5 Top Takeaways from MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2015

Just a week ago today, I traded in the sub-zero temperatures of Upstate New York for the comparatively balmy 60-degree weather of Las Vegas.  Along with my colleague, Zach Klinger, I made the roughly 2,500-mile journey to attend this year’s MarketingSherpa Email Summit.  With email so central to our business model, the Email Summit was an obvious choice for HiP.

At the show, I was tasked with collecting any news, insights, or opportunities that could prove valuable to our process.  In a lineup that featured Jonah Berger of UPenn’s Wharton School, New York Times Bestselling Author Stephen J. Dubner, and, the man behind MECLABS Institute, Flint McGlaughlin, this task turned out to be relatively simple.  After more than a dozen real-world focused sessions, I found myself with pages upon pages of valuable notes.  The greater challenge proved to be organizing all this information into a short list of key points.

With that said, here are my top five takeaways from MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2015:


1.  Decision is a Product of Metal Levers

The value of any given offering can be compartmentalized into a set of unique, logical appeals.  Each appeal can be thought of a mental lever that generates a distinct, but unknown response.  Based on the audience and the context, each lever will generate a different response.  The key is to identify and utilize the mental lever that generates the most positive response.

The easiest way to think about mental levers is to use the form, “You should take [action] because [reason].”  Though, in all likelihood, these exact words will never appear in your messaging, they provide the foundation for the actual copy.

A single offering will have several mental levers at its disposal.  For example, a product may be able to appeal through its network of experts, ease of use, and competitive pricing.  In this case, possible mental levers would include, “You should click this email because you can access our expert insight,” or “You should click this email because you will receive a limited discount.”  By pitting one lever against another, marketers can identify the most effective message for the situation.


2.  Always Be Testing

There is no silver bullet when it comes to email marketing.  Though there’s no shortage of general best practices, there isn’t any guarantee that this information will hold true with your unique audience and offering.  Moreover, there’s no guarantee that which has been proven will continue to be true in the future.  The bottom line is that you should continually be testing.

Testing should extend beyond traditional A/B methods used to optimize subject lines and creative.  Though these elements can certainly have a major impact (improvements of 100%-200%), marketers are selling themselves short if they stop there.  As alluded to above, we should be A/B testing the core ideas of the messaging – the mental levers.

As for inspiration for this testing, historical data and intuition are great sources of hypotheses; however, it’s important to remember that they provide simply that, hypotheses.  This information can’t be relied upon until tested and substantiated. As McGlaughlin said, “There are no expert marketers, only experienced marketers and expert testers.”


3.  Confusion is the Real Enemy

As marketers, we love to be thoughtful and creative.  We love to craft clever wordplay, play with abstract concepts, and present through striking visuals.  Unfortunately, amid the fun and games, it can be easy to lose sight of the most important thing: the customer.  Ambiguity is lost customers.  Period.

Content viewers will never have the same level of interest and understanding as content creators.  It’s simply unrealistic to expect them to carefully read an entire outbound message or understand every nuanced detail of a product.  Realistically, we’re vying for half their attention, especially in the case of email.

The best case scenario for an email is that the viewer browses the messaging for a few seconds and chooses to click through.  In order for that to happen, the messaging has to convey its point in brief, direct, and, above all, clear manner.


4.  Email is still Person-to-Person

To paraphrase McGlaughlin, technology has increased our capacity for communication, but it hasn’t changed human nature.  In other words, the capability for less personal communication hasn’t removed the desire for the personal element.  People still want to build relationships with other people (or groups of people), not faceless organizations.

When it comes to large-scale communication, it’s easy to forget that you’re dealing with individuals.  You wouldn’t walk up to a stranger on the street, give them an order, and expect a high percentage to do what you say.  Most people would probably want to know why you wanted them to take such an action or what was in it for them.   In essence, the same holds true for email.

In order for an email to be successful, you have to give the viewer a clear and credible reason to engage.  It’s for this reason that your call to actions (CTAs) should never start with the word “Download”.  The beginning of your CTA should always highlight what the viewer will receive for engaging.  For example, rather than “Download this White Paper”, you might say, “Get Exclusive Access to Our 2015 Industry Analysis.”   Though slightly longer, the promise of value and added specificity make it more effective overall CTA.


5.  The Best Marketers Have Empathy

As a marketer, you should constantly be asking yourself, “How does this feel to the customer?”  It’s imperative to put yourself in the customers’ collective shoes:  What does the customer want at this stage in the process?  What value am I providing them?  Am I setting (and fulfilling clear) expectations?

Obviously, empathizing with your customer requires you to have a fairly strong understanding of your customers and their motivations.   A great step toward this goal is to construct detailed buyer personas.  Using a combination of hard numbers and anecdotal data, build a series of profiles that represent your core buyers.  Use these personas to help guide marketing strategy and use new data to update and further refine these tools.

Though it may sound strange, you can make these personas more valuable by naming them and giving them a short backstory.  This helps to humanize an otherwise bland collection of demographics.  Thinking of your personas as a character or an individual, rather than nameless group, allows you to better empathize and craft more personal, relevant messaging.





Let us know what you think:

  • Did you attend MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2015?
  • If so, what were your greatest takeaways?
  • If not, do you plan to attend this event (or any similar events) in the future?

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Comments (2)

Excellent report on the event. I really liked the segment on confusion being the real enemy. I have been preaching for years that email messaging needs to be basic, simple, and straightforward. The “kiss” method, if you will. Most decision makers are scanning their preview pane, with their mouse poised to click on the delete button.

It is hard enough to lose leads due to bad email addresses, spam filters, etc., but to lose one because the value was not made perfectly clear in the verbiage, would a shame. Sometimes you have to put your amazing business vocabulary aside and just state your message as plainly and clearly as possible.

Thanks once again for your interesting and valuable take on the event.

Thanks for the feedback, Gerry.

I’m glad you keyed in on that point — it’s an important one. We’re all fighting for limited attention. The last thing we need is to put hurdles in front of those trying to move forward. It sounds like common sense, but it happens all the time.

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