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Episode 1

Where does email fit in today’s marketing landscape?

For the very first episode of our “Behind the Glasses” podcast, we thought we'd start out close to home with our own SVP of Marketing, Colby Cavanaugh! In this episode, Emma Software Engineer Tim Yager chats with Colby about everything from email marketing (naturally) to oversaturation in digital marketing and whether buzzwords like "AI" and "machine learning" are being overused by industry thought leaders.

Read Full Transcript >


Colby Cavanaugh


Hosted By

Tim Yager


In this Episode:

  • How email provides the most reliable reach of any digital channel
  • The secret to success for today’s marketers
  • Why marketing should be 70% customer service, 30% sales


  • Not a lot of brands do email really, really well. It’s a great way to stand apart from the competition.

  • As digital channels get more saturated and overall reach declines, it becomes that much more important to win in the inbox.

  • Segment down and focus on the minimum viable audience you need to make a campaign successful, then tailor your communications to that group.

Episode Transcript

Read All

Tim: Hello everyone and welcome to Emma’s Behind The Glasses. I’m Tim Yager, software engineer, and this is the first episode of our new Podcast that’s gonna feature interviews with some of the best marketers out there, conducted by myself and a few other talented Emma folks. We thought for the first episode that we’d start out close to home with Emma’s own Senior VP of Marketing, Colby Cavanaugh. Hello, Colby.

Colby: Hey Tim.

Tim: Hey, nice to talk to you. Thanks for taking the time out of your day to speak with us.

Colby: No, thank you for taking the time. It’s my pleasure.

Tim: Awesome. You’re calling from Portland, right? You’re in Portland right now?

Colby: I am, yeah. I’m out in Portland, Oregon today.

Tim: Awesome. We’re here in Nashville at the Emma HQ. So, I guess to get started, the first thing would be good is letting us know a little bit about yourself and your history with marketing.

Colby: Yeah, sure. So, right now I lead marketing for Emma. I’m the SVP of marketing at Emma. And I’ve been in marketing for a while. I’ve been in email marketing for about 10 years. Actually, I started my career in digital at a company called, Webtrends, which was web analytics, and then from there spent a little time over doing email with folks like ExactTarget, and Salesforce, and Return Path, and joined Emma about a little less than a year ago and have been having a lot of fun over here at Emma.

Tim: Awesome. So, could you give a little more information about what it is that you do on a day to day at Emma as SVP?

Colby: Yeah, absolutely. So, I lead the marketing function here at Emma, which includes demand generation, so how we meet new people and bring them into our customer base, things like events, and content, all of that. I head up the brand at Voice Function, so what does Emma sound like, feel like in the market, marketing operations, which is really important. That’s kind of the brains of the marketing work and then the partner side as well, so who are our closest technology alliances, and how do we work with them to bring value to marketers.

Tim: Awesome. So, you’re touching a lot of what Emma is and what it is to other people.

Colby: Yeah, it’s really fun, and, you know, Emma is such a unique company and such a unique brand, and, you know, it’s really fun to be on this side of it because we get to determine how people experience Emma. And that’s one thing that’s really, really important to me is that people have a great, a very Emma experience at every touch point, so if you’re coming to our website for the first time, if you’re talking with some of our sales people, if you are a customer and want to interact with some of the great thought leadership content we have, every one of those is a touch point, and every one of those is an opportunity to experience Emma. So, that’s something that we here in the marketing team are really, really mindful, and that’s the stuff that’s really important to us in marketing at Emma.

Tim: Awesome. So, let’s pretend that we’re in an elevator, you have 15 seconds to tell me what is Emma?

Colby: Sure. You know, Emma is fantastic email marketing. We are a software company, and we work with marketers who are looking to elevate their game and do their very best work. Our software, while it is really easy to use and really accessible, solves really difficult problems. And when people get stuck, we can help them. We are a human grand. In fact, our logo is actually a face, right? So, we like to be human, and we like to be available to other humans that need help. So, you can call us on telephones, and you can call us and get help when you need it.

Tim: That’s awesome. I’m sold.

Colby: All right.

Tim: So, Emma email marketing obviously, you know, that is still a very big part of marketing, but there’s so many other channels that marketers have available to them. so, email’s been around for ever. We can probably all recall the spinning email GIF from the 1980s. So, where does email fit in today amongst all those other channels?

Colby: Yeah. You know, email is tried and true among marketing channels, and it persists today, because it’s still really, really effective. And I like to think of email as kind of the glue to digital marketing, right? If you wanna have a great multiple strategy, you really have to have a solid email strategy in place first, right? If you wanna do marketing through social, first subscriber acquisition, or engagement, right, you need to have a really solid email strategy to engage them. And email continues, for that reason, to be one of the highest channels in terms of delivering ROI for the marketer. I think it’s…the stat that gets thrown around a lot is 38 to 1, so for every dollar I spend on email, I get 38 back. So, it just is the best way to continually engage your loyal customers, your subscribers to nurture the folks that are coming to you as potentially brand new customers. And it does kind of remain that backbone for the digital marketing strategy.

Tim: Awesome. Yeah, you actually kind of touched on a question that I had regarding the volume of email that gets sent out every day and its impact on the ROI for email itself. Because the, I’m gonna pronounce this as maybe an old Italian grandma might, the Radicare Group, over 269 billion emails are being sent every day in 2017.

Colby: Yeah. You know, the volume of email is high, and I think we all know the volume of bad email is pretty high too.

Tim: Yes we do.

Colby: I have a theory for, you know, we all get bad emails, and actually at Emma we’re on a mission to end bad email. we want people to send good email, because good email is so much, is just such a better experience, such a better brand experience. But, you know, there’s a lot of email out there, and there’s a lot of bad email out there, and the reason, I think, is that even when email is bad, it works, right? Even when it’s bad, it still works for digital marketers.

So, email tends to get neglected a little bit, and this is one of the things that we try to help people with at Emma is don’t neglect your email, right? Just spend a couple hours a week on it, up your game a little bit, drive segmentation, drive personalization, because marketing should be 70% customer service, 30% sales, right? You should be coming into it with a mind of creating value, and email is a fantastic channel to deliver that value, so, there’s still a ton of email being sent. a lot of it is not driving the value we need it to drive, so the ones that do, and think about the brands that you engage with in your inbox. They probably do a fantastic job with their email. They’re probably doing a fantastic job with their brand in general, and email is a great extension of that brand. So it’s an opportunity really to stand out in a crowd.

The other thing I will say about email and just the volume of email, is on the other side of the coin, right, when we think about paid advertising, paid digital advertising, I feel like we’re really reaching a saturation point on that side of the equation as well, and so it’s really, really essential to have a good engaged subscribers’ list, a good engaged customer base, a good, a good brand experience kind of across all touch points. Because as other channels or digital marketing get more and more saturated as well, but you really need to be able to engage, standout with your subscribers through your email program.

Tim: Yeah, certainly. I know I’ve seen an influx of Emojis in subject lines, which, for better or worse, certainly grab my attention.

Colby: Ha. The Emojis, right, the animated GIFs, which I’m totally a fan of, but there’s a right way to do it and a wrong way. Like, we don’t need any more dancing pandas in our lives, but there are really great ways to use like animated GIFs in content that can be a really nice extension of your website or the brand look and feel. We have some great examples of that on our blog.

Tim: Excellent. You mentioned segmentation and personalization, so I’m curious if these kind of fit into this, but what are some of the key components that a lot of marketers are missing from their email strategies?

Colby: Yeah, I mean, again, we, we as marketers, are so busy, right? We have so many channels to deal with and, again, email works, it just works, and so it does get neglected. The things that, you know, we need to do to make email good and better and drive value is like segmentation’s really important. So understanding, instead of trying to go kind of wide with campaigns, which is what marketers…marketers face a ton of internal pressure to grow their list, to send to more people, to get wide and then my advice would be to go narrow. Segment down, really focus on the minimal viable audience to make a campaign successful. Take that audience, like step into their shoes, really get to know them, really understand what value that they are going to drive with an interaction from your brand, and then tailor the communication to that, so segmentation is really important.

The other thing is automation, and there’s a ton of talk around automation right now. The automation can be a very simple thing, and one of my favorite ways to automate email is just with an automated welcome series, so like a one, two, three, four step series that welcomes people when they sign up for your email list. It’s great customer service, it builds trust. If you’re going to try to sell them something, you have to lay the foundation first, and, again, we’re talking about one piece of data, like did this person sign up and what was the date, and you can drive an automation on just that one piece of data.

Tim: Excellent. So, it sounds so you could almost distill that down into just knowing your audience.

Colby: Oh, for sure.

Tim: And being able to speak to them in particular.

Colby: And that’s the key as a marketer, right? like, we need to understand, know our audience, and provide value. Again, the rule of thumb that I use is 70% customer service, 30% sales.

Tim: Awesome. And you mentioned automation, which is like a really big thing. I’m curious what, in your eyes, what is the level of maturity in adoption that you see in the market for automation in particular?

Colby: Yeah, I mean, again, it comes down to time and priority. I think automation has been made to seem overly complex, and I think there’s a lot of ways to use automation that are simple but still really effective. I would say, you know, use of automation is still fairly low. Again, as a marketer, I completely appreciate this. We know we should be doing it, but we just have so many competing priorities, and so many channels to market in that it gets neglected. So, I would say, you know, the adoption rate for automation is getting better, but still not high enough. I think we should all be using automation in our marketing, but we should be using it in the right way, and I don’t think it needs to be overly complex to get into the automation game.

Tim: Yeah, keep it simple, stupid often works.

Colby: Keep it simple, absolutely, absolutely, Keep it simple, keep it easy. People will find value and will appreciate it.

Tim: Mm-hmm. So, I mean, email definitely has its ebbs and flows in terms of trends and the things that are popular. What do you see currently as the trends in email marketing?

Colby: Yeah. So, actually this ties together with automation. Something that I feel somewhat strongly about, but the whole notion of automation or kind of the buzz word around AI, artificial intelligence, machine learning, again, I think this is where I think automation can, can crossover into getting maybe a little bit too complicated, and I think the term AI or machine learning has been thrown around a lot as a proxy for automation. And I kind of like, from a trend perspective, I love helping marketers scale. Marketers need to be able to take their genius and creativity and the good work they’re doing and amplify that across their entire customer base.

What I don’t like to see is the notion that AI is going to come in and do your marketing for you, right? Like, that AI is gonna be there, just press the button and the robot will takeover and do the marketing for you. I think that is fundamentally the wrong, the wrong approach to engaging with your customers, the wrong approach to delivering value. So I think there’s a lot of buzz in the market around this notion of artificial intelligence. I would just say let’s make sure we’re keeping marketers and marketing at the heart of our strategy and deploying the machine learning capability in the right way, the way that’s gonna serve our customers the best.

Tim: Right, and I feel that probably over the last, you know, decade or so, it seems to be that regular people are much more aware that they are being sold something.

Colby: Mm-hmm. For sure. Yup.

Tim: So how do… Go ahead.

Colby: Well, and that kind of gets back to my point of the saturation of other digital channels, right? And like we are being so inundated with advertising across all of our digital channels that we are getting very good at ignoring advertising and messaging. We are, as humans, we’re more capable of tuning stuff out than we’ve ever been before. But, like, think about your own experience with brands. It’s that brand definity that comes across and when a brand comes across or, especially an email, when you get a brand in your inbox that you find value, you’ll interact with that brand or, right, you’ll come back to your inbox later and search, right, search for that brand or that term or for some offers. So, it is engagement is more important than ever because we are getting trained, and we’re so good at filtering out those ad messages.

Tim: Yeah, I know, I mean I hate to use the M word, but that Millennials are sort of this unicorn demographic that marketers are still trying to understand how to engage. Is that fair to say?

Colby: Yeah, I don’t know. I…sure…I don’t know. I think humans are humans, right? And I think that humans today have more channels, more devices, are better than ever at navigating the garbage to get to the stuff that they want, so I think marketing hasn’t changed, right? You still have to fundamentally provide your customers value, and you have to be generous with your content before you ask them to buy something from you, and I think if you are holding those values true, from a brand perspective, you’re gonna get the results you want. I think it’s that kind of push marketing that is getting harder and harder to do, but it’s the brands that are focused on engagement, engaging audiences, and engaging kind of again, that minimum viable audience to make a campaign work. Those are the ones that I see being successful, and then it’s across the board, right, across all demographic.

Tim: Right. Kind of to your point about instead of going broad, really go narrow and let those people that are already engaged with your brand continue to be engaged, and they’ll, they’ll bring other people onboard. It’s not that you have to go find everybody.

Colby: Yup, and be generous. You know, be generous with your content, as generous as you can be, generous with your offers. Make it easy for them, right? I think this is where a lot of the design component and marketing comes today. Like, people get so much information inundated with so many offers. Just make it easy for them. Be really directive. Tell them what you want them to do and then let them decide if they wanna do it or not.

Tim: Yeah. So, looking forward into the future, say 2018, what’s, what’s one thing that marketers could be doing now to set themselves up for success in 2018?

Colby: You know, I sound a bit like a broke record, but focusing in on engagement, engagement, and, again, I’m coming at it from an email perspective, but engagement is important, not only from a brand perspective, so understanding who your most engaged customers are, really serving them above all else, making sure you retain them, that they’re loyal, let them become brand advocates for you. So, that’s important from a marketing perspective, but even just getting in the inbox, right, focusing on the engagement, having a subscriber list that’s fully engaged, that’s gonna give you better results from a marketing perspective. It’s gonna give you a higher priority in terms of reaching the inbox. It’s just the right thing to do, right?

So, I would say it like, as we, and I’m including myself in this mix too, as we look out toward 2018, right, resist the temptation, which is always there for marketers, to be on that, you know, grow your audience treadmill, like where it’s just acquire, acquire, acquire, acquire, right? Let’s take a moment to pause. let’s take a moment to focus on our most engaged subscribers and really provide, provide value there, and really look to grow that core of engaged subscribers and customers.

Tim: Excellent. So, you’re going deep with your customers.

Colby: Go deep. Go deep, provide value, be generous.

Tim: Excellent: Those are great takeaways. Sort of a random final question. What in the last, let’s say just recent memory, what have you read, it could be a book, it could be a magazine article, maybe a Podcast you listen to, what is something that has made your brain turn as a person or as a marketer?

Colby: It’s a good question. There’s a lot of stuff going on out there right now that has me engaged. I think, again, I always go back to kind Seth Godin around the engagement piece, and actually that’s where I got some of the language around that minimum viable audience. I just love his thinking around that concept, around like let’s focus in on the, the smallest groups of people that is gonna make us a success as a brand and make us a success from a marketing campaign. So, that’s kind of where my mind has been lately, and I’m just, you know, a huge fan of his work.

Tim: Absolutely, yeah. Focus on your tribe.

Colby: That’s right, that’s right, exactly right.

Tim: Well excellent. Thank you, Colby, so much for your time and your generous answers to these questions.

Colby: No, thank you. I appreciate it, any time.

Tim: Awesome.  Bye Colby.

Colby: Bye.

Tim: Well, there you have it. What a great conversation with Colby. We’re gonna be capturing more of these great conversations as often as possible, so stay tuned for more from Behind The Glasses.

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