It’s important to choose partners with growing technologies and innovative offerings. That’s why BrightWave created The Rising Tide, a monthly series that educates our team about the latest offerings and capabilities of our technology partners.
This month’s edition provided just that as we hosted Iterable, a growth marketing platform helping brands like Spotify, Zillow and DoorDash create, execute and optimize campaigns that power engagement in email and other channels.
We had a chance to chat with Jen Capstraw, Iterable’s Director of Strategic Insights and Evangelism. With Iterable being a top growth marketing team, their efforts are to obtain superb customer engagement at scale. So we naturally had a lot of questions for Jen about Iterable and their experiences in customer engagement.
How and when did you get involved in the email industry? Had you always known you wanted to geek out in the email world?
I sent my first email marketing campaign in the spring of 2002! Email marketing chooses you–you don’t choose email marketing. It’s a bit like a stray that comes sniffing around your porch. One day, much later, you come to realize that you now own a cat. Similarly, one day, you come to realize that you are an #emailgeek. Just go with it. It’s for the best.
Who is your favorite person to follow in our industry?
This is a difficult question to answer! I think the freshest, most compelling ideas in the industry come from brand marketers who aren’t necessarily perceived as top thought leaders. You often have to get to a conference or two (or 10!) each year to hear these terrific stories. And yeah, I’m totally biased but some of the best are at BrightWave’s EiQ and Iterable Activate. And fortunately both offer videos on-demand of their sessions! Really Good Email’s UNSPAM conference debuted this past spring and that was also a really special event.
Some of my favorite sessions from Activate this year include a session from Sarah Esterman of Bumped on what to do when you have an email campaign fail (we’ve all been there!), ideas on design systems for email from Ted Goas of Stack Overflow, and a session on successful newsletter strategy from Kelly Morr of 99designs and Sean Kennedy of Zapier.
I do have to add that Parry Malm and Vic Peppiatt of Phrasee have taught me so much about testing and artificial intelligence–mind-blowing stuff! I’m also really impressed on the stand they’ve taken when it comes to using AI for good and not evil–it’s not difficult to use emerging technology and big data to influence audiences in nefarious ways and as AI evolves in the coming years, this will only become a bigger and bigger threat.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned while in the industry?
I spent a lot of years voraciously consuming email thought leadership — blogs, white papers, benchmark reports, studies, forums, and so on — trying to understand how to succeed with email marketing. And what I discovered is a lot of the advice can be steaming heaps of you-know-what. I figured it out the hard way — I kept following the tips I read and often saw my campaigns fall flat. That’s when I learned to take it all with a grain of salt. If anyone proclaims something a “best practice,” be certain it would truly serve your audience and your objectives. Don’t just blindly adopt it because you read it somewhere. Or even if you read it 10 different somewheres. Some terrible ideas have actually gotten tremendous traction.
I think the biggest myth marketers have bought into is “test everything.” No. Don’t. Testing and optimization are important — I’m not arguing to the contrary — but you absolutely should not test everything. I set up silly, meaningless tests for years before it finally sunk in that I was just expending extra energy on something that wasn’t really moving the needle. My audience or test size was too small to deliver statistically meaningful findings. I didn’t have a clear hypothesis. I didn’t run my test long enough. My tests were driven by biases. I wasn’t testing enough variations. I wasn’t documenting and learning from findings. I made these mistakes over and over again when I could have focused my energy on something else that could have delivered far more value.
We marketers are also big suckers for studies. “Purple-to-green gradient CTAs lift click rates 31%!” “The word ‘spaghetti’ in a subject line boosts opens by 72%!” “Increase conversions by 64% with a 17-touch onboarding campaign!” When we see stats, we are programmed to believe them–we want so badly to always trust data. But when we apply these ideas, we don’t often get comparable results. And we should know better–because we, too, are marketers who know how to spin our data to tell the story we want it to tell. And somehow we lose sight that these studies and reports are utilizing flawed methodologies to draw often-misleading conclusions. They just fill a demand for easy answers. And easy answers don’t exist. These studies can certainly be leveraged for inspiration, but don’t put too much stock in any stat you read.
This was actually the topic of my own presentation for Iterable Activate, called Best Practices are Bullsh!t. You can check it out on demand, but it’s sweary! You’ve been warned.
Where do you see the industry heading in the next 5 years? 10 years?
I’m totally stoked that the Wall Street Journal proclaimed email the hot new channel this year! We’re seeing newfound respect. The email channel is being rediscovered. It’s pretty exciting.
A couple of trends are emerging right now. We’re seeing movement toward Customer Lifetime Value (LTV) as the KPI of ultimate truth. My guess is that it will slowly become more and more mainstream over the next decade. This is driving a more humanized approach to not just email, but all marketing. Short-term conversions and cheap tricks are no longer a truly viable path to success–we’re moving toward customer-centric messaging that drives meaningful engagement, positive sentiment and long, loyal relationships. Empathy and respect are at the center of the emerging “new rules” of marketing.
LTV is also driving marketing orgs to solve for siloes–we’re finally seeing more widespread adoption of cross-channel strategy. Email is awesome and an ROI powerhouse, but we shouldn’t be living on email island — our audiences only understand their interactions with our brands and aren’t processing them on a channel-by-channel basis.
AI is also going to be a game changer over the next decade. I think the “predictions” articles that come out each new year that claim that anyone who hasn’t jumped on the AI bandwagon yet will get left in the dust are a bunch of hooey. If you’re not using AI just yet, there’s no need to panic. It’s very much in its infancy still. Ultimately it will become a standard, expected part of any automation platform. Where it’s going to maximize value is in taking over time-consuming manual processes and solving for problems our human minds are having trouble tackling right now. AI is going to figure out the right segments, the right offers, the right channels, the right timing, and especially attribution — a big conundrum our human brains have failed to sort out!
What innovation(s) are you most looking forward to leveraging in the coming year(s)?
AI is critical to the Iterable product roadmap and naturally I’m stoked to see all of that come out of beta.
What makes BrightWave a critical partner for you and your team?
I’m looking forward to a terrific relationship! I think we’re still working out how to best support each other.
How do you stay up to date on email industry trends, innovations, products, best practices, etc.?
The best way to stay current is to get involved in the most active email communities. The #emailgeeks Slack group is a welcoming community for all, and Really Good Emails is working on a new site that will encourage more conversation and interaction between marketers. For women in the industry (including trans and cis women, and genderqueer and non-binary people), Women of Email is an amazing resource. All of these communities are absolutely free, comprised of passionate, supportive pros, and have enforced their respective codes of conduct. Hostile, intolerant behavior is not permitted and no question is a dumb one.
What is your favorite email industry event?
I can’t choose just one! EiQ, Iterable Activate, and UNSPAM are three amazing industry events. I don’t plan to miss any of them in the coming years.