel and ease-of-use, the typical answers are normally SFMC, Oracle Marketing Cloud, IBM Marketing Cloud, Adobe, Experian, and Epsilon.  All six are respectable companies with tremendous amounts of power and flexibility, but they are sometimes hampered by legacy technology and rigid process.  I have all of the respect in the world for these companies and their technology, but I honestly think they seriously need to fear the new kids entering the US markets and causing quite a disruption.  The list below is comprised of companies that are causing me to evaluate the enterprise marketplace in email marketing, and I am of the opinion that the Big 6 need to watch out.  These companies include:

  • Adestra
  • Emarsys
  • Cordial
  • OneSpot
  • Phrasee
  • Maropost

I have seen the technology each of these companies offer and have a high regard for what they are looking to achieve.  They all “get” email and are poised to make a dent in a crowded environment. It’s gonna be fun to watch these guys in 2017.

Why and What?

As the Chief Strategist of one of the largest independent email agencies, I’m always asking the “why” and “what” questions. Why do you do it this way? Why is this important? What are we trying to solve? Email marketing is no longer about solving for one thing; it’s about solving for hundreds of things and, more than ever, I am preparing custom discussion guides for client engagements. Earlier this year, I had a 12-page discussion guide for a two-day onsite and was told to pair it down to five, for fear that the client would freak out when they saw it.  I’ve always been a curious guy, and I ask more questions than you will ever care to hear, but I am also the type of person who needs to know more about something in order to do great work.  I never assume the same answer from anyone, and I love to pry and pry and pry if I feel like I am getting what I would consider a standard answer.

Engagements are getting tougher and tougher, so I will continue to ask more and more questions, until you tell me to stop.

Hire Smart.  Hire Passion. Hire People Who Care.

Trendline is big enough to handle any email program in the world, but the thing that really sets us apart is that we are small enough to care. I do all of the first interviews here at Trendline (we call it top-down interviewing) because as an owner, I care a lot about passion and culture.  You can’t teach passion or compassion in people, so you need to make sure your talent is smart enough to know the difference, as well as knowing the difference between continual improvement and self-betterment.

We’ve hired a lot of people this year as a part of our growth, and we plan to hire a lot more in 2017.  The key difference to retaining great clients is to hire great people, and I am honored to work with a team of people at Trendline who are not only passionate, but who also genuinely care about the success of our clients and the teams they are on.

The learnings from 2016 are nothing earth shattering, but they are near and dear to me.  Here is to a great 2016 and an even better 2017!

Email never sleeps.

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Andrew Kordek