It’s rare for a professional conference to give you the feels, but no one escaped them at Really Good Emails’ first-ever UNSPAM conference this month. The weekend event in charming downtown Greenville, SC, drew nearly 200 die-hard #emailgeeks to the heart of the sunny, springtime south.
In addition to a roster of A-plus speakers, the mood of UNSPAM was something special: camaraderie, community, and gratitude were the prevailing sentiments. It was authentic. And probably something that can never be replicated in just the same way.
If you’re not familiar with the Really Good Emails website, check it out. RGE is a tremendous resource for anyone in the email space—it’s a curated, searchable treasure-trove of inspirational email marketing sure to bring out the giddy in any geek.
In the spirit of community, the UNSPAM presentation decks are available to all for download here, sans paywall.
Here’s a recap of the sessions:
Welcome & Behind the Scenes at RGE
Presented by the RGE Co-Founders
The RGE team emphasized their Code of Conduct (“Return home with honor!”), explained the history of RGE, and told us what’s ahead for them.
- Founded by Mike Nelson, Matt Helbig, Matthew Lloyd Smith and Matt Cook (that’s right—one Mike, three Matthews), RGE was initially a small side-project for the foursome beginning in 2014, but evolved into much more, culminating in the moment we were sharing together in Greenville.
- RGE 2.0 is in beta! The new site allows email marketing examples to be grouped by collection or theme, offers live code view, and will enable for more interactions between users, similar to Adobe’s Behance community.
- The good folks at MailCharts were instrumental in the improvements to the RGE site—in particular, MailCharts Co-Founder and Marketing Director Carl Sednaoui, who died tragically earlier this year on safari in Kenya. Carl’s passing is a big loss for the email community and one that’s still fresh. Watching Mike Nelson acknowledge his friend and collaborator was pretty heartbreaking, and our first glimpse into how intimate UNSPAM would prove to be.
Communicate Like a Friend, Not a Serial Killer
Presented by Dr. Cate Blouke, Freelance Writer/Digital Nomad
Former college professor Cate Blouke wrote a dissertation on humor. Today she writes for RGE and is available to write for YOU.
- Humor connects brands with audiences. And that’s why Cate tells terrible jokes. Like this one: “Why was the chicken banned from sending emails? Too much fowl language.”
- Different types of humor appeal to different types of people. Know your audience to know what kind of jokes will appeal to them.
- Humor can backfire when it alienates or offends audiences. Run copy by people whose life experiences are different than yours to ensure it’s not misinterpreted or potentially offensive.
- “Why don’t Vikings send more emails? Because they prefer Norse code.”
- I love terrible jokes.
The State of the Email Industry & Where You Fit In
Presented by Mike Nelson, Really Good Emails
This session revealed the results of RGE’s second industry survey, and complete details are available in that download I mentioned.
Here are some key findings:
- 58% of email pros are wearing multiple hats.
- Only 11% of brand-side #emailgeeks are fully remote.
- The average total time it takes to develop an email is up 12%, from 5.1 days in 2017 to 5.7 days in 2018.
- Email pros give their ESPs an average rating of 6 out of 10, so there’s loads of room for improvement (and if you’re shopping around for a new solution, I’ve got a suggestion for you).
Leveling Up Your Career in Email
Presented by Anne Tomlin, Emails Y’all; Matt Helbig, Really Good Emails; Mike Nelson, Really Good Emails; Margaret Hamner, Mailchimp
This bunch offered a lot of varied advice to #emailgeeks—sometimes it was a little in conflict. Because one size does not fit all.
- Specialist vs generalist? There are lots of opps for both.
- Learn to use Microsoft Excel!
- Email messaging must be valuable and actionable to be successful.
- The debate on list size vs list engagement wages on.
- Modular email design is getting traction.
- Inspiration is everywhere—B2Bs should take cues from creative B2Cs.
- Automation is not set-it-and-forget-it. Revisit your triggers on the reg.
- Do not reply” email addresses are still a nope. Accept replies and you’ll learn a lot.
- Fake “oops!” messages work. But ultimately they’re bad for your brand. Don’t do it.
Trends in Email Design
Presented by Meghan Sokolnicki, Emma
This presentation was 100% 🔥 🔥 🔥. Meghan served up a hot-or-not-style session that kept the audience in non-stop stitches. Honestly, no recap could capture the magic of this one.
Feeling the FOMO? You should.
- Rounded edges
- Photos in email signatures
- Diagonal design elements
- Faces and arms on inanimate objects
- Neon green on black backgrounds
- White text overlays on photos
In memoriam: Wood backgrounds, b. 2014, d. 2018
Feeling Triggered: Email Automations You Need and How Lenovo Rebooted Their Welcome Series
Presented by Betsy Grondy, Lenovo
Three triggers you should do ASAP:
- Abandoned cart
Why? Because 75% of email revenue is generated by triggers.
Betsy recently overhauled the Lenovo welcome campaign. Today it’s a two-message campaign over the course of seven days for two segments (purchaser and subscriber). Don’t let its seeming simplicity fool you—she reeled in dozens of disparate campaigns and implemented a robust test plan and multi-language support.
- Think long-term when setting up
- Make it easy
- Create accountability
- Have a plan to update—don’t set and forget
Untapped Potential: How To 3X Email’s Impact in One Year
Presented by Jorge Selva, G2 Crowd
Jorge Selva recapped the recently rolled-out personalization strategy for Reverb, an online marketplace for musicians. Personalization is a tough nut to crack, and Jorge showed the path from simple to sophisticated.
Jorge offers this advice for marketers looking to implement personalization at scale:
- Start small—determine where you have coverage and which segments drive the most value
- Prioritize projects with the highest impact potential
- Test quickly (and manually if necessary), then automate what works
- Refresh content frequently
Reverb’s fresh personalization strategy drove $50M in one year with the following campaigns:
- A personalized weekly newsletter, including a rad retargeting module
- Cross-channel post-purchase campaigns
- Feed emails based on browse history
Future Thinking in Email: Expanding Your MarTech Strategy
Presented by Bethany Prettyman, Toast
Bethany Prettyman included a meme in her deck which read, “Lady in the streets, freak in the spreadsheets.” I liked her instantly.
Her objective was to explain a strategy for selecting technology vendors, but she communicated an underlying message that’s perhaps even more important—how to establish yourself as a leader and driver of change in your organization.
- Take ownership of automation in your org. Drive new ideas, bring people together, and champion new technology.
- Prioritize efficiency and become proficient in explaining ROI.
- Much research and planning is required to make vendor decisions. Be ready for it.
- Apply a scoring methodology to compare vendors with ease: make a list of requirements, rate each vendor a score of 1, 2 or 3 on each requirement, then calculate separate scores for “must-have” vs “nice-to-have” requirements.
Why Personality Matters
Presented by Matthew Lloyd Smith, Really Good Emails
Matthew Lloyd Smith kicked off this session with profound vulnerability. He revealed some difficult personal life experiences, what he’d learned from them, and how that translates to effective communication. Matthew’s ideas were connected to executing great emails, but his advice could be applied to virtually any communication.
Later, he put a slide on the screen that simply read, “The fold is real.” I heard a collective gasp. Way to throw down the gauntlet, Matthew—the debate continued for days on Twitter! BTW, this was another session where the gifs were 💯.
- The key to effective communication is knowing what sucks for your customers.
- Inspire curiosity, offer value and be relatable.
- Connection is important—that’s the role of personalization.
- Don’t assume you understand your audience. Find a way to ask them what they value, and mirror back what they say. It works—it’s neuroscience!
- Surveys can take too much time, and asking for something without giving is narcissism. Offer your audience something that’s better than the time they give you.
- Content is not king. Content is a Jedi. Jedis can kill kings.
- Help others. Be Yoda. Help Skywalker be the hero.
- Own your mistakes.
ESP Panel: Insights From Vendors to Marketers
Presented by Zack Gholikely, Iterable; Logan Sandrock Baird, Emma; Spencer Burke, Braze
Yup, we shared a stage with our competition. And yup, we’re sharing their POV here too. Why? Because it was clear that this panel of vendor-side pros were all on the same page.
The new generation of email and cross-channel technology enables marketers to create meaningful human connections with audiences in ways that weren’t possible before. Everyone was aligned and united at UNSPAM—the sense of community was deep, even among the fiercest competitors.
Also, I gotta give a shout-out to my colleague Zack Gholikely on making a tremendous debut as a conference speaker. ✊ Way to go with that Star Wars callback, my friend.
- List-buying: Don’t do it! It’s bad for deliverability. And it’s probably a violation of your MSA. You shouldn’t buy relationships anyway.
- Marketers can get a bit too myopic in identifying their technology requirements and hung up on specific tactics. Collaborate with your prospective vendors and open yourself up to new ways of solving marketing challenges and achieving objectives.
- You have many solutions to choose from these days—and there’s room at the table for everyone. Choose carefully though—you’re probably making a five-year decision.
- Your audience deserves autonomy and control over their data and their relationship with your brand. An emotional connection is key to success, and you can love or you can control, but you can’t do both. (AMEN.)
- Don’t get hung up on arbitrary best practices. Build campaigns around the actions you want subscribers to make—not a dated how-to rulebook. (I’ll be tackling this topic at Iterable’s Activate 19 conference next week during the Best Practices are Bullsh!t! session!)
- Artificial intelligence still has a very long way to go. Ultimately, it’s going to replace mundane and mechanical tasks—but #emailgeeks will still be the Jedis of the digital marketing universe, putting the heart in email marketing.
Other Highlights From UNSPAM
UNSPAM prioritized gender parity on stage. The conference boasted a near 50/50 gender split among speakers, and RGE made it a point to reach out to Women of Email to support this priority. Well done! 👏
- Alice Li of Litmus joined Matt Helbig of RGE for a live feedback session of select emails. They geeked out on cool interactive email tactics in action, and Alice said clients who’ve taken the plunge into interactive have seen outstanding ROI.
- Anne Tomlin of Emails Y’all, Shani Nestigan of Target, and Ryan Field of Purdys Chocolatier comprised the winning team in the UNSPAM email design challenge.
- Chef Daniel and Methodical Coffee kept us fed and caffeinated! The paellas, grits bar and barista service were absolutely outstanding. (Insert Fyre Festival joke here.)
- And most notably, day two ended with the RGE team taking some time on stage to express gratitude to all who made RGE and UNSPAM a success in a lovely, heartfelt moment. Then they invited the audience to do the same—to name the names of those who’ve made a difference for them, and be a part of a group exercise in gratitude. There were tears, folks. Tears. It was a pretty magnificent, real thing to be a part of.
If you missed UNSPAM but you want an IRL RGE fix, you can catch Mike Nelson and Matthew Lloyd Smith next week at Activate 19 in San Francisco. They’ll be presenting a live email review session on Wednesday, April 24.
I’ll be at Activate too, and you bet I won’t miss UNSPAM 2020. I hope you don’t either.