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Discussing the challenges and future of digital marketing with Sigstr’s VP of Marketing

Episode 1 Guest: Justin Keller, VP of Marketing at Sigstr
Podcast
Keller Episode 1 Sigstr Podcast

In this episode, we’re talking with Justin Keller. He’s VP of Marketing at Sigstr, a cloud-based email marketing platform. We’ll discuss how today’s businesses are using legacy communication channels such as emails as a marketing engagement tool, as well as new mobile channels, to personalize customer experience.

In this episode, I sit down with Justin Keller, VP of Marketing at Sigstr, to discuss the new challenges and pains involved in managing today’s marketing engagement tools, delving into some granular details such as transforming digital corporate boilerplates (like email signatures) into a marketing tool, and harnessing customer insights from communication/interaction data.

I will also ask Justin to drop some knowledge and data on what he learned from the users of Sigstr’s cloud-based marketing solution. We’ll also cover new tech tools and communication practices, focusing on mobile communications between the company and its customers.

 

Podcast Script

How Sigstr’s email marketing tools can improve marketing engagement and customer experience:

Chris
"Hello and welcome to Mobile Interactions Now, the podcast where industry pros share firsthand experience on making mobile experiences work. I'm Chris and I'm part of the team here at Tyntec. On Today's episode we sit down with Justin Keller, VP of Marketing at Sigstr, to discuss the new challenges and pains involved in managing today's marketing engagement tools. Without further ado, let's jump into the episode. Take it away Jean."

Jean
"Why don't you give the listeners a little bit of your background? I covered some in the intro, but I'm sure they would love to hear more."

Justin Keller
"Yeah, so Justin Keller. I'm the Head of Marketing for a company called Sigstr. We're located in Indianapolis, Indiana. I've been doing digital marketing for about 14 years now mostly in SaaS, high growth tech startups both here in Indianapolis and I spend a lot of time in San Francisco doing the same thing."

Jean
"You've got a lot great background to cover what we are going to talk about today, which is how today's businesses are using marketing engagement tools. I mean, recently we are seeing many businesses across industries using various communication channels and customer data for customer acquisition and engagement, which may involve some rethinking and even retooling of legacy methods they've been using such as emails. So, that's the first place I want to start with. What changes are you seeing in terms of how brands are using emails for their customer acquisition and engagement?"

Justin Keller
"Email is in a tricky spot right now. I think it's for a few reasons. Email opens are going up, but actual clicks are going down. So, they're getting more eyeballs but less engagement. I think the reason is multi-pronged, but I think a big reason is because there are so many different channels to communicate on, both social media and in email. Beyond that, I think people are getting really burned out on traditional mass email marketing. There's just so much going into your inbox at any given point that it makes it hard to focus on the email communications that are really important.

We see this a lot at Sigstr where we basically are trying to help make those one-to-one communications a lot more valuable to a marketing team or to the team that's trying to promote or engage their audience, because it's so easy to just kind of either spot a mass email and delete it before it even gets opened. With Verizon, like sales automation tools, there's a lot more spoofed one-to-one looking emails. By that, I mean it's kind of a programmed cadence of emails that look like they're coming from an individual that really wants to talk to me, but it's basically a form email that's going out to 300 other VPs of marketing.

They're just kind of playing numbers game trying to figure out the more emails I send, the better my odds of getting someone to take the hook are. That's another reason why it's really hard to engage people in email, because they're just not sure about their inbox these days."

Jean
"Yeah, it's a very interesting time as you mentioned there. I mean, it still seems to be a very meaningful tool for many brands. Are you seeing any reason in terms of how they're using it that kind of drives different needs or different applications?"

Justin Keller
"At Sigstr, we have a saying. In fact, we even have stickers and t-shirts that say that, "Email will Never Die." I think that's extremely true, especially in a business context. It's just where work gets done and the most important communications happen and where really business relationships grow and die in the inbox.

So, I think one of the things that is going to change, and this is a good thing, is that there's going to be more effort put into authenticity of communications. I think GDPR was a blessing for marketers. A lot of my peers were really, really unhappy about all of the different procedures and opt-ins they had to go through when GDPR was passed. I was on the side of the fence that was like, "This is great." It makes it harder to blast out those spammy and phony messages, and we get to focus on engaging with the people that we know want to engage with us.

When you kind of shrink the playing field, you get a lot smarter about how you're communicating or how you're trying to engage people. I think the biggest trend that's going to happen is we're going to see less and less, call them, spray and pray emails and a lot less of this kind of cadences of what look like one-to-one emails. What's really going to start to be more effective is when people write an honest email and aren't trying to play the numbers game and really get attention that's unearned."

Jean
"That sounds like general concern that people are thinking about in terms of improving user experience, whether it's a communications channel or a product, it's the general experience you get out of it. Is this one of the pain points customers are trying to address when they're buying your solution?"

Justin Keller
"It is. It's one of those things where, like I said, the more mass emails you send, the more unsubscribes you're going to get, the more people are going to be burned out on your branding message. Our customers are noticing that one-to-one emails are the life blood of their business communications. They've been sitting on this kind of blank real estate for a long time not even noticing it was there where they could insert a passive call-to-action banner.

That's what Sigstr does is dynamically inputs a link and basically a display ad that is relevant to the recipient. There's some really cool logic on the backend that determines who is receiving what email, and that determines what banner shows up in the email. That way, it's always relevant but it's also super passive. You can kind of persistently promote things that your company is trying to get out there but without annoying people, without spamming them and it's in every email.

The average employee or the average person sends about 10,000 emails a year. If you have 100 employees, that's a million impressions basically. If you can get really good at targeting those, that's a huge brand impression channel engagement method. There's just a lot of things you can do with it but without being authentic because it's still going in a human-to-human email, and without being spammy or annoying because it's just kind of a nice subtle touch at the bottom of an email."

Time: 6:03

Optimizing Email Marketing with Email Signatures and Audience Segmentation

Jean
"Do you see any differences in terms of B2B and B2C in terms of the use of emails?"

Justin Keller
"Yeah, for sure. There's not a whole lot of one-to-one emails going out from B2C. B2C brands have to keep their brand a little more anonymous. That said, I think that when brands, especially in social media, engage with humans as if they were also a human, that creates a really magical brand experience. People go gaga when that happens to them or they see their friends are getting great interactions from brands they love.

That's one thing I think that is really great. I think kind of the overriding message here is that the more authentic you can make your brand and your brand's communications, the more it'll pop and the better people will feel about engaging with it. We've got a few B2C customers that use Sigstr, but it's really around more education and kind of awareness rather than trying to generate registrations for an event or to drive downloads or whatever.

Business on the other hand have pretty standard use cases. Like I said, they want to get people to events. They want people to download their new white papers. They want people to be aware of their new products. They want to make them aware of new initiatives that they're undertaking. They're getting really sophisticated about segmenting their audiences. Because attention in such a short supply, they want to make sure that the interactions they have are the right ones.

So, I'm seeing a lot of companies get really, really smart about how they're segmenting their audience and what messages they're putting in front of those segments so that they're not bring up another brand message and it's super relevant, and those eyeballs aren't wasted on crappier or irrelevant message."

Jean
"Taking from there in terms of how customers actually measure their ROIs, what really stands out the most for you?"

Justin Keller
"In terms of when they're measuring their ROI, like how do they evaluate Sigstr's performance or-"

Jean
"What metrics they are using."

Justin Keller
"Got you. It really varies on what the use case. I think if you think of Sigstr as kind of legion tool, I think you're going to be measuring the wrong thing because it's really meant to be a marketing vehicle for your known audience. We use this term known marketing a lot, and it's kind of a fallout of GDPR where you're really interacting with the people that are close to your brand already.

What we really look at is kind of standard, display advertising metrics, cost per click, cost per impression, click through rates, stuff like that. It really depends on what the person or the company wants to get out of it. If they're trying to drive registrations, then conversion rates on registering is something that we can show them and we're happy to measure it on even registration is a great use case for us.

A lot of times, companies will buy us just for the branding ability, the ability to keep their email signatures looking standard and to insert a dynamic brand impression in there just to kind of keep awareness of the brand, the message top of mind, and all that. So, it's kind of a novel medium for marketing. It's kind of display advertising. It's kind of email marketing. It kind of straddles a few different methods. We evaluate it based on use cases, which vary a lot on what the goal of either the campaign or the company is."

Time: 8:58

Why Account Based Marketing (ABM) is so Effective in Driving Customer Engagement

Jean
"You mentioned the conversion, I know that. I'm going to try to look at the other side of this. What we actually in the industry of communications was ... we are starting to see is actually using the communications data to kind of personalize customer experience, whether that becomes the email that you write that becomes more personalized because it's kind of a different way of looking at it.

I recently talked with an eCommerce platform who is spending a lot of resources on building a predictive analytics and using mostly their email exchanges with their customers, which I found really interesting. Do you see any of this becoming an expected value add for using services like yours?"

Justin Keller
"100%. I think the personalization is a really big topic right now. The ability to either get the right message or product in front of someone or the ability to even put their name or their logo on kind of a brand impression is something that a lot of people are trying to figure out right now I think because it overcomes that hump where, like I said, people are getting really good about segmenting. People are getting really burned out on lots of communications. So, when you've got deficit of attention, the ability to either catch their attention with a personalized customize call-to-action or a very relevant product ...

My Instagram feed freaks me out sometimes because I'm like, "I don't know how they knew I needed that, but this is something that I definitely need." I think it will work, but I think it will only work for a while. I think people are doing it right now because it's scalable and it kind of overcomes that objection of I'm tired of seeing all of this, but I don't think it will last because I think once it becomes the norm, people will adapt to it. They will kind of get burnt out on it again. It'll be onto the next thing. I don't know what that is, but I think the one constant across all these things is if you can get really authentic with your messaging and try to engage for an honest reason, I think that will stand the test of time."

Jean
"Picking up from what you mentioned a little before in terms of B2B, what it sounds to me because is, because of the B2B nature of it, is that a lot of it is becoming sort of like an account based marketing tool in a way."

Justin Keller
"Very much. That's one thing we're getting extremely good at from a product perspective. When Sigstr was started, it was a pretty simple idea to kind of standardize the signature in a clear to call-to-action that was kind of global. Now we've got customers that are running upwards of 500 campaigns at once that are all aimed at specific accounts. It knows that when you email someone at GE, for example, that they have the GE.com email domain that Sigstr can intelligently deliver the content that we're saying, "This is what you need to see," whether it's a personalized banner or content screen that is meant for them.

There's not a whole lot of really powerful ABM execution tools out there. There's a lot around display advertising, so getting really good targeted account display advertising. There's a lot of kind of direct mail and gifting that is kind of account based that's happening. Beyond that, it's just kind of the personal one-to-one email is really one of the only other channels that is effective in driving, at least from a digital perspective, that engagement with an account. So, that's something we've invested a lot in from a product perspective over the past years, really enhancing our targeting abilities and kind of delivering relevant content at scale."

Time: 12:07

Unifying Communication Channels with Sigstr’s AI Driven Marketing Tools

Jean
"I'm curious about your product development decisions and some of the things you are starting to add to what you originally started out with. Anything that you want to share in terms of what you are learning from watching your customers how they use and things in that niche, or that whether it's already in your road map, or what already happened?"

Justin Keller
"Yeah. In terms of our road map, it's kind of two big things right now. On the email signature side of things, we are developing lots and lots of integrations. So, marketers invest a lot of money into tools that help them market better. Like I said earlier, they've been kind of sleeping on this channel that's one-to-one email. Now they're realizing, 'Wow, this is a super high volume channel. It's a very engaged channel because these people who are having conversations here. Then how do I bring the rest of marketing technologies into that? How do I kind of integrate my one-to-one employee emails with all of the different technologies I'm paying so much money for every year?'

So, we're really focused right now on trying to figure out how we can bring in different display technologies, different content technologies. You name it, it works across the board from CRM to direct mail. How do we make all these things work with the life blood of the company, which is email? So, we're really focusing on kind of making email a central part of a marketer's tech stack, which I think is super cool because it's just such a huge channel.

That's the one thing. The other kind of product initiative that we've been really spending a lot of time and effort in is our new product called Sigstr Pulse, which basically, again, uses the employee, the corporate email to analyze relationships. We've got artificial intelligence that goes into the corporate email server and maps and quantifies and segments all of the relationships that have ever existed with the company.

So, I can understand one of our target accounts who at Sigstr knows that account the best, who's got the best relationship with the decision maker there, who are the best people I need to talk to to get an introduction there, and how is that relationship developing or improving or degrading over time. So, I can really understand how my different marketing initiatives and how my sales team are really moving the needle to kind of get a new customer out of them.

That's another thing we're working on, because we feel like successful relationships are built off of communication. Most business communication happens inside emails. So, let's kind of figure out how we quantify the relationships based on that premise."

Jean
"That's interesting because you just mentioned about how email becoming the corner piece and the whole stack that it requires for the engagement to happen, this whole only channel communication environment that we are dealing with, especially with more mobile communications that sort of came after emails, the whole desktop communication legacy era. So, this whole topic of only channel communications, it is sort of what is changing the enterprise IT as well.

You mentioned about this whole stack there. Now, is this something that is coming up in your customer conversations? Does that change some of the counterpart you are talking with, or has it changed your engagement with your customers at all?"

Justin Keller
"Not too much. I think really especially in a B2B context, our company communicates with other companies via email. I'm starting to see more and more Slack groups emerge from company-to-company, but it's really post sale type messaging. I've seen a little more in late stage sales. If I ever get a cold text, I'm extremely perturbed by it. So, I think in terms of an omnichannel thing, I think that email by virtue of being the main communication vehicle between companies is kind of, to use your word, the cornerstone. Then all the other communications need to kind of be built around that so that there is a consistent message across channels. I think that email is kind of still the workhorse of companies. Like I said earlier, we don't think email will ever die."

Time: 16:00

Sigstr Uses AI in Tandem with a CRM to Improve B2B Relationships

Jean
"I have to ask you something because you were talking about GDPR actually helping just kind of quality control wise. You were talking about how really getting into the employee emails and things in that nature. Do you ever come across the situation where you have to have an employee version of a GDPR?"

Justin Keller
"That's a really good question. I have not come across that yet, but I wonder ... I mean, especially for some of our bigger global companies that are kind of ... especially with Sigstr internal campaigns are a big use case just promoting cultural initiatives. Today, we've got a chili cook-off for Halloween, so we've got a banner running to promote awareness about that."

Jean
"Lots of treats for you."

Justin Keller
"Yeah, exactly. That's an interesting question. I will let you know if I come across that. We are definitely dealing with a lot more global brands lately, and that may be something they're interested in figuring out with us."

Jean
"Great. I want to delve a bit deeper into the tech behind the scenes a little bit. When you describe your solution and platform essentially, how do you compare, say, with a CRM?"

Justin Keller
"Well, I think there's two answers. So, live and die by the CRM. I mean, every company does. Right? We are compliment to it for sure on the email signature side. We have integrations with Salesforce, and one of those integrations allows people to target certain accounts with certain call-to-action banners. So, very important integrations there.

Then on the Pulse side, the relationship intelligence side, we're feeding that data into a CRM so that a salesperson when they click on an account or any contact record, they understand the nature of the relationship that their company has with that targeted account or that target contact. It kind of enriches the record because they understand the human connections that have already been developed between the brand and the brander or people with the brand."

Jean
"Does that change your own channel strategy, meaning are you having more of, say, through value chain partners like CRM partners versus directly to your enterprises, as they call it?"

The Value of Market Qualified Leads (MQL’s) and Measuring Relationships as a KPI

Justin Keller
"It remains to be seen, but I think the answer is going to be absolutely yes. I think that being able to measure relationships has always been kind of like this ... people haven't even thought to do, because how would you even start to begin to do it? Then we've kind of stumbled into figuring out how to use AI to help quantify relationships. So, I think that our go-to-market strategy will certainly will be aided by getting that data into ... because it's such a novel concept, getting that data into the software and the platforms that marketers are already very familiar with will make it make sense a lot more but will also change kind of how their strategies shape.

We did a study earlier this summer with Matt Heinz that said that MQLs, marketing qualified leads, turned into customers 5% of the time. In terms of relationship development, 98% of closed-won business had a strong relationship in place. If you're measuring relationships, I think you've got a much more solid indicator of pipeline health and mobility to win new customers. I think that once more and more people start measuring relationships as a key performance indicator, it'll change how they market. It'll make it a lot more authentic, and personal and genuine. I think it'll be a better indicator of their overall business and sales health."

Jean
"So, your use of AI, feel free to drop any specifics, whether you use opensource and whatever, that becomes Google AI Engine versus IBM's Watson, what have you. Right? Also, how are they actually used right now? Is this more of a context analysis for the email, or is it actually becoming on the interface level that the recipient of the email is actually experiencing? What am I supposed to picture here?"

Justin Keller
"It's not reading any of the emails. We don't want to get into that quite yet. I think a lot of people would be unhappy if they knew that we were trying to do it from a contextual analysis for their emails. I do think that that would be a big benefit, but I also think that there would be so many objections that we haven't figured out how to tackle yet.

I don't know, I mean, most of the AI is proprietary, but I don't know if it was built using any opensource technology or something. I'll get back to you on that. Right now, it's really measuring the frequency, the recency, the velocity of email communications and of calendar invitations. Right? So, we've got a meeting on the calendar. We actually had that meeting. We definitely talked. So, it's a good indication that there's an improvement in that relationship.

Then we pepper in a little bit of CRM data and marketing automation data so we can see how else are they interacting with our brand, if not our people, our brand. Then the algorithm kind of sorts all that out and assigns a score based on previous interactions and kind of how frequently and how quickly emails are creating back-and-forth to score that relationship. So, the hypothesis is basically the more communication, the healthier the relationship. There's some time boxing that happens to kind of flatten out or kind of average out the relationship score, but the premise is just really how much are we talking."

Time: 20:53

The Importance of Email and Targeted Marketing

Jean
"Sounds awesome. Would you like to mention any popular features that your customers are using or any most frequently requested features by your customers?"

Justin Keller
"Absolutely. On the signature side, it's ... I'm going to tell you what on both sides, and I think this rings true for the entire marketing technology industry, everything is ABM right now. Everything is account based marketing. So, on the signature side of things, a lot of our customers are getting really good at building a lot of targeted campaigns that are very personalized and make kind of the emails that are coming from a salesperson or a marketing team make that email a lot more valuable.

On the Pulse side, the relationship intelligence is something that account based marketers are using to measure the health and progression of their target accounts. So, we have at Sigstr about 120 target accounts that we're trying to break into. We look at all the usual metrics about click-throughs and stuff like that, but we're really basing our pipeline and engagement on is how those relationships are developing. That changes how our sales team and our marketing team interact with them, because we're not trying to drive them to download a white paper. That's a great thing for them to do, but that doesn't help the relationship.

We really want to engage with them as people. So, that's kind of changed how we go to market with them. So, we've got several really large customers that are using Pulse for various flavors of that use case to track account development."

Jean
"Another notable trend I see happening in terms of engagement is real-time two-way. As you know, email is very one-to-one but not necessarily real-time, and there is a delay in terms of becoming a two-way communication. People are thinking that it's following the trend that is happening and how people are using communications in their private lives. Any changes you see in terms of these legacy communications that are how to cope with in terms of whether it becomes a complimentary or one becoming more of relationship based in communications versus other more two-more more instant communications? How do you see this in its totality?"

Justin Keller
"I think that real-time is awesome. I'm so happy that FaceTime has caught on in a big way and it's something I do with my friends all the time, sometimes with business colleagues. I think Slack has become one of my favorite business tools ever because of the instantaneousness of it. So, I think it's definitely complimentary. I don't think it's going to replace anything. I think that it's additive. I don't think it's a replacement to anything.

So, I think the more communications channels we have from a relationship perspective, the better. I think from a marketing and kind of brand perspective, it's sticky. It's a challenge because that's just another channel for us to be interrupted with. We're using this channel to communicate, and brands know that and they want to get in there and kind of somehow figure out how they can get their brand message in there as well. That corrupts that channel a little bit. We'll see how it plays out, but to answer your question, I don't think it will change the current communications stack that we all have."

Time: 23:51

Why Email is still the Favored Communication Channel for Business

Jean
"From the customer's point-of-view, your platform user's point-of-view, it becomes enabling another preference, which channel they can contact their own customers via and all those things. So, there is a bit of a complexity involved in here orchestrating. Anything that, whether your own experience and whatever you are hearing out there, how companies are starting to deal with this?"

Justin Keller
"I mean, for companies it's important for them to have a paper trail for everything. So, no one's going to sign the contract over text message. People aren't going to do a list of deliverables and deadlines via Slack because it goes away after a while. Whereas in email, it persists always and it's in the corporate server. Companies have spent so long trying to lock that information down just so it stays there should they need it.

I think that transactional business will happen a little bit more and more on different channels, but I think really important vital business communications will have to stay in email just because that's kind of how businesses have been built since email was invented 30-40 years ago."

Time: 24:55

Jean
"Given the evolving needs of your customers as we just talked about, and you mentioned a little bit about integrating into CRM, all of that, but what is your general approach in terms of how to integrate? Whether that becomes having a marketplace, APIs being available, or whom you are partnering with, is it more of a matter of responding to specific customer needs, or is it that Sigstr is more of a business development initiative, you guys taking proactive action?"

Justin Keller
"Yeah, it is definitely both. I will tell you that it's ... From my perspective, I look at it from business development, figuring out what are the cool things we can make when combine Sigstr and another brand. Email is such a huge resource that what would happen if you just mixed it with this other technology? I've spent a lot of time thinking about that and working out with our partners like, 'What could we do to make one plus one equal three here?'

Then from a product perspective, we definitely prioritize based on demand. So, we can be working on cool ideas and everything, but if we have a customer that says, 'Yo, I use this technology and I want to use it with Sigstr,' and their checkbook is out and ready to go, we will definitely try and serve the customer first. So, it is a little bit of both, but it's really one of those things where we're on a mission to bring email into every great marketing technology there is."

Time: 26:12

Jean
"Cool. That was a lot of topics we just covered. For our listeners who would like to learn a little more about what you just shared today, any research that you want to point them to?"

Justin Keller
"Yeah. If you go to sigstr.com, S-I-G-S-T-R, we have so many resources. We've got a great content program, and everything we do is our rule, on our content is everything we need to do needs to be helping our marketers. So, we've got a lot of great resources to help people out there."

Jean
"I do have one more thing before you go. I have a fun little question I ask my guests as a little closing segment that I'm calling What's On Your Phone? Are you ready to play?"

Justin Keller
"I'm ready, yep."

Jean
"What are the three things you use the most on your phone?"

Justin Keller
"I just cracked it open. I think the three things I use most are Reddit, Spotify, and it's a toss-up between Twitter and the Starbucks app. I've got a crippling caffeine dependency."

Jean
"Love that. It sounds like all those three things are what you could be doing at a Starbucks."

Justin Keller
"Exactly, yes."

Jean
"That is awesome. All right, I have to thank you. With that, I would like to really extend my appreciation for all the information you shared and actually making me laugh. Hopefully we will talk, have another chat some time in a near future."

Justin Keller
"I would love that. Thank you so much."

Chris
"Thank you again to Justin Keller for joining us today. You can find out more about Justin and Sigstr at sigstr.com. That's S-I-G-S-T-R.com. To find out more about Jean and tyntec, visit tyntec.com. Make sure to search for Mobile Interactions now in Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Stitcher or anywhere else podcasts are found and click subscribe so you don't miss any future episodes. On behalf of the team here at Tyntec, thanks for listening."

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