Teaching the Email Marketer How to Fish

We are all quite familiar with the Chinese proverb: "Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime." This saying should ring true with email marketers as well. Today, we want to share some fishing wisdom, rather than just toss you a can of tuna for lunch.

With the help of some of the best fishermen and women in the industry, let's discus what it means to have a successful email marketing program, and most importantly, how to enable yourself or your team to be successful.

As you can imagine, answers varied, but there were some similarities that stood out. Our experts were in agreement that email success needs to be focused on creating personalized conversations that drive engagement over time. Most also agree that the definition of success will evolve. Success will not be defined for each channel in a silo but rather across all marketing channels more holistically. Without further adieu, let's fish.


Marketers love using metrics and benchmarks to define success. These key performance indicators could be inbox placement rates, opens, clicks, forwards, conversions, and so on. These metrics are good for getting a pulse check of individual emails or campaigns. They can also help identify if there is a delivery problem, or if a subject line, image, or offer are not resonating. However, these metrics often do not fully define success from a strategic point-of-view.

"Too many companies have the opinion that email marketing is cheap and they don’t need to provide back end resources like DB access, or IT access. Doing email marketing right and in a way that protects your brand requires the participation of more than just the marketing team." Laura Atkins, Word to the Wise

Kevin Potter, a business consultant for Adobe, brings up a good point, “To qualify an email program as successful I think a few key points need to be addressed. First, does the email program support all aspects of the business?” Kevin challenges the email marketer to ensure the goal for each unique email or campaign aligns with the goals for all communications or channels, but also with the overall goals of the organization. Email marketers should be aligning from the top down with their organization’s overall brand and business goals and think about how they can tie every campaign into those goals.

In addition, there was consensus from across our experts that engagement was the key to a successful email marketing program.

"'Engagement' means not just engaging with a single message at a single point in time, rather, successful engagement will happen continuously, repeatedly, across different types of messages (content vs. promotion) and throughout a subscriber's relationship with a brand/sender." -- Karen Talavera, president, Synchronicity Marketing

An engagement must not become just a meaningless numerical tic on the chalkboard - it is a lifelong measure that can showcase the health of a relationship between the brand and consumer. Whatever the engagement, it HAS to be personalized. As a sender, this means you need to adopt a new way of thinking. At one point, email marketing was lumped with other forms of communication channels and thought of us as "mass communication." While this may be true for the many batch and blasters of five years ago, it is no longer true for successful email marketing programs.

“You are communicating one-on-one to a person over time, every single time. Deliver a worthwhile experience to that person. It is the minimum to retain interest.” -- Jordie Van Rijn, emailmonday.com

While sending more emails could, in some cases, drive revenue and help your program meet end of quarter revenue goals, it will have diminishing returns on the customer experience. The standards are high - customers are expecting individual attention everywhere they go. "No matter if you are B2C or B2B...you need to match your customer with the right content, at the right time and personalize the message to them" said Michael Sciano, manager of account management, Adobe.

This can obviously be a daunting task. However, don't try to do it alone. There are tools and technology available today to help achieve email excellence.


Email marketing continues to evolve year after year -- made possible by the endless flow of innovative thinkers and technology available to the industry. Marketers are at the cusp of fully realizing how they can leverage their own data with email and cross-channel campaign management to execute extraordinary, one-to-one campaigns. Innovation leads way for the definition of success to evolve over time.

"Whether leveraging kinetic design or indifference engines, the inbox will be smarter than ever in five years, which will require nimble and cutting edge tactics from email marketers that are often driven by machine learning, not emotion or perceived best practices." Simms Jenkins, CEO, BrightWave
"In the past, I’ve said that a robust A/B testing program is the litmus test of a high-performing email program. While that’s still important, the new benchmark is whether the majority of your email marketing engagement and revenue comes from triggered emails. Looking five years out, how well a brand uses 1-to-1 messages like triggered and transactional emails will definitely be a key indicator of program success." Chad White, research director, Litmus
"Five Years? We will be relying more on machine learning and programmatic automation models, but true enough – it will be far more automated but that will not decrease the need for intelligent staff and human resource. It actually will increase the need for smart people to discern real-time data patterns and embrace the latest automated machine developed algorithms. My hope is that the organization will be more aligned and honest with themselves." David Daniels, CEO/Founder, Relevancy Group

Without question, the future will bring interesting opportunities and challenges for email marketers to solve.

What is the biggest barrier that blocks an email marketing team from executing a successful program? And how would you recommend overcoming those challenges?

"Mismanagement from the top down. Focusing on the wrong KPI’s (key performance indicators) such as open/read rate, without understanding that operational metric’s impact on a business metric, such as average order value. Mismanagement equals silos, fencing creative into a pen, while another channel sits beyond the wall in another building to never to speak to the most effective channel – email marketing. Those that fail will not prioritize a Connected Marketing organization and culture." David Daniels

Chad White from Litmus didn't mince any words when sharing his thoughts about barriers:

"Despite its stellar return on investment, proven track record, and position as the channel preferred by consumers for commercial messaging, email marketing still doesn’t get nearly the respect it deserves. Instead of feeding this beast of a marketing channel, brands are starving their email marketing programs." Chad White

Companies across various industries struggle with different challenges related to email marketing. David Weatherbee explained some challenges he deals with in the healthcare industry:

"In the healthcare industry, we are guided more by what cannot be said than by what can be said, or what paragraphs of information have to be included when we present a message. This means that usually the biggest challenge to success is finding a way to engage our audience without pounding them with tons of fine print." David Weatherbee

Data and Integration

Karen Talavera describes the difficulty many email marketers could face related to integration:

"There is still a discord between different pieces of the marketing stack – systems that don’t integrate, data that doesn’t flow from one system or environment to another, lack of APIs between software, etc. For really successful email marketing, we need a seamless flow of data, often generated by, coming from, or stored in other systems, which can empower more relevant campaigns." Karen Talavera

Commenting more about data, Kevin Potter says, "the marketing team should be an expert in the data they own, even if they don’t know about the technical workings of their database. They should know exactly what relevant data points exist for their customers and how those can be used to segment and personalize emails."

In addition, marketers need to be considering and taking great care of the most valuable tool they have in their toolkit—customer data. Adobe's director of global deliverability, Andrew Barrett, said the following: “Every send generates new data that can help the sender know how close they are to achieving both. That data is free, and to ignore it is a cardinal sin of marketing,”

There is most definitely a need for more sophisticated and regular use of data to make our email marketing more results driven.

"Most email analytics platforms don’t provide enough campaign insight and actionable data for marketers to understand everything that is happening with their campaigns." John Thies, CEO, Email on Acid

Marketers clearly need access to the right data in order to make data-driven modifications to their strategies.

Executive Support

A common obstacle we found amongst our experts stemmed from within the company. We know that having executive buy-in and support is a crucial pillar to excel in email marketing.

"Executive buy-in is essential to maximizing email marketing success. If top brass is unwilling to deliver the resources necessary to execute mature marketing strategies, marketing teams are woefully limited in what they can accomplish." --Jen Capstraw, business consultant, Adobe

"Often it can be lack of executive support or buy in. Email marketers need to shift their focus to communicating in the corner office love language -- less opens and clicks and more dollars, retention percentages and conversions. Frequently limited resources and support prevent good email programs from being great. Email continues to be underfunded despite driving the highest ROI of any online channel, not to mention where most digital consumers are spending the majority of their online activity (including #1 on mobile)," Simms Jenkins.

Michael Sciano takes it a step deeper: "Fear. Fear of doing the hard work. Fear of taking on too much. Fear of new technology. Fear of failing. I’ve watched clients come up with fantastic ideas over the years, and yet, never implement them. They couldn’t “sell it” internally or get buy-in from executives, or they couldn’t show the potential ROI of their initiative, even though we all knew it would drive revenue."

"Successful email programs have one thing in common, they contribute to the company goals in a very clear way. This won’t change, it is a business reality." Jordie van Rijn

Looking Forward

Jason Kelly, president, LiveIntent brings it home with a comment that might cause some self-reflection in a few of us:

"The biggest challenge for email marketers is doing nothing. The modern email marketer must not constrain themselves to the traditional definition of “email marketing.” Email marketers, in modern times, are simply marketers who understand the power of Identity. They must be open-minded and forward-looking in order to maintain their position."

What can the Marketing Exec, Team Lead, and/or Practitioner do to enable themselves (or their team) to execute more successful programs?

While we may have determined that management can be one of the barriers in effective email marketing, their influence can absolutely be leveraged in a positive manner. With some guidance and coaching from you, management can help you get the results you are looking for!

Karen caught a huge fish when she advised others to do the following:

"Invest in next generation marketing/customer data management and marketing technology. Break down barriers between disparate systems and who owns them (IT vs. marketing), or put the ownership in marketing. Also, invest in martech systems/software/tools that marketing practitioners can understand and drive themselves." - Karen Talavera

Email Marketer Self Reflection

Internally, there are some clear, actionable steps that managers can take to make strides within the email marketing department. Some of that means prioritizing email and making sure that you have time to schedule ahead; it can also mean being interested in researching and testing different practices.

We really like Jen Capstraw's advice: "Prioritize productivity. I’ve yet to come across a marketing team that isn’t bogged down with needless bottlenecks in their processes, or a fixation on minutia that doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things. This makes it tough to execute new campaigns and optimize existing ones. Today’s marketers are smart—they know much of what they should be doing—they just find it difficult to get there."

Priya Bransfield points out that "this can only be done through further education into email marketing as a whole for the team." Email must be tackled by the whole organization!

Email Marketer's Tacklebox

Luckily, there are plenty of tools and practices at your disposal to help get things where they need to be for effective email marketing.

"Invest in analytics before you invest in marketing automation. Automation is a wonderful thing, because it is a force multiplier. But senders have to know exactly what it is they’re going to be multiplying," said Andrew Barrett, director of global deliverability, Adobe.

"Test, refine, test! The most powerful email programs are built by the relentless pursuit of A/B testing. They never work with assumptions but rather let the data determine the direction of the program. As you run split tests, look at the data, refine the campaign and test again. Never settle for “good enough” as there are always opportunities for improvement -- John Thies

Simms Jenkins reels in the final bit of wisdom: "Many email marketers are hesitant to take risks and think about new strategies, try new tactics and gamble a bit to make each email more rewarding for all parties." Try new techniques! Go and apply one thing you have learned from this article and see what happens.

Catch anything?

We sure hope so. While email marketing is not the newest form of marketing, it is a tool that can constantly be revitalized, honed, and improved as you make it a personalized communication mechanism with consumers. Now go get fishing! Please share you feedback and success with us on Twitter: @AdobeCampaign.

Special thanks to our fishermen and women:

John Thies, Email on Acid | David Daniels, Relevancy Group | Karen Talavera, Synchronicity Mktg
Simms Jenkins, BrightWave | Andrew Barrett, Adobe | Jason Kelly, LiveIntent
Jen Capstraw, Adobe | Jordie van Rijn, emailmonday.com | Michael Sciano, Adobe
Laura Atkins, Word to the Wise | Priya Bransfield, Ind. email consultant | David Weatherbee, Physician's Desk Reference | Chad White, Litmus

Made with Adobe Slate

Make your words and images move.

Get Slate

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.