Welcome back, InsiderInboxers! This has been such a fun and eye-opening series for us, and I hope you’re enjoying it, too.
In the last issue, we heard from Fluent CMO Jordan Cohen about why great creative, storytelling and art is just as important in modern marketing as the data analytics. It’s a great perspective, restoring our faith in the tenants of “traditional” marketing.
Interestingly, we’re hearing those same sentiments echoed by this issue’s Insider. Dela Quist is CEO of Alchemy Worx and an internationally recognized expert and thought leader in email marketing. One of Excite’s first European directors, he pioneered email as a marketing channel in the 1990s, and has served for many years on the UK DMA Email Marketing Council, as well as chair of the EMC’s Benchmarking Hub. Dela is a popular guest speaker on the international stage, where his lively, thought-provoking and engaging style makes audiences sit up and take notice. He’s also the author of “Fear and Self-loathing in Email Marketing,” one of the defining best practices playbooks in the industry on how to effectively use email without being accused of spamming customers. Dela has been with Alchemy Worx for 15 years, having spent the previous 4 years at Excite. He also spent a number of years in the print ad space, first at IDG Communications, followed by 3 years each at VNU Business Publications, London and at Times Newspapers.
As a seasoned veteran of the business, Dela has seen the email and digital marketing evolution first hand—in fact, has played a large role in shaping it. His perspective on the future of email marketing is insightful, indeed!
1. Why did you choose marketing, or maybe it chose you?
If you’d ask me what my job skills are, I’d almost never think to say marketing. But, if you look at LinkedIn, I’m listed as an expert in all kinds of marketing disciplines. So, I guess I must be a marketer. I’ve always believed that a career is something that, the day before you retire or die, you look back on and say, “that was my career.” A job is what you do now. Every job offers you opportunity. My knowledge is the sum total of every job I’ve very done. I studied agricultural economics, and figured I’d end up working for the World Bank or something. But, I ended up in sales, then gravitated toward marketing, advertising sales, eventually selling ads to marketers.
What is it about marketing that drew me to it and ended up getting me spoken of as an expert? It’s storytelling. Sales is storytelling, too, and I was pretty good at that, but the difference, for me, is the power of the spoken word versus the power of written word enhanced by visuals and images. With marketing, you get to tell the story in a shareable way, where sales is very much more ephemeral, and face-to-face. Marketing lets you tell the story to many more people in a way that’s more concrete and memorable. I enjoy telling those stories, and I like that there’s a record of that.
2. What is your personal mission statement?
If I had one, it would be “Make a difference.” I’ve always felt this kind of a hunger, a mission, a desire to inspire people. When I retire, I’d love for people to recognize the changes or impact I’ve made on the industry. And, I want to inspire people. But, not in the way that I’d want people to say, “I’d like to be like Dela,” like they might say, “I want to be like Steve Jobs.” But, instead, what gives me personal gratification is the inspiration of self-belief. I want people who I meet or work with to walk away thinking, “I can do that,” because I’ve inspired them to take the first step.
Here’s just one very recent example: I met a guy on a plane once flying back from Atlanta about 9 or 12 months ago. We had the typical conversation: “What do you do?” etc. He explained that he’d worked for an agency for the last 15 years, but it had just been sold and things were a bit uncertain. I kind of said, “I think you should set up your own agency,” and we talked about how he could use his experience and knowledge to help clients and be more in charge of his own destiny. A few weeks ago, I received an email from him explaining that he’d done it – he’s set up his own agency, they’ve just started, and he wanted to say thank you. I didn’t need his thanks, but I love that I was able to influence him to be confident and have faith is his own abilities to succeed. I’ve actually had many people reach out to me similarly, and thank me for giving them some advice or nugget that has inspired them.
3. Tell me something about your job @Alchemy Worx that inspires you to keep working there.
Part of it is an extension of the mentoring thing. Over the years, I can’t tell you how many people have worked here and moved on who I’ve bumped into later when walking into a new prospect’s office. I love it. I love to see them growing, expanding their horizons and finding work that makes them happy.
It sounds a bit clichéd, but l also enjoy learning what makes people tick. Ultimately, marketing is making people do what you want them to do. You want them to buy your stuff and not your competitors’ stuff. What keeps me going is that I get to see so much data now that I’m able to get a very deep understanding of what makes people buy, what influences them, what nudges them, and how many touches it requires. The amazing thing is, that this is an infinite proposition. There’s no end to the complexity of human beings. They become used to the behavior, so you need to do something different. What keeps me interested and passionate about my job is that I’m endlessly amazed about what makes people tick, and what to do with that info.
As we move forward, we’ll have to become a lot more careful about how we market to people and how we use our knowledge. For example, we already know that razors colored pink are the same thing as blue razors, but they’re targeted toward women, who we know will pay more. So we charge more. For the same thing, except it’s pink. Is that justifiable? One of my concerns about the way marketing is going is that we’re confusing engagement with the right thing. Giving someone what they want is not always right. People who love doughnuts would naturally prefer to have doughnuts instead of carrots, when they really should be eating the carrots. But, just because they want the doughnuts, does that mean we should keep giving them doughnuts, even though we know it’s bad for their health? It’s a tight and complex moral ground that we tread as marketers. We have to be responsible.
4. Offices or open work space?
This is a big conflict here. I believe in open work spaces, with one exception: it’s tough for senior managers to be in open spaces. It makes having a meeting, especially if it’s not a great discussion, very difficult because everyone sees this process. But, then if you go to another, private space, people will say, “Shit! What’s going on? Something must be going on for them to take the meeting behind closed doors.” For managers, an office makes meetings unexceptional, so there’s no cause for alarm or concern.
5. What is a skill that every digital marketer should have and why?
Learn to count. In particular, learn to understand the difference between a rate and number. What do I mean by that? If you get a 1% lift in opens on a million emails, you’ve got 10,000. But, if you’ve got 300% lift on 1, you’ve got 3. Too often, the KPI is about rates, not numbers. The brand might be going through the floor, but rates are high. You can have high rates but absolutely poor numbers. I wish more marketers realized that.
Another thing to learn is that profitable and engaging can co-exist. Engagement isn’t about reading every email; after all how many emails should my customers open a year if I sell Christmas trees. There’s a lot of confusion in email between “engagement” and “open.” In email, we’re obsessed with the idea that open equals engagement. But, that’s simply not true. Maybe they didn’t open but they still bought based on our subject line, in the same way a TV commercial works. We’re spending a lot of time and effort in understanding and trying to get people to open and interact with our emails. We’re doing a lot of scary stuff in our efforts to make people buy (like pink razors). That’s where we need to be careful… when we start recording and analyzing interactions in every channel, and we act on that knowledge without thinking. We have always been able to manipulate people pretty easily, and the breadth and depth of the data we now have access to is making this manipulation more dangerous.
6. What is the best part about your job?
Being in control of what I do. And, the worst part is being in total control of what I do. I think the word is “responsibility.” I love that I can do what I want to do, when I want—within reason. But, if it goes wrong there’s no one else to look at. One of my sayings is that the owner of the business is the only one who can’t walk away.
7. If you could only use five (digital) marketing tools, what would they be? And why?
• Our new Touchstone virtual testing platform. The problem with manual testing, where you place two different ads or send out 2 emails to a percentage of your audience, gather the results and then run the “winner” to the wider audience, is it only works with batch and blast – sending the same message to everyone. But, sending personalized message to individuals massively increases the need to test. Problem is that testing the old way doesn’t scale. Our algorithms create a virtual replica of your database and then tests the copy, creative, search terms, banner copy, etc. based on known data to determine how your database would respond with a very high degree of accuracy. That way, you can gain the ability to only use messages, artwork, subject lines etc. that you know will work. And even better, the more you test, the more likely you are to get a great result.
• Email. It’s the cheapest way to deliver a message to your audience that has ever existed. Never pay Google or Facebook to reach someone who’s opted-in on your email list. Something like $650B in digital spend goes to those two companies, 90% of which is used to market to customers already in marketers’ databases. Email allows you to circumvent the treadmill that is digital advertising. Without email, sending right message to right person on the right device is not a viable proposition. CRM needs email.
• Marketing automation/CRM platforms in general. You can use these to start building the knowledge, the segments, the targeting…that’s the other side of the coin—knowing who to send what messages to.
You could do those three things successfully and never spend a penny on search.
8. Facebook or Twitter?
Twitter by a long, long way. I just don’t do Facebook. I’ve had a Facebook account since 2006, and was one of the first users outside the U.S. who wasn’t a college kid. But my Facebook started out as a business account, and then everyone came on. It became too much of a mix of personal and business contacts.
9. What is the biggest digital marketing trend that will drive success for 2017? What is the biggest digital marketing challenge?
I hate predictions around technology because we’re most likely to get them wrong. Look at the movie “Back to the Future,” for example. It’s not about technology. It’s a love story. The human story still works looking back, but the tech predictions are mostly all wrong. The closer you focus on human behavior, the more accurate a prediction will be.
The biggest challenge—and opportunity—for marketers is keeping their eye on the HUMAN STORY while everything is in a state flux from a technology perspective. There are thousands of new platforms, everyone says theirs is “the best,” and there are new rates, statistics, etc. that we’re told are important. But, if marketers take their eye off of what makes people buy, and how to create messages that resonate with people and instead focus on the tool, they’re missing the point. At Alchemy, we have been able to tell you who are likely to open an email in the next 7 days for over 5 years, with over 95% accuracy. But, with that knowledge would what you tell them once they open it be the same or different? The challenge with automation/machine learning, etc. will be to stay focused on what matters: how humans behave and how to use that knowledge to make them more likely to buy your product versus your competitors.
10. What is your go-to Karaoke song? And why?
I have never been seen nor heard in public singing karaoke. I’ve done it about 3-4 times in my life, but only in the right situation, with right amount of liquid lubrication around holiday time, surrounded only by my family. And there are only 2 songs I’ve ever sung: “Tennessee Stud” by Johnny Cash, and the other is “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor.
11. What’s the one or two things you can’t live without to get the job done?
The first is definitely email. I couldn’t live without it. I prefer it to everything. The best way to hide something from me is to put it on social media. But, send me an email, and I will process that. My inbox is my To Do list, my schedule, my repository of everything. I have about 60,000-70,000 emails in my inbox, but the big advantage is that you can manage it. If it’s text messages, or on slack or social, it’s just too much.
The second is desktop search. Before everything was digitized and we had the ability to search those documents, I could never win in the corporate game against people who were organized and had everything filed neatly. My desk is and always was a big pile of stuff in no order. The boss might come in and ask for that specific document or a report, and I could find it, but it would take a little while. The filers could get up, walk to the drawer, open it up and immediately produce what he or she was asking for. It used to drive me nuts that the filers could find everything.
Now, I can throw everything on my hard drive in every folder or no folder at all and find it instantly. It’s changed my life. In fact, before Apple and Microsoft extended search beyond the mailbox to the entire hard drive, you could find stuff in your email better and faster than anywhere else.
What a great perspective, Dela! We love how you remind us that, as marketers, it’s just as important to be responsible as it is to be effective. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with us.
In the next edition of InsiderInbox, we’ll hear from Tink Taylor, co-founder and president of dotDigital (dotMailer), who tells us what he thinks is the biggest trend coming down the road, and why Neil Diamond is his go-to when it comes to karaoke.
Until next time!