Q & A With Jessica Best – June Luncheon Speaker
On June 5, Jessica Best will join the AMA Iowa Chapter to share her perspective on data and email marketing and how we, as marketers, can become more relevant and leaders in privacy and protection for consumers. To get a glimpse into her journey into the email marketing world, we asked Jessica a few questions before her presentation.
Can you give me some of your professional background? How did you get to where you are today?
I started out as an elementary education major but then switched and became a Broadcast Journalism major at Mizzou. After college, I learned on that degree as I became a content writer for email and social. At some point in time, I became really interested in digitally-based content writing and was really intrigued by data-driven tactics. I was able to see which blog post got the most views or which emails got the most clicks. That’s where I really started to build the foundational knowledge for data-based marketing. Now, that seems archaic, but the big deal with me was that I loved that was able to use data to drive and inform things.
Before I came to Barkley, I worked for an email platform called emfluence for seven and a half years. Everything that we did there was data-driven — for example, most of our clients’ emails included variable data or some kind of dynamic content, creating email sends based on what someone is interested in. For me, that was the next step in data-driven thinking.
When I came to Barkley I started out as the Director of CRM or database-driven marketing. That position was quickly relaunched and evolved into a broader definition of Data-Driven Marketing of all kinds. The idea with that evolution was that all marketing should not only be data-informed (analytics and metrics optimizations), but also data-driven (meaning data that drives the timing of emails, like automation).
Now, as VP of Data-Driven Marketing, I get to do to anything in data and marketing. This includes partnering with our media team and talking about how we use data to execute programmatic buying, lookalike modeling or other things like that. My eyes always light up when I talk about the ability to make something automated or make it more relevant by incorporating the data element. I love the full channel planning, but I still have a soft spot in my heart for email marketing, where every send can be personalized for everyone on your list.
Why are you so intrigued by email marketing and data?
I have an insatiable desire to have the answer to things. I want to know what someone needs, what they think, how they are feeling and when they need it — and all of that is in the data we collect as smart marketers. I love to be able to “read someone’s mind” and be the most relevant and most useful resource when it hits their inbox, hopefully, right when they need it. I don’t want to be spam. So, I think my love of email comes from the fact I have the power of knowledge.
How has email changed in your time as a marketing professional?
In some ways, it hasn’t changed at all — but the big changes that I have seen are pretty cool, like mobile-optimized email marketing, for example. In today’s best designs, there’s lots of white space with big call-to-action buttons, and everything is optimized for 300-pixel-wide screens. Before 2012, most emails were a compilation of text and links. Now we can send very visual content, with rich images and in some inboxes even a bit of motion.
In the past couple of years, data connections are getting stronger, and social media has turned to video-rich content, so email marketing is trying to play a little bit of catch up. Unlike social media or even websites, email has the challenge of trying to make content work across forty different types of inboxes! Outlook won’t play a video or even an animated GIF, but we can try fun things like those for our Gmail and Apple Readers, as long as we have a graceful option for our Outlook readers to see instead. And usually it’s worth trying: rich media, dynamic content and personalized data have made a significant difference in email marketing.
It’s ever-evolving, to be honest. In 2018, we saw the first implications of GDPR in the EU even though GDPR was passed into law years ago. It took effect on May 25, 2018: I remember that day because I was in Spain teaching a class at the time. When it happened, a fair number of U.S.-based newspapers had to shut down their sites in the EU because they hadn’t been ready to offer an option NOT to track site users’ behavior. During my time in the EU, I saw a bunch of sites requesting for permission to opt-in, while other sites were basically saying “We’re not ready for GDPR yet, come back later.”
At the time for U.S. marketers, GDPR implications didn’t necessarily apply if they didn’t have customers who might be EU citizens. However, just three or four months after the roll-out, California perked up and kind of said, “Yea, we’ll also have one of those.” So, then we started to see the beginnings of the California Consumer Privacy Act. I think we’re closer to see this level of privacy expectation in the U.S. than we hoped as marketers.
Here’s the truth of it though: If you just ask a user, “Do you want this company to have all of this data about you?” They are going to say no, that should be private. If you ask a user, “Do you want me to remember you, your order or your credit card for the next time you buy something?” They’re likely to say yes for convenience. There’s a big difference between people wanting their privacy philosophically, and giving them the choice for how they want their data to be used. Data makes things more relevant and convenient, so as long as you make it their choice -- and make it clear with what you are going to do with that data -- most people will opt for the convenience to give you a little bit of that data as a trade.
In the U.S., we’ve historically been self-regulated. The data industry has always said that as long as we’re responsible with data and provide a benefit to the end-user, we won’t put the handcuffs on you. We’ve been keeping ourselves in check, holding ourselves to a high standard.
Now, we’re probably looking at some legislation in the coming near future — California has already taken the first step. In the U.S., we’ve almost forgotten the data breaches of the last couple of years, because we [American citizens] are still willing to trade data for convenience, entertainment, or use-of-platform. I don’t think we should wait for legislation; marketers need to be the leaders to continue on the path of self-regulation of what we need to do to maintain permission.
What is the primary point of information you’d like to share with folks attending your presentation? Who should attend?
What data versus privacy means for a company is one area that marketers – and frankly accounting and legal teams – of all levels are truly afraid of and unprepared for. If you ask marketing professionals “Are you GDPR compliant today?” About a third still don’t even know what that actually means in practice.
If you’re considering attending, ask yourself how well you feel you have a handle on what privacy expectations are of your consumer today? Do you feel like you know what restrictions are and what the reasonable use of data is? There’s a lot of confusion about what’s legal and illegal under U.S. law — for example, distinguishing what is the law versus what current “best practices” are. A lot of marketers have for years said “I want to collect all the information I can now in the case I need to use it later,” but there’s a fine balance of what you actually need in your marketing database to make your message effective.
>> Want to see Jessica in-person and join the conversation? Sign up for the AMA Iowa June luncheon today here.