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Adestra’s Ryan Phelan Talking with InsiderInbox

September 21, 2017  •  By: Renee Chemel

Greetings Inboxers! As we say farewell to summer and slip into fall, we hope your marketing ROI and customer engagement projections so far have exceeded expectations!  Now, it’s really down to crunch time for solidifying your holiday marketing strategy. How are you planning to connect personally with your customers or subscribers? Drop us a line to let us know how you’re using innovative content to drive results!

Meanwhile, we all know that honesty is the best policy, but in marketing, there can sometimes be a fine line between authenticity and hype. For this month’s InsiderInbox guest, “wearing the white hat” isn’t just a catch-phrase—it’s his personal mission, in both life and in business.

Ryan Phelan is VP of marketing insights at Adestra, a contextual email marketing platform. A highly sought-after speaker and expert on digital media, Ryan’s experience on both the client and agency side gives him a unique perspective on the industry and what drives success. Named one of the Top 20 Digital Strategists in the U.S., Ryan is the former chairman of the Email Experience Council Advisory Board and is currently on the board of directors for the Email Service Provider Council. He brings a wealth of both leadership strategy and hands-on experience to the table, and here’s what he has to say about email marketing’s present and future.

1.  Why did you choose marketing, or maybe it chose you?

It chose me. I graduated with a degree in psychology, and I just fell into it because it turned out that I was really good at it. I started out working for nightclubs and bars doing marketing entertainment, and started using the internet as a promotional tool. Then, I got good at email, and it’s worked really well for me. It fed off of my psych background, because marketing is all about understanding the customer’s psyche.

2.  What is your personal mission statement?

To always wear the white hat—to be honest and authentic. I’ve always tried to focus on building a strong brand, emphasizing its core tenants and being mindful of the equity it has and how that equity is used, spent and earned. Throughout my career, I’ve found that the most successful companies are the most authentic and that’s translated into how I try to do business. I’m not going to succeed if I’m lying to people, consumers or business users. They’ll be able to see through your BS, so it’s best to just be honest. Authenticity always wins and it’s the only way to build trust. So that’s why I always wear the white hat, and treat others how I’d want to be treated, in both my personal relationships and in marketing.

3.  Tell me something about your job that inspires you to keep working there.

Bonuses and compensation help pay the bills, but it’s the people here and wanting to win that really motivate me. For the owners and founders here, it’s wanting to help them be successful, and to leave a good mark in the industry. For our customers, we’re on a mission to make email marketing easier and their lives in general easier in their work. Money just pays the bills and allows me to get really nice wine. But, I work here because I believe in the founders and the company, more than I ever have with any other company in my 17 years in this industry.

4.  Offices or open work space?

I’m an office guy. I work from home and travel so much now, but in my past lives when I worked in an office environment, it was tough because I have a problem: I’ve always been loud. I have two volumes: loud and off. At my last company, we moved offices and we now had this open architecture. I went to the office manager and explained about my two volumes and that this may not work. At the time, there wasn’t room for me to have an office to myself and only VPs had offices, so she encouraged me to try to make it work. A week and a half after being in this environment, she came to me and said, “OK this isn’t going to work. I can hear you from MY desk. Everyone can hear you.” She couldn’t officially give me an office, but pointed out that there was an open space, and said “It’s yours. I won’t put anyone else in there.” So, yeah, I need an office.

5.  What is a skill that every digital marketer should have and why?

Every marketer should be able to code. I started off in internet marketing with a buddy, and he taught me how to code. I learned HTML and Cold Fusion. But aside from learning the language of coding, it taught me how to think strategically. When you code, it’s very strict. X has to come before Y, Y before Z and it has to be done specifically. When you’re bugging things, it’s a problem-solving process, a regimen on how you code and debug. That gave me an incredibly good foundation on how to market. You take things in order. You can’t get to the end without the actions that come before it. It’s just like coding—it’s a process that you have to decode when bugging. For me, the smartest marketers are the ones who know how to code. Even a little HTML is enough. It gives you a whole new perspective on marketing.

6.  What is the best part about your job?

The people that I work with every day. I just had a 4-hour meeting with team members, and usually that kind of marathon would cause people to want to slit their wrists. But I really enjoy it, because the environment of collaboration is amazing. Our CEO and founder is in the room, we all have the freedom to challenge what he says, to bring up ideas, and not be afraid. I’ve been in positions where you can’t challenge, because you get smacked down. But here, it’s a free flow of information and all ideas are valid. You may not win them all, but it’s not because you’re not allowed to contribute. That kind of collaboration is Incredibly powerful.

7.  If you could only use five (digital) marketing tools, what would they be? And why?

ScheduleOnce.com – it’s the way I schedule time with outside companies
TweetDeck for Business – anything that consolidates social media into usable format is huge for me
Slack – we use it for a couple different clients, departments, and teams inside the company
• A good instant messenger
• Skype – being remote, I do a lot of video calls, so I use it repeatedly throughout the day

Generally, my practice is to use best-of-breed software for what it’s designed for. My CRM/social/etc. is best of breed…I built my marketing stack by surrounding myself with software that integrates very well. A lot of software companies try to exceed their brand mandate by adding extra features that aren’t in their wheelhouse. That wastes resources and ruins good software.

8.  Facebook or Twitter?

Twitter for business. Facebook for personal stuff, but that’s heavily walled.

9.  What is the biggest digital marketing trend that will drive success over the next year? What is the biggest challenge?

The most important trend will be leveraging email addresses as identification. Your personal address is used in so many places. Even though email address isn’t officially “PII” (personal identifying information), I’d argue that it’s actually more valuable than a social security number. I can find so much information about a person based on their email address. So, that’s a big discussion: identity management. How do you identify consumers across platforms? That’s the power of email. It’s not just a communication medium, but also a way to ID the consumer.

The challenge? Getting email marketers to move the needle in terms of using the email address as ID, and appending it with third-party data. For the last 15 years, we’ve been preaching one-to-one, the need to send more relevant messages, etc. Now the email marketer holds the key to the digital kingdom in terms of identifying the consumer. Access is now better than it’s ever been in the history of digital marketing. And, we’ve got to get higher-ups involved in using that data, in linking ad tech and martech.

Most people have multiple emails – the average consumer has three addresses. But, they always have one primary. The rest are just for junk mail. The challenge here is marketing email as a product. Interstitials that ask for an email address for a coupon are just stupid. You sacrifice insight. The consumer gets 10% off, but they have you a piece of crap with their junk email address. Marketers have to find ways to avoid getting that secondary email address and it starts by providing content that’s valuable enough that they want to give you the “real” address.

10.  You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What color would you be and why?

I’d be Irish green because I’m Irish, I like green, and I like being outside.

11.  What’s the one or two things you can’t live without to get the job done?

Iced tea – unsweetened. Even when I go to England, I need my iced tea, which is pretty uncommon there. They recently did a remodel in the office kitchen there, which had never had a freezer. I asked specifically for a freezer so that I could have ice for my iced tea.

I also need a reason to believe… in the product, company, mission, yourself. If you don’t have a reason to believe, it’s really hard to get through the day. I wake up every morning excited about every day, about the industry, the relationships, the people here. That’s what gets me through the day. I’ve not had that in jobs in the past. I’ve not had that reason to believe. My work isn’t always unicorns and rainbows, but when I’m here, it also doesn’t feel like I’m working 11 hours a day. It’s a good time. And, that’s so important.

Wow Ryan! What great insight about the market, the industry, and life in general. Thanks so much for sharing your perspective with us.

Until next time, Inboxers… Here’s to a spectacular kickoff for your end-of-year sprint!


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Your direct-sold ads in email that easily translates into money. How? Check out AdServer for Email.

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Get the inside track on the latest AdTech & MarTech news, trends and strategies.

Blog Form

Your direct-sold ads in email that easily translates into money. How? Check out AdServer for Email.

Drive revenue in every email you send. Learn how with RevenueStripe.