Get to Know Our Team: Jerome

Jerome Stontz is more than our Email Operations Manager–he’s also a certified brewer with his own line of beers. This jack-of-all-trades talks brewing, food, and how he invited a celebrity to his wedding.

How did you get into brewing?
I started as a homebrewer about 4 years ago. I did it for a little while, entered some competitions, got some good feedback... Shari (my fiancée) and I were supposed to move to Oregon, but it fell through. In a panic to find a place to live, we stopped at this burger joint, and were talking to the owner. We mentioned that I was a homebrewer, and she asked if she could have some samples of my beer. A few days later emailed me about brewing exclusively for their restaurant! Unfortunately, she wasn’t ready to invest in the equipment yet. So we went through a couple rounds of investors, and finally got funding to buy our first fermentation tank. We work with another brewery, where we pay them to use their equipment and space, but the tanks and barrels are ours. In 2016 we got our final state approval to brew and distribute. That’s what allowed us to start actually selling!

There’s a bulldog on your can!
It’s called Bold Dog Beer Co. In the 12-1300s, English bulldogs were known as “bold dogs.” I designed all our branding based on our old dog, Beefy. We’ve got two now named Charlie and Vinnie.


So clearly you’re a visionary in the beverage department, what about food?
I’m a pretty good baker actually, but what I’m best at making is ribeyes, or this recipe I stole from my mom: giant pasta shells filled with taco meat and topped with crushed tortilla chips and melted cheese. My claim to fame dessert treat is a pan with chocolate chip cookie, frosted (cream cheese + powdered sugar + peanut butter) and topped with crushed peanut butter cups and chocolate shell.

How did you end up at Den Aviary?
My background is traditionally in graphic design. Originally I wanted to be an animator - old school, Disney, hand-drawn cartoons. But my art teacher in high school nudged me into graphic design. I was good with computers–my 7th grade science project was building a computer from scratch. I took web design as an elective my senior year of college. I was mostly doing production design, but then I was offered a job in Naperville doing some website updates. Their email guy left and I volunteered to take his spot. From there, I was good at it, and every job since then has been email development. I was on Oracle’s team for awhile, and then I came here!

If you could have the email address of any famous person, who would it be?
Trey Parker and Matt Stone.

What would you email them about?
I’d ask if I could hang out with them.

Anything else we should know about you?
My hometown, Kewanee, was formerly know as the “Hog Capital Of The World.”
I’ve been into music for a long time - I play guitar (electric & bass), I have two drum kits (live & electronic)... I always loved to draw, and still draw when I can. Soon, Shari and I are going to Europe - Dublin, Brussels, Brughes, Munich, etc. We’re going to check out so many breweries!

List your pocket contents:
Cell phone, brewery keys, building badge, wallet

Guilty pleasure song:
Barry White “Never Give You Up” or Tom Jones “She’s A Lady”

Words to live by:
WWAWKD - What Would Andrew W.K. Do? (He would party.) If i’m in a bad mood, I will turn on “Party Hard” and it puts me in a better mood. I invited him to our wedding since he’ll be in town playing Riot Fest that weekend. I’m not sure if he’ll come but that would be awesome. We sent him a Save-the-date.

GIF: how do you say it?
It is GIF. Brent and I have kind of gotten into an argument about this. It’s not “jraphics”

Get to Know Our Team: Kent

Kent Henderson, Creative Director

Meet our creative director, Kent Henderson.

When he’s not bringing his massive design skills to Den Aviary, this Illinois native is up to his elbows in art projects at his letterpress studio.

What’s up with letterpress?
I’m a printmaker - I do letterpress and silkscreen. I like to transform my design skills into inky art projects. Plus, I look good in an apron!

You grew up in Illinois. What’s the farthest you’ve ever been from here?
I went to Amsterdam over a Christmas holiday once.

Cool! Is that your favorite place?
I love the Wisconsin Dells. Any Wisconsin destination - we went all the time as kids. I don’t think I have a specific “place,” I just remember walking around doing a lot of putt-putt golf.

List your pocket contents:
Keys, chapstick, loose dollar bills, Sony camera, phone, doggie bag

Guilty pleasure song:
Prince, “I Would Die 4 U

Best advice you’ve ever received:
Stop trying so hard.

GIF: how do you say it?
Hard G. Gif.

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!

What's in a Name?

Jason Sisley, President & Chief Strategist

In case you’re wondering why the name Den Aviary (or even if you’re not), here’s the story.

Way back in the early 90’s a friend had introduced me to the band Jawbox. J. Robbins, singer / guitarist / producer, became a huge influence on my love for music and went on to form the band Burning Airlines (Brian Eno reference).

With their release, Identikit, in 2001 the first track was called Outside The Aviary. This was my first introduction to Burning Airlines and I just couldn’t get the song out of my head.

Aside from the amazing musicians and powerful vocals behind Burning Airlines, I was drawn to the passion behind their lyrics. Plus, the name sounded pretty cool.

In recent years, I’ve taken an active interest in finding out more about my family heritage. My mother’s side of the family is Danish. I’ve since taken multiple trips to Denmark (one being my honeymoon) and have fallen in love with the culture. The word “the” in Danish is “den”. Therefore, Den Aviary is simply a mashup into “The Aviary”.

It’s unique, has personal meaning and I like it.

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.

Frequency: Email others as you wish to be emailed

Jason Sisley, President & Chief Strategist

Jason Sisley, President & Chief Strategist

I'm increasingly wary of any company that "auto" subscribes me to email promotions without first asking, or at the least using my previous engagement metrics, to determine how relevant they are to me. In most cases, a company's emails are the most frequent I will interact with that company, and bombarding me with everything you've got to offer reminds me a lot of a sales associate that follows you around the store asking if you need help with every stop you make. I'm more likely to leave the store empty-handed, or to bluntly ask for a little distance, than to pick up one of every recommendation.

Email marketing is still considered a cost effective tool for engaging with your loyal customers, but that doesn't give you the right to abuse it. It's easy to lose them (hopefully at the click of their mouse), so make sure you're losing email subscribers because they no longer have a need for your product or service, not because you're bombarding them.

By my last count, the average number of emails I receive from any single retailer in a given week is at least 4. Between the actual email I signed up for, the recommendation based on items on their site I viewed, the product I abandoned in my shopping cart, the discount, free shipping notice, etc., that's a lot to sort through. And when you consider that we're dealing with an increasingly crowded inbox to start, it can be downright confusing.

Then, you layer in a new series of emails for either a new product or new service offered... I'm getting annoyed just thinking about it.

Combine messages. If you've got enough discount ideas (free shipping, 20% off), combine those messages. A single email with the cost saving enticements is likely going to interest me more than multiple messages. For me, free shipping may not be much of an enticement if the store is within walking distance. For others, maybe it is the most important. Point is, just as email marketing gives you an opportunity to speak to your loyal customers all at once, let them choose what is most important.

Give me a break (or properly set the expectation). With daily deal senders changing what is acceptable in terms of email frequency, don't try to compete if that's not your game. The term "daily deal" already sets the expectation up front, so if you're not one of them, I'm not going to like it if you take liberties and assume I'm ok with you sending me a daily email. Give your customers a break, even if for a day in between emails. Whatever you set your frequency at, stick to it and set that expectation up front. Any deviation from this should be a mind-blowing deal. Otherwise, I'm likely to dismiss the mind-blowing deal or overlook it because I know I'm going to hear from you tomorrow, too.

Ask for permission when a new email promotion is created. If you've got a new email promotion for either new products or services and you think it's relevant to me (I'm assuming you're at least using past engagement metrics to determine this), just ask. Announce the new promotion, product or service to your customers through a single message, but tell them how they can shut it down. Not having a message wasted on those that legitimately aren't interested isn't a bad thing. They'll tell you and they'll appreciate being asked.

I know some of these are a hard sell because there is a real shot at lost revenue by making it so easy to declare disinterest. But as marketers, we've got an obligation to our customers. Short term thinking can damage your credibility and, once all of the dust settles after the holidays, the ones that set the expectation up front, honored it and listened to their customers are going to stand above the rest.

Den Aviary News: May 2016

Kevin Gales, COO/VP Business Development

Kevin Gales, COO/VP Business Development

Our success at Den Aviary is directly tied to our ability to work with you, our clients and partners, to create customer value that builds long-term business results. We’ve built into our DNA a practice that is based on endless planning, execution and optimization, and intelligent decision-making that all aligns with your overall business metrics and goals.

In line with that thinking, we’ve had quite a busy first four months of the year: lots of exciting work, new hires and even a new office location. Along with that, we have renewed our commitment to getting new, fresh content out to the blog (starting today!), and our up-and-coming topics cover everything from performance media to creative to digital strategy. We believe that the things we’ve been busy with provide us with great experiences, resources and knowledge that we can leverage for you and keep delivering quality, world class solutions.

For starters, we’re excited to announce the addition of Esosa Ogbomo to our Performance Media team! Esosa comes to us most recently from Frequency 540 and Starcom MediaVest and is super qualified to lead the charge for us in all things paid media and web analytics. Job number one is to establish our positioning in performance media, and begin to extend our capabilities in areas where you need our strategic thinking beyond email and into the other digital channels where we need that expertise. We’re very happy to have Esosa and already have him well entrenched on both existing client work and new opportunities.

We’re also very pleased to welcome our good friend and colleague Lee Rosenthal to Den Aviary as our SVP of Client Success. Lee’s a graduate of Northwestern’s IMC program, spent time at Classified Ventures/, Rewards Network, Bally Total Fitness, Experian and most recently at Return Path. Just about everyone here at Den Aviary has had the pleasure of working with Lee at other stops along our distinct paths; we’re now proud to have him on our team ensuring that your needs are met and that we’re always finding better ways to work together.

Which brings us to our third piece of good news for the day… everything that we’ve been building up for in Q1 of this year was to use our recent growth as a springboard into a new market. And with the hires of both Esosa and Lee, we’re proud to announce the opening of a new Den Aviary office in New York! Lee will run the New York office fulltime from the Financial District downtown. Esosa will be based the in Chicago but will be instrumental in raising the stakes of our media practice to provide a great fit for the New York marketplace.

As you can see, we’re excited about these opportunities and excited about where we’re headed. We’re very committed to your success and we’re making good, smart investments in making certain that we’re where you need us to be. In the coming months we’ll have more good news to share – in the meantime please join us in welcoming Esosa and Lee and as always stop by to see us, now in either Chicago or New York!

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.