Hit refresh: Email marketing for the modern times

email marketing podcast

Jason Rodriguez is a Community and Product Evangelist at Litmus. He’s also an email geek, marketer, writer, and a tutor. A champion of email accessibility and inclusion, Jason also runs the Delivering podcast, that talks about industry trends in design and development of emails.

Expert Diaries from Zoho Campaigns connects avid email marketers to the experts in this space, and help them learn some best practices and tips. Our aim is to connect email geeks and form a community that learns email marketing from one another.

In this podcast, Jason talks about new age email marketing, in terms of refreshing tips for measurable metrics, copywriting, and promoting email newsletters.

It’s all about finding the balance! I’m sure we must have heard this statement in different walks of our lives—in peer groups, our houses, and of course, in our team—when we’re setting up email campaigns with content and images. If we were to think why it all lies in balance, it’s because we care—about our brand, customers, and the whole email experience.

Also listen to Expert Diaries on:

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Audio Transcript:

Aishwarya: Welcome to The Zoho Campaigns Expert Diaries. I’m Aishwarya, your host, and I hope you’re all doing well. with me today is someone who is a marketer, writer, email geek, teacher, and uff… trust me, the list is long. Let’s welcome Jason Rodriguez from Litmus! Jason believes in the balance I was talking about, and he really cares about helping marketers grow their skills and businesses.

Jason: Thanks so much! I’m really excited to be here.

Aishwarya: Mm-hmm, you know what, today’s a little special because I’m hosting another podcaster from the email marketing space.

So, how’s it to be on another podcast for a difference, and could you also share what made you start a podcast for the email community in the first place?

Jason: Yeah, it’s fun. I love talking to other podcasters, and it’s something I like that there’s so many podcasts, specially now related to email, and so, I talk to other email geeks about one of those topics. Yeah, I’ve been kind of on and off podcasting around email for a couple of years now.

So back and I want to say 2016 maybe, one of my colleagues Bill and I started a podcast called ‘Email Design Podcast’ where we obviously talked about all things email design and development related. It was very code-focused so we ran that for a couple of years got right up to almost a hundred episodes—recorded we got it to 99 before he left Litmus, and we kind of went on a hiatus. But then about a year or so ago, I decided to kind of revamp that podcast and rephrase that as the ‘Delivering’ podcast which I’ve been doing for a little while now. A little bit slower cadence, we publish about every other week, depending on what’s going on and in our work and in the wider community.

But, it was really when we started the Email Design Podcast, there weren’t too many email-related podcasts that we were able to find at least, we fill that gap and just talk about all the things we tended to care about and think about. We would discuss industry news, we would discuss tools, we discuss different coding techniques that were really quickly being. But over the years it’s been nice to see that we’re not the only ones talking about email in the podcast space.

So, obviously I’ve been listening to you, and I’ve seen a lot of kind of industry friends and stuff on your show, but there’s a bunch of other podcasts or an email, which is awesome to see. So now it’s just really fun to talk to other people about email, about marketing. In the latest version of the Litmus podcast, Delivering, we’ve kind of expanded beyond just design and development, and I’ve been talking about with the wider email marketing landscape— strategy and leadership and tools and all that kind of stuff on top of the code related things too. So it’s been really fun I’ve gotten a lot of good conversations with people, met a lot of people through the podcast, and I feel like it’s a great way to just sit down with somebody and talk about email and everything email involves.

Aishwarya: So true, and that’s the wonderful journey. I liked how you were explaining about how you started with a specific concept and then moved on to revamp and totally include a lot of other topics about email marketing. I think I would agree with you on the fact that initially there were very minimal spaces or resources when it came to podcast. I know the email community had a lot of resources online but in terms of podcast, I think there were not many podcasts, and great know that most of us started this space to connect with other email geeks and sort of build relationships. And it’s not just about one of conversation as we were just talking—it’s about getting to know them. So, glad to know that this is happening and so glad that we’re all doing the same thing right now.

Times are changing, and businesses are adopting different measuring standards for marketing efforts. For the modern-day email marketing, what are the three staple metrics you’d say for measuring success?

Jason: Yeah so I feel like traditionally people have focused on things like open rates and unsubscribe rates and bounce rates to look at the health of their email marketing campaigns. But I feel like over the years I’ve been less interested in basic metrics like that and I feel like the things people should probably pay attention to now are a little bit more, higher level like business-type goals related to their email campaign. So looking at how many of your subscribers not only opened and clicked a link in your email but then went through and did whatever specific action you were trying to get them to do; whether that’s buy something online or fill out a survey but that conversion rate, it’s going to be really important for people to look at, see whether or not their campaigns are actually effective and doing what they’re meant to do beyond just whether or not they were opened and somebody clicked a link you want to see that they’re. your subscribers are completing that action and that’s conversion.

Beyond that, open rates nice for you know just kind of general list health, click rate is nice for just kind of general health, But I really think that click-to-open rate which is looking at the number of clicks compared to the number of people that actually open your campaign to see whether or not that content is really engaging. For a lot of marketers, at Litmus, we do a lot of research, run a lot of surveys for thousands of email marketers and try to understand what their troubles are why their challenges are, and one of the things we’ve seen is it seems like email marketing is under-resourced, underfunded, under invested in by companies—it’s kind of people think about social being more important, they think about native stuff being more important. But, email tends to have the highest ROI of any marketing channel. So I think that’s an important one too—looking at the overall Return on Investment (ROI) for your email campaigns and if you can prove that your email campaigns are providing all that revenue that we know they’re providing, if you can actually follow that through one prove the ROI of your email marketing, then that’s a great way to get better resourcing and better investing from your bosses, from your stakeholders. So I look at that as well. Beyond that, kind of those three: conversion rate, click-to-open rate, and ROI.

One of the things we’ve seen and we’ve been really fortunate to use is not like a hard metric—by just looking at that social buzz and what people are talking about when you actually send an email campaign. And so we’re fortunate that we have a very vocal audience that when we send an email, they’re quick to tweet about it, they’re quick to reply to our email campaigns, and give us their thoughts on our emails. So that’s been really valuable to see whether or not our email campaigns are really hitting the mark when it comes to design and copy strategy. And, it’s been really valuable, because anytime we mess up and send something like a broken link or the layout looks funky or whatever that happens to be, then they’re really quick to point it out to so we can route you know go in and make those fixes for the next campaigns too.

So I think social buzz is kind of a great one for people to look at as well, and it’s harder; it’s not a hard-and-fast metric, there’s not like a direct number you can say like you can say so many people tweeted about our email campaign, but it’s really a quality type thing as opposed to quantity. So if you can get good feedback on your emails directly from your subscribers in your audience, then that’s perhaps the most important metric that you could be tracking these days.

Aishwarya: Very true. For me to just summarize, of course, looking at conversion rate is important. And as we were just talking, the conversion rate differs for different brands. Some people when they click a link and when they go purchase something that’s on the store, that’s a conversion for an e-commerce business; whereas, finishing up a survey is a conversion for another business. So, yes, the action or the purpose behind the sending of the email is definitely a very good metric to track apart from the usual or conventional ones like opens or just stopping with clicks. And you rightly said associate the why—like why would somebody want to receive emails from you. When you associate that I think the email ROI definitely matters.

I can’t agree enough with you on the point that email is the best success channel that a business can use. In fact, our customers, when you ask them what would be the easiest channel for them to receive information from a brand, they put email in the top two channels when given about eight channels to choose from. So I think emails still, despite the presence of a lot of other digital channels, goes on to be the most reliable and secured channel for customers. And, in fact it syncs in well with the other channels. As we were just talking about how somebody shares the email or the goodwill of a brand on the social media—it’s because they are receiving emails from you, they feel connected with the email and then they go on to share their positive reviews or even they point out something that could be corrected as suggestions on social media. But, the very first interaction happened as an email.

Definitely yes! These are new-age metrics and I hope listeners today are keeping note of them to use them up for their efforts. Jason moving on to the next discussion, I think we very well brought in social into our conversation today that I’m framing another question around the same thing:

With the use of so many digital channels, can you give marketers some ways to combine their email marketing with other channels as well? Let me start with an example—posting email newsletter archives on social media for more visibility.

Jason: Yeah, there’s definitely things you can do like that. Quick wins, easier things to do. As you publish a newsletter, you can send that out to your social media channels or whatever that happens to be. I, at this point, feel like that’s kind of table-stakes—like you should be doing that anyway because it just gets that content out in front of more people.

Having things like signup forms on Twitter or Facebook or LinkedIn whatever that happens to be is realizing list growth. One of the things that we suggest doing is that we kind of have this motto of using “Email First” in the marketing mix. So that’s where I think like the magic happens when you’re tying email and these different channels together. So email has a lot of good things going for ward— it’s relatively cheap to produce and send email campaigns, it’s one of the great things, that you can test pretty much everything in an email campaign and you can track how well those email campaigns and different tactics different strategies different copy. All that stuff works pretty quickly.

You can turn around emails relatively quickly and send out an A/B test and do another one the following week. The fact that you can track a lot of things and see how well an email is doing and these different strategies are doing and then do it really quickly is a great way to test out different ideas. Use email first to test these different strategies, test different copy, graphics, calls to action, whatever that happens to be, to see what really resonates with your subscribers, and then take whatever you learn from that and push that to all these different channels. So, I think it’s less about directly integrating email with these other marketing channels and more using email as a vehicle for understanding your subscribers in your audience and then taking whatever you learn from email and then using that to inform all of your other marketing decisions across all those different channels.

But you should be doing things like cross-posting your newsletter through to your social channels, and just that kind of content syndication is really important because not everybody is on your email list; not everybody’s following you on LinkedIn or following you on Twitter and the more channels you can hit with that kind of content, especially when you can get them tied back to that subscribe form and get them sign up for an email newsletter then the better off you’re going to be.

Aishwarya: Now we’re all in the omni-channel environment, when you see that our same subscribers are present across multiple other channels, I absolutely love the idea that you stated email first and then move on to the next channels by taking the insights from email. Especially this might work wonders for omni-channel engagement because you know you’ve got solid insights by experimentation with email as a channel and you can apply that across other channels, because you know what strikes the best with your recipients when they were to be across the other channels as well. So that’s a great point Jason, and thank you so much for stating that.

And, in fact, I have an interesting thing to share—so you were telling me about how to create signup forms and share that across social media; interestingly, last week or so, I think we had the social media week or the social media day. And I saw that a couple of days around that social media day or the week had a lot of people sharing newsletters and their subscription forms on social media and saying, “Hey guys, subscribe to our newsletter here. And here’s an archive to look at our previous newsletters.” So that way I found it was good to see that brands are trying to establish a credibility with people, also trying to convert more people as subscribers—doing it in a much double opt-in way rather than just going around and adding people directly to the list without your consent. It was so good to see that email marketers are taking extra steps to go and actually present themselves to the followers on social media and saying—”hey if you’re interested, then go ahead and subscribe to us; we’re not forcing you, but here’s a quick sneak peek for you to look at what we offer to you.” So yeah, that was a great point as well.

Alright, moving on to the next concept in our discussion—you’re going to really enjoy this because I’ve personally known how much of an email accessibility champion you’re, so I’m going to give you a very tough nut to crack:

If you have to explain email accessibility to a non-designer, how would you do it?

Jason: Sure, that, it’s tough because a lot of accessibility comes from the code and development side of an email. But, when I think about accessibility—it’s making sure that whatever content you have in an email, anybody can really understand it, whether or not they’re sight-impaired, they have cognitive disabilities, they have motor functionality disabilities. It’s really about making sure that everybody can understand that content and then act on that content too.

So, if you have some sort of call-to-action, anybody can follow that call-to-action and do what they need to do successfully, regardless of whatever abilities they happen to have. So, that’s how I think about it. The way that’s really implemented throughout email marketing takes a lot of different forms. So definitely there people tend to think about accessibility as a coding issue. Umm, so there’s you know things you can do on the coding side to make your emails more accessible, that’s usually through people that use some sort of assistive technology like a screen reader program—to they you know they might not be sighted, they could be blind and they need that assistive technology to actually read out loud that email so that they can understand it.

  • So if you’re using all-image-based emails, then that usually doesn’t work that well because there’s not a lot of content to actually read out those.

  • Screen-readers will just say this is an image and give you the image filename and if there’s a link associated with it.

  • Using like alternative text on your images is great.

  • Using live-like real HTML for all of your text is even better.

  • Doing things like adding the role of presentation to all of your tables is so that screen readers won’t read those tables out loud is a great fix.

But, there’s a lot of other things that go in accessibility—which comes through the design of things: 

  • Making sure there’s high enough contrasts like color contrast so people with you know vision disabilities or they might be color blind, can still read that content.

  • Even through writing just copywriting in strategy using shorter sentences, shorter emails, not using a lot of jargon and slang terms and stuff like that, is a great way your emails are more accessible.

But, it all comes back to the fact that you need people, anybody, to be able to consume your email campaign and then act upon it regardless of whatever abilities they happen to have.

Aishwarya: The way I see it from the points that you stated is that it’s about making email more inclusive and thoughtful—not looking at people just as mailing list or know them more for demographic or segments-based view, but looking at them as humans. And making sure that your emails would definitely matter to them because they are the ones who are reading.

Jason: Yeah, I think that’s really important. Yeah, everybody is a human, everybody’s a person, and recognizing that is really important. Especially because when we talk about accessibility and inclusion, people tend to think of major disabilities as like what you’re coding or writing for. So people that are blind people, that have hearing disability—like that’s what people tend to think of when they start talking about accessibility.

But there’s this idea of inability spectrum—we’re all only temporarily able-bodied. So even if you’re not permanently blind, you could have an eye infection that impairs your sight; you could have just gone to the eye doctor and had your pupils dilated which will affect your sight. For like motor disabilities, you might not be missing both of your arms, but you could be holding your newborn baby in one arm and trying to accomplish some task; you could have a broken arm or a broken hand, and it limits your ability to interact with screens or your computer mouse or something like that.

So at some point in life, everybody’s going to be disabled to some extent. It might be permanent, it might be temporary. By just recognizing that you might consider yourself able-bodied and without any disabilities currently, but you can’t just think that’s always gonna be the case for everybody. And trying to bounce that with your writing, design and coding in your email campaigns, make sure what you are making is more human, accessible, and inclusive experiences for people.

Aishwarya: Yes, that was a wonderful example when you stated. It’s not about classifying people as those with disabilities, because all of us at some point in time would go through the same. We would momentarily be not able to access something when we’re reading an email—like say we’re in the bus and reading an email, and it has a video and we don’t have headphones; come on, none of us can play it loud and listen to it. So, yes, that makes total sense to make the email matter to everybody whether or not it’s going to be permanent or temporary disablement and not able to access at that point in time.

And, this is going to be one of our wrap-up questions:

Let’s assume you’re developing an email marketing crash-course—what are your five must-learn lessons and why?

Jason: Yeah so, I do a lot of email marketing, especially design and development crash courses for people.

Aishwarya: Aye, that’s a relevant question for you then.

Jason: Yeah, definitely! Over time, I I feel like I’ve been less interested in the design and development side of things because at some point that’s kind of a salt problem—like even if you’re not a coder you can find good templates or your email service provider has templates that you can use; and you know you can find imagery graphics pretty fairly easily or you working with a team that can develop the. So I think it’s less about the design development side of things.

1. The things I would focus on lessons are really around the basic kind of mechanics of email marketing: 

  • what email marketing is

  • what the goals are of email marketing

  • how you actually go through the process of creating an email and getting out the door and learning from it.

 I think is one of the key things so just understanding at an additional level of what email marketing is what it’s good for what it’s not good for is one of those key lessons. 

2. More one of the lessons that we’re trying to teach people about is just around consent and privacy. We’ve seen a lot of legislation introduced over the last few years, you know CAN-SPAM has been around forever in the US, and then we have CASL in Canada; we have the GDPR, and everybody’s kind of contending with. And understanding that legislation and how it informs how you collect consent from subscribers when they’re signing up for your emails, and then how you keep that data private is really important. It’s gonna be more and more important over the coming years. so that would be one of those key lessons—understanding legislation, consent, and privacy. 

3. Accessibility and inclusion is super important—we kind of talk about that a little bit but that would be one of my key lessons as well. 

4. the last two are really around writing—writing effective copy and keeping things short and succinct, and straight to the point. Getting rid of jargon. I have this human feeling as opposed to just using a lot of business-speak; just writing strategies is really important.

 5. And, then around reporting—making sure you’re tracking the things that are really important for your marketing program and using that data to learn and improve future campaigns.

So I think:

Lesson 1: Foundations of email

Lesson 2: Consent and privacy

Lesson 3: Accessibility and Inclusion

Lesson 4: Copywriting

Lesson 5: Reporting

These are my five top lessons these days.

Aishwarya: Awesome! So, now, you’ve also done my job of summarizing the whole thing.


Aishwarya: Yeah, I loved the way you stated privacy because that is so important; I can’t stress enough on that fact because there are a lot of legislations and regulations as you stated—like GDPR, California Consumer Privacy Act, CASL—there are a lot. So it’s important that marketers understand how they deal with the customers’ data and how careful they should be in processing the data and being extra careful when they are using a lot of channels through which this data is parsed. So, yeah very true, and that’s a very solid foundation I should say.

Now, I’m going to have a very interesting concluding session for this talk, and that’s going to have a quick rapid-fire round. So, I’m going to ask you three questions and you would not have to think much, just give me a straight-off answers to those questions.

Jason: I’ll try my best.

Aishwarya: Alright, here you go:

Favorite pastime, second only to podcasting?

Jason: Definitely making music. So I play guitar, lots of stringed instruments. So when I’m not doing email related stuff, I’m either hanging out with my family, or making music of some sort.

Aishwarya: Awesome, great.

One thing you regularly do in your coffee/tea break?

Jason: Either check in on my two daughters and my wife—seeing how they’re doing especially with the limits of the global pandemic. but when I’m not doing that then probably playing some animal crossing on my Nintendo switch or checking turned-up prices.

Aishwarya: Alright, the last one:

One person you’ve always wanted to host on your show, but you haven’t yet?

Jason: This was the tough one to think! I I was gonna say there’s not one person, I really just like talking to people that are doing interesting things in email. But, one of my favorite newsletters is called “Next Draft” by this guy named Dave Pell, and I think he’s an excellent writer. And it’s short, it’s concise, it’s really funny, so I think I’d love to talk to him about. And he’s been doing it for a long time—his newsletters, his business; so just travel with him about how he does what he does, and how that’s grown over the years, and especially digging in there’s kind of comedy and writing skills.

Aishwarya: So I think he’s doing an amazing job with copywriting. I hope you see the light of the day when you actually host him on your show, and I’m going to be one of the listeners.

Jason:<laughs> Sounds good

Aishwarya: Thank you very much for taking time to share your experiences and thoughts.

Jason: Yeah, thank you!

Aishwarya: I thoroughly enjoyed the talk and I’m sure the listeners will also take away important email lessons like caring about customers, being inclusive in your approach, adopting accessibility, and finally, making email campaigns matter.

Wishing you all the best, Jason! 

Jason: Yeah,  you too. Thanks, I appreciate it. It was a lot of fun talking to you.

Aishwarya: Thank you so much! And, that’s a happy wrap-up! To all the listeners—to know such informative email marketing stories, check out The Zoho Campaigns Expert Diaries on Spotify, SoundCloud, and Apple Podcasts. Until our next episode, stay tuned!


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