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To start the year, we have a special guest advising us on how to approach data and automation in 2015. Skip O’Neill oversees Adestra’s Global Partner Network and, from his US background, explained why it’s time for email to go back to blocking and tackling.

A: When did your passion for email marketing start?

S: Oooh, must be 15 years by now. I first cut my teeth in email marketing in a small startup in Colorado Springs. When I was ready to move on, I ‘spammed’ different email influencers with my resume and in the subject line I said “email marketing resume”. One of them called me within 4 hours. And that’s how I got started – the subject line worked.

I was attracted to work at Adestra by the company culture and enthusiasm for email, and I really wanted to be a part of it.

A: What have been the biggest learning curves in 2014?

S: The email marketing industry has had this focus on innovation for a while, but I feel many have been ignoring the basics. Things like A/B testing – you’d be surprised how many people don’t do it. In American football, we say that you can’t win unless you block and tackle. In email, that would be getting back to basics, and I’m pleased to sense a shift in thinking towards that recently.

A: What do you see as the driving forces of email in 2015?

S: The whole industry is evolving. It’s changing so quickly that sometimes it’s hard to stay abreast of it all. Market leaders shine bright shiny objects in the eye of prospects to get them to think they need them. They’re really selling a dream, a vision of the future. When the reality is really about the blocking and tackling. First get this right before you do the vision. And I think that’s what we do really well – we sell the reality and not the dream.

In terms of making email more prominent, I think the biggest force is agencies. They’re not just pushing email to sell it, they play a big a role in getting people to understand that they’re at risk if they don’t use it well. And they have a great power because they have their clients’ trust. They have great experience in marketing and they are objective. So if agencies guide clients to use email, they are more likely to listen.

A: One of the big topics in marketing remains data. What is your advice for brands who want to make the best of their it?

S: Use it. There are so many people that don’t use the data they have. Just start out simple and test.

People think: ‘I have to get this email out by 5 o’clock’. No you don’t. No one dies if that email goes out the next day. Focus on improving your email marketing, rather than just sending for the sake of sending something. Leverage the data.

A great example I always use, when I used to live in Colorado, I was a customer of this golf clothing retailer. And they had my purchase history, my size, they knew everything based on the data and I would be getting emails with women’s golf shorts. That’s crazy!

A: Marketing automation is still a hot topic in 2015. But our Marketer vs Machine Report showed that many marketers are still apprehensive about it. What is your advice for simply getting started with it?

S: Trust the data. You’re collecting it, so don’t be afraid to use it to set automated emails based on triggers that work for your business. You can start small with a simple birthday email. No one says you need a complex automation plan from day 1.

And just trust that the software will do what it does. Maybe some people think that if they automate something, they are going to automate themselves out of a job, but no, trust it. You’re freeing up time to work on another project that needs your input.

A: Which unique attributes do you believe have made Adestra successful in the US market?

S: This is a good story actually. When I was talking to Steve and Henry at the very beginning, they gave me an in-depth demo of MessageFocus. The whole thing probably took about 90 minutes to 2 hours, but within the first 5 minutes I immediately knew that we need it in the US.

I saw the hierarchal structure of the platform and I thought this would work perfect for agencies, franchises, multi-tenant companies, and so on. There is a gap in the market for those companies. Even though some solutions can be found, they’re very expensive and hard to implement.

A: Could you give me an example of a really great email campaign you’ve seen recently?

S: Yes, I have one from United Airlines. I’m a gold member and every time I buy a ticket, I get a triggered email confirming my transaction. But that’s not the great part. The email also says ‘Skip, do you want to upgrade to premium economy?’, showing the exact seat I selected and the live available seats that I could upgrade to. This is an example of using data to cater to your audience, avoiding the creepiness factor that so many marketers are afraid of.

A: Going beyond your passion for email, is there something that not many people know about you?

S: Yes, actually. I make wine, and beer. I absolutely love the process – from growing the grapes, to picking them, to de-stemming, making the wine, bottling it, letting it age and then savouring it at the end. Oh, and I did the Ironman Triathlon some years ago. It was tough, but I’m quite proud of that achievement.

About Skip

Skip O’Neill oversees the Adestra Global Partner Network and is responsible for building and implementing a global agency channel sales team, and managing strategic partnerships. He gets fired up when helping organizations “see the light” when it comes to email-driven marketing communications.