digital marketing

Your email subscription process: it’s just as important

Jason Sisley, President & Chief Strategist

Jason Sisley, President & Chief Strategist

It’s about this time of year, every year, that I jam up my inbox with new email subscriptions in search of holiday deals. I don’t often pay that much attention to the subscription process (I also rarely actually make purchases), but this is the first year that I’ve really noticed a lot of marketers paying way more attention to what goes into the emails and the lack of attention put into the actual subscription process.

Not lying, I spent 15 minutes on a well known retail website, after registering for an email, trying to figure out how to change my preferences and profile information. Even worse, I couldn’t, because the email I registered for wasn’t part of the subscription center.

Another example is another well known retailer that has a “special” email for the holidays. First off, it was assumed I was interested in getting the new email because I subscribe to a particular email of theirs, but when I went to unsubscribe the only option was to be removed from everything, not just the new email. I emailed their customer service department about this and was told that I’d need to go back and resubscribe after Christmas, when the promotion ends. It’s unlikely I’ll remember, or want, to do this. I doubt I’m alone.

Now, I don’t think either of these scenarios are because the retailers are trying to trick me, or dissuade me from unsubscribing. I do think they just put way more thought into the email, without considering the registration process, or subscription center an integral part of the holistic program.

iStock-481685900 - Subscription Center 2a.jpg

When working with clients the first thing I do is get familiar with their subscription process, the profile/subscription center and the unsubscribe process. This is such an important piece of the program and is often viewed as necessary, but less important. It’s likely the first (sign-up) and last (opt-out) interaction they’re going to have with you. You should be making each just as simple. Whatever you do, don’t hide the subscription center as a means for making someone search long enough that they just decide to keep receiving emails because they gave up. Instead, work on giving them a reason for not unsubscribing, or for customizing their subscription. I like a good challenge and surprising someone with the options for keeping their emails, but customizing when they come too often, or on an inconvenient day or time, can easily persuade a frustrated customer into giving it another shot.

With the host of daily deal sites that are out there now, best practices are out the window when it comes to frequency. While that might be fine when a customer first registers, they’re bound to get tired and overwhelmed as more and more emails flood their inbox. Not giving the ability to customize the frequency is basically giving them an all or nothing option. When an unsubscribe is legitimate, meaning they intend to not do business with you anymore, it’s a good thing. I’d consider it an amicable break-up. When it’s done because they just can’t keep up or are losing interest, it’s your chance to win them back by saying you’re committed to changing.

In summary:

  1. Make the subscription, modify and opt-out process simple
  2. Give options for opting down (decreased frequency, different time of the day) and honor it
  3. Include subscription options for every email that has a theme (normal marketing vs. special promotion)
  4. Make the subscription center link easy to find on every page on your site
  5. Most important, when developing new emails, consider the subscription process as an important part of the program
  6. Also, don’t assume someone wants to receive everything that you have the ability to send. Ask if they’re interested. If they aren’t then you’re not wasting effort (and money) on less engaged customers.

These may sound simple, but it’s increasingly rare to find this combination.

Back to cleaning up my inbox.

Happy Holidays!

How to create a successful digital campaign

Esosa Ogbomo, Lead Consultant Performance Media

Esosa Ogbomo, Lead Consultant Performance Media


Strategy is defined as ‘a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.’ Whenever I work with a client I think about this definition. I do this because it is strategy that will define whether or not a campaign will be successful. The tools are important for executing your strategy but do not make it successful. As agencies/people we have access to the same tools and software. How we use those tools is what differentiates successful campaigns from failed ones.

My three keys to a successful digital campaign:

1. Understand what the client needs.
The foundation of every great digital strategy comes from understanding that what the client wants might be very different from what they need. This may sound obvious, but it is an issue I constantly see in the industry. Agencies create these elaborate and quite frankly stunning decks that wow the clients. They tell the client how they plan to utilize search retargeting and dynamic keyword insertion to increase revenue, without understanding what the client actually needs. They don’t challenge their clients, so they become a production-based service agency rather than a partner. When you are a partner you can share in honesty with your client and vice versa; both people in the relationship trust each other because a successful relationship benefits both parties. This, in turn, allows for an open and honest dialogue about what they need instead of what they want.

2. Data is your ally.
Embrace data. Let data guide your opinions and not the other way around. There are so many tools that give insight into consumer behavior. Spend time setting up your preferred analytics tool and dashboards. I personally love Google Analytics because it is easy to use, has a relatively simple UI and it’s FREE. Even if your platform is Core Metrics or Webtrends, the process is the same. Create documentation around your data set-up, so that when you look back there is complete transparency.

3. Test and learn.
Testing and learning may not technically be part of the initial strategy, but it is vital to success on any campaign. For example: When we roll out ad copy for search, it is always with the intent to optimize toward better performing ads. So we roll out two to four variations of headlines and body text. Yes, there are details that you need to understand and work through to have a successful test but I think it can be generally summarized by these three questions.

  1. Why do we want to test? Knowing why you want to run a test can save you time and resources, even if the answer is no test is needed. This means resources can be spent adding value to a campaign.
  2. How are we going to test? Is this a simple A/B test, what platform should the test be performed on and how long should the test run for. Asking these questions before hand we result in actionable insights. With that, it is important to understand that actionable insights can mean taking no action.
  3. What do we expect the results to be? This is your hypothesis, “Dynamic ad copies have higher click through rates but the users are less likely to convert”.

To recap:

Listen to your client and become a partner, they brought you in to help them grow not co-sign what they already know. Lean on data and shy away from recommending opinions. Start by making sure the data is ‘clean’ through robust documentation process. Finally, test and optimize. Digital campaigns are delicate, various things impact their performance and testing allows us to understand what levers to adjust to truly optimize. So here is the recipe for a successful campaign:

(Understanding & Research) + Data + (Testing & Optimizations) = SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGN

Top Tip:

My Den Aviary Top Tip: When setting up Google Analytics account, be sure to use the second view as your primary data source as this will reduce the amount of ghost referrals/bot traffic in your data. EX: UA-xxxxxxx-2

Lee Rosenthal Joins Den Aviary as SVP of Client Success

Lee Rosenthal, SVP Client Success

Lee Rosenthal, SVP Client Success

Den Aviary is proud to announce the addition of Lee Rosenthal as SVP of Client Success. He will work with new and current clients to support and grow the relationship with Den Aviary, as well as run the agency’s newly opened New York office.

Lee comes to Den Aviary with more than 25 years of marketing and business development leadership experience in small and large organizations across both B2B and B2C functions. He brings a strategic approach to customer-centric marketing, with an ability to roll up his sleeves and deliver needed work with and for our clients.

Rosenthal will be charged with ensuring client growth and success by proactively working with clients to develop broader strategies and programs that support key business initiatives.

“Having worked with Lee in the past, I knew his leadership qualities and work ethic would be a tremendous fit for us, said Den Aviary President and Head of Strategy Jason Sisley. “With our growth over the past five years, maintaining executive-level relationships and ensuring success with all of our clients is a major part of our continued growth. Lee fills this need perfectly and simultaneously accelerated our expansion into New York City."

Lee is a graduate of Northwestern’s IMC program and worked at Classified Ventures/, Rewards Network, Bally Total Fitness, Experian and most recently, at Return Path.

It’s Time to Talk about Data Quality


Andrew Bullock,  CTO/VP Data Services

We use data to communicate with our customers. But what happens when the data we intend to share, shows up differently than what we expected?

Data quality – the idea that data in question appropriately serves the business function for which it is intended – is an important concept. It is also important to note that the business needs demanding that data can expand over time, outgrowing those original quality specifications and leading to unanticipated results.

For example, what happens when a newly implemented external marketing platform exposes data as dynamic content to your customer base? An organization may assume it has done its due diligence if the data is fit for previously defined business purposes it was intended to serve. This is a dangerous assumption however, and can lead to campaign development challenges, content issues, and ultimately a decline in customer perception of your brand.

Whether it's due to an internal data technology team not fully comprehending the complexity of a given platform, or data being offered up to the customer that has never been previously leveraged externally, or simple corruption due to mundane encoding issues ("UTF-huh?"), blunders are more common than you may think. Product descriptions looking like someone ran them through a virtual paper shredder, irrelevant customer service notes appearing in unexpected fields, and other such manifestations can negatively impact the customer’s experience. Regardless of the cause, the result is the same: your brilliant dynamic digital marketing effort ends up looking like it was put together by an inebriated robot.

Simply having data isn't enough. You must make data quality a core aspect of your marketing system implementations.

A good rule of thumb is that if data isn't suitable for website presentation, it's probably not suitable for presentation in any other digital media. An example of such data might be any data that was keyed in by a customer support representative - ask Comcast about how this can go wrong.

While in the Comcast case the issue showed up in automated paper billing, you get the idea. The people entering the data in a particular field (or creating the processes that do so) may not have any idea that it might be exposed to parties outside the organization.

Communication is key. Make sure the data team in your organization understands what you are doing with this data, beyond simply needing it. Data being leveraged for customer segmentation and business rules has a different set of quality considerations and implications than data being purposed for content. Take nothing for granted. Your data team may know something you don't. Something that could save you from embarrassing your brand in front of your entire base ... or worse.

Then, test. Then test again. Then test more. Some commonly observed issues are:

  1. Misattributed data such as address data showing up in name fields, price data showing up in product names, and other such mistakes.
  2. Encoding errors, which are special characters, and sometimes not-so-special characters, showing up as gibberish in your generated content. This is typically a result of character encoding inconsistencies between your internal data system and your marketing system. This can be avoided by being sure the correct encoding scheme is being leveraged (e.g. UTF-8), or developing a solution that replaces these characters with their HTML character references, either within your marketing platform or upstream in your data sources (this may require further cooperation from your data team).
  3. Case issues, where data isn’t appearing with proper letter case. For example names where the first letter is in lowercase, product names that are entirely in uppercase, and so forth. In robust marketing systems, it is often simplest to handle these with functions to appropriately convert the case within the system itself.

At the end of the day, it all comes down to communication and cooperation with your data resources, broad testing, and careful consideration of where the issue would be most efficiently addressed, be it upstream in the data source itself, within the marketing system’s functionality, or somewhere in between.

It is easy to overlook the importance of data quality, and the many points at which it can go wrong, when you'd rather focus on your message and creative. But taking the time to ensure that the data you are dynamically presenting is what you want it to be is a key element to a successful campaign.

Our gift to you -- more effective emails through the holidays


Brent Hartings, VP Email Operations

The holidays are coming! And it’s a great opportunity to connect with your customers. But it’s also an idea that occurs to quite a few marketers at this time of year. 

So how do you stand out among the crowd of emails vying for attention in your customer’s inboxes? In the spirit of the holiday season, we at Den Aviary are sharing our top 11 tips to make the most of your holiday email program. 

1. Don't underestimate the number of messages your subscribers can handle during the peak shopping season. Yes, it’s true that people get a bit deluged at this time and because of this, your unsubscribes will likely spike a bit. But you will actually come up ahead in a cost/benefit analysis. Typically the holiday season’s ability to generate so many new subscribers, who may turn into longer-term customers, will offset any increase in unsubscribes.

2. Identify which subscribers don’t mind more email over the holiday. Review individual subscriber email engagement rates to see who can handle additional sends. For example, one can surmise that those that have an open rate of 40% over the last 6 months are more inclined to engage in additional messaging volume compared to those with a 2% open rate.

3. Segment and target the customers who tend to engage even more heavily during the holiday season. Review your order data from the previous year’s holiday season and find those who are truly holiday shoppers. Don’t rely on recent engagement as a predictor of their holiday engagement.  

4. Don’t risk ISP blocking. If you plan to increase your send volume during the holidays, ramp it up slowly, starting in early November. A sudden spike in volume will raise concerns at ISPs and increase a risk of blocking. 

5. Monitor your delivery rate and sender score obsessively. Nothing can be more catastrophic to your holiday email revenue than a deliverability issue. It not only prevents your messages from getting into the inbox, but as you emailers know, it's a time suck - time that could be spent figuring out how to make tomorrow's send better than today's.

6. Be proactive about preventing unsubscribes. If you have unsubscribe spike concerns resulting from increased send volume, create a holiday opt-out option.

7. Be unique. One way to do this is to monitor trends and go against them. If everyone is sending at 7 am, try 11 am. If everyone is including a snowman emoji in their subject line, melt them away with a sun character. Test out a holiday-themed “From” name. Do whatever you can to stand out.

8. Plan your message schedule around your product/service delivery times. Physical products require the most lead time, followed by services and ending with gift cards. By syncing your messaging with delivery, you can be more timely and urgent with your messaging.

9. Agility is the key. Of course you should have a plan, but be able to modify and optimize it at anytime as you learn new information. Test your strategy with a small, sample email run and if you learn something significant, incorporate it into your larger send.

10. Outdo competitions’ offers. Know what your competitors are doing and prepare yourself to top any offer they serve up. You should have a pre-set notion of how rich of an offer you are prepared to deliver to your subscribers in order to beat the competition.

11. Make the purchase cycle as easy as possible for your customers. A majority of customers are reading your email on a mobile device, so make sure that they can initiate and complete a purchase cycle seamlessly and successfully. 

Companies can make or break their budgets over the next two months, and it's important that every channel, specifically email, is optimized and working at its best. As long as you maintain the same kind of control testing you use year round, you can now look at your holiday email program as an opportunity, rather than a challenge. 

Use Weighted Conversion Attribution for Better Optimization

   Jason Sisley, President & Chief Strategist   


Jason Sisley, President & Chief Strategist


I am an email marketer. In fact, my colleagues and I built our agency around our core expertise in this area. But the innovation I saw at the 2015 Litmus Email Design Conference in Boston got me thinking. I wonder if there’s something more we can do to not only improve the ROI on email marketing for our clients, but to help them see more sales in general.

Properly executed multi-channel campaigns can find potential customers where they live and, accordingly, generate more conversions. And of course, most companies will run some kind of integrated campaign. But what happens after a campaign and the start of another can affect sales drastically.

Marketing communication channels are often thought of in as silos and measured against each other like some sort of contest—with the channel generating the most sales deemed the winner. But it’s often this kind of attribution model that’s to blame for not giving the multi-channel approach its due credit for its role in creating conversions. It’s far more useful to understand the impact of each component of a campaign, not just the part that “won.” And If you’re measuring impact solely based on last interaction, you’re only seeing a small part of the picture.

A weighted attribution approach makes more sense. And it’s a wonder that more agencies don’t employ this technique. According to Stephanie Miller at ClickZ, weighted or fractional attribution recognizes that there are many touchpoints in a customer’s path to conversion. Miller says, “the insights from attribution analysis are powerful. Reinvestment in the channels that work - by audience segment or product line - will return higher revenue and improve customer satisfaction. With so much data available, and so many ways for customers and prospects to interact with our brands, an effective model will be dynamic, and keep up with the changing landscape of our testing and marketing campaign optimization. We'll all be marketing superheroes!"

We agree! At Den Aviary, we find that using weighted attribution we are much more informed of what strategies and tactics are working based on the order of events, instead of just cutting out those that don’t appear to be performing. We also work with our clients to take other variables into consideration, so that ROI is calculated based on other variables in addition to sales.

Conversions are one of the first metrics I check when monitoring a client’s campaign, but unless we look at where the numbers come from just as analytically, we’re not making the most of the tools available to us. And potentially limiting our client’s ROI.