Is Email Marketing Still Effective? Video Interview with John Thies, Co-Founder of Email on Acid 

Author: Mary Jo Preston

john-interviewIs email marketing dead?

With as many emails one gets to their inbox, it raises the question. I sat down with John Thies, Co-Founder of Email on Acid to discuss this marketing tactic and dive deeper into what it takes to put together an effective email marketing strategy.

John Thies has built his career around helping marketers stay up-to-date on email marketing trends and implement tactics to send high-impact email marketing campaigns.

Believe it or not, email is still one of the most effective tools for getting your message out and, if used correctly, can have an enormous impact on brand awareness and revenue.

In this interview we cover:

  • The origin of the company name, "Email On Acid" (It's not what you think!)
  • How a business can use email marketing to be profitable
  • Tips for creating a good subject line
  • What it means to make your email "accessible", and why it's important
  • Important email metrics to consider
  • Packers or Broncos?

 Want to hear more from John Thies?

Join us and John at Experience Inbound '18, a marketing and sales conference. John will be speaking in a session titled Send Great Email: How To Truly Communicate, Captivate and Connect With Every Subscriber. Register today!

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Video Transcription

Thanks so much John for joining us today. If you can just basically introduce yourself and a little bit about your company.

Yes. My name is John Thies. I am the CEO and co-founder of email on Acid. We turned 9 years old in July. So, it's pretty exciting! And what we do is, we show email marketers how their emails look in every email client before they send it out. Because every email client is displays emails differently. So we give them a bunch of tools on not only how it shows or how its viewed, but also tools to go in and fix it and understand why does it not display the way it does. And that's how it all started for my sister and I, we were doing email campaigns for people.

There's only one company out there that did this but they didn’t tell you, they show you screenshot, but they didn’t tell you why it displayed the way it did. So that's what we really dug into and tried to figure out.

So now we take that technology and we give it to our subscribers. So, when they run an email campaign, they might say "Well it's great, this is how it looks. How do I fix it?" And we have tools that can help with that.

That's great! Now Email on Acid, it’s an awesome name and I know there's going to be a story how that name came about. Can you share that with us?

Yes absolutely. So, the whole chemistry term. Kind of what we do is we take an email, send this email client, they kind of put it through filters on what it supports and what it doesn’t from an html perspective.

So, it' kind of like an acid test in chemistry where we take some on filters and see the results. And we took that --"So okay, well how do we name this thing and we were initially thinking like Email in Acid, and then my sister suggested how about Email on Acid? We thought that was perfect because there was a double pun there and sometimes your email does basically on acid… so that's how it kind of came up.

I love that. It's perfect. Okay, when it comes to email marketing. We all know in our inbox, we get so many emails. So, you know it raises a question: Is email marketing dead or for business, is it still profitable by using this tool? What are your thoughts?

Well absolutely it's not dying, it's definitely not going anywhere and I think the reason is because there's so much email in your inbox because people wouldn’t do it if it wasn't effective. And those companies that really do it well understand the whole experience of a subscriber. I think that's really the core concept is like “How is it received?” “How's it interpreted?” and “What action do you as a marketer give that subscriber?” Because our goal as marketers is to inspire people into taking an action. And so how do we do that?

And email is like that one to one channel, if it's done right (let's say), we have to opt-in--you say “I give you permission to send me this email”. And then as you start collecting information based on subscriber, you start understanding their habits, needs, what they like, what they don’t like so you can really cater that one on one message to that person. And I think subscribers, especially millennials, now are expecting that.

You know for me, this whole Facebook thing, I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all, all this information people know. But millennials, they've grown up with this understanding that people will have my information and they kind of expect that a brand will do that. And that's where I think email comes into play is that it’s one to one, it's that very direct. It's not that broad message, well, you have both. You have your campaign and you have your targeted personalized messages. But they expect you to understand who they are and what they want.

And I agree. So when it comes to that email, you know, we all always talk about the subject line. That's the hook. You have to get someone to come in. Do you have any like tricks for us on that? Or is it the subject line or is it more?

I think it's more. I think subject lines should be tested. I just don’t know that people should put that much emphasis because I think it's like --you have the three things: you have your brand, you have your name, the subject and the pre-header text. So that's what you got to get right. You got to get right all three of those.

If you're a brand, for example let's say Southwest airlines. They don’t necessarily need these catchy subject lines for me to open their email. Now if it's intriguing for me to understand what it's about then hey I'll go into it. But I don’t know if the subject line is everything with it. I think if you have the brand and people want to get that information from the brand I don’t think that's too relevant.

Now if you’re cold emailing them, obviously not the right way is like if you've purchased lists (I'm not suggesting that anyone does) then it might be more important. But if you built up that brand and they understand who you are, they like what you're doing, I don’t necessarily know if it's that big of a deal. Like if we say 50% off this or if you say open this to get this… I don’t think really matters. It's all about the brand and the pre-header, all of them combined, I think it really encompass that whole encouraging that open.

I agree. I think that it's a great point. Well I have a chance to see one of your sessions and attended the Digital Summit Chicago and that's where you and I kind of met and as an attendee in the audience, what really stood out to me was the part that you're talking about being accessible for everyone. And I never really thought about that as a marketer and you kind of, at least the feeling I got after your sessions, I kind of took a step back and "Oh my God! I need to do like a deeper dive here when it comes to my email and really consider some of these things.

Can you touch a little bit about being accessible?

Yes. This is a really very important topic and that's why I'm trying to, because of what you said like marketers, we don't necessarily think about that staff and it's incredibly important because there's like 330 million people in the world that have some type of vision impairment that uses assistant devices and put that in context there's 325 million people in United States. So that's a lot people and as a marketer, you want to make sure that you're sending the same message across to every single person so they can all engage in your message. Maybe not in the same way but they can all get that message.

This whole mobile revolution has been incredibly impactful for this with visual impairments because you can zoom and all that stuff and all the information in their fingertips. And every mobile device, let's say Android and iOS, each have their accessibility tools to really help them so they don’t have to have these tools that are next to their computer, they can get that information anywhere.

And so, there's a lot to do with it from a visual standpoint. You can talk about contrast ratio like what are the standards for that, you know are you using green on black, green on white, like is there certain color combinations are really bad on accessibility standpoint and it's also how you code your email. And it's not just that too when you tell a marketer with the whole experience. You don’t just want to focus on the email. You want to make sure that your email is accessible, that the land page is accessible too. Email is a driver, it's not a conversion tool. It's definitely not a conversion tool because you don’t convert people from email. You drive people to where you want them to go and at that point, if that's not accessible either, well guess what? You haven't really… they can't do what they want to do, you had them but they can't complete it.

And so, there's code stuff and there's visual stuff. There's a lot of stuff I can go into. It's really interesting. And you talk about how accessibility tools are driving? How we are now engaging with things? So, think about it. Google home and Alexa. Those have been driven by accessibility technologies. Now you can just talk to someone or talk to Google home and say "Hey! Order me eggs." Okay great! That's an auditory command. And what's really interesting with Google Home if you ask it "Hey Google will you read me the last email?" It will say, "I don’t know how to do that yet." Which is really interesting that "yet".

And Siri, now you can engage with emails with Siri. Like you can read them when driving down the street and say, "Hey Siri, read me my last email" It will actually read it and you can actually reply to it using auditory commands. And that's something I think too is that we all have to understand from a marketing standpoint, is that these tools are driving where we are going and there's be a point in time where marketers and people are going to be engaging with emails through auditory. And be able to drive people to certain things from auditory commands.

That's really cool. I mean you are kind of opening my eyes and I was thinking all the different possibilities and where we're headed. And I think you're exactly right with the technology and talking about Siri and choices like that.

Alright, so it's a driving tool that gets you to the landing page. Are there things than metrics wise, because you know, marketers love that ROI, we want to be measuring things, what should we be looking at when it comes to our emails?

So this is one of the things that I think we have….I don’t know. I think that there's some paradigms out there that we’re looking at the wrong things and this is the one like I said, emails are drivers so why are we looking at opens? Why does it matter? It matters. I think it's a metric, I don't think it's a KPI. I would never measure like my marketing team on how many opens. Because one, it’s not accurate. You cannot get the full picture because there's image blocking. Now you can get a better one now that Gmail and iOS load image by default. But someone can still turn them off. So, it's not an accurate KPI. You can't get that data. But what you can actually get is clicks. So, there's a couple of things--there's clicks, that's one that we look at like "Hey great! Yes, we got some opens but where are the clicks?" Because you might not get very many opens but you might get a tone of clicks. And again, that's a driver tool, drive them to where do you want them to go.

And then we look at conversions from the landing page perspective. And those are really the two ones but the other one that people don’t really talk about a lot is kind of the subscribing engagement. And this one is really interesting. So, what we do is we track when someone signs up for our emails and get an average of how long it takes someone to disengage. And that's really critical because of the fact that, that tells us how good we're doing as a marketer, like how we are engaging with the subscribers. Do they like the content that we're sending?

So, what we do is if we know that average. And so, what I measure my marketing emails, I want to say average going out. Get bigger, get longer. And if it's not, and then it shrinks, we'll say “Well, what are we doing differently?” “What content did we sent out?” “What are we not doing?” And then we kind of adjust accordingly. And we also say "Okay as we get close to that average, we'll start sending to them if they haven't engaged.” We'll start sending them more information like trying to get them to reengage, maybe like a whitepaper or something like that to try to get them back into that engagement type of thing.

So those are really the three things that we look at that I think are the most important because again, if you’re doing email marketing right and doing it like list grows organically, it takes money. There's money and hard work that you've put in that subscriber. So now you have them in there, try really hard to keep them engaged and see what's engaging to them.

Yes, it's a great point. Alright well, you kind of went through a couple of different things. So, what can an attendee expect to walk away with after attending your session and experience inbound? You kind of covered a lot of stuff here. I mean I got an idea but what do you think? Why should they come see you?

Well, I'll tell you more, I'll go more in depth on what I've talked about today. What I want to do like with my sessions, what I do is take a marketer through the whole journey of a subscriber. What interaction, again like that--subject line, pre-header text, talking about this engagement strategy and what companies are doing and what they can do to better understand what their engagement strategy is things they can do to kind of fix that or ways that they can kind of re-engage with people and then what they experience when they open an email like from the design perspective and then also we're going to be taking a deep dive into the whole accessibility because there's a lot of really interesting stuff with that and I have a lot of videos examples about how device on engaging emails.

Yes, I mean I took that away and you saw that right after your session you and I had a conversation. We talked about it because it really made me take a step back and think. So, I think I agree with you. I'm going to encourage everybody to go see your session because I learned a lot from it myself.

So, I'm going to wrap this up here with, it came out in the past conversation that you have Wisconsin Tides. Can you tell us a little bit?

Yes, so I was born in Madison, lived in Waunakee, the only Waunakee in the world. So, I was born in Madison general, I lived in Wisconsin maybe for five years then my parents and I, we moved to Colorado.

Well then, I have to ask. When Packers play and Broncos, who are you rooting for?

See I, that was a tough one. I have to go to Broncos on that one but the Packers are my NFC team. So, when times that they're not playing with the Broncos, they're the team I root for.

Okay we're not going to hold that against you.

I actually still have, like when I was a kid, I still have that cheddar head hat.

Yay! Well good! Great to hear! We're not going to make you wear that when you come I promise.

Topics: email marketing, Marketing Conferences, marketing metrics

About the Author:

Mary Jo comes with over 30 years experience in media, marketing, advertising, promotions and special events. I love ever changing technology and all the craziness that comes with it.

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