Tips on how to effectively use email marketing with Ryan Phelan

  • I wish people would just stop this whole discussion around email is dead is. If you think email is dead, then just delete all your emails and just shut it all down.
  • A lot of my initial work with companies is to rethink where their customers are today, not where they were when you developed a program initially.
  • The challenge I always have had throughout my career is what's the right shiny stuff that actually moves the needle or makes a difference?
  • A mistake that a lot of companies make is that they get stale. If they don't change, they don't adapt, they think that they're … It's almost a brand arrogance.
  • What's the strategic approach? How about we help you get into digital in a smart way that's data-centered?

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If you think email is dead, then just delete all your email accounts and shut it all down.

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Doug Morneau: Well, welcome back listeners to another episode of Real Marketing Real Fast. Today in the studio, I've got joining me a friend and a fellow email marketer as well as a fellow member of the Only Influencers Group, which is basically all the leading experts around the world in the email marketing space. My guest today is Ryan Phelan. He is the co-founder of a company called Origin Email. Ryan brings nearly two decades of global online marketing experience to Original Email. He's focused on driving GTM strategies for high growth SaaS software and Fortune 250 companies.

Ryan is a respected thought leader in the industry. He's a nationally distinguished speaker and he has a history of working with very large brands and bringing them success companies such as Adestra, Acxiom, BlueHornet, the Sears Holding, Responsys and infoUSA. Ryan has developed digital strategies for companies like that can the entire Canadian Tire, Capital One, Hewlett-Packard, Skype, CenturyLink, Sprint, FedEx, First National Bank of Omaha, US Bank and many others. In 2013, he was named one of the top 30 strategists in online marketing and is the Chairman Emeritus and the email executive council on the advisory board. Ryan is also involved in many other companies in the startup space as well as advisory board member and investor.

What you might not know about Ryan is apparently he is a wicked good cook in the kitchen, as well as the barbecue and has a very extensive wine list and collection at his home, so we somehow need to find a way to get invited over to his place for dinner. I'd like you to join me in welcoming Ryan Phalen to the Real Marketing Real Fast podcast today.

Well, hey Ryan, welcome to the Real Marketing Real Fast podcast today.

Ryan Phelan: Hey. Thanks, Doug. I'm so honored to be here. This is really going to be fun. So, thank you.

Doug Morneau: Well, I think so as well. I mean, you've got a long track record helping people in digital and especially in the email marketing space and that's how we connected was through the Only Influencers group. I had a number of guests on my podcast over the years, and when I've asked about people, your name's come up. I was just putting together an email proposal for somebody in the US and they said, “Yup. I'm working with Ryan. Ryan's helping me.” So welcome to the show. Super excited to draw out all of your expertise and help our listeners solve all their marketing problems in the next 30 to 45 minutes.

Ryan Phelan: Man, that's going to be amazing. I am so glad I'm sitting down and strapped in for this one. That's great.

Doug Morneau: Why don't you walk us through kind of what you're doing now because you're offering a service I think as quite unique in terms of helping business owners make the right marketing decisions. Why don't you explain what it is that you're doing?

Ryan Phelan: Yeah. For the last probably year and a half, I have been a fractional CMO for a number of companies. What that involves is there's a lot of organizations, a lot of companies out there that don't have the budget or the headspace to have a fulltime CMO, but they need the direction. They want to level up their game. They want to expand it into a new opportunity. They just have reached a ceiling with their current strategies and they're wanting to take it to the next level. And so, they hire somebody like me that will come in and help them not make the mistakes that I've made over the last 20 years, right, or that a lot of the companies in this space have made and really amplified not only the good things they're doing but kind of tweak their current processes and thinking and help them with their strategy.

It can take all kinds of different avenues. For some companies, I'm doing full deep dive into their marketing and talking with their people and working on USPS and working on marketing plans and budgets. Then the other ones are, “Hey, we're going to meet for a half-hour every week and I've got some questions. I want to know about this company and who's this person I talked to.” It's everything in between, but what is really exciting, Doug is that I get to not do any of the work. No, I'm just kidding.

Doug Morneau: Direct the team.

Ryan Phelan: I direct the team. That's the fun part, is being able to see the inner workings of some of the companies in the email marketing space that have been around for a long time and outside the email marketing space, learning what they do and what life looks like outside of this echo chamber of email marketing.

Doug Morneau: Well, and in a different role, too. I mean, I think they said last stats I looked at is the average CMO at a big company that lasts 43 months.

Ryan Phelan: Yes.

Doug Morneau: It's kind of like a coach on a sports team. They turn over. They turn them over pretty quick. I mean, you're taking the approach of, “Hey, let me step in.” I love that where, “Hey, I need a half an hour a week or I need an hour a week or I need someone a couple of hours a week who has deep, deep expertise, has seen a lot of stuff go right, has seen a lot of stuff go wrong and can just come in at an advisory role and work with the team they've got.”

Ryan Phelan: Yeah. What's good and I try to make sure that I have these kinds of clients and partnerships is being able to come in and say the answers to the questions or be asked the question and not have a debate back and forth. If there's a discussion, it's great. I don't spend a lot of time with, are you sure about that? In a half-hour, I can give more advice than some people can give in a half-day session because I'm just, drill it down to what the answer is and what the solution is and point them in the right direction. They're like, great, go in there and they're off to the races.

Doug Morneau: Yeah. What a great way to operate.

Ryan Phelan: Yeah, it's a lot of fun.

Doug Morneau: Where do you find the big leverage point sitting? I mean, you're not a brand new guy sitting at the table talking about marketing. You've got the expertise and probably washed all of the pre-email marketing, all the direct mail, direct response, TV, radio, SEF, transition. Now, we're well into digital and so we've got all the new digital stuff coming. We've got all the old standbys, the SMS and email. What do you see right now in terms of the low hanging fruit as you're working with these companies?

Ryan Phelan: I think it's a lot of the basics and tweak … This has been when I was doing strategy over the last 20 years for companies, a lot of it is tweaking the basics and just saying, here's the outside approach and tweak this, maybe add this in. Let's tighten this up. Let's align your brand to what the communication is. A lot of times when you get in that tactical execution, you lose the strategy piece of it. You lose the original. When you first developed a program, you lose that strategic insight when you get further down the road and you don't adopt it.

A lot of my initial work with companies is to rethink where our customers are today, not where they were when you developed a program initially. And so, we spend a lot of the time and just the cleanup and then it's about, okay, how do we make this better? How do we … Now that we've got a stable kind of a threshold or a KPI, how do we level this up? How do we add new technologies? How do we use real-time email? How do we use data effectively? How do we use marketing automation to its fullest extent?

Then the one thing that I think I work on with all it is this is what does the global field look like when you're making these decisions? As an effective C level person or effective leader, you have to not only direct the people that work for you, but you have to see the entire field of your competition, of the landscape, of the industry, of the players and movers and all of this stuff. It takes a while to teach that global view. Once you have it, then the decisions you make are easier because you're like, okay, it's almost like playing chess. I'm going to make this decision and this is how it's going to affect this. Here's how it's going to be taken by this group or this group or this group and here's what my competition is doing and all that kind of stuff. That global view, that global strategic view, I think at any level from a marketing manager all the way up to a C level is incredibly important to learn, practice and perfect.

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If you think email is dead, then just delete all your email accounts and shut it all down.

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Doug Morneau: Well, I mean, the landscape has changed so much.

Ryan Phelan: It had.

Doug Morneau: I just said to somebody in a meeting yesterday, I said, “I would really hate to be the marketing guy for a mature CRM that's got huge legacy data and old huge legacy systems with a lot of the newer nimble stuff coming in. I mean, I'd be looking at how much budget do I need to spend on the kind of re-engineering my tool to make sure that it's relevant in today's, like you said, their global marketplace and the integration of all the new technology that's coming and whether we want it or not.

Ryan Phelan: Yeah. I mean, gosh, I gave a keynote back at the OI conference and it was about the ages of email marketing. I took the audience through from 1998 … Actually from the early days of email marketing, even before '98, up through today and what has changed, and where we've been and what the innovation arc has been with this industry. From technology that was a flat email that you sent off of desktop software to companies that are massive in scale, sending billions of emails a day. I mean, you look at the technology changes and yeah, it's hard to keep up with all of the new bright, shiny stuff.

The challenge I always have had throughout my career is what's the right shiny stuff that actually moves the needle or makes a difference? Right. I mean, I talked to a guy the other day and he was talking about emojis and subject lines and he's like, “I see them all over the place.” I said, “Yeah, because that's new and bright and shiny and people think everybody's doing that. Give it six months and people will move on to something other bright and shiny, and then you'll find a countdown clock and you'll be fine.” It is, it's tough. It's really tough.

Doug Morneau: I think it's the same way with the channels too, right?

Ryan Phelan: Yeah.

Doug Morneau: I mean there are all these media channels that you can use. I had interviewed a guy on my podcast that's a PR marketing guy and he says, “Find a channel that works for you. If you're not a video person, then don't do video or learn to do video if you're a writer.” But he said, “Find a channel and don't run all the channels.” I think I see the same thing when people are working with someone like you or they're working with someone like me and they're saying, “Okay, these are all the things I want.” Lots of times, like he said, they don't need those. You need to focus, get the basics right first and then strategy for moving forward.

Ryan Phelan: Yeah. I did a project once for a huge, huge communications platform. One of the things and I did it with a friend of mine, Gretchen Scheiman, incredibly smart. She and I worked on this project along with David Baker. One of the things we focused on was this thought about, and it connects to what channels do I get, which we focused on looking at channel propensity in all of the customers that we were going to impact by the marketing strategy that we had.

We came at the premise of, listen, we want to talk to people in an email that will react to the email. We want to move the ad dollars that we don't send to people and we want to say, “Okay, if you're stronger in video than we want to advertise in video. If you're as an individual stronger on direct mail, we're going to send you a direct mail piece.” And so, we focused on the consumer from where are they best receptive to the media message. That translates to what you're saying, which is on the marketer side, really look out what your channel propensities are for your customers. Where are your customers and how do you reach them effectively? Don't put square pegs in round holes by making somebody that doesn't think email marketing is effective or doesn't react to email marketing, don't force it down their throat. See where else they're hiding at and appeal to them there.

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If you think email is dead, then just delete all your email accounts and shut it all down.

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Doug Morneau: Then try to take the friction out of that transaction. I think the … I don't know lots about your personal habits other than I was told that you make a really … You cook a really mean steak. I'm assuming that when you're having steaks, you're normally drinking wine. I don't know.

Ryan Phelan: Yes.

Doug Morneau: Okay. If you followed Gary Vaynerchuk and you look at his wine club, I've been using text messaging for clients on and off over the years and, and it's fallen into the same bucket that the uneducated talk about. It doesn't work and is dead. He shows up with this text message for you to order wine. Every day, you get a recommendation, a list. You get the wine speculator details and you get pricing. The only thing you need to do to order in the response is you just need to type in the number of bottles you want.

Ryan Phelan: Right.

Doug Morneau: He's taken all the friction out. And so, these guys are selling out entire inventories every day, seven days a week. They've taken an old technology, found an audience that likes that form of communication and then taken all the friction out of doing the transaction. I don't have to click. I don't have to go to a landing page. I don't have to go anywhere. I just type in 12 and then I get a confirmation back going, “Hey, 12 bottles are on their way.”

Ryan Phelan: Well, what Gary has done with that business … I mean, he's got a long history in wine. That's where he started. I love what he's done with that brand and with that product. I'm a wine guy. I have 300 bottles sitting in my house that I try not to drink on a regular basis because then I'll be out and then I'll have to buy more.

The friction is what we're eventually getting to as technology increases. You look on the web, it's all about how fast can I get you to where you need to be. How fast could Amazon show up at the door? You talk about drones flying over your head with a package. I'm like, bring it on. I want to see them everywhere. We're getting to that speed culture. There's some drawbacks to that, but we're getting to that instant gratification culture and demand with our technologies. It's exciting when it's done right. I think what Gary is doing and what Amazon does and all these other companies are looking at different technologies are great.

Doug Morneau: I mean, back to your point of, what does your global market look like? I heard a speaker a couple of years ago. His name is Rasmus Ankersen. He wrote a book Hunger in Paradise. He had a number of large clients. SAP was one and Lego was another. He talked about, with Lego at one point talking about the competition for Lego everyone thought was big blocks and the new CEO came in, the new marketing guys and said, “How do you beat these guys to do a better job when we're crushing our category year after year, profits are going up.” He said, “So I don't agree anymore that big blocks is our competition. Our competition is the iPhone.”

He said, “Because,” he says, “given kids at their age and given a budget to spend, are they going to want to build blocks? Are they going to want a digital tool?” He said, “So now our competition,” kind of like, to your point the global view, “has been raised from competing with somebody on the block business. Now it's competing with Apple. We're not so big anymore.” What did they do? They integrated. They made a way that kids could use the blocks, take a picture with their iPhone, upload it into the website and actually play with their designs online.

Ryan Phelan: See that is a great adaptation of your brand. A mistake that a lot of companies make is that they get stale. If they don't change, they don't adapt, they think that they're … It's almost a brand arrogance.

Doug Morneau: Yeah. Either that or and probably in a lot of cases, blindness. You're so focused. Because another example he gave was Nokia. He went, “Clearly, Nokia was a better phone. It had a better battery life. You could drop it off a building, drive over with the truck.” When iPhone came out, all the engineers at Nokia said, “Hey, nobody's going to buy it. It's overpriced. The battery sucks. When you drop it, it breaks.” Well, we know how that story ended.

Ryan Phelan: Yeah, and Blackberry and go down the list of companies. I used to work for Sears, Kmart. Look at Sears, Kmart. Look at a lot of the department stores and brick and mortars that have taken too long. I think they've caught up the catching up or caught up, that's an area of debate. How did they just sit around and go, “Oh, people are always going to want to touch and feel the product, so we'll have our department stores.” Well …

Doug Morneau: Yeah. I mean, Sears had the 350-page catalog. They were in every home. And so, how did Amazon come and eat their lunch?

Ryan Phelan: Yeah. It's surprising because of the coverage both of those stores had in the United States. If you think about the distribution model that Sears and Kmart had if they would have capitalized on that. One of the things early on that Amazon struggled with, well there was that distribution is that, how do I deliver in two days when I don't have a warehouse close?

Doug Morneau: Yup.

Ryan Phelan: You look at Sears and Kmart, they literally had that kind of coverage and had it for a bunch of years before Amazon was even born. And so, why wasn't that adaptation taken? Well, everybody thought, “Oh, everybody will always do catalog. People want to come and feel and touch it and whatever.” You've got to look, and I love your Lego example because it's not just thinking within your vertical as to who your competition is, it's thinking outside of your vertical and seeing that global view of what is going on out there and what's the effect of my sales? Is it X, Y, or Z? Right?

Doug Morneau: Yeah. I mean, and there's been some companies that have been able to bridge that gap. I think of one that I like because I'm a taller guy, is Eddie Bauer.

Ryan Phelan: Yeah.

Doug Morneau: I can go in and I can shop at any of the stores anywhere in North America or I can order online and I can have it shipped to my home or I can have it shipped to the store and not pay for shipping. If I want to return it, I can take it back to the store. They leverage what Sears and Kmart could have done to stay relevant in both digital and tactile.

Ryan Phelan: Yeah. People just want … Now, two-day shipping from Amazon seems slow. Isn't that funny?

Doug Morneau: I know. I look at stuff and now I find myself saying to my wife, “Well …” She said, “I can't find that.” I said, “Did you look on Amazon?” That's my [crosstalk 00:18:33].

Ryan Phelan: Oh gosh. Yeah.

Doug Morneau: Go there.

Ryan Phelan: My mother-in-law loves to rub that into my father-in-law just saying, “Oh, just go get it off Amazon.” Then a day later, it shows up or whatever because we've got a massive Amazon facility, two massive Amazon facilities in Dallas, which is cool.

Doug Morneau: Being that you're at the … You've got your finger on the pulse in terms of marketing and you get to see a variety of different companies, what's got you most excited in the coming year. It could be a client, it could be a direction, it could be technology. What's making you wake up early every day?

Ryan Phelan: Yeah. I think it is data. I think everybody says that. Since we started coining the term big data and I rolled my eyes when I heard that one, but it's just everywhere. I think a lot of the things we've pitched out in email and have pitched out in digital, people grab on to and they're like, “Hey. This is cool and I'll go in this direction.” The data stuff, the discussions around data from privacy, to its use, to relevancy, to what you see online, it's everywhere. It's hard to dismiss it. It's almost like you're living in a box if you say, “I'm just not going to send an email that's not using data in some way.” I think that email marketing has always been challenged over the years for being archaic.

It's because it's so darn cheap and it's so darn easy and it's not invested. We have people that come in and have a life span of two to three years in email marketing and all the arguments you hear about why email marketing hasn't evolved. I think that one of the things that's encouraging that gets me excited is because of the propagation of data and everything that we do and the availability of it, it's just harder to ignore. And so, what I see in the next year is we start to see the 53% of people that are doing some sort of segmentation start to increase at a quicker pace than it has over the last probably 15 years because I get a lot of questions about it.

Even my institutional clients that are huge financial services companies are coming around to that idea in the aspect of, “Hey, what else can we do in data sciences? What else can we do in augmenting our data with third-party data and using that in models and all this kind of stuff.” The sophistication has started to increase because it's almost … It's too hard to deny that this stuff is out there and that you can use it.

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If you think email is dead, then just delete all your email accounts and shut it all down.

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Doug Morneau: Yeah. I mean, I love … I'm kind of geeky that way, so I love looking at what's available and what I think is on both sides, one is the consumer doesn't realize how much data that they've freely given up how much is in the marketplace.

Ryan Phelan: Oh God, yes. That's a fun game for me to play with my mom. Early on in the internet and I've done this for the last 20 years and it's just hilarious. Early on the internet, I was sending emails off of my desktop on an app, on a program. And my mom would be interested, “So what are you doing? What's your job?” I'd come home and I'd describe the email marketing campaign. She's like, “Oh, that's cool.” Then I'd freak her out and I go, “Yeah, I can tell exactly what you clicked on and when you opened it and what you did on the website.” Of course, she's screaming down the hall going, “Oh my God, oh my god, oh my god.” It's fun to tell my mom and people how much data you have and what the importance of your email address is. Right?

Doug Morneau: Yeah.

Ryan Phelan: It's fun.

Doug Morneau: What I think though, what I noticed this last week is I'm heading into a training session in the city today with a really smart guy that's … He's a digital marketing guy. He does content development. He released a survey just last week. And so, the perspective of is email marketing dead or is it well and alive, was evident when he reached out to his followers and said, “Here's three things or four things, which is the most important to you in terms of building your business, content strategy and a blog.” He went through these things and one of them was building your email list. Like 90% of the business owners said, build your email list. Yet often when I listened to the marketing people, they go, “Hey, well what about this and what about that tactic?”

And so, like you said, it may be seen as archaic, but even if you're doing it poorly to be able to own your data and own your platform and have control of what you do with that data, still the eight-figure guys who are making … Consultants that are making serious coin are all making it because they've built a big list. They've treated their people well. They communicate even if it's poorly on that platform. Not that they're not doing all the rest of the stuff. They're not doing videos and Facebook ads, but that seems to be their rock and their bank.

Ryan Phelan: Yeah. You know what's funny, Doug, is the last week I've said these two things. I said, “Email marketing is the only,” and I've said this for years, “Email marketing is the only channel you can suck at and still make money.” It's true. I mean, look at your inbox. How many people just absolutely fail at email marketing and they're still making a ton of money off of it and engagement and all that stuff. It's just amazing. This whole discussion around email marketing is dead is, god, I wish people would just stop. It's like if you think email marketing is dead, then just delete all your emails and just shut it all down. Let's see how that really goes. We all know how it's going to go. Yeah, it's a narrative that has, unfortunately from Facebook's founding to Sheryl Sandberg just won't … I wished instead of … I wish that saying would die instead of the discussion around, is email marketing dead, right?

Doug Morneau: Well, I go back and forth. Part of me thinks, I need to speak up and other times I'm thinking, need to keep quiet. We're just helping our clients make buckets of money over here and you guys can be chasing the latest shiny object and we're going to keep crushing it in this corner while you're not paying attention, which is great for my clients.

Ryan Phelan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, the identification of the consumer, and here's one thing that I think has been a great discussion or a great enlightening of people over the last probably three, four years, is that your email address is your digital social security number. You sign in to your bank, you sign in to Facebook, Twitter. You sign in to your insurance, your doctors, your … Name me a place where you don't use an email address to sign in. There's very few.

That identification across all of the data points … I used to work for Acxiom. They had 3900 or, and I even think that's a low number. They had a zillion data points on 99% of the American population. All can be accessed using an email address as a primary identifier. Now, if you have a secondary or tertiary key, that's great. Then you get a better match rate, but you still can use that email address as a primary identifier. That's the propagation of why email marketing is not only not dead, but absolutely critical to everything you do digitally. That's not going to change anytime soon.

Doug Morneau: No. Right now, I mean we're working on a strategy where to your point of knowing who your customer is and how to reach them, that uses email and uses text and uses social and uses direct mail. We've had a number of clients that have come back to us saying, “Hey, we want to add direct mail to our digital strategy to have another touchpoint with our consumers.” What we're finding is there's not as much volume there. There's less mail in the mailbox and than there is an email box. People are excited to receive something from them in the postbox opposed to just the email box. It comes to listening to the audience and finding them where they are, engaging with them where they are.

Ryan Phelan: Yeah. You know what's funny, one of my clients is a … Can I mention the name? Is that okay?

Doug Morneau: Sure.

Ryan Phelan: One of my clients is mailing dot com. They're a 53-year-old direct mail company in Phoenix, Arizona. I tell you, the dichotomy between my experience of email marketing and digital marketing and working with them on what they print for their clients and what technology drives and the personalization you can drive, it's just amazing to see the flip side of that. For me, just thinking of direct mail as an effective medium because of what it can do and how you can personalize it is not that far off. It's not only the coordinated channel, which a lot of marketers think is multichannel, but it's coordinated because it's just like we're going to have this look and feel in this ad. We're going to have the same look and feel on the email. That's just coordinated.

If you do truly omnichannel or truly multichannel, you're really looking at what's the distinction and the channels and how can you use that channel effectively given the data that you have. The stuff they're doing on direct mail is really neat. I mean it's personalization with text. It's personalization with images. It's this digital printing that they've had for a long time is just amazing. Looking outside of your own medium is incredibly effective as a reinforcement or a change of pace. Right?

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If you think email is dead, then just delete all your email accounts and shut it all down.

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Doug Morneau: Looking at how you can tie something like that into your digital strategy where now you can do intentional direct mail. When as you know when somebody visits your website for a certain amount of time, it can automatically trigger a mailer to go out without any user intervention. The technology says, okay, this person was on the site for, whatever your criteria is, for two minutes. We're going to fire them off a letter. It's kind of in the same category, people say email marketing is archaic and direct mail is archaic, but the advancement in technology and artificial intelligence and I'll use the word that we talked about, big data is there to help you leverage those points if you want to tie them all together.

Ryan Phelan: Yeah. With direct mail, you can even tell when the person gets it in their inbox.

Doug Morneau: Yup.

Ryan Phelan: Talk about taking what we do in an email every day and transferring it to another medium. I'm just amazed, Every time I go in and see them, it's just like, this is really cool stuff, you know?

Doug Morneau: Yup. I'm a big fan of the book, Blue Ocean Strategy, and trying to get out of the place where all the sharks are fighting in the blood and step over some … At a place where there's a lot less competition.

Ryan Phelan: Yeah.

Doug Morneau: Yeah. Sometimes it just takes a bit of thinking. In terms of the role that you feel fulfill as CMO, what are you finding is really moving the dial for your clients in terms of bringing you in? I'm assuming that your client, and correct me if I'm wrong, the client doesn't have somebody at your level, a senior level on staff full time. They need somebody part-time.

Ryan Phelan: Yes. Correct.

Doug Morneau: What's kind of the big aha for them when stepping into a company to help them out?

Ryan Phelan: Answer that in two approaches. Number one is within the email marketing space, I think I've got a pretty good reputation in this space, in knowing what goal has happened over the last 20 years, being involved in it, seeing all of the things that have come and gone and from an experience standpoint and what I did at my last company and what I've done at previous companies and the increase in their visibility and executing really an amazing go to market strategy with some incredible team members.

I think that the aha moment is when I sit down with them and really look at their business and go, “Here's the opportunity that I think you're missing and that we can get fairly easy if we apply ourselves in this way, in this way, in this way.” And so, I think that that's the aha moment that I've had with a lot of the companies inside of this space is just, I've been around for a long time. I know how to market companies. I know what the purchaser looks like and what they need.

I think outside of this space, it's the digital strategies and the discipline of that strategic global view that I bring in and just say, take a step back. What's the strategic approach? How about we help you get into digital in a smart way that's data-centered? That's I think been the biggest thing is brand that starting off from let's fix the basics, but then going instantly to, okay, we're going to get you into the digital world and the data filled world darn quick and here's how we're going to do it.

They like that approach because they've thought about it. They've seen it. They've read about it. They're like, god, it's going to take us too long to do it ourselves. We need somebody really to help us with it. I think my style with my clients is helpful because I'm not a corporate guy. I just like talking to you, “Hey, let's think about this plainly and easily and let me explain it to you and then let's get to it.” Right?

Doug Morneau: Yeah. Now, how does that … Your role stepping in, how is the … I don't know what the correct word is. What's the politics like when you come into a company that's, you've got a CEO or a founder that's brought you in. They likely have some marketing people. They might even have a director of marketing in the company, how have you found that transition as you come into work with a company like that?

Ryan Phelan: You know what? I make sure that I talk to the existing marketing team and make sure that they're comfortable with it. The politics, I'm too old to care about politics anymore. What I want is this … When I saw … I'll tell you an example. I talked to a marketing director once and I explained my services to people as this is a partnership. I'm not your boss. You still make the decisions. You still set the direction and you can take my advice or you don't, you don't have to. I'm here to partner with you to help you do better. At any point you feel like I've crossed the line, you tell me because you're in charge.

And so, I give this power back of not being this lofty CMO with a great title and all this stuff. I come in and go, “In an org chart, I am under you. I am just helping you level up and push you and your team in the right direction.” I think that control and that, for lack of a better term, that humbleness has made it easier for me to deal with not having to do with politics. Everybody's got an ego, but when I come into the company it's like I'm just here to help, you know?

Doug Morneau: Yup. No. I think the other thing that it does, at least my experience has shown is that, because you're not an employee and you're coming from the outside, the senior management can look to you for your feedback and not necessarily your criticism. We're looking for your feedback and what they're currently doing with somewhat more of an objective view. I mean, lots of times you have an employee that wants to say yes to whatever the boss says because the boss said that. I'm assuming in your role and just knowing a little bit about you, you're not likely to … You're not going to go down that tracks. Like, no, this is what I think is best for you. Like you said, you can take my advice or not take it, but based on my years of experience and my contacts in this space, that's where you need to go.

Ryan Phelan: Yeah. Because I'm a … When you get into any corporate environment or any company environment, the executives always have this lofty kind of, I got to do what they say kind of a thing. Me not being an employee, I'm just offering my opinion. You don't have to follow it and the ramifications of not following it are, you may make a mistake or you may do it. You may prove me wrong, but I want you to succeed. That's my only motivation.

Doug Morneau: Yeah. Well, that's why I love data because these days with big data, I mean, we can sit and argue all day long about subject lines or ad copy for landing pages. With data these days, you can take the ego out of it because analytics will point you in the right direction.

Ryan Phelan: Oh god. If I had a dollar for every time data had proven me wrong, I would be a rich man on a beach with a piña colada or something. I swear. I mean, it's been hysterical over the years. To your point, even our of arguments, because you're presented with it, gosh, you can't argue with it. You can argue with, how the model was built. You can argue with how it was put together, but you can't really argue with most outcomes.

Doug Morneau: Yeah. I remember when multivariant testing first came in to be and there were companies charging $5000 a month for software to do that. Now obviously, you've got a lot of that stuff is free and looking at ad copy that produced and went, well, that's amazing. Now, fast forward to today where we've got AI, so you and I can sit in an arm wrestle all day long over what we think the best Facebook ad is. At the end of the day, the response is going to be determined by the user and Facebook's going to report that, and if you're using the right tools and, and show that ad.

Ryan Phelan: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean, we've seen it over and over and over again. God, I can't … It's got its downside. AI is great. Machine learning is great, but it's still programmed by a person. I always caution people, it's like, listen, some really smart schmuck sat there and programmed this model or programmed this artificial intelligence. Sometimes it's wrong and you've got to check yourself.

A perfect example of that is if you go to Amazon and cruise around, I got a link from a buddy of mine for a garage door opener and I'm like, “Oh, what'd you get?” He says, “Oh, it's wifi controlled and all this stuff.” I clicked on it and I go to Amazon and I look at it. For like two weeks, I get these emails saying, “Hey, do you want a garage door opener? Here's every garage door that you can have.” There's still some errors out there and AI is great, but make it realistic, make it accessible and check it because we still need to introduce the human element to behavior and intent.

Doug Morneau: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you're right. I mean, I get that comment all the time. People go, “Is that you? That's following me around because every time I look at this now, I always see ads for that.” It's like, well, yeah, we do use that tactility, but that might not be me in this particular instance.

Ryan Phelan: Right, right, right. It's scary, but I'm not that creepy. I used to use the term creepy data. I think it's still valid. Right?

Doug Morneau: Yeah, it is. Yeah, for sure. To be able to call somebody while they're still on your website freaks people out. It's like, “Hey, I see that you're still on my website. You haven't filled in the opt-in form yet.”

Ryan Phelan: Oh, it's nuts. It's just and I've run across some salespeople that call me right away or email me right away. It's like, oh, come on folks. On the intense scale, where do you think I am now? You know?

Doug Morneau: Yeah.

Ryan Phelan: Its nuts.

Doug Morneau: You're speaking a … I know you do a lot of speaking. what's some of the bad advice you hear around marketing and digital marketing in general?

Ryan Phelan: Oh god.

Doug Morneau: You can blame Tim Ferriss for that question. It was in one of his books and I thought, man, that's a good question. Because we all go to cocktail parties and speaking, you hear somebody in the corner just talking away and you're thinking, man, I should just put a piece of tape on his mouth.

Ryan Phelan: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Doug Morneau: That's the wrong advice.

Ryan Phelan: What did I hear? I was at a little mixer. One of the agencies in this space threw a mixer about a month ago. This guy was telling me, and I hear this a lot over the last, over the years is email marketing is easy. You should just blast the crap out of your people. Email marketing is not that important. Social is more important and all this … I think the general category is minimizing the importance of email marketing and digital strategy. That's the one that just pains me to hear because … Or simplifying email marketing to the fact to, to god, it's so easy, a chimp could do it. Well, no, a chimp can't do it. It's tough. Email marketing is tough. Yeah. You can do a bad email and just put together a thing and blast it to everybody.

A guy I used to work with, Andrew Kordik, who is now over at an agency, used to rail years ago up against don't say blast email and it's been one of those dirty words. When you use that, it's a devaluation of the channel and it's a devaluation of the customers to whom you're committed to and have given you their personal identifiable email address. And so, when I hear this, just blast the crap out of it and it's easy and just put an email together and send it out, it's like, well, okay, talk to me in about a year and see if you still have a list worth a darn, right?

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[just click to tweet]


If you think email is dead, then just delete all your email accounts and shut it all down.

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Doug Morneau: Yeah. Absolutely.

Ryan Phelan: That's the one thing that pains me at conferences, is the people think that it's easy and cheap, fast and whatever. Right?

Doug Morneau: Well, I wrote a newsletter out to my email list, I don't know, probably six weeks ago or maybe two months ago. What I had done is taken a screenshot of my spam folder and I just highlighted all the people who truly had sent me unsolicited email. What was interesting was that probably 70 or 80% of the people that were in the spam folder were emails from companies I had purchased a product or people that I intentionally am subscribed to the list and I want their email.

Ryan Phelan: Yeah.

Doug Morneau: And so, you're right. It's not just a blast. There's a lot to make it happen. Probably not every one goes and checks their spam filter. Now, I won't mention the IO member who sent me an email yesterday who was there he was, it happens to everybody. It's not just push the button and magic happens. You do need to understand what you're doing.

Ryan Phelan: Yeah. You got to know what works. That's a lot of this stuff over the last zillion years, I've helped companies try to understand is this is rocket science in some way. I mean, we minimize the knowledge that someone who does email marketing should have or excuse me, does have, and the ability to orchestrate a campaign from strategy to deployment and beyond is much more in-depth than I think a lot of the digital channels out there. I don't think email marketers get enough credit. All the things that we have to do to get an email into the inbox from IP warming to deliverability to age records to lengths, to verbiage, to subject lines, to emojis, to soft friendly forums to all that stuff, you orchestrate something like that, you might as well have a wand in your hand.

I think it's … One advice that I give to a lot of email marketers is, gosh, darn it. Stand up and show how in-depth email marketing is. Brag a little bit. Show what successes you've had. Cascade that stuff up the chain and show that email marketing is not just about pushing a button. Pushing the button is stressful because of all the crap that you had to do before you push the button. We just don't brag enough. I think email marketers need to brag more.

Doug Morneau: Well, I agree and disagree. I agree that we need to be proud of what we're doing and the work that goes in. I try to tell my clients to be quiet. Don't tell people what we're doing. Next time you go to the hockey game or a football game and you're having a beer with your buddies, don't tell them what media we're buying. Don't tell them what your success is because we're going to increase the competition.

Ryan Phelan: Oh yeah, no. I'm just talking about inside your own company, yeah.

Doug Morneau: Yeah, I get that. A couple of questions and I'll let you go back to helping you move the sales dial for your clients. Who's one guest you think I absolutely have to have in the podcast?

Ryan Phelan: You know what, I mentioned her before. I would say, Gretchen Scheiman. She is the director of marketing over at Liveclicker. Gretchen, god, I can't say enough. I've worked with her off and on since Sears, which if you look up my LinkedIn profile is a long time and she is-

Doug Morneau: You're not in your 20s anymore?

Ryan Phelan: No, no. I just turned 30.

Doug Morneau: Yeah.

Ryan Phelan: God, I wish. That would be fun.

Doug Morneau: Another topic, another day.

Ryan Phelan: Another day. That's another podcast all by itself with a couch and therapy. Gretchen is one of the, I think one of the smartest people in the space and just an amazing resource and I think she would be great on the podcast.

Doug Morneau: Well good. Could you make an email introduction?

Ryan Phelan: I will, with pleasure.

Doug Morneau: Okay, super good. Now, how can people track you down, learn more about you, what you're doing and have a conversation with you?

Ryan Phelan: Yeah. is the company's website. Come and visit. There's a contact form at the bottom. Fill that out and you know what the fun about me is that I just love getting on the phone and talking to people about what they're doing and what they're seeing and what their experiences are. I'm not a sales guy. I'm a marketer. My whole approach is if you want to hire me, great. If you don't want to hire me and want a half-hour of my time to ask me some questions, fantastic. I'm happy to do that because it's fun to stay in touch with what's going on in the world.

If you want to talk, I'm happy to do that. I'm also on Twitter. If you want to know what I'm cooking, you can check me out on Instagram because I'm the chef in the house so I cook more than steak, but it's where I send to everybody is like where can I learn about you that doesn't involve email marketing? I'm like, “Go to Instagram.”

Doug Morneau: Yes, there you go.

Ryan Phelan: That's got all my food.

Doug Morneau: Yeah. I'm trying to remember who it was that was telling me they were getting together and having a steak, a barbecue at your place and some wine.

Ryan Phelan: Gosh.

Doug Morneau: Anyhow, it doesn't matter. It was someone, someone in our space.

Ryan Phelan: I'll be darned.

Doug Morneau: Yeah. Hey, I just want to say thanks to Ryan for taking the time. I really enjoyed our conversation, love connecting with you here and letting you share your superpowers with our audience.

Ryan Phelan: Thanks, Doug. It's been an honor and I really appreciate you asking and including me in on all of your fun. Thank you so much.

Doug Morneau: There we go, listeners. There's another way for you to look at driving your sales and marketing efforts, the opportunity to bring in a fractional CMO, somebody who can come in for and have a discussion with you for half an hour, an hour a day, whatever it is that you need to move your business forward, somebody that has a no bias to your business but an outside view, deep, deep experience, years of experience and connections in the industry that could quickly make a few changes and turn around your organization.

I just want to say thanks again to Ryan for chiming in today and getting on this podcast and sharing his knowledge. As usual, make sure the show notes are transcribed. We'll have links to Ryan's website and his social media there as well. Thanks for tuning in. We look forward to serving you on our next episode.

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[just click to tweet]


If you think email is dead, then just delete all your email accounts and shut it all down.

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