Q&A: Ryan Tuttle, VP of strategic services, BrightWave Marketing
Ryan Tuttle joined BrightWave Marketing, an e-mail-focused digital agency, in January. He's the former COO of Engauge Digital, where he rose in the ranks from account manager at Spunlogic, which was acquired by Engauge. More recently, Tuttle was a VP at Collinson Media.
At BrightWave, he is charged with helping the company grow its existing client base through new services and offerings. He spoke with Direct Marketing News about his position, integrating social media and e-mail and maintaining e-mail's relevancy within the marketing mix.
Direct Marketing News (DMN): Can you tell me about your new role at BrightWave?
Ryan Tuttle (BrightWave): It's really a way to approach clients with new ideas, innovative ideas, a lot of it around social, but anything that enhances outbound communications that we're doing for them and leverages new technologies to maximize the e-mail that we're sending for them. Probably 90% of our business is e-mail. Looking at how that plays into the greater digital messaging is part of my role.
DMN: We've seen a lot of traditionally e-mail focused firms acquiring social media and mobile shops and hiring talent with that background to expand their services for existing and new clients. What areas do you see BrightWave expanding into?
Tuttle: I come from a generalist interactive marketing background, so I wasn't particularly focused on just social or mobile. We're really looking for any way that we can continue to bring e-mail front and center, because it can get a bad rap.
Social and mobile are two things that clients are coming to us and asking about. Our focus is on that holistic digital messaging with e-mail at the center. We would make the argument that e-mail is really social; it's a way to communicate with a customer base that has subscribed through a signup form rather than “liked” or followed you. Maybe the response portion of that is not as fluid as it would be in traditional social channels.
DMN: Can you give me an example?
Tuttle: One is in augmenting the conversation and one is in enhancing it through current technology and services. Sometimes they work together; sometimes one is enhancing the other. I do think there's much to be gained in the holistic messaging process. Nobody would ever question the fact that you need to message people differently on Facebook or on whatever the social network is. We try to help clients have consistent messaging, so all these different channels, e-mail included, will play off each other and cater to whatever the customer needs. There are a lot of users who like to receive different things in different channels at different times.
DMN: In general, I think everyone feels like they receive too much e-mail, right? As an e-mail marketing firm, how do you counter that sentiment? How do you counsel clients?
Tuttle: I think one of the No. 1 reasons that people unsubscribe is frequency. That's one of the things we've been doing for years, monitoring things like frequency. We'll build out customer preference centers to get a feel for what the user base is expecting. E-mail has always been about relevancy, but it also has to do with expectation setting. If someone signed up with a particular set of expectations, they'll act on the e-mail if it's relevant and meeting those expectations. Frequency is one of those things that can be neglected, because someone [in the organization] feels they can make a little more headway or profit with the next ‘send.'
With social media, the two channels work together, and you can find out what the user wants. It's easier to back down and then direct them to, say, your Twitter feed if you want quick daily updates.
DMN: With so many people reading e-mail on their mobile phones, what are some best practices for marketers to set up an e-mail campaign or general message?
Tuttle: Mobile is a new challenge. You might be in a different mindset when you're out and about with your phone than when you're sitting there with your computer. The thing that we have been working more and more on with a couple of clients is finding out ways to activate mobile-enabled e-mail, so it reformats depending on what device you're reading on. It just takes some technical tricks.
When we speak about relevancy, details about the offer might be relevant on both the desktop and the phone, but something like location might be infinitely more relevant if you're reading it on the phone. Also, we're looking at how people use the device. Even though I might have a great-looking e-mail, we ask, “Are the links too small for your finger?” or “Are the icons too close together for mobile?” It's more like designing for an iPhone app.
DMN: ESPs have been counseling their clients to integrate social media into e-mail marketing to make it more dynamic and sharable. What are other best practices in terms of bringing the social conversation to e-mail marketing?
Tuttle: I think, really, the key is integration, and that goes beyond e-mail — that goes with everything. The idea is to integrate social into almost everything you do, so it gives people the opportunity to have a conversation. It can be anything from slightly tweaking the content of how we describe something or even using the words, “share this with a friend.” Having a Twitter or Facebook link there can help. Any time we can have the channels ‘talk' to each other leads to a huge improvement because it gives people options.
Another area that I feel is not being paid attention to is measurement, and how do you make the measurements that people are comfortable with in e-mail also work with social?
DMN: Do you have any tips on how to improve engagement with e-mail among an existing list?
Tuttle: Again, relevancy is important, but one tactical thing that I see people missing is leveraging the segmentation they can get from their database. [They should be] looking at how people respond, what they respond to, and then segmenting an e-mail list by those interests to the level that makes sense. Even having your e-mail list in three parts instead of one, is going to improve relevancy. We'll have clients come to us and say, "Forty percent of our list is unengaged." We've turned that into a segment, sending them a specific e-mail, maybe a survey. If they still don't respond, that's when social can come in, and we can say, "Come visit us on one of our other channels."