In this episode of Delivering, host Jason Rodriguez interviews Oracle’s Wade Hobbs about what we can—and should—measure in email, how that informs strategy, and what the future holds for email marketers.

 

Jason Rodriguez:
Welcome to Delivering, a podcast about the email industry from strategy to design, code to leadership and everything in between. I’m your host, Jason Rodriguez.

Jason Rodriguez:
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Jason Rodriguez:
So today I’m chatting with Wade Hobbs. Wade is a senior strategic consultant for strategic and analytics services at Oracle CX marketing consulting, where he basically works with a wide range of enterprise clients, marketing leaders, to put their data to work, to improve their businesses. So welcome to the podcast, Wade. I appreciate you coming on today.

Wade Hobbs:
Thanks Jason. Happy to be here.

Jason Rodriguez:
So I’d like start just hearing a little bit about your career so far and how you got to Oracle. So walk us through that kind of journey for Wade Hobbs in the marketing world.

Wade Hobbs:
For sure. Yeah. I started my career in analytics and went through some development programs in the retail side of the world and found a huge opportunity in analytics to transition to marketing, where marketing was becoming much more of a science and while there’s still an art to it, a lot of science kind of embedded in how data moves and how it helps orchestrate customer experiences. And I found kind of a good opportunity to do what I do at Oracle in kind of bringing data, technology and strategy together, to try to create better customer experiences.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah, that makes sense. Yeah, I feel like I’ve seen that trend too over the decade or so I’ve been in email marketing in particular is, I feel like it was more black art for a long time, and now it’s becoming more data-driven, more science, a lot more strategic, which is interesting to see that transition. What’s what’s your typical day look like at Oracle?

Wade Hobbs:
Yeah. So a typical day is, I spend quite a bit of time with our clients. Obviously COVID-19 has changed how that looks. I used to spend a lot of time on site with clients, but now a lot of time on zoom with marketers that are using Oracle’s marketing platforms and anything from helping to figure out how to test and optimize a program that they’re trying to launch, to trying to figure out what data they have throughout their business that they could be using more effectively, or customer segments that are being ignored, customer segments that are getting too much marketing in their face and kind of elements like that.

Wade Hobbs:
So we spend most of our time trying to help our marketers better understand the data that they have and how that can be utilized in their marketing efforts to be a little more personalized, more effective in their marketing messages and then obviously, the challenge, one is making the recommendation, but two, we spend quite a bit of time figuring out what that looks like and implementation. So how do we get from these ideas to something that actually goes to market and customers actually get to experience and see.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah. So I definitely want to dig into that a little bit more, but first I’d love to hear from you about, what are some of those metrics that email marketers should actually focus on? Because there is a lot of different things that we can measure and that might be exposed via an ESP or something like Litmus or inside of Oracle, but what are the kind of key data points that people should actually pay attention to these days?

Wade Hobbs:
Yeah, I think there’s kind of the standard metrics that most marketers are watching, which is, I think volume used to be, at least when I first got into email marketing, everything was about volume. So how do we get more emails, more customers, more touches per customer. And while I think that still happens in, there’s still obviously pushes everybody to be a larger percentage of kind of overall sales coming from email, I think the efficiency is what a lot of marketers we see are focused on. And so efficiency from a deliverability perspective, making sure that you can send 10 times more emails this year than you did last year, but if you’re not getting in the inbox, the net of that is actually is pretty difficult to move up. So efficiency metrics is what we see a lot of folks kind of focusing on, how do I get better click rates, how do I get better open rates? And then really, I think everything we see is pushing towards ROI.

Wade Hobbs:
So I think email marketers more so than in the past are really being judged on what the revenue from their email channel is being driven by. And so that’s super clear for some companies that have good attribution models and for others that’s still fairly fuzzy as to what incremental value they drive to the business by sending an email or by sending an SMS to customers. And so I think we’ve seen a huge push there and I think that marketers that are going to be successful in getting the budgets that they want and the things that they need to run their business, have to do a clearer job at identifying how their revenue metrics are impacted by their efforts.

Jason Rodriguez:
So what are, I think that’s an absolutely key thing that you need to pay attention to, is that overall ROI, but that is, like you said, for a lot of teams really, really difficult to understand. So what, I guess, give us an example of how an email marketer would effectively attribute ROI to an email marketing campaign. So what kind of mechanisms, what kind of tooling should they have in place to actually make that happen?

Wade Hobbs:
Yeah, so I think, one thing that I’ve seen in a trend in the last year is that I think a lot of marketers have introduced some type of a fractional or multi-touch attribution model, but often, and I think it’s still often the case in a lot of retail businesses, they have this marketing, this attribution model that they use, kind of in retrospect to say, okay, last month we looked at the business and here’s what email really drove from a fractional perspective.

Wade Hobbs:
But on day to day decision-making, they’re still kind of operating on a last touch attribution model. And so one of the things that I think is essential and where I’ve seen some businesses that are better able to do more real time adjustments and real-time analysis as to whether or not their program is being effective, are using the multi touch or fractional attribution models, kind of campaign by campaign and day by day, as opposed to like a retroactive, Hey, last month we thought email was responsible for 50% of our revenue but after looking at the MTA model, we see that it’s actually 35% because of this or maybe more, right.

Wade Hobbs:
And so I think moving from using a fractional attribution model, as like a gut check at the end of the month to determine how far off you were, using it as more of your guiding point as you run your business, which is a challenge because, one is, I think a lot of brands struggle with confidence in their fractional attribution models. So I think a lot of it is making sure you have what you need in place to truly understand the value of each touch point in a customer’s life cycle, but then two is, yeah, buy in across the organization to move forward and kind of live on that.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah. So I love the idea of kind of that real time reporting and understanding the value that an email campaign actually provides in a lot quicker kind of feedback cycle. But with your clients that are kind of like adopting that approach and they’re moving away from that kind of monthly reporting and doing this on a daily basis, is that impacting their kind of strategy on a daily basis too? Are they adjusting what campaigns they have set up, the actual content in those campaigns, all their automation and stuff on a lot quicker basis, or is it still kind of in that monthly or quarterly cadence when it comes to actually planning out your strategy?

Wade Hobbs:
Yeah, I think that’s kind of the challenge, right, is how do you take, I think marketers love to get data. And then sometimes the question is, when you get that data, what are you really going to do differently? If you get data that says that this customer didn’t actually need a coupon, are you really not going to send them a coupon in the next email, or are you scared that not putting 20% off in the next email is going to drive some type of a dip?

Wade Hobbs:
So I think that’s been primarily where I’ve seen the main difference is that, where we see fractional attribution changing some of the ways marketers actually implement their strategies, it often changes the way they run their promotional strategies, because last touch attribution naturally, right, makes coupon propensity look really, really high in email.

Wade Hobbs:
And so one of the natural paths that we’ve seen, especially as, I can’t tell you how many retail partners I’ve worked with in the last year, who have a charge from their CMO to be less promotional and to get back to brand and storytelling. But if you’re measuring yourself on last touch, that gets really hard to do without hitting your year-over-year comps.

Wade Hobbs:
So I think that in many places I’ve seen the fractional attribution actually reduces the dependency sometimes on massive promotional, mailing and promotional, meaning like coupon driven. I think there’s still promotional mailing about, please buy my product, but more, buy my product and here’s 10 things about the product that we think are amazing instead of buy my product because it’s 20% off. And so I think that’s where it’s naturally been manifested and then there’s other elements about timing of cadence on a trigger message, how long should we wait to send an abandoned cart and things like that, that we’ve seen impacted in real time.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah. So how, obviously 2020 we’ve been dealing with a lot, as a species and as a country. Do you think the pandemic has affected both how people are looking at the data from their email campaigns and the overall strategy too? Because it seems like there’s been, obviously with the onset of the pandemic, less of a focus on promotional mail and more on storytelling or providing longer term resources for customers because people are facing economic impacts and don’t necessarily have the money or don’t want to see another coupon or business as usual from companies. How has the pandemic really been affecting what you’ve seen in the industry as far as strategy and reporting on those campaigns actually go?

Wade Hobbs:
Yeah. I mean, I think the pandemic, depending on the business model, I think we saw a huge shift away from, Hey, buy my product to, hey, we’re in this together. And I think that some of that messaging resonated. I know a lot of consumers got fairly sick of it after a while, after six months of, Hey, we’re in this together, even though we are, it still feels like it’s taking an eternity. So I think, and then the trend is, who’s going to go back to business as usual and say, okay, we were in that together, now buy my stuff. And so I think that, I can’t tell you how many marketers turned off triggers that they thought were somewhat insensitive during the timeframe. So whether that was a time to reorder, trigger or some of these triggers that were a little bit less personalized and a little more company focused rather than consumer focused.

Wade Hobbs:
And I think that the happy thing that I’ve seen and the thing that I think gives me some hope for the future is that quite a few marketers are kind of reviewing these programs before they turn them back on to make sure that it stands true to kind of what they’ve been saying for the last six months. And so I think that’s a charge for any marketer today to anything that you determined might’ve been a little insensitive during that timeframe. Certainly we all have to get back to business, not business as usual, but we have to get back to business. But to what extent did we learn where communicating a little bit more of our value prop and a little more of our connection to their communities and to the customers, to what extent did we learn that that is valuable beyond just the pandemic timeframe?

Wade Hobbs:
So I think from a strategy perspective, yeah, I think we’ve seen a lot more compassion, especially in the email marketing space, which I don’t think it’s any surprise, historically, email marketing is probably not viewed as the most compassionate channel to communicating with customers. And then it’s blown up Black Friday for retailers with revenue starting to come in much earlier this year than in previous years. So I think there’s been a lot of challenges on the retail side, trying to manage daily, year over year comps with, this looks so different than last year, did we really move revenue forward or are we doing really well? But I think in general it ended up, at least on the email and e-commerce combined, really well these last several weeks. And I think if delivered pretty well for retailers that were prepared.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah. Do you expect that some of these changes, especially with thinking about Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and a lot of that revenue coming in earlier than normal, do you expect that to continue in the future? Is that going to be kind of, we hear that term new normal kind of thrown around in regards to everything, but it feels like people’s habits seem to be changing. And that changes, at least to me, feels like it’s going to be more persistent and not just a side effect of the pandemic and everything that’s going on in 2020. What’s your kind of take on that? Do you expect that we’ll see that kind of trend to continue when all of these changes we’ve seen in the industry to just hang around for the next couple of years?

Wade Hobbs:
Yeah. I think that the Black Friday or the key holiday timeframe is going to be a much broader window in the future, but I think marketers are struggling and a little bit frustrated with the challenge of, I think historically we’ve had these main pivot points, these dates that customers expected the best deal to go there. And I think suddenly we’ve just trained consumers to say, there’s a good deal that comes out in October and early November, a great deal that comes out the week of Thanksgiving, and then sometimes an even better deal that comes out the next week, if the CMO didn’t hit his goals, right? And so I think the biggest challenge as we move forward, that the marketers are going to struggle with, is how do you convey that this is the best the deal’s going to get?

Wade Hobbs:
And I think some did that by calling everything Black Friday and Cyber Monday, even though it wasn’t. And I think that message gets tough and kind of confusing. So I think there’s some things that have to be worked out, but in general, yes, I think that the richness of the offers are going to come out earlier. And I think that competing for the share of sale is going to get a little bit more competitive in that first couple of weeks of November then, as opposed to, previously I think Thanksgiving week was kind of when that the share of wallet was really opened.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah that makes sense. So I want to pivot a little bit here and talk about something that I’ve seen in myself certainly. And that’s something that I see in a lot of people that, one of the biggest shortcomings seems to be an inability to kind of effectively present data back to team members or especially to stakeholders in order to tell a story with that data to get additional resources or buy in on a specific campaign strategy.

Jason Rodriguez:
But this is something that I expect with your experience and having to be, like work in the consulting space and you’re dealing with a lot of different clients and kind of pitching to them and talking to them. What are some ways that marketers can overcome that shortcoming? How can people more effectively present data on what they learned from their campaigns to stakeholders to make sure that they can get that buy in and those additional resources, whatever that happens to be?

Wade Hobbs:
Yeah, I think, and we’ve learned a lot and they’re still learning a lot and kind of relating to that. But to your point, I think, especially when reporting up to a CMO, I mean, email is usually an important factor, but rarely the most important marketing channel to a CMO sometimes. And so I think what we’ve found is that, similar to the beginning of this discussion, that while engagement and metrics within the email channel are interesting, impact on revenue or impact on whatever the business is being measured on from the bottom of the funnel is kind of the best approach. And so I can’t tell you how many dashboards I’ve seen that have been provided to executive leaders that include how many emails were delivered, open rate, click through rate, click to open rate, which are all good metrics and something that the marketers should be using to manage.

Wade Hobbs:
But generally speaking, most often the metrics that they care most about are improvement, lift and bottom line, what was actually brought to the business from the channel. And so, and then secondly is just visual, right? Oracle included the data that comes out is not always the easiest thing to consume. And so finding ways to create visuals, whether that’s in some type of a software that you use from a reporting perspective, or whether it’s a simple utilization of Excel and PowerPoint to make something look pretty, but to identify and kind of show visuals to how that relates as it exports out. And we spent quite a bit of time with our customers trying to help figure out, how do we take what can be viewed as a fairly consistent story. Email’s usually a pretty consistent performer. And how do we keep that interesting enough to make sure that those consuming it engage and really ask the right questions and truly understand what they’re looking at.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah. I think that makes sense. Yeah. I feel like that’s something we’ve been talking about a lot lately and even struggling with in our own team and staff sometimes is that we focus so much, we’ve been in email for so long and we geek out about email. So we pay attention to all those metrics and think everybody else are as interested as we are in those metrics. But then when we’re talking to higher ups, it’s a small part of the pie. And we need to piece out those very specific details that show how we’re driving pipeline and how we’re driving sales and all that kind of stuff. But I feel like it’s one of those struggles that I’ve had, I’ve seen a lot and talk a lot of people back when we had in-person conferences and we could have those kinds of conversations.

Jason Rodriguez:
But I like that idea of kind of, it seems to me at least like the click through, the number of emails, like all that kind of really detailed campaign specific stuff should be kept at the team level where you can use them more effectively and more readily. But then the high level stuff goes to the high level people so they can kind of drive that strategy.

Jason Rodriguez:
I’d love to hear a little bit about, I feel like that’s something we haven’t heard as much about with all the pandemic stuff going on, but GDPR came out, what, two years ago, something like that before that castle came out, but it seems like there is still an increase in privacy related legislation, or at least like interest in that. Do you suspect that we’re going to see more of those types of laws being passed in the future? And if so, how is that going to impact what we can measure in our email campaigns and how we can actually use that data?

Wade Hobbs:
Yeah, so certainly I’m no expert in the GDPR category, but luckily there are folks at Oracle that are, at least in the limited information that I get from them is that we expect more and more of this. And I think the trends lead most people to believe the same is that consumer privacy will become more and more of an interest point in legislation. And I think brands are starting to realize that as well, that it’s going to be an important and an ever more important piece of how they collect data, how they use data. And I think it’s pushed a couple of trends. One is, the use of first party data and getting, and being a little more transparent when we collect first party data on why we’re doing that and how it helps the customer experience.

Wade Hobbs:
And I think two, I think it’s brought us back a little bit more to fundamentals. I think, especially in email, when all this data became available, lots of people wanted to create these really dynamic, these birthday campaigns where you’d send someone a birthday email, even though they never told you their birthday, because you could buy it from a third party data providers. And I think it’s coming back to, yeah, like when you ask for first party data, I think marketers are realizing that consumers hold them a little more accountable to say, if I give you my information, I expect you to use it.

Wade Hobbs:
So if I tell you, I like dogs or I have a dog, I expect to get dog-related content from you. But if I tell you I like dogs and I continue to get content that suggest that you treat me like everybody else that has a cat or a bird or whatever, then why did you ask for the data in the first place? So I think there’s a bit of accountability that will come into the marketplace of, if you take my data and ask for it, I expect you to use it wisely. It really needs to benefit me as a consumer.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah, I like that a lot. So just a couple of quick kind of questions before we wrap up here, but I’d love to hear what some of your favorite email centers are, or if there’s any specific campaigns that really stood out to you, especially in the context of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, which we’re just kind of getting over that right now, but who do you pay attention to when it comes to email marketing and really creative campaigns?

Wade Hobbs:
Man, that’s a good question. I’m trying to think, any of my favorite, obviously I like the ones I work with, but I think to be a little more honest, I think they send great emails, but maybe it would be a little less biased. So a company, Huckberry, I don’t know if you’ve heard of them. I love their emails. I think they do such a great job of intertwining content and commerce. And so I think there’s always, even if you don’t want to buy anything from them, I think they do a great job of telling a story. And I know they’re a fairly small brand, so maybe not a lot of people have heard of them, but I think their email marketing team is great. They show personality without alienating customers and they provide recommendations and stuff. So I think they have a great email program.

Wade Hobbs:
I’m trying to think who else has an email program that I, Kraft Heinz, I think has a pretty solid email program. I work with them at Oracle and they have come a long ways in trying to figure out how to better engage customers around the content that they bring out, which can be hard for a CPG brand because you’re not a direct to consumer. And so I think the CPG world and publisher world sometimes have the challenge of not being able to see the end result of what they do. So it’s challenging to figure out exactly how to optimize, but I think that they have a pretty solid email program.

Jason Rodriguez:
Nice. Yeah. So the new year’s coming up, it’s fast approaching. If you could have every email marketer make one resolution or do one new thing in the new year, what would that be?

Wade Hobbs:
It would be, oh man. One thing in the new year…I would say, do an audit of your current marketing technology stack and make sure you’re using everything or make sure you’re better using it. I continue to be amazed at how few connections there are between software elements that could make the marketer’s life so much easier. And that gap is usually, either a technology to marketer gap, the people that run the technology and the people that run the marketing don’t truly understand each other well enough, but it’s to, just take a step back and look at what you’ve put in place to empower your marketing through a technology perspective and try to better understand all the pieces that go into there and how you might connect to them, what gaps you might have. So maybe like a technology audit of sorts.

Jason Rodriguez:
Nice. Yeah. I feel like that’s perfect time for an audit of any sort, everybody’s in the mood. Everybody’s ready to go. So I like that a lot. Awesome. Well, before we wrap up, where can we find you and your work online?

Wade Hobbs:
I’m pretty quiet online. LinkedIn is a great place. If anyone wants to reach out, I’m always happy to chat there. And then outside of that, I’m actually pretty quiet on Twitter. I consume a lot more than I create, but I’m happy to chat with anyone that might want to connect and yeah, I appreciate the chance to chat.

Jason Rodriguez:
Awesome. Thanks so much, Wade. Well, we’ll have to get you back on for another episode and chat about all this stuff maybe next year and see how things have actually changed, but thanks so much.

Wade Hobbs:
Sounds great. Thank you.

Jason Rodriguez:
Awesome. That does it for today’s episode of Delivering. As always, Delivering is brought to you by Litmus, which is the only platform trust by email marketing professionals to help you send campaigns with confidence every time, head over to Litmus.com to start your free seven day trial and see how Litmus can help you build test and analyze your emails and drive better results in the process, and be sure to follow Delivering on iTunes or Spotify to listen to future episodes and join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #DeliveringPodcast. Cheers.





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