#TEDC14 in Boston, MA

As part of Zion & Zion’s ongoing efforts to provide leadership in the area of email marketing, I attended The Email Design Conference, put on by Litmus, for the second year in a row. Last year, the multi-city conference took place in Boston, San Francisco, and London, but they scaled things back a bit this year and stuck to their roots in Boston at the lovely Seaport World Trade Center. With intermediate and advanced workshops, two whole days packed full of two-track speaker sessions, plus live email optimization and speed dating sessions, there was an endless amount to learn. Hands down, this conference is the most valuable, resourceful and collaborative conference I have ever had the privilege of attending. Each session appeals to anyone who touches any aspect of email marketing: whether they’re writing newsletter content, designing and coding responsive emails, or analyzing data and testing – this conference really has it all.

Who Run The World? (Email Designers)

By Matt Byrd (@mparkerbyrd) from Litmus

I saw Matt speak at last year’s TEDC when he was there representing WeddingWire and immediately loved his quirky sense of humor and passion for email marketing. Matt now works as the Marketing Manager at Litmus and his enthusiasm for email still shines through. His presentation really hit home for me, as he addressed the important point that email is the underdog of the marketing world, and most of us didn’t start out as email marketers. In fact, as shown in a survey Matt did himself, he found that we all come from extremely varied educational backgrounds, including but not limited to: Drama/Theater, Engineering, Communication (*raises hand*) and even German! We all need to squash the negative perception email marketing often gets (“Oh, so you’re a spammer?”) and change people’s perception by getting to know our subscribers and creating better, more relevant emails.

Triggered Emails, the Secret to Success

By Elisa Haidt (@elisah) from TripIt

Be relevant: This was the main takeaway from Elisa’s presentation. Use customer data that you have to learn more about your subscribers and provide them with relevant content. If you know your customer is traveling to Phoenix, don’t send them a list of things to do while visiting Seattle. Elisa found that by sending relevant content, transactional email campaigns yielded an average open rate of 50%. When her company TripIt merged with Concur, they sent an email out to their subscribers letting them know about the merge and new logo their brand was rolling out. She admitted that they received multiple complaints about this email, the overarching message being “so what?” The backlash from this campaign caused Elisa and her team to question every email they send from that day forward by making sure each message they send passes the “so what?” test. Do your emails pass this test?

Using Deep Linking Calls to Action to Improve Conversion

By Jared Campbell from Angie’s List

Commitment in email comes from decreasing perceived work. Is the call-to-action button in your email going to take your customer to a long survey that they’ll more than likely abandon? Make things easier for them by pre-selecting their choice (think “yes” and “no” buttons) using parameters to send data from the button clicked to the landing page. Removing these steps for your subscriber will provide them with a better user experience.

Making Your Way in a Mobile World

By Mark Reeves (@circa1977) from Clearbold

The standard for compelling content is higher than ever—we all have shorter attention spans, full inboxes, and our brains are completely saturated by content on a daily basis. Put a strong focus on creating compelling content and think twice before adding additional, potentially unnecessary content to your emails. Stop complaining about layouts and find go-to solutions such as bulletproof buttons, safe widths, animated gifs, photography and typography to keep yourself inspired. Use tools like Campaign Monitor’s email gallery to find more ideas to keep evolving your designs.

Email Design Tools and Layout Best Practices

By Cori Hemmah (@corihemmah) from Xamarin

Cori brought up so many great points for us all to keep in mind when designing and sending emails. Here were my top eight takeaways from Cori’s session:

  1. Utilize pre-header text—Easy as pie, such a no brainer.
  2. Use alt tags—You never know when images won’t display, so give your subscriber some context.
  3. Unclear CTA = bad. 15 CTAs = really bad. Be clear and get to the point.
  4. Add more white space—Stop cramming and give people some room to breathe (click)!
  5. Provide a fluid, positive user experience by linking to responsive landing pages.
  6. Optimize for retina displays—Save image as 2x size and specify your image actual size with <td> and <img> tags.
  7. Send from one sender name—Multiple sender names make it difficult for customers to recognize your name in their inbox.
  8. Test, test, test. Never stop testing.

Using Mountains of Data to Improve the Email Experience

By John Foreman (@John4man) from MailChimp

Humor me for a minute while I try and do justice to John’s turkey and gravy analogy. Think of your customers as a roasting turkey. As you roast (or send them emails), juicy bits of information fall from each interaction and begin to form into a lovely batch of data gravy.

Context matters. All of your customers are different. Don’t assume that everyone works a 9-5 job and checks their email in the morning, at lunch, and after work. Take the data you get from your subscribers to turn around and provide them with timely, relevant content. An excellent example of this would be the decline in open rate that many brands saw when sending emails during the 2014 World Cup. Although you might think that your content falls in line with an event, like offering your subscribers dining specials during World Cup games, if you sent your email during crucial game times, it’s likely that your subscribers are glued to the game and aren’t checking their email.

Optimizing Your Email with A/B Testing

By Mike Heimowitz (@heimy25) from Atlassian

A/B testing possibilities are endless. Depending on the testing capabilities of your email service provider, you can test things such as:

  • From name
  • Subject lines
  • Pre-headers
  • Copy
  • Design
  • Landing page
  • Segmentation
  • Timing
  • Call-to-action

Are you trying to boost your open rate, click-through rate, or conversions on your landing page? Decide which metric you’re going to measure, then decide the type of test you should run to maximize your results. In order to accurately measure your results, be sure to test only one variable at a time. If you A/B test your subject line AND your pre-header text, it will be impossible to tell which variable had an impact on the change in your open rate. A statistical significance of 95% shows your test will indeed improve the results of your campaign.

Get Relevant or Die Tryin’

By Brent Walter (@brent_walter) from DEG

According to Marketing Sherpa, 76% of marketers don’t use data segmentation in analysis—most marketers are just blasting and measuring everyone as equal. 52% of those marketers recognize the need to improve segmentation. But how do you get started? It may seem daunting, but you may have more data on your subscribers than you think. Looking at behavioral, demographic, geographic and psychographic data will allow you to analyze and segment your customers based on factors like shopping behaviors, age, location, and social values.

Preference centers are a great, easy way to begin collecting customer data if you have very little data to work with. Every ESP comes with a default preference center that is completely customizable. Recognize that your subscribers are unique and design your preference center with their needs in mind. If you’re a jean brand, set up your preference center to learn more about the styles, washes, and sizes your customers are interested in. When you have a new dark wash, boot cut style in size 12, let them know by sending them a personalized email letting them know.

The VENT Method: A Strategy for Crafting Compelling Content

By Zachary Hanz (@ZacharyHanz) from Sprout Social

With so much competition in the inbox, how do you stand out amongst the rest of the chatter? The VENT Method allows marketers to evaluate their email campaigns in order to create content and designs that are relevant and useful to their subscribers.

Everyone on your team—from the designer, to the developer, to the content writer—should take part in this process to ensure you’re delivering the best product you possibly can.


It’s been less than a month since I returned from the conference (since the time of this writing) and I’m already driving our designers crazy with all of the new ideas I want to start implementing for our clients. If you’re an email marketer and can attend one conference next year, The Email Design Conference should be it. I can’t recommend it enough. Already looking forward to next year!


I left the conference with a ton of valuable resources in my arsenal, feeling confident that I could take back everything I learned and share it with my team. The list below includes just a few of the many tools I’m finding valuable as I begin to implement some of the things I learned.

  • Tools for Email Development – A comprehensive list of tools referenced throughout the conference, compiled by attendees themselves in the Litmus Community. Bookmark it, use it and love it!
  • Litmus Community – Originally only available to Litmus subscribers, they were recently awesome enough to open it up to everyone. A priceless resource and “place for email designers and marketers to learn, grow, and educate each other about everything email.”
  • Bulletproof Email Buttons and Bulletproof Backgrounds – Campaign Monitor has your back! Avoid image blocking by using these awesome generators to ensure your buttons and backgrounds are viewable across all email clients.
  • Email planner – Plan your next great email by using this strategy brief to identify key strategic components.