Sorry, there’s no silver bullet for your email marketing strategy

In an age of increasing social media usage for advertising, email marketing still reigns supreme. Why? It’s a relatively inexpensive way to communicate to your most loyal customers and it’s easy to set up and track a campaign.

But as appealing as email marketing may be, there’s no silver bullet. And that’s OK. Markets evolve and marketers adapt along the way.

To help marketers improve their inbox skills, Globe Content Studio hosted a panel of experts on Nov. 28, 2018, at its monthly MarTech Mornings series.

The panel included:

1 Scott Adams Director of Digital Subscriptions Acquisitions at The Globe and Mail.

2 Astrid HenningerDirector of Brand Marketing of Canadian jewelry design firm Jenny Bird.

3 Geoff LintonCEO and founder of Inbox Marketer, a data-driven marketing services and technology solutions company.


Deputy head of Globe Content Studio, Katherine Scarrow, moderated the panel. Download an audio version of the discussion or read the highlights below.


Scott explained that his role at The Globe is to help build subscription revenue. Millions of visitors to The Globe’s website are ‘fly-by’ users and, as a result, he isn’t able to capture information about them. If he can secure a potential subscriber’s email address, through a newsletter sign up, for example, he can build a relationship with that user and turn their content consumption into a habit. While users may find their content through social media or search, his research has found that newsletter readers have a much higher propensity to become subscribers, and those subscribers who consume newsletters are much more likely to stick with The Globe and Mail. Retention rates for print and digital subscribers with newsletters are “phenomenal,” he says.

Astrid emphasized the fact that Jenny Bird’s truest devotees are also email subscribers. They’re the ones who are buying most frequently and are spending the most. Email is the key platform to communicate brand messages, unveil new collections and provide a behind-the-scenes experience for its customers. It’s also one of their most consistent “levers” the firm can pull to drive sales. Email is “a very important channel for us.”

As the largest specialist in Canada, Geoff says his has had its finger on the pulse of the email marketing industry for 12 years. The best email marketers are able to balance art and science to drive results, he says.

Most people guard their email addresses with the lives, which isn’t great news for marketers. At Jenny Bird, Astrid said there are three tactics they take; the first is a pop-up that appears when a user first lands on their website, followed by another at checkout. But the most effective way to get someone to drive email subscriptions is through partnering on a contest with a like-minded brand. By working with a company with a lookalike audience, Jenny Bird was able to grow its own base of subscribers much more than it could have on its own.

For Scott, the challenge is completely different. “We have millions of people that are already coming through our website, so I have to find the right places to put that call to action so that they’ll sign up for a newsletter,” he said. But it’s a slow burn that requires a lot of experimentation.

Whatever you do, don’t buy an email list. That’s a definite “no-no” said Geoff, who has three people at his company working on CASL. “We’ll actually biopsy lists before we take on a new client, just to make sure we understand their addressable audience,” he said. And while it’s possible to get a lot of email addresses in a short period of time, you want to make sure you balance that with quality. “If someone has taken the time to come to your website make sure you have a prominent call to action. From there give them the value proposition about what you can offer from that perspective,” he recommended.

But like everything, building a quality list takes time and discipline and you need to balance your cost per acquisition with the value of an email address. “There’s no silver bullet,” Geoff said.

Because The Globe is showcasing content – and not selling any products or services in their newsletters – Scott’s job is to make sure that subscribers have a positive reading experience within the email itself. You’re basically shipping people a home page or a sub-section and you’re trying to drive them back to your site. And hopefully when subscribers get back to the site they’re either logging in or they’re already subscribers or they’re hitting your meter or your paywall.

It’s also important to thing about tone and style depending on the newsletter, he said. Rob Carrick writes a full newsletter and it’s got voice and you can tell Rob’s taken some effort to write a main topic and throw a whole bunch of stuff at the bottom to get you interested in reading more. Other newsletters mirror the home page. The Globe used to do automated newsletters but “that was a disaster,” he said.


“I’d rather live with human errors than automation errors. Especially with content. You just have no idea what some key word is going to pull up, so I try to make sure there’s always a set of eyes on their newsletters,” Scott said. The Globe has also started to include author bylines on the newsletters. “Our newsletters were pretty much ignored by the Editorial department until a couple of years ago. When we started putting bylines in there, the department started caring a lot more.”

Along with personalizing the newsletters, Geoff emphasized the importance of readability. Specifically he says breaking the content up into sections ‘scannable’ from a mobile device is key.  

For Astrid, the newsletter has to fit the brand and tie in nicely to the website. With each newsletter Jenny Bird produces, they’re trying to balance how much they can deliver and still keep you interested and wanting more. So whether it’s testing image type or size, they’re always testing and learning. But what’s critical is taking what you’ve learned from the market or your own experiment and put it into practice on your own audience.

She also recommends finding the right delivery rate. On Black Friday, for example, Jenny Bird’s open rate were down. However, site visits were up. “Some brands send emails every single day but that doesn’t work for us,” she said.

Geoff said that from a content perspective, you don’t have to test everything, but you do need to “test with purpose.” You don’t want to be too gimmicky, but there are certainly strategies he recommends to help clients with their open rates. Trying different subject lines and using adaptive content (content that changes based on the device, context or person) are two businesses can experiment.


The next MarTech Mornings takes place in Toronto, at The Globe and Mail Centre on King Street East, in January. Keep an eye on our events page for details.