Email Tips From Barney Stinson

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Email Marketing

So, how is email marketing like a blind date? Last week, John Follett, Chief Marketing Officer of Demand Metric, answered the question that nobody had asked, and shared excellent email tips and best practices for the basics of email marketing today in “Email Marketing 2013: Tips and Best Practices.”

We’re going to keep the analogy going by looking at the main points of the webinar through the eyes of a favorite sitcom character: Barney Stinson from How I Met Your Mother.

These are Barney’s only questions about a blind date:

  • Is she hot?
  • Is she crazy?


Though they’re pretty sleazy, Barney’s questions do a surprisingly good job of nailing your email marketing strategies.

Is she hot?” asks, essentially, “What does the email look like?” This is all about brand consistency and making sure that the look and design of the email is similar to all the forms of social media your organization uses.

  •  Is the subject line short and snappy?
  • Does it give a good first impression and concisely state what the email is about?
  • Does it use compelling words to make a clear call-to-action and create a sense of urgency?
  • Is the body of the email short, with two to three easy-to-read paragraphs, possibly including bulleted lists for clarity?

Is she crazy?” Barney’s theory is that if a girl is crazy, she must be equally hot to balance it out, but marketing emails are rarely hot enough for it to be okay if they’re “crazy,” which in this context means “spammy.” Over the course of the series, Barney has impersonated myriad people, including his best friend, a fictional celebrity named Lorenzo Von Matterhorn, and an astronaut, and this nearly always backfires; similarly, marketing emails should be sent from real people.

  • Don’t invent fictional representatives – send emails that are attributed to sales reps, marketing directors, CEOs, and so on (this is made easy with marketing automation).
  • Make sure you provide a working unsubscribe link in all your messages – statistically, it’s ineffective to try to hide it (and it’s illegal not to have a visible one).
  • If you’re gathering any kind of data, you should also have a privacy statement, especially on landing pages, about the type of data collected, how you use it, and whether you share it or disclose it.

Tips and tricks

  • Set goals and objectives in order to define exactly what it is you want to achieve. These objectives can range from a number of leads you want to actively respond to your marketing, to a percentage of leads you want to follow through with. Document these goals and track your results, so that you have a clear record of what works and what doesn’t.


  • Build solid lists. Decide whether you’re going for volume or quality, and try a variety of list-building sources to make it happen. A few good sources are organic website traffic and in-store opt-ins; you can also try a pop-up lightbox on your website, though if done improperly this can be insanely annoying for a website visitor.
  • Try using progressive profiling; this means less information is requested up front, and then gradually more and more. Usually after a few exchanges people begin to feel like you’re a known quantity, they begin to trust you, and so will often share more information. Just don’t ask for too much at any one time; that comes off as pushy.
  • Personalize content based on both consumer behaviors across all channels (purchase history, web visits, etc.) Don’t make the mistake of going off isolated purchases.
  • Consumers are loyal to brands that get to know them and use an authentic, honest voice. One brand that is extremely successful at this is Taco Bell. Their online brand presence rarely overtly markets itself, and they do not take themselves seriously at all, preferring instead to maintain a humorous online presence.

taco bell 1 (fixed)

  • Target people by things that actually matter to them, and combine a range of profile attributes to see what those things that matter are. Make segments dynamic so anyone fitting those characteristics in the future will automatically be added to the list.
  • Nurture buyers throughout the buying cycle.
  • Integrate your channels. What marketing channels go well with an email marketing program? Brand consistency applies again here—make sure your channels have the same look and feel across the board.
  • More and more, people are reading emails on mobile devices rather than the desktop, so make sure your emails are optimized for all devices. This means your font should be bigger than 13 pixels, buttons should be big enough to tap easily, screen width should be less than the screen width of average mobile device, and subject lines should be short so they’re not cut off. Barney is never seen without a suit; similarly, you want your emails to look clean and professional no matter what device they’re viewed on.


Track metrics. Dig deeper than just opens and clicks; look to higher-level metrics to analyze what works and what doesn’t. Keep track of results—it’s the only way to know if your methods are working.

  • Metrics are different in each stage of marketing:
    • Traditional—branding, marketing/communications. Metrics can be ads and general impressions.
    • Lead generation—“leads” to sales. Metrics can be clicks and leads.
    • Demand generation—sales-qualified leads. Metrics can be opportunities and leads.
    • Revenue marketing—predictable and scalable. Metrics in this case consist of revenue and accountability.
    • Review and improve. Constantly test your emails and be accountable for outcomes. Be open to change. Try using A/B testing—send out two versions of an email with only one variable changed and determine which version gets the best results. You may be able to apply your findings to multiple campaigns.
    • Try new things! Make use of multiple types of media to get more responses and draw more people to your website. Leverage current events and pop culture to make your emails relevant and amusing; think about upcoming events, such as sporting events and TV awards shows, and save emails referencing different possible outcomes as drafts so you can send them out as soon as possible.For example, if you were creating an email campaign before the Oscars that would be referencing the event after it was broadcast, you might have saved one draft in which Argo won Best Picture, and another that referred to Zero Dark Thirty. That lets you be ready to go – with the right message for the moment.

Good luck, and may your email marketing campaigns be legen—wait for it—dary.

This “Email Marketing in 2013” webinar is available on demand; just click here.