Keys in this episode
- It’s never too late or too early to start an email program
- Email can create sales fast (or slow)!
- The power to building community
Doug: Welcome back to another episode of Real Marketing Real Fast. Today I’ve got joining me Bill McCloskey who has affectionately been called the Godfather of Email. He was the technical advisor in a book called The Rebel’s Guide to Email published by DJ Waldow. Since 2003, he has been instrumental in driving awareness of the email marketing industry. In 2003, he founded and launched a company called eDataSource. It was the first email intelligence company and he was the first person to write exclusively on email marketing when he pitched Mediapost on the idea on the data that he was collecting from eDataSource. He began the Email Insider column, the first Mediapost Insider series, and went on to develop and host the Insider Summit with Mediapost, and is the Chairman of Emeritus of the conference.
He is currently the co-founder and chairman of Email Innovations Summit, which he’ll share a little bit more with us later. In 2003, he began a highly influential Insiders discussion, which drove much of the thought leadership in email marketing, including early discussions, which led the formation of the Email Experience Council. Bill has twice been a finalist for the EEC Stefan Pollard Memorial Marketer of the Year Award and has been named one of the 50 Marketing Leaders Over 50 You Should Know by CMO magazine.
In 2010, Bill left eDataSource to launch Only Influencers, the leading most influential community for email marketing professionals in the world. OI is known in the industry and brings together the world’s top thought leaders, movers, shakers, and hosts discussions, meetups, and blogs by leading email marketing experts. In addition, Only Influencers is a vast resource for people that are just entering the email industry and is dedicated to the growth of the individual email marketer, promotions of the companies that drive the industry, and growth of the email marketing industry as a whole. With that large introduction of this super smart guy on email, welcome to the podcast.
Bill McCloskey: Well, thank you very much. Great to be here, Doug. Thanks for having me.
Doug: Well, we followed like I mentioned before we got on recording some of your successes before, and have worked with, and purchased your products in companies. Is there anything that you want to add to the introduction? Anything I might’ve missed?
Bill McCloskey: No. Well, the only thing that you missed is before I got into email, I was considered the rich media guy. I was one of the early pioneers in the rich media field when I was the … I have a strange title of being the VRML Evangelist for Silicon Graphics. Part of my job as being the VRML Evangelist, I was a big promoter of using these cool new technologies for advertising back in ’97 and ’98, and we coined the term rich media. Silicon Graphics, Macromedia, Unicast, and a few others coined that term to sort of describe these new technologies, and so my first marketing teeth were really cut in the rich media space. Then when I had an opportunity to move into the email space and launching eDataSource, my attention moved from rich media into email, and I’ve been doing that ever since.
Doug: Well, that’s super cool. Obviously, you’ve been the leading edge innovator from the beginning in your career. I had experience with the Email DataSource product with a former company I worked with, and the data and the information that you provided was absolutely amazing.
Bill McCloskey: That was an interesting product. It came to me actually when I had another company called Emerging Interest. Our basic business model was to introduce advertisers and agencies to all of these new internet technologies that were coming out to help them advertise their products and promote their products. One of my clients came up and asked for a competitive intelligence tool for the email space. After doing the due diligence and research looking for any kind of company that monitored email campaigns competitively, found there wasn’t anything, and so I literally shut that company down. I lost eDataSource a few weeks later, and 14 years later it’s still going strong.
Doug: That’s amazing. Do you want to share with our listeners just a little bit of your background in email and how you see it? Because you’ve been involved obviously for a long time as a pioneer and where it is today. It’s like you said. It moved from people didn’t want to talk about it to it was the most important thing in the world, and now people are off looking for the new holy grail, and they’re forgetting that this is still really the base of a lot of marketing.
Bill McCloskey: Yeah, well email always has been the base of marketing. When I started, it was something that people weren’t necessarily proud of doing. Back in 2003 when I first started collecting data, no one was talking about email. There weren’t any conferences. There weren’t any newsletters. We look at today where it seems like there’s a new email conference that pops up every week including my own. But back then, there really wasn’t anything and I found myself in the position of not only having to build a company, but to having to promote a market space that I knew was more important than people were letting on. We knew that because through the data that we were collecting, we were really able to pinpoint for the first time just how much traffic was being driven via email, and we did it very simply. We showed people all of these email campaigns that went out and then we just overlaid traffic data on the days those emails went out. It was clear that the number one traffic source across the entire internet was email.
After I saw that data, I pitched to Mediapost on doing an article about email marketing, which nobody was doing really at that time. We launched the Email Insider column for Mediapost and that was the beginning of all the Insider columns that Mediapost subsequently put out. Then I helped them develop their conference. I also stood up at a lot of conferences and told people they should be paying attention to email, that it’s one of the biggest traffic drivers, but no one’s paying attention to it. Everybody’s looking at banner ads and things like that. But it was so clear to me the impact of email on people’s marketing, and they had no idea. In fact, many times they didn’t even know they had affiliates that were driving traffic to their site, and they literally had no idea that these emails were going out with their brand being represented in them. It was really sort of a wild west back in the early 2000s, and of course now email is a very significant part of everyone’s marketing budget, and a major part of all of their outbound campaigns. It’s just been a long time over that period of telling people just how powerful email has been, and I think all these years later, we realized that what I saw back in 2003 was quite true.
Doug: What do you think the biggest myth is about people using email today in terms of making sure it’s a big part of their marketing mix?
Bill McCloskey: Well, of course, the biggest myth is that it’s dead, and that’s been the myth for as long as I’ve been in the email space. Every year, we get the new announcement that email’s dead and that the new [inaudible 00:07:50] now is going to take its place. Of course, that never happens because email’s too big. The fact is email is not sexy anymore. It’s not the new thing. It never really was the new thing because when it was the new thing, people didn’t talk about it. So it’s always just maintained its role as being the thing that you rely on, and it’s the base of everything that you add. All the other shiny bells and whistles that come out were all the other types of marketing, but nothing is still to this day as impactful as email marketing is. There’s no other marketing channel that comes anywhere close.
Doug: Yeah, it’s funny. I mean it’s funny you said it’s dead because just this month I’ll have a book published in the space and my first three chapters are it’s dead, it doesn’t work, and it’s illegal. It’s really to dispel those myths that that’s not there and you said it’s not sexy, and so I guess maybe for our audience, you should redefine the idea of sexy. Sexy in my opinion doesn’t mean that it’s new or super cool. What it means is it drives revenue.
Bill McCloskey: Exactly. It becomes the old line is you need more money, send another email, you know? That for many years, the long debate was whether people are sending too much email, or they’re not sending enough. What’s the proper cadence? What’s the proper number of emails you should be delivered during a period of time? I think it’s gone from people saying, “Oh, maybe we’ll send out once a month,” to once a week to, “How many times a day can we send money out because every time [inaudible 00:09:34] make money,” you know? Is that overload? Is that too much? Certainly, one of the largest controversial topics over the last six or seven years at least has been this whole notion of sending more email. People like Dela Quist who were very much a part of that conversation in showing that the more email you sent, the more money you would make and that the people that would, even though your unsubscribes would go up, those people weren’t really buying anything from you anyway.
Then there were, of course, people who for whatever reason fought against that idea of sending out more email and they said, “No, you’ll destroy your reputation.” That argument has gone back and forth. But I think at this point, people are not afraid to send an email and I think the whole idea of best practices around email is something that needs to constantly be updated. Although email isn’t sexy and it’s been there for a long time, the notions around best practices do change and are fluid depending on what people’s thoughts are at a particular time. In fact, there was an interesting article by Kath Pay on the Only Influencers’ site recently about best practices, that most of them aren’t best practices, and most of them don’t work anymore, and that they need to be reevaluated. I think that that’s one of the areas if we talk about the miss, that certain best practices are sacrosanct and can’t be challenged. In fact, I think email marketers have to challenge what they know every day. They go in and they find something that they thought maybe didn’t work, it does work, or things that they were told they shouldn’t do, maybe they should be. That’s what creates a lot of conversation on the Only Influencers list.
Doug: Yeah, and it’s been interesting because I’ve interviewed a number of different guests from the Only Influencers list and we’ve had a lot of conversation around frequency. Really I think what I’ve gotten from the people we’ve spoken to as well as our own best practices, it really depends on your audience, your company, your products, your service you’re offering and adding value to people, and not just filling up their email box all the time. So your point there about testing to see what works for you and what’s the right cadence, do your people want to hear from you every day, once a week, and what other channels can you use to leverage and tie into email?
Bill McCloskey: That’s absolutely right.
Doug: Looking at what you know today and what you’ve seen because you’ve probably seen just about everything at least once out there that people have tried in an email, what are you most excited about as it relates to email marketing in the next 6 to 12 months?
Bill McCloskey: Well, I think I put it … instead of saying what am I excited by is what does the industry seem to be excited by right now? The industry seems to be excited by artificial intelligence. Having algorithms come up with subject lines that will get a higher open rate, a higher click-through rate, and creating a text that’s generated by a computer based on a particular subscriber’s past history. I think that the whole idea around automation and artificial intelligence are the hot topics right now. Those are certainly what I’m putting together conferences. I run the Email Innovations Summit and a lot of the innovation that’s happening right now and a lot of the investment in new companies is happening in the AI space and how it relates to email. So you have there are now at least two or three companies that are doing AI in subject lines. There’s more and more they’re doing in the body text. That seems to be the hot area of interest right now is this whole idea of automating a lot of the creative that you’re developing.
Doug: Now how far out do you think that that is going to be before it’s widely accepted and adopted as common practice?
Bill McCloskey: Well, the problem with email marketers is always getting the budget, right?
Bill McCloskey: To try some things out, and so they have to constantly defend their position within any company, which goes directly to attribution, you know? Which is the other odd topic and always has been is what’s the proper attribution to give to email? Because you might send the email out and there are studies showing that some people don’t respond to an email for like maybe a year after they’ve received it. It sits in their inbox and one day they’re looking for something, they say, “I think I remember that email I received. Let me see if I can find that again.” How much longer after the email goes out do they think about it and then just go directly to the website? Trying to figure out the proper attribution of email through your campaign is sort of the beginning stage for the email director, marketer, to get more budget, to try all these new fun things out. Because it costs money, and they cost time, and it’s a whole new system that you have to get people on board, and you have to coordinate with your IT department to get some of these things done. All of those things mean that you need to make sure that your organization understands the importance of email as a traffic driver, as a revenue generator, and that they support trying out all these new things.
Doug: Well, and the attribution may get more difficult now with the opportunity to use your email list or your customer list in various social media platforms to drive ads. I mean so now you’ve got a way to leverage the email further. I was just interested to see how long you thought it would be before it came to the marketplace because I received a note from one of my podcast listeners who said, “Hey, I listen to your podcast.” I was trying to remember who. I think it was Kate I had interviewed. He said, “I just wanted to let you know that when I sent out my email to my fundraising group the other day, I put people’s name at the top.” So there was a not-for-profit and they’re mailing their donors, and they had never put a merge field at the top.
Bill McCloskey: Wow.
Doug: That was my thinking of how far away is automation when we’ve got not-for-profits raising millions of dollars that aren’t even using the data they’ve got?
Bill McCloskey: Well, yeah and not-for-profit is a special circumstance. Certainly, people that generate a lot of profit from their emails are much more interested in generating more profit from their emails. Yeah, I can see a nonprofit being a little bit less on the cutting edge than some other organizations.
Doug: Looking back kind of at where you’re at, and where you want to go, and what you think the industry’s going to do, what sort of advice would you give smaller businesses that are listening in and saying, “Hey, I’m looking at all this video, and I’m on all these social media channels, and I haven’t given a lot of attention to email”? What feedback would you give them?
Bill McCloskey: Well, it’s never too late or too early to start an email program. That starts with developing good content, driving people to it any way you can through social media, and capturing their email address so that you now own them as a customer, or as someone who you can deliver your message to. The first stage is to get that email address. The question of whether you need to do a double opt-in or a single opt-in today is it used to be that you would say it has to be double opt-in, and some places like MailChimp require a double opt-in. But some people are also saying today that that’s not necessary, so the main thing is just to get started. Get started with a way of capturing that email, get familiar with services that’ll help you make sure that that email address, it’s you’re doing a single opt-in, is a good address. It’s not mistyped, or a fake address, or something along those lines. Building out your list. Start hitting them with relevant offers, and doing tests on the list, and seeing who your most valuable customers are in the email channel. The idea is just get started any way you can, and start driving people to your website and start capturing their email address.
Doug: I like that, that it’s never too late to get started. That’s a great comment instead of people going, “Hey, well that ship has sailed.” It’s like no, it hasn’t. The opportunities are bigger today. I tell people that I believe the opportunities with email and all the other ways we can leverage email with pixels, and retargeting, and remarketing, and a custom list is probably bigger now than it was five years ago.
Doug: That’s a really good point because you’re really borrowing somebody else’s platform to manage and look after your customers. If there’s a change in that platform, you may lose access to that, and then what? You start over.
Bill McCloskey: Exactly. A lot of people found that out the hard way.
Doug: As a marketing agency, we use all the tactics that are out there, but if I … I was talking to somebody just last week around email, and I said, “The difference between email whether you’re sending to your list, your own in-house list, or you’re renting a permission-based list is that there’s a lot more leeway if you want to use that term for what messaging you can send out.” We had a weight loss client that were trying to run some ads on Facebook. We had a picture of somebody standing on a scale, just a normal person. They rejected the ads and they basically shut the account off because they said, “That might offend people because some people might think they’re too thin, or they’re too heavy.” It was just ridiculous. As a result when your account gets shut down, if you’re not familiar with that with Facebook and/or Google, often you have to get a new credit card and open a new account.
Bill McCloskey: Wow. There’s a good reason to have an email program, a very good email program in place.
Doug: Yeah. I mean we’re not obviously going to send out anything that’s offensive. But in terms of Facebook gating your ads, all someone needs to do is say that “I don’t like this ad. It offends me.” You get a few of those and it doesn’t matter how many people liked it, and your ads are no longer delivering, or worse yet, you have no campaign. As opposed to like you said having access to your email list, who people have raised their hand and said, “Hey, I like your brand. Please send me information.”
Bill McCloskey: Well, plus you have the immediacy of having it come into your inbox. You don’t have to go anywhere. Part of the success of the communities that I’ve built over the years has been that they’ve all been based on sort of this Listserv idea where when someone asked a question of the community, that gets sent as an email to everyone in the community, and then their responses get sent to everyone in the community, so it’s very immediate. It’s in your inbox. You see it in real time communication. I don’t need to go somewhere else in order to and remember to go somewhere else, in order to contribute or participate in that conversation. There’s just something about email that has an immediacy that no other marketing channel has. It comes to you. You don’t go to it. There’s [inaudible 00:22:18] of that.
Doug: Well, and there’s the responsiveness as well. In these days where everybody wants results in five minutes, it’s interesting that there’s not a bigger attraction to email, knowing that when I push the send button, we typically see results within minutes, not hours or days or weeks using other traditional media. I mean we use a variety of media, but I love email because the results start right away.
Bill McCloskey: Exactly. Exactly.
Doug: Yeah, we’ve run campaigns for clients, and they would phone me. Like we’d run a campaign that would go out at 6:00 AM, and at 6:05 they’d phone me and say, “Did you get the email out today? It’s 6:05. We haven’t seen these sales come in.” It’s like it’s been five minutes. Just relax. Do you want to share with us a little bit about the communities that you’ve set up? I think it’s important that if you’re going to be in any business that you associate yourself with the right people, and leaders, and thought leaders in the industry, and you’ve done a really good job building out at least one community I’m familiar with, which is the Only Influencers. I’ve enjoyed the conversation, the dialogue, and the quality of people.
Bill McCloskey: Yeah. I just actually wrote an article, which is on the Only Influencers site, about community and the communities that I’ve built over the years. In that article, I talk about the fact that I think first of all you have to really, to be a good community organizer and manager, you have to be someone who likes communities and I love communities. Not just things that I do for the course of my business, but hobbies, and interests, and avocations, and things like that. I’ve always been a big contributor to communities and I like that camaraderie that you get when you have people who are interested in a particular subject.
I started my first community way back in probably 2001, which was a very … it was an extremely small group. In fact, it was called the 100 Club. It was limited to 100 of some of the top marketers in the world at that time. When I started eDataSource, I wanted to expand it to the email community, so that’s when I launched a very sort of private … You had it, it was like Fight Club. Nobody talked about it. You just have to know about it, called the Inbox Insiders. Then in 2010, I had been an entrepreneur working in the city for the last 10 years, and the last 7 at eDataSource, and I really wanted a lifestyle business, something that I didn’t have to commute two hours each way to work, and I could run from anywhere. So I took that list that I had been basically running for free for about seven years, and I turned it into Only Influencers and Only Influencers then expanded from there.
Only Influencers is a community of around about 5 or 600 of the top email marketers and newbies as well. It’s a combination of brand marketers, consultants, agencies, vendors, everybody contributing to helping each other talk in a private area. In other words, not on a LinkedIn group, or something that anybody can look at, but a vetted list of people, and a private list so you get much more in-depth conversations. Then we’ve added to that by adding a newsletter. The members write the content. Every week we try to feature a new thought leader writing about email. Then we’ve just recently expanded that into a conference, so now we’re doing the Email Innovation Summit, all sort of tied into this community. We’ll be doing the next one in May in Las Vegas, so we’re looking forward to that. That’s sort of old home week for email marketers. It’s the place where they can sort of have a reunion once a year and it’s great fun.
I’ve since started a new community, which is called Only Founders. The idea behind Only Founders is something that’s very important to me, which is entrepreneurs. Having been an entrepreneur for the last 20 years, I know how lonely it can be when you’re on your own and starting out, and how few people really understand what you’re going through when you’re trying to build a business. I’ve just launched Only Founders to help address that, which is it’s I’m right now recruiting 100 of what I consider the mentors, people that have had multiple established businesses, serial entrepreneurs, people who have really established themselves in the industry to be the mentors. Then we’ll be inviting young entrepreneurs, people who are just starting out, who have questions. We’ll eventually be building that also into a newsletter and a conference as well. I love community. I love building community and it’s been my livelihood for the last seven years full time doing Only Influencers. It’s been a great dream and a great love of mine. It’s a job that you have your true passion and this is my true passion. When you can do that for a living, you’re a blessed person.
Doug: Absolutely. I used to tell my kids when they were in school, I mean they’re all out of school and working now, I said, “If you can find a job that wakes you up 30 minutes before your alarm every day, do that.”
Bill McCloskey: There you go.
Doug: This, hopefully, you’ll get paid for, but find something that wakes you up before your alarm instead of the dreaded, “I want to hit snooze again,” and do that. It’s really exciting to see at least two of my kids that are in that position where they’re so excited about what they’re doing. I don’t understand, I just can’t get my head around why you would do something that you don’t enjoy, so it’s great that you’ve built these communities. I think that the opportunity that you’re putting there to share and so I guess you’re going to be mentoring in a way the younger entrepreneurs with the seasoned guys who have got some bumps and bruises, and some cuts and scars, and had some successes and failures they can share.
Bill McCloskey: Absolutely correct. If any of your listeners who are interested, they should subscribe to two newsletters, which are free to subscribe to. One is the Only Influencers newsletter, which is very well established. We’ve been out there for years and every week we give you the best in email marketing news. They just go to OnlyInfluencers.com and there are multiple places to sign up for the newsletter there. Then if they want to sign up for the, anyone who’s interested in entrepreneurship, there’s the OnlyFounders.com website, and there are lots of places to sign up for the newsletter for that as well. Hopefully, your listeners will sign up for both and enjoy the content each week.
Doug: That’s super cool. Now, do you mind taking a minute just to give us an overview of what to expect at the Email Innovators conference or the summit in Las Vegas next year?
Bill McCloskey: Yeah. The Innovation Summit will be in May. We’re unique in that while we do let vendors speak there, it’s labeled as such. It’s labeled as this is sponsored speech and the great thing about it is, they get as much audience as they would have normally. But all of the other content is brand marketers talking to other brand marketers about what they’ve been doing for the last year. The innovations that they have tried to implement, their success or failure implementing those innovations, and whatever the latest and greatest is in email marketing. It’s been described as the one conference people go to where they don’t feel they’re being sold to, and where they really are learning stuff that they can then turn into actual actionable items when they get back into the office.
It’s also, because it’s linked to the community, it’s really a place where people feel they go once a year to see their friends, their peers, the place to go to meet other email marketers that are working in the industry. I’m really happy that we’ve been able to create that sense of community at the show that lingers on when people come back and go back on the list. They get to put a face to the name and I think it’s helped the email industry in general over the last 15 years that I’ve been involved in this is letting email marketers meet each other. Because once they start talking and discussing, that’s when innovation happens. At every one of these conferences, something new has come out of it based on people just sitting there, over a beer, talking about email, and being able to be in one spot at one time, and then continue those conversations within a strong community year round. I think that’s what makes us unique and what I’m most proud of.
Doug: Well, that’s super cool. We look forward to seeing you and meeting the rest of your community in Las Vegas in May. You’ve heard it here. You’ve had Bill McCloskey as the Godfather of Email sharing with you today some great tips, some great communities, and some tools that he’s used. Now in the show notes when we have transcribed this podcast, we’ll have links to the Email DataSource, and Only Influence, and Only Founders, as well as I’ll have a link to the Email Innovation Summit. For any of you listening that want to connect there, feel free. I just want to say thanks so much Bill for taking time out of your day today to share some of your years and years of wisdom, and knowledge, and experience in this space.
Bill McCloskey: Oh, it was a real pleasure. Always happy to do it.