Email Marketing and Marketing Automation Best Practices for 2016


Email was invented in 1973 and since then there have been countless numbers of email sent across platforms, devices and systems. It has become the most used form of communication in the modern world and also one of the most effective form of marketing. In this podcast we will take you through the journey of how email has evolved and share some advanced tips, tricks and ideas for improving your marketing automation and email marketing programs. We will be covering basic concepts such as email conversions, deliverability rates and advanced topics like account based marketing and lead scoring. Join us and learn how you can convert your organization from running traditional email programs to driving advanced marketing automation projects.

A Quick Preview of the Email Marketing and Marketing Automation Best Practices podcast:

  • Email marketing origination and history.
  • Omnichannel marketing using email as a center piece.
  • Managing your email database.
  • Account based marketing.
  • Email for 1×1 communication and much more

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Read The Transcript:

Jeremy Roberts: Thank you for joining AnalyticsToday, a podcast series that focuses on big data and analytics, digital marketing, and the latest trends in the digital world. I am your co-host Jeremy Roberts, and with me always is my co-host Sameer Khan. Hey Sameer.

Sameer Khan: Hey Jeremy, how is it going?

Jeremy Roberts: Good, how are you?

Sameer Khan: Very good.

Jeremy Roberts: Exciting start to 2016.

Sameer Khan: It is. We’re getting into the weeds, and the year is starting to pass. We’re already in February. The weather is now settling down. It was really brutally cold in some parts of the U.S. and now things are looking much better.

Jeremy Roberts: Yeah. I think even with that, the weather settling down and all that, I think it’s also companies, and marketers, and analytics professionals are starting to settle down, and really trying to discover how to should I … how can I really tackle 2016? Because I know a lot of people they do their planning for 2016 back in queue fall of last year, but a lot of times it doesn’t really come to fruition until now. I think that’s where people are looking at, “Hey, okay. We’ve been doing some things right and wrong, but what are some best practices? What are some of the things we should do as far as best practices for our top performing channels?”

Sameer Khan: I totally agree. I think that’s definitely an important part. Especially marketers, they try to find different hacks for the different marketing channels they have. I agree, best practices is very helpful.

Jeremy Roberts: One of them that I want to focus on is actually a channel today that’s been around now for about forty-four or forty-five years. Can you guess what that channel is that’s been around now, that we’re going to go talk about today, for about forty-four years?

Sameer Khan: That’s a good one. Email?

Jeremy Roberts: Email. You are correct. I guess I handed that to you already. That’s the topic.

Sameer Khan: I probably seem to be the oldest fan, because I remember of the good old days of ARPANET and all those old intranet days. I think the first form of communication that was actually created was sending specific messages digitally.

Jeremy Roberts: Yeah. It was actually sent by a guy named Ray Tomlinson. He sent out the first email in 1971 through ARPANET. It’s pretty interesting.

Sameer Khan: Okay, yeah.

Jeremy Roberts: I think today, what we’re going to do is we’re going to talk about super charging your email best practices. Really we want to go through some of the email best practices that both Sameer and I think are important for 2016, that I think are really going to change the way you do business. A lot of what we want to do is say, this is not for the advanced level marketer or even the basic level marketer. This is for all marketers who use email. There is going to be a little bit of something in here that’s going to be of use for everybody.

I think one of the … Let’s first talk about what are the big themes to focus on for 2016. For me, I think that email is going to be a really … it’s going be a key channel when you look at the holistic customer journey. It’s all about integration of that data and integration of email into other channels.

Sameer Khan: That’s a great point, because if you look at … You bring up a very solid point there, when you talk about the customer journey and the association of email to that journey. A few years ago, like four or five years ago, email was just considered as a channel to acquire new names to your pipeline and sell them product. That was pretty much the use of email, which is probably at the top of the funnel, get as many people as possible, and funnel, and send them more and more product.

That has changed significantly. With the invention and creation of new marketing automation technologies, email is a critical piece of the journey puzzle across all of the different stages of the journey. In the acquisition side, you can still … yes, you can still send emails to an out-bounded list, and target them with a specific product or offering.

On the nurture side, you can have people subscribe to your blog, to your email or a newsletter series, or probably even get their email to have them even signup for a free trial. Then on customer conversion side, you can continue to send them messages and prepare your salespeople, so that at a particular stage, they can interact with the customer using email, in a very specific one-to-one communication, and look forward to convert those customers to paid customers.

I think the journey, as we starting talking about the customer journey, and we have talked about it in previous podcast, emails playing a critical role. Some of the analysis that I have done at different organizational level, I’ve seen email is consistently a very powerful channel at the top, in the middle, and the bottom of the funnel.

Jeremy Roberts: I agree. The thing is that it also, most people … When you’re looking at return on investment, you are looking at the return of different channels, and how they bond well together. Email, in my mind, has always been a high return. You’re talking at minimum two to one return. I’ve even seen, in my experience, with some companies where we’ve effectively sent out two hundred and seventy million emails a year through ten different channels. We’re pulling in an average three to one return on the emails.

Sameer Khan: Yeah, and especially if you’re talking about sending an email to already acquired customer, I mean talk about the efficiency you get from that channel, because you’re not paying to acquire those customers. They are already a part of your database. All that you are doing is sending them different types of messaging to continue to do business with you. Yeah, definitely a huge, huge upsell potential.

Jeremy Roberts: Exactly.

Sameer Khan: Let’s get into the weeds of the email marketing solution, and what do we have for our listeners today.

Jeremy Roberts: Sure. Just to give everybody a quick note, don’t feel like you have to drastically write this down and memorize everything. We actually have this eBook available that you can go and click on to download at That is Sameer and I’s website. We’ll repeat that information later in the podcast.

Today we’re going to go over a few email marketing strategies. In the eBook we have eight that we focus on, but we’re going to go over a few of them today. The first one I really want to focus on is really the integration … Integrating elements of other digital channels into your email marketing activities.

The whole premise behind that is as you become more advanced in your marketing analytics, you start to understand that there is no such thing as siloed data and siloed channels, because once you do that you have a very dry and narrowed focused campaign that’s really not going to give you the best return. What we’re talking about is really integrating those other elements into marketing, I’m sorry, into your email marketing. Taking elements of social, taking elements of your content and your website, and putting those elements into your email activities. Your thoughts on that Sameer.

Sameer Khan: Yeah. I think that’s a great point, and definitely a very valuable point, when we’re living in the Omnichannel channel world today. Email is definitely a key piece, from a channel’s spectrum, which can and has a potential of touching different channels. There are technologies, again going back to the marketing technology piece, like there are technology in the market, from a marketing automation and email marketing side, where you can actually use a list and send them multiple … and devote them to multiple channels.

You can have the same message on your email per se that people open their inbox, or you can have the same message on a social media platform, or you have the same message on display. You can use that marketing technology and automation to syndicate that message to your base in all these different mediums.

Jeremy Roberts: Of course, what are the … Yeah, go forth, sorry.

Sameer Khan: Yeah. A little bit more on that, I think we’ve got the idea here as when you think about the Omnichannel channel view of email marketing and email automation, email plays a critical role, because even though we continue get a lot of spam in our inbox, and we consistently delete, the open rates are going lower and lower, and the click rates are going lower and lower. All of that is happening today, but smart marketers are finding ways to drive traffic to the channels that are in tandem with emails. As I was mentioning social displays and all these different avenues, and even sending in-app messages. Notifications that you get within the control panel, within the use interface they have.

There are various ways to think about email. If you start thinking about email as a silo tool, you’re going to start getting into the weeds of like the open rates are going down, and there is a whole bunch of issues. As a society, we are still very dependent on email. Tell me how many times a day you check your emails, even though you don’t like some of the messages, but you still have a tendency to do that. With the mobile devices that is increasing, and most of the time, like there are some survey done between different countries they were, I think, in U.S., the audience is more I think email savvy, especially with the mobile devices in their hands all the time.

Jeremy Roberts: Yeah. I mean sadly enough, if I get a hundred emails a day, I’ll check for my email a hundred times for that day. I’m sad. I’m pathetic. It’s okay.

Sameer Khan: No. We’re all in the same boat.

Jeremy Roberts: Okay. Let’s go to the second one that we want to focus on. This one is a very big deal. It seems like something that’s basic. It seems like something everybody should be doing, but it is a reminder to continually optimize and segment your email list to stay relevant. Everybody thinks it’s the best practice you should always do, but a lot of people don’t do it correctly.

What we’re trying to say here is the best practice is every three months, clean your email database, as simple as that. You’re using in-house tool, go to a thirty party. We’re talking about scrubbing out bad old, fake, or seeded emails in your list, because the last thing you want to do is to be picked up by spam traps. The last thing you want to do is increase your chance of getting soft or hard bounces. Once you hit that threshold, then you get into a blacklist issue. You never, ever, ever want that to happen.

Sameer Khan: Yeah. This is pretty timely actually. We are in the process … In the organization where I work is we are in the process of going and cleaning up our huge email database. There have been … We’re collecting names overtime, buying names. We have internal customers. We have our prospects and all of that merged into one big giant database. Into your point, that’s the exact exercise that we’re going through. We are identifying people who have not showed any activity in the last few years. Now we are identifying people, which have contact associated with them, but there is no potential lead or opportunity.

There are different ways and different angles. You can segment by date. You can segment by personas. Maybe the organization changes the course, so you’re not targeting a specific persona anymore. There’s different ways to slice and dice your data. Exactly what Jeremy is saying, it is very important for you to very quarter or every six months, to go look back your database and start to clean up. As a matter of fact, if you’re working with some of the current modern email marketing and marketing automation providers, if you don’t do that, then you’re going to have overcharges, which is pretty dangerous.

Sameer Khan: You don’t want to get into a situation where they start charging you something, and you don’t even know where the charge is coming from. Now you know it’s going from the ginormous database that you have, that you have not cleaned up.

Jeremy Roberts: Yeah. Let me warn some people too is that segmentation is fantastic and it’s great, but sometimes there is over-segmentation. There are people who get really picky and want to just segment everything. You can over-segment. I’m just warning that. A lot of times, you can’t be too fixated on segmentation that you’ve put in place, because those may change overtime. You really have to test each of those and work with those.

Here is a real life example. We were doing a segment … In my last company we were doing a segmentation list on reorders. We knew that was around time for people to reorder. We did some testing over the past three years to look at what was the average time to reorder. You go to the average person, and in our department and they would say, “It’s eighteen months.” “Okay, well how is it today?”

As we started testing that, we looked at maybe trying to send that reorder segment prior to the eighteen months and after the eighteen months. We found that it so very based in the type of people. We had to change our segmentation to be a little bit different to say, if this person bought this type of product, they reorder timing was a little bit earlier, and for others it was a little bit later. We were using that type of testing to really get down to the truth of it. Like I said, once you figure out your segmentation, don’t stick to it forever.

Sameer Khan: That’s a great point. Yeah, I agree. With the technology you can also do a whole bunch of filtering and change your filtering so that you can target the right prospect at the right time. I mean the timing is very important. To your point, if I’m trying to buy something, and I’m in the market looking for it, how do you identify those traits, those insights that I am communicating through my digital behavior, that I am ready, send me that email so I can buy? That optimal timing, and that optimal filtering and segmentation is critical.

Jeremy Roberts: Exactly. Okay. Let’s get to the next one. This is something that both I think Sameer and I get excited about is leveraging the analytic software, to integrate email data with other digital channels to determine the customer journey. What are your thoughts in the customer journey, Sameer? I know you get excited about this one.

Sameer Khan: Yeah. I am totally excited about it, because the journey it’s becoming more mainstream. As we talked about the predictions for 2016, a customer journey analysis is a key part of any marketing organization. If you are marketing, if you are not analyzing your customer journey, if you are not trying to understand how a customer goes from origination to close, then you are missing out a whole bunch of information.

As I was saying earlier, email is being a very important channel in the entire buyer’s journey. If we speak about marketing, sending an email to acquire new customers in the pipeline. If we speak about sales, sending an email to have a one-on-one conversation with a customers, and sending them proposal and quote and all of those things. Email is very fundamentally integrated to the customer’s journey. When you take this email data as one data piece, and then you have your other sources, i.e. your social interaction, your web interaction. The interaction video or free trial interfaces, the interaction video or the actual product usage data during that free trial.

The other way that you can think about the behavior that the customer shows when they are working with your products. Maybe they have specific questions with your support on the product or services they have. All of this multifaceted data is being collected, and if you add the email cautioned in there, it just completes the whole picture. Then you can make sense, okay, the customer had a problem with their free trial. They reached out to the support teams, and they created this particular ticket. This was a particular email that originated the problem, that eventually let your support to get a ramification and fixation of their problem.

I think all of these things play hand in hand together. When you paint the picture of the customer’s journey, it will tell you piece by piece, what are the different milestones that the customer went through. Then when you layout this journey, behavioral journey data with your revenue data over your customer growth potential data, then you’ll see new insight starts to emerge.

Jeremy Roberts: Exactly. I think that goes best into the next one that I want to talk about. We’re going to combine a few of these here. One of them is using email to communicate in multiple ways not just campaigns. A lot of people think, “I’m just using email marketing for my campaign or for products.” No, I mean not just product announcements, you use it for cross-sale opportunities, recovering customers that abandoned their cart, invitation to social or community events, being able to reach back out to people for issues or concerns about product releases or product issues.

There are so many different ways that you can use email marketing. I think really understanding that customer journey, and figuring out where that email fits within that journey and where that touch point happens, you really start to hone in on the true value of the email, and they are able to get the highest return possible.

Sameer Khan: That’s a very important statement that you said there, that email is not just used for acquiring customers or putting them to a specific campaign. It is a key piece of communication that can be used across all the different lifecycle milestones of the customer. Because if you just use the emails for the traditional old way of using emails like hey, I’m going to send a whole bunch of emails so that I can sell my product. That is not going to work in today’s world, where people, the first thing the delete … What is the first thing that you delete?

Jeremy Roberts: Spam.

Sameer Khan: Sales emails.

Jeremy Roberts: Spam sales.

Sameer Khan: Exactly, but one-on-one communication, let’s say if I have requested something from a company and they respond to me by email, am I not going to go and check that email first? Yes I am of course, because that is something that I actually requested, so it’s a more meaningful conversation to me. If people start to think that email is dying, email is dead, that’s not true. Certain segments of email marketing are dead, because they are so old-school, they are so out-bounded. They are not personalized. They are not focused on the user’s journey.

Jeremy Roberts: Yeah. I think you focused on … You said one big thing that I want to focus on there which is one-to-one. I think that bonds well to something else we want to talk about is using your email to onboard your customers. A lot of people think that you have to wine and dine your customers to get them excited about you, and send all these emails and so on to get them to come and try out your product. A lot of people forget that, even after they purchase, you still can use the email to keep that communication going, to onboard them, to really invite them back to do new things, to help them become an advocate.

One way to do that is to use a real one-to-one tone of voice, and a one-to-one via that email by sending that from a real person. A lot of people they’ll send generic emails, let’s say from company X, Rather than that, pick a specific person within that organization and have these emails come from them. Send emails from a real person. Select somebody that’s socially savvy, a colleague, or somebody in product or leadership, and have them be represented in your communications.

It’s not like they are not going to change the whole job, and have to answer a hundred emails when they get … You can filter all those and have go through a system, but be more realistic. Try to be more real with people, because people will appreciate that.

Sameer Khan: No, yeah. I think sending it from an actual person in the company that is approachable … Actually I remember like you did this, when we are working at Rackspace, when you had these emails coming out, it could be from a specific product marketing manager. That product marketing manager was approachable on linked in emails so they can answer a question. That was a very smart thing to do, because then it becomes absolutely real and absolutely important, if I’m receiving an email and I can approach that person. That’s a great point.

Speaking of that, it reminds me of a funny email that I used to get from this company. I once I had to send this gift to someone in India, and I used an Indian shopping site. I sent them the gift, so now I am a part of that Indian shopping site database. Every now and then, whenever there was some type of festive event, I used to get an email from them, but apparently it was from a real person, but the person’s name was a movie actor.

Whenever I used to see that email, like why would I open an email from a really popular movie actor trying to sell you a product? It just doesn’t make sense. It was hilarious. That’s not the correct way of sending from a person, but yeah.

Jeremy Roberts: Yeah. Ideally rules on there is don’t choose somebody in the marketing department. Don’t choose somebody in the sales department. Choose somebody that most likely they won’t feel threatened by. Products strategy, some type of executive management or leadership position. I guess one more thing before we move on to some tactics is I think our audience might be interested in account-based marketing.

Sameer Khan: Yeah. I think it is a buzzword, so we have to use buzzword. Not really, but I think account-based marketing is not really a buzzword. It is a requirement, and that has been persistently sort of not taken into consideration for a long, long time. Now enough people are educated on the whole premise of account-based marketing, and thanks to kind of sales force driving a whole bunch of type of messaging and some other entities out there.

The whole idea about account-based marketing is, instead of trying to reach an individual contact or an individual person in the organization, you want to start thinking about that organization in an entity itself. What does that mean? For example I’ll pick IBM here. IBM, let’s say if IBM is in a process of purchasing, I don’t know, maybe some type of technology. They are in the process of purchasing … even though IBM wouldn’t do that, because it builds its technology. Let’s say if IBM is in the process of purchasing a technology for their employees to become better at what they do.

Then several different departments in IBM are trying to approach different companies. That company will get probably hundreds of different people and stakeholders, because again in such a huge organization, there are so many people in that organization. Everybody will have a different question. There is going to be finance. There is going to be different departments. Over in each department there is going to be individual stakeholders. Start to think about how many different ways you can … a company ABC that is selling a widget that can get totally and overwhelmed at all the requests coming in from different departments.

If they start looking at by contacts, then they will probably have to talk to each of these different contacts. They might create an opportunity for each of these contacts within their CRM system. They might try to close a deal for each of these contacts. At the end it comes out like IBM said, “Oh this is not the right company for us, because they don’t know what they are talking about.” One department is getting a different message, where it’s a completely different message than the other department.

Then instead of looking at the contacts, you start looking at IBM as an entity as a whole, and then you rationalize your communication across all different departments and try to see who is what, who is a key stakeholder, and who should you be talking to. If there is already a salesperson in the organization that is talking to IBM on different levels, that you should go and communicate.

Once you look at the account level, then you know IBM is just going to buy one widget for a product. They are not going to buy hundreds of them. That’s not the idea. Then you know like I’ve got to sell to this person and have a formal meeting, where I can start looking at the account base and start sending them email message that impacts the oral account’s help not necessarily performance.

Of course you’re going to still have one to one communication with the right individuals, but once you know where IBM is in the buying process as a company, it becomes a lot more easier for you to sell your products to them. That’s the whole premise of account-based marketing. Our idea here is once you start thinking about email best practices for 2016, start thinking in the direction of not targeting individual contacts, but thinking about the company as a whole and where they are in the buying journey, and the communication journey with you.

Jeremy Roberts: Very smart, it’s just smart. I have no other way to put it, it’s a great idea. Email marketers are becoming more savvy and they are starting to … The key here is work with sales. Marketing itself, within the silo we are talking about, using email marketing within some silo of other channels, marketers themselves cannot sit within their own silo. They must work alongside sales.

The way I see the analogy here is it used to be like a baton really, where a marketer would do all the stuff at the beginning. Then go and had the baton over to the salesperson, and the sales person would run with it. Today, think of it as a three-legged race. Marketing and sales working together to be able to reach their goes of that sale. I think account-based marketing is perfect for that.

Sameer Khan: Very well put, and that’s a great example where email is actually allowing us to close the gap between sales and marketing. In most organization once you start to see the area, where sales and marketing are working together, is with the usage of the right email tactics. I’m not going to get into weeds of the automation tools and how they are working all those things. The essence of that email is now sales have come to realize how critical the email is for them to communicate. If the email can be structured the way marketing has been doing it for years, then it can be a very strong partnership between sales and marketing, so very well put.

Jeremy Roberts: Okay, fantastic. I agree. Let’s go over some tactics now. We’re going to kind of briefly go through this. Like I said, if you ever have questions, contact us. Go to and you can find Sameer and I on there, and ask us more questions in details. Here are some tactics, some best practice tactics on ways to best set up your email programs.

The first one is always have a Q&A checklist, quality assurance testing checklist, because a lot of times you’re going to have multiple click through points. You’re going to have a lot of different things that you have to do in order for the email to go out correctly, so it doesn’t get picked up by spam and so on. You have your html version. You have your text version. You have to make sure your links work and so on. You just create a checklist, much easier to do. It makes your life easier.

The second one here really is something that I had experienced before is, when you have large email sense, a lot of people think and you’re doing it from different product sets, or different brands, for each of those brands create a separate IP address. What that means is if you have a spam trap, if there is a spam trap setup and somebody is trying to capture your brand, and you haven’t been doing a lot of filtering and cleaning up that email database. One of those brands gets caught on that blacklist, and all of your brands sit into the same IP address, then all of them are in trouble.

The best thing to do is take your big brands and separate them by different IP addresses. That way, if one has an issue, you are still safe with the others. Let’s see. How about another one is maintaining your opt out database, that’s just a big deal. If you are offering an opt-out which you obviously have to do with CAN-SPAM, stay up with it. Stay compliant with it. If somebody … If you say yeah, somebody opts out and you guarantee they will be opted out within two to three business days, do that. The last thing you want to do is just never really take them out of your database, and you’re constantly sending them an email because all they do is turn you in.

With that, some of the new best practices today are giving them opt-out options. Rather than just say opt-out and unsubscribe from everything, give them the options to opt-out. Opt-out from specific types of emails, or opt-out by frequency, or selectively unsubscribe to something. That way you don’t permanently lose them.

Sameer Khan: Speaking of opt-out one quick point here.

Jeremy Roberts: Sure.

Sameer Khan: When you think about the international audience, now U.S. the laws are much more lenient, in terms of how many emails you can send and who can send an email. You can probably like … or it comes off of the challenges pretty quickly. When you look at the international laws when it comes to emails and CAN-SPAM and all those things, it just becomes more and more complex. You have to be very sensitive, if you are trying to send emails to your international audience. You have to follow the process and procedures. If they opt-out, then that’s it. That’s the end of the deal.

There are certain laws I remember in Canada or in U.K. where you have to do double opt-in, in order for the customers to start receiving emails. Single opt-in is going to work. Nuances such as that is very sensitive. People get very sensitive and they’ll receive email from you even though they have not … if they have opted out or if they have no double opt-in. Things like that are just very important to keep in mind.

Jeremy Roberts: I completely agree. One of the things we can jump over to really is how to best analyze your performance. One of the ways I like to do it is choosing your best performance by using a very simple formula, using revenue pre-email. Going in there and taking each of your email sense … The thing about this, if you have an email batch that you sent out last month and had a list size of like ten thousand people, and last week the list size of fifteen thousand people, because of the difference in sizes, you can’t really have a common factor on the success of the revenue, because of the five thousand more emails, your revenue could have been completely off.

With that we do this recommendation of total revenue over total email sent. That’s really your revenue per-email, something as simple as that. Looking at different opportunities when you increase your email database size. Looking at your earn, rent, or buy options for email list. Also looking at lightbox capture, when somebody comes to your website asking them through a lightbox that pops up, “Do you want to add your email for promotions or offers?”

The other thing here is continually testing. It’s important to keep testing your reordered timing, testing your subject lines and your call to actions, and also testing your frequencies and deployment timing. The last thing you want to do is say, “Oh this is the best practice, it has been around for five years.” That was five years ago, this is today. This is February of 2016. Constantly test and adjust as needed.

The thing I also want to talk about is ways to increase conversions of your emails. Looking at your database, we talked about segmentation. We talked about database hygiene, being able to get those email lists and clean them up. Possibly even using an active resends, and also make sure that they are similar creative in your land pages. When you have an email and we’re talking about email not being in some silo, take the same messaging and same imagery from that email and put on the landing pages. Put it on those pages where people are going to be able to click through.

Outside of that, those are some of our best practices. Like I said, it’s a lot of stuff to go over in one podcast, that would be way too long, but I think it’s important to know that you can go to That’s Sameer and I’s website, and you can find a link to go download it there.

Sameer Khan: Yeah. The eBook, great work in putting together the eBook Jeremy. I think it will be great for our listeners to have something very tangible that they can refer to throughout the year.

Jeremy Roberts: Exactly. I think this has been a great topic. We are extremely excited. Please keep on listening to us and free to … We’re on different places. You can find us on SoundCloud/analyticstoday. You can find us on iTunes. Please go ahead and put up your reviews, and that you can always find us on We’re excited to be here with you guys.

Sameer Khan: Great.

Jeremy Roberts: Cool. Thank you guys for listening again, and we’ll see on the air.

Sameer Khan: Thank you.

Jeremy Roberts: Thanks.

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