Email, design and data: 6 things we learned at the inaugural dotmailer Summit

Last week's dotmailer Summit was a euphony of email, design and data-related marketing insight. Here are our favourite nuggets from the day...

1. Marketers need to focus on removing negativity, fear and uncertainty

Rory Sutherland from Ogilvy Change no doubt had the event’s organisers pulling their hair out with his prolonged talk, but the audience didn’t seem to mind as he treated them to an avalanche of thought-provoking material at the start of the day.

One of his most compelling points was the idea that marketers should be looking to remove negativity, fear and uncertainty for their customers wherever possible. He cited Uber, admittedly a B2C brand, as an excellent example of this: it has removed all the negatives around having to pay for taxis with cash, the uncertainty about where your taxi is and when it’s going to show up, and the fear of who your driver might be. In B2B consider removing negativity, fear and uncertainty in something like the registration process on your website.

2. Brands should invest in and value copywriters and designers

Both Skip Fidura and Phil Draper from dotmailer told us in no uncertain terms that design - particularly in the context of email marketing - is not widely perceived as providing an immediate business benefit. After all, some of the most successful brands on the planet are design-led (a fairly large tech brand starting with ‘A’ comes to mind). Investing in great copywriting and design can demonstrably have a huge impact on the success of your emails – and the rest of your marketing activity – so ignore at your peril.

3. Your biggest assets are your brand and your data

Wise words from Touker Suleyman of Dragons’ Den fame. Explaining how he came to buy British clothing brand Hawes & Curtis for just £1, he told us the true value of the business was in the brand itself (also something that will resonate if you’ve seen Michael Keaton’s latest film The Founder). So, don’t underestimate the power or value of these two aspects of your business or, more importantly, neglect them – you’re likely to pay the price in the long term.

In another shocking revelation, Touker told the assembled crowd that the lift in Dragons’ Den isn’t actually a lift at all... sorry, you’re never going to watch the show again in the same way.

4. Technology – in particular programmatic and AI – raises some interesting moral questions

Rory Sutherland made an astute observation during the panel discussion, when he raised the moral question of directing programmatic advertising to the wrong audiences. The dangers of automatically advertising betting sites to gambling addicts are quite clear, so why isn’t this being discussed more?

In addition, the panel (Rory Sutherland, Shar VanBoskirk from Forrester and Simon Bird from dotmailer) spoke about the importance of seeing AI as complementary to human intelligence, not as a replacement for it. The power of AI tools is their ability to point out things to humans they wouldn’t have noticed – as demonstrated by the fact that in chess, a human plus a computer will always beat a human or a computer on their own.

dotmailer summit panel discussion image

(From l-r) Rory Sutherland, Shar VanBoskirk, Simon Bird and Tink Taylor

5. GDPR is just around the corner and marketers better be prepared

In his brilliant session on data (there’s an oxymoron we’d never thought we’d utter) email privacy whizz James Koons reiterated the cost of getting email privacy wrong. And boy is it expensive: Yahoo had to pay $350m and the cost of TalkTalk's data breach came to £60m. Koons had some sage advice around email preference centres too: yes, you need to give people the option of opting out, but what about opting down? This is a surefire way of retaining subscribers while also selling yourself as a brand that offers real flexibility in its offering.

6. Never let anyone put a ceiling on your ambitions

The day concluded with inspiration, motivation and humour from James Cracknell, who regaled the audience with how he came to win two Olympic Gold medals, row across the Atlantic with Ben Fogle, run the Marathon des Sables (the MdS for running aficionados) and come back fighting following a severe head injury inflicted by a truck while he was cycling Route 66. The way he spoke about dealing with the impact of his injury on cognitive thinking was eye-opening (did you know that 85% of people with brain injuries get divorced, for example?).

His main message – never let anyone put a ceiling on what you can achieve – was admittedly a little cheesy, but left everyone feeling uplifted. Also, he has a marathon PB of 2:50:43 – is there anything this man can’t do?