Take the time to analyze your email efforts. Look at your opens, clicks, bounces, unsubscribes, and spam complaints. Make a benchmark and strive for improvements.

At Bounceless we’re hyper-focused on one very specific task; creating the best email verification service for our users to ensure their emails get to where they intend them to go. However, from time to time we take a break to speak with leaders in the email marketing space in a quest to bring you the most relevant and up to date information on this marketing channel. Today we were lucky enough to be able to chat with Hank Hoffmeier from iContact, one of the biggest email marketing companies in the world, about his work in the industry. In the interview below we speak with Hank about many topics related to email marketing including email automation, sequencing strategies, and email ROI improvement. So let's jump in!

Hi Hank and thanks for joining us today. We appreciate you taking the time to chat with our blog audience today about your experience as a marketer. You have over 18 years experience as a digital marketer. I know our audience will be thankful for the opportunity to plug into your mind for the next few minutes. So to get things started, please give us a little bit of background about your experience as a marketer and tell us a little bit more about how your role has changed over the years (i.e. due to technology shifts, strategy effectiveness etc).

As a recovering small business owner and now Strategic Insights Manager at iContact, I have played both sides of the marketing game. One side as an owner and the other as a consultant. I think that is where my passion for helping small businesses grow through the use of digital marketing comes from, I can relate.

I started in sales at iContact and them moved to the services team as a Strategic Advisor. Part consultant, part account manager. I worked with clients, large and small, on reviewing their email marketing and social media campaigns and finding ways to make improvements and changes to create better performing campaigns.

I then moved into a team lead role, then had a stint as a manager on the team. I am now part sales engineer, marketer, sales person and my favorite is brand ambassador. I help clients use the iContact platform and I help introduce our brand to the world through content and speaking at conferences and facilitating workshops.

A lot has changed and a lot has stayed the same during the nine years I have been at iContact. Email Marketing is still the best marketing channel which provides the highest ROI. Now, with the availability of more data and the use of automation, marketers are about to send the right message to the right person at the right time.

By using more and better online platforms, I am seeing more customers want to integrate into other platforms, like a CRM and also use automation to help improve the effectiveness of their email campaigns.

I see that you write a lot of content on your blog about marketing automation. What parts of the marketing process are most easily automated? What parts of the marketing process are the most difficult to automate? With regards to email marketing, what are the most effective strategies you've seen used by small businesses? What are the most creative uses of automation you've seen used?

For the most part, marketers overlook the opportunity to use simple automation, like an on-boarding or nurture series. It is very easy to create a series of emails where the content will not change often and set them up to automatically go out at a period of time. When someone signs up to receive emails or when added to an email platform, a welcome email can be sent immediately. Then, a few days later the same email can be re-sent with a different subject line to subscribers that did not open initially.

A few days later, a second email can be sent. This email can have information about your company and what makes you different. A third email later on can explain how you differ from your competitors and highlight what you do in the community. A last email can have a coupon or incentive to convert. All along the way, you can target your audience and trigger emails to go out at specific times if you want.

Harder automation sequences will involve a lot of steps and may use complex data. At times it is hard to test them or have confidence that they will run the way they were intended. This can cause frustration and anxiety forcing some marketers to abandon these types of automation sequences.

It can take some time and effort, but it is worth the time to develop both simple and complex automation sequences because you will obtain better results when you are able to target more effectively and send emails when the recipient is more likely to take action.

What are some major limitations when it comes to marketing automation? What creative things are you seeing businesses do to try to get around those limitations?

This biggest limitation that is when marketers are not using integrations to use data that will help them run more successful campaigns. Some of the biggest violations are not connecting CRMs or e-commerce platforms. Having the most up to date data and also behavior and purchase data is useless if you do not use it in your email marketing campaigns. Sure you can manually export this data and manually upload it to your email platform, but it is not optimal and timely. What if you forget to do it for a while? Those are missed opportunities.

Many email platforms offer many popular integrations to CRMs, e-commerce platforms, and many more. iContact and Campaigner are two great options to consider. If your email platform does not offer an integration with the software that you use, you can also check with third party integration platforms Zapier and Piesync as a work around.

Let's talk a little bit more about how email marketers can sequence their emails to align to their visitor's journey. What effective strategies have you seen used that help email marketers map out their work to best align with their visitor journey? Let's imagine a new business doesn't quite understand their visitor journey yet. They might not have the data yet to make informed decisions. But they need to start somewhere. Is there some type of email sequence automation "template" which acts as a good starting point? Can you explain how you would approach such a situation in more detail?

The most simple automation to implement is a welcome series. It would be a more simpler version than the one that I mentioned earlier. Start with the welcome email that goes out as soon as someone signs up. This would contain a thank you message and then needs to set expectations for the subscriber. Tell them how often and what kind of emails they will receive.

The next email would be a few days later that has information that can start to build trust and more importantly, a lasting relationship. Inform them about your company. You can highlight an employee, product, or service. Maybe ask the subscriber to follow you on social media as well.

Another email, a few days after the second, can have testimonials, reviews, links to videos, and highlight some products and services.

A fourth email can have an incentive to purchase. This can be done by using a coupon code or some other type of incentive. You have sent three other emails. By now, they are used to seeing you in the inbox. It is ok to ask for them to buy from you.

What types of marketing jobs are most at risk of loss due to advances in automation? For markers who don't want to become redundant what new skill sets would you suggest they acquire? What types of marketing roles do you feel are safe for the time being?

This is a really good question. I think that automation is helping reduce the amount of time that is put into the day to day work for marketers, but they are still needed to develop content and creative assets, then should be regularly looking at the analytics to make adjustments during the day. I feel that automation can allow for smaller teams, but they will still need talent to oversee the campaigns.

Gmail now has auto complete for composing emails. It is great. I love it. But it does not always get the syntax right and I often become frustrated when it does no offer up content when I feel that it should have. I cannot rely on an algorithm to ensure that my emails will be correct. I need to check on it, as a human.

It is crucial for marketers to embrace and learn marketing automation since it is here to stay and becoming more and more popular every day. Dive in. Play with it. Test and break things. That is the best way to learn.

I see that you’ve written a book titled “The ABCs of the Customer Journey: A Beginner’s Guide to Automation, Branding and Customer Service”. Now that the book is launched and in people's hands, what type of feedback are you getting about the biggest takeaways people are getting from the content? What "aha" moment is the book inspiring in your readers?

I wrote the ABCs to help small business owners remember and realize the importance of the three elements that are crucial to growing a business: automation, branding, and customer service. Many entrepreneurs and business owners know that they should pay attention to these items, but often need a reminder or examples of how to make improvements in their business.

I often hear that people keep going back and reading the sections on email automation and customer service to inspire them to adopt more and better changes in their business. I also hear from readers that they can feel my passion lift off the pages of my book, leading them to connect with me on social media.

On a similar note, you also speak at a lot of seminars on the topic of email marketing. Based on your experiences fielding questions at these events, what are the three most common email marketing problems people have? What advice do you give to people at these conferences to help solve their three most common problems?

Without fail, I am always asked about email marketing list growth. They want to know how to grow their email marketing lists. But it normally starts our like this:

“Should I buy a list of email addresses?” To that I say, never buy a list. Even though you may see some initial success, you are setting yourself up for failure. Often times these lists are old and stale and will cause you problems later on. The stale email addresses will not go through, and will be “bounced”, and others will mark your message as spam because they will not know who you are and never signed up to receive emails from you directly. Here is a video of me answering the same question.

What this does is that it damages your sender reputation, causing many of your subsequent emails to your subscriber base to go to the spam folder instead of the inbox. Your domain (email/domain) has something called a sender reputation. When these negative things happen (bounce, spam, and non-engagement), it lowers your reputation. Positive things like opens, clicks, starring, and replying all help boost your reputation.

You only want to end emails should be sent to people that want to receive emails from you. Find other ways to obtain email addresses. Have a sign-up form on your website, use social media, and online advertising to grow your list. It sounds harder than buying a list, but it is the best long term strategy to use. It is better to start and keep a good reputation rather than trying to improve a damaged one.

Other challenges is finding the right frequency to send emails and how to provide value in their email campaigns to ensure that emails are being engaged with. Marketers need to get to know their subscribers. Learn how often they want to receive emails and the content they want, not what and when you want to send. It is about them and not you.

Finally, if you had the opportunity to sit down with a younger version of yourself who was just starting out in email marketing today, what piece of advice would you give yourself specifically relating to increasing the ROI of an email marketing campaign?

I would tell the younger version of myself that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to email marketing. It is not as easy as adding subscribers and sending emails. There are strategies and technical knowledge that needs to be learned in order to have highly effective email campaigns. I have been in the industry for almost 10 years now, and I am still learning!

Read books and articles, listen to podcasts, go to related conferences to help you accelerate your learning curve. You will be happy you did.

Another bit of advice is to always test and measure. Make use of a great email marketing tool, split A/B testing, where you take two versions of an email and test an element, like a subject line. Send version A to 10% of your list and version B to another 10% of your list. Then you wait 24-48 hours and send the version with the most opens to the remaining 80% of your audience. This ensures that the email with the best potential is sent.

Take the time to analyze your email efforts. Look at your opens, clicks, bounces, unsubscribes, and spam complaints. Make a benchmark and strive for improvements.

Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today about your experience in this space Hank. We truly appreciate your taking the time out of your day to do so. To our blog readers, if you’d like to learn more about Hank, his book and the work he does you can head over to his website here.