The audio recording below is Rodrigo’s interview with Karen Lewison from Return Path. Here, Karen shares a lot about event marketing, personalization, and account-based marketing (ABM).
What is Return Path?
Rodrigo: This is Rodrigo Fuentes from ListenLoop and I’m here with Karen from Return Path. Karen, please introduce yourself and tell us about Return Path and what it does.
Karen: Great, thank you. I’m Karen Lewison and I am the senior manager for event marketing at Return Path. We are a company that specializes in email data and we are the world’s leading email data solutions provider. Our solutions provide the insight companies need to build better relationships, drive more response and increase revenue. Our client trust our data to make sure their emails are seen, read and acted upon. A lot of times people think they have really great deliverability as their email service provider will tell them, but then, layering in our products is that we can give you better data as to exactly where the mail is landing and how people are engaging with them.
Rodrigo: Excellent, and to give the audience a bit of an understanding of who you target, tell us about your bio persona or maybe some of the target industry that you go after.
Karen: Sure. So our primary persona is the manager of the email marketing program who is looking holistically at the email channel, the organizer so to speak. We also then do work with others concerned about email marketing. That would be the implementers, more of the coordinators and the specialists, and then, obviously, if we can get to that level with the CMO of marketing or the digital marketing leader we would work with them too. Those are the four people that we typically work with. But primarily, we are looking at the people that are managing the day to day of the campaign, the everyday user. In terms of verticals, we work with a lot of retailers. We also work with finance companies, anybody that’s sending a large amount of emails.
Rodrigo: Yeah and large is definitely sometimes a relative term. What is large? Are we talking 10s of millions or are we talking hundreds or thousands?
Karen: I would say hundreds or thousands. You know, sometimes it’s the smaller senders who maybe send a couple of hundred emails for their newsletter but mostly it is Probably none are sweet retailers who are constantly sending people with emails everyday — coupon offers, black friday deals, stuff like that.
Rodrigo: That’s great. So to put it in context, it sounds like an enterprise sale, a lot of decision makers or stakeholders at least involved in acquiring a product like this, and event marketing of course is an important part of the marketing mix to get their attention — to get your brand in front of them and to form those kind of personal relationships with people.
Event Marketing: What kind of strategies led by you have you seen working well recently?
Karen: We do a combination of different things throughout the year. I feel like there’s no one magic silver bullet when it comes to event marketing. We don’t like to put all our eggs in one basket and just do all the large industry trade shows. We sort of mix it up with participating in the large industry shows where we’re thought of as thought leaders and provide great content. We might sit in on a breakout, a panel discussion or round table.We use these events as an opportunity to help educate people, and then we also will do field marketing events as well and those are a little bit more customer focused, where we’ll bring in customers as well as prospects. For the prospects, we want them to get to meet our customers and see why they like working with us so much. We also do quarterly mailers and we have hosted some of our own events, we start from scratch. Most recently, we did our world tour, which was something that we did from end to end and we brought in customers and prospects and had customer panel so that our prospects could really hear about our business and how people were using our applications in real time. So I feel like we try to do a little bit of everything and that sort have been working for us, where we kind of participate at events at various different levels.
Rodrigo: The field marketing event sometimes, to me sounded a lot like steak dinners, right? That’s what I hear some people call it in the industry.
Karen: Yeah and they can be. We like to keep it fun. We actually did a Major League Baseball tour this past year, where we visited several ballparks and did an experience at Fenway Park where the Boston Red Sox play. Our guests got to actually go, and see the green monster and touch it and take photos, and then we visited Dodger Stadium in LA and a few others along the way as just a way to do some networking, but you’re right, primarily the field marketing are those — your typical steak dinners, the wining and dining, the fun events. You go ahead and you mix in a couple of those and then throw in some of the industry shows that we participated in like a MarketingSherpa or an Email Evolution Conference, and that’s where we can kind of really get into the weeds and pitch our content for people to hear all about our company and what we do. We like to talk about best practices in the industry. We have some really good bloggers here at Return Path so we run a regular blog series that our professional services department contributes to. We also produce a lot of content. Our white papers and ebooks are great. Something new for us this year that we’ve done is fun interactive things on our website. We offer free tools on our website that people can check out. We also did an email experience around the election this year, and so we were actually showing people how different email programs were performing, specifically Trump, Clinton, and Sanders — how their email programs were kind of stacking up against each other, and who was doing really well and who did not quite stack up. And now, we actually have an email superhero experience that we’re featuring on our website, where you can find out what your email superhero power is by answering a series of questions. It is pretty fun and innovative.
Rodrigo: Very cool. You also think of events as a kind of funnel or channel, where maybe a steak dinner is more kind of middle of funnel, right? You’ve already chosen some people — they self-selected, they want to attend and it’s building a relationship. Your large events, where you do your thought leadership sounds kind of like top of funnel, where you’re trying to attract as many people that come and talk to you.
What is the “bottom funnel” equivalent for an event, where you’re trying to close a deal or get the ball across the finish line?
Karen: So typically, in those instances, at the bottom of the funnel to kind of push it, that’s usually where our deal support packages will come in. So a salesperson might come to us and say, “Hey, I’ve met this person at XYZ event and they’ve really interested in our products, but we just need to kind of like push this one home and show them the value,” and so we might send them a very customized mail piece, whether it is some swag or an additional piece of collateral — just something that kind of, you know, pushes us to top of mind to them and lets them know that we’re thinking about them. We really want their business, and I think typically, that’s the approach that we have these days and it has been successful.
Rodrigo: That’s wonderful. I’ll touch on that in a moment as it ties into, I think, account-based marketing as a whole and this idea that the power of physical mail really is often overlooked, and it sounds like you guys are leveraging that quite successful.
Personalized marketing does the trick.
Karen: Not only we try to send them something but we’re trying to highly personalize it, whether it’s a handwritten note in there that either comes from the sales rep or sometimes even our CEO or CMO. I feel like it goes a long way, and we’re also being very prescriptive about the items that we’re selecting to put into the package so that it ties into something with that company’s theme or brand. We also then like to tie it all in into them, email and us, and why it’s a good pairing. We try to do that instead of just, you know, “Here’s a box of swag, we hope to get your business.” We try to make it as personalized as we possibly can.
Rodrigo: That’s awesome. I’ll give a little shoutout here to a salesperson who reached out to me recently with a really clever campaign. It was Jack Wanamaker from FullContact and all of a sudden I got this random mug in the mail, right? And I was like, “what is this?” I opened it up and it’s from my alma matter. I was like, “Why am I getting an alma matter?” There was nothing else. There was no message, no sales, anything associated to it. Then I started getting drip campaigns via email and phone call about, “Hey, I hope you got the package I sent to you. It’s a coffee mug from alma matter.” And I’ve got to say, it definitely did the trick. You know, direct mail and really personalized pieces like that, it really worked. They do help.
Karen: I feel like in today’s age, like everyone’s inboxes are so cluttered with stuff and I laugh because we’re in the email business, obviously. You wanna navigate through the clutter but I feel like direct mail is alive and well, and sometimes because everything is so automated world in this world, where, you know, it’s an app for this, an app or that, or in the AI schedule thing — meetings for you. So, when you get something like that, a direct mail piece or a personalized handwritten note, I feel like it resonates. It sounds actually like, “Wow, nobody does that anymore.” Often times, just even in my day to day world, I’ll sometimes pick up the phone to call salespeople, talk about an event or whatever, and people are like, “Why are you calling me? Why don’t you just IM me?” And I feel like, well, it’s easier to have a conversation, and so it resonates to some level — just those personal touches, no matter where you are or what you’re doing.
How do you measure the success of the different event marketing strategies you have conducted?
Karen: So for trade shows, I don’t wanna say it’s obvious, but we look at the number of leads generated. In the booth type atmosphere, you can scan and collect, and we associate numbers to that. It is a little bit harder to measure on the field marketing side of the house, so we measure more of the influence that that event may or may not have had on a particular deal. We use Salesforce to track all of our accounts. Being able to associate that influence and see how many times we’ve touched a person via an event or sending them collateral or even getting them to a webinar is important to note. We clearly look at all those factor, and at the end of the day, we’re looking at the influence that we have on the pipeline in general. Our marketing department does really well at contributing influence. Ultimately we help our sales team to close business.We can help to put things over the edge with those customized deal support that we provide. that we send. I feel like from first touch all the way to last touch we make an impact. It can you take several touches over time where you might see somebody one year at a large trade show and then you might run into them 6 months later with another event, and then we might invite them to something else we host. We watch and measure the engagement that they have with us through the course of time and just look at that as an influence what’s going on.
Rodrigo: It kind of reminds me of a lot of these multi-touch attribution model, which of course are often online for the most part but there’s no reason why you can’t attribute a portion of that value to offline events and offline activity.
Karen: Right, exactly.
Thoughts on ABM strategy.
Rodrigo: Alright, so you got your measurement down and it sounds like it’s working. Let me again switch tracks and talk about account-based marketing. It seems like you may be already doing some of this at Return Path, especially with those directed mailers at specific accounts that sales wants to close. Tell me a little bit about your take on an ABM strategy, if you are explicitly doing it or not. Just kind of wanna hear some of your initial thoughts on that.
Karen: So I feel like at some level we are doing account-based marketing without actually calling that. We don’t have a formalized system, but we are aligning our activities to what our sales team wants and we do get feedback from fromthem about what markets they want to be in. When we’re looking at events, and the perfect example is the digital summit series, we targeted select markets from feedback I was getting from salespeople where they tell us, “We need to do something in this market.” We haven’t done anything in years or at all for that matter. I use their feedback for my planning but I feel like we don’t really have a formalized strategy around doing that and it is a bit more ad-hoc.
Rodrigo: How do you feel that maybe other marketers who aren’t specifically focused on event marketing — what’s some low hanging fruit that they can pick up and figure out how to incorporate more event marketing into their account-based strategies?
Karen: It’s a really good question. You caught me off guard with that one. I’m trying to think.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’re looking at when you think about 2017?
Karen: Other than budget, which is always the biggest challenge, our biggest challenge right now — is that our sales team is restructure a bit. It seems to happen like every year, at this time of the year and so just really trying to understand what the priorities are gonna be for them is what we are waiting on. lt comes back to that account-based marketing — who’s gonna be and what market, and figuring out what events we can leverage in those different markets. And then, trying to once again mix it up with the combination of the larger trade shows and some of the smaller events, and then a couple of that with some field marketing events. Once they kind of announce the new territorial alignment, then that will kind of guide us to what direction we want to go in. Although we have started to put a few things in place for 2017 but we’re kind of in a holding pattern until that is finalized.
Rodrigo: When you think about your event marketing strategy, is there a specific cut off in terms of the company profile that you would want to invite to the events or kind of incorporate into that strategy?
Karen: Yeah, I’m looking largely at events where I can find people that send large amount of emails. We’re obviously looking in certain verticals that we know we have success in like travel, retail, even financial, and then you know, trying to find the right events to participate in .When I’m looking at vetting out these different events, I’m always asking for the attendee list, which have a list of attending companies and titles. These are really helpful because you could see people from Target that are attending, but if they’re not the people from Target who deal with the email marketing program, then it’s not gonna be as helpful for us. Just kind of really understanding who that audience is at this event is key in helping us devise our strategy and where we should be.
What is the most interesting thing you’ve learned about marketing in the last year?
Karen: Everything that’s old is new again. It’s sort of like I feel like I see things that maybe we’re popular a couple of years ago re-emerging, sort of being recycled, and just kind of never out of style…. Every idea is a good idea and sort of keeping all of them filed away or somewhere for you to get to them because I find that things kind of — almost like with fashion, they come around and then they go away, and then they come around again.
Rodrigo: Yeah, what in particular about 2016 was kind of fit that bill?
Karen: I just was starting to hear people talk about, at least in the email world, people talk about subjects that I kind of thought were…dead. I went to this one session that was like MythBusters and it was concepts that I had thought that were kind of dead but they were sort of resurfacing. In terms of our event presence earlier in the year I was trying to go large and have this big booth and everything, and I realized that you can have a 10 x 20 booth at a trade show and have an army of people, but I could also have a 10 x 10 in the right spot, in the right place with the right show and be just as successful. So from my standpoint, I kind of thought that going large would make a difference and I learned sometimes it’s more important to be in the room and then make the most of what you’re doing in the room.
Rodrigo: Let me ask a follow-up question there because I think this is something that a lot of marketers get tied up with. It’s certainly something I’ve struggled with in the past. You know, you have an event marketing budget, you want to use it. Sometimes, you don’t want to go to the usual events that maybe you’ve done in the past. You want to find some more of the niche events that really have a targeted audience that are smaller, more intimate — you might get more bang for your buck along the point you just made. How do you find out about all these great events, right? I almost wish there was a Yelp for event marketing, where I could say I want to meet the CMOs of this industry type in this city; when is that event happening? Is there such a thing? Have you ever heard of something like this?
Karen: No, I know. It’s a really good point. It’s so hard sometimes to find what you want. You can Google and Google and Google and not always get the best results. I get my best information from networking with industry peers, and so when I’m at these shows, I am going around and talking to other sponsors and seeing what they’re at, what they’re doing, what works. We have a great network of partners and so a lot of times, I like to collaborate with them and see where they’re going to be at and how we can maybe work together. You know, maybe we all will be at one particular show and then we decide to collaborate and do like a happy hour one night. And that way, we all have access to each other’s clients and prospects, and we’re doing some cross networking. I do wish there was like some great Yelp thing, but I really just learn from talking to other people that are doing what I’m doing and trying to network with them. When I’m at these events, I think it’s important to talk to your counterparts.
Rodrigo: Wonderful. Karen, it’s been great chatting with you and thank you so much for sharing your knowledge about event marketing here with our audience. I can’t thank you enough. Is there anything else you’d like to leave us with?
Karen: No. I just appreciate the opportunity today to be able to speak a little about Return Path and what we do, and then what I do, and so thank you. I’m glad you stopped by my booth.
Rodrigo: Wonderful. Thank you Karen.
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