We kicked off the Mediapost Email Insider Summit, of which I was proud to serve on the programming committee,  with me and a panel of super smart email marketers talking about the top challenges in email marketing today.    We promised a bucket of “ideas to steal” for all attendees.

After a lively prep session, the panelists developed a list of the top challenges they face, and which we discussed in the panel.  Perhaps you will see some of the things you struggle with, as well:

  1. Engagement: How to surprise and delight your subscribers
  2. Customer Centricity: Balancing internal demands with the interests of your subscribers.
  3. Data Governance: Using data responsibly
  4. Moving toward Real Time Email Messaging
  5. Subscriber Driven Metrics:  Winning the long vs. short term ROI argument
  6. Aesthetics Preferences:  Testing change to the factors that drive response.
  7. Building Loyalty: Breaking through the inbox and social clutter.  Consistently.
  8. Data-driven Automation:  Increasing efficiency through the smart use of technology.
  9. Listening and Ideation:  Giving subscribers a voice in the program and the offer/content strategy.
  10. Inspiring the Team:  Earning recognition for the email team as the email experts.
  11. Seat at the Table:  Moving from “cash cow” to “strategic weapon” – and getting resourced for it.

The conversation offered many ideas to steal, the total of which we’ll let you gather yourself by watching the video from GetResponse.  For those with less time, here are a few highlights.

Alison Aguiar, Senior Manager, Email Operations, Barnes & Noble

  1. Send a note to loyalty program customers who have not redeemed their benefits, either a coupon or some earned reward.  Sometimes a simple, ”Thank you” is very powerful, especially if you can do it cross channel.  For example, have a thank you email waiting for me when I get home from the local store.
  2. We increased email frequency during holiday 2012 which really moved the needle on sales but I knew that we had to scale back post-holiday.  Customers expect a big push on email in December, but they don’t expect companies to keep up the volume afterwards.  Don’t wear out your welcome.
  3. Personalization within emails – this used to be considered a little creepy in a big brother way, but many customers have come to expect you to know what they buy and to suggest what else they may like to buy.


Alan Clifford, VP, Email Marketing & Merchandising, Living Social

  1. We “steal” a lot… testing exactly what your competitor is doing is cheap and it gives you the opportunity to do it better.
  2. Commit your team to be real partners with business units.  It will build more trust.
  3. Usually the ugliest email wins.  Test and target.
  4. In most cases, data can’t help you prove or disprove your strategy unless you are willing to wait for 6 months+. We frame the question internally as a risk vs. reward scenario and get the business units to sign-up for the risk in conjunction with us.

Drew Price, Director of Email, IGN/Ziff Davis

  1. Email has power.  The Center for Media Studies new study shows 56% of customers are influenced by email coupons and offers.  Thus, our department has the ability to make things happen that other channels cannot – we can drive value.  If we can test an offer and prove that it works, it empowers the team to do more.
  2. You can create more ‘delight’ for subscribers by doing fan-service campaigns outside of the normal peaks. They may expect a “prize” at the holidays, but not on a random Tuesday.
  3. We match our newsletter style to the essence of our product: Love of gaming.  We recently began gamifying our newsletter.
  4. Tangible rewards work well.  At the end of last year, we rewarded subscribers with achievement badges for their time on file and engagement (site visits, email opens, etc.).  We sent them stats along with an actual virtual badge – and a coupon code for our retail store.
  5. Low-level creative optimizations are very important. I think this needs to be a part of everything you do week-to-week and not just an occasional test that then becomes the Bible. Make sure you do it at least on the messages that have the highest risk/reward.

Katherine Youngblood, Senior Manager, Email Marketing, Intercontinental Hotel Group

  1. Enabling post-stay reviews through PURLs distributed through email. Technically challenging, but very successful.
  2. Be diligent about not letting others steal the revenue from the email channel.  Use vanity urls, track links appropriately and stay active in the attribution conversation.
  3. Take the “human” out of the communication and let the technology deploy the email based on a triggered behavior or status level.
  4. We show subscribers and members the value of accumulating their rewards by making it easy for our members to know their status and to use the points.


Many thanks to the panelists for sharing so generously these success stories and the challenges they face every day.  Thanks also to Mediapost for including me and for putting on another really great show!

What are the top challenges that you face?  Please tell us in the comments area below.

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