Karen Talavera_influncer interview

Interview With Leading Expert In Email Marketing – Karen Talavera

Hello Marketers! In today’s interview, we had the opportunity to speak with Karen Talavera, Founder of Synchronicity Marketing.

Karen is a Digital strategist, consultant, speaker & thought leader empowering email geeks and next generation omni-channel marketing.

With over two decades of experience in data-driven, direct response digital marketing Karen has been praised as “a pioneer in bringing the power of email marketing to the forefront” and “diligent in staying on top of her field, mastering email marketing not just as a specific practice but also in conjunction with social media and other digital channels”.

In the following interview, she shares with us her journey and knowledge into digital marketing.


Karen, Tell Us About Your Role and Journey Into Marketing. How Did You Become Passionate About Marketing?

I never intended to go into Marketing. My first love was writing. I wanted to be a journalist or author, so I pursued a degree in communication. When I graduated in the early 90’s job prospects – and salaries – for journalists were bleak. Starting salaries were below a living wage, so I began looking for positions in PR, advertising and marketing. Marketing won. 

I began my career in corporate, working my way up through channel and product development positions at a large consumer data marketing company which later became part of what is now Experian. What was most fascinating to me was not the jobs themselves but the application of 1) Data and 2) Technology to marketing. The art and science of digital, data-driven, direct response marketing plus its precision, accountability and cost-effectiveness compared to mass branding or PR piqued my attention. 

Eventually I transitioned out of corporate into a startup – one of the first email marketing service provider(YesMail). I recognized email as direct response on steroids, having all the advantages of direct mail with none of the cost or long execution time. My love for email marketing was born and I’ve been loyal to it ever since. Despite naysayers over the past 20 years, email as a marketing channel is alive, well, growing, and becoming more predictive and intelligent thanks to AI-enabled tech. The fact that email marketing is constantly evolving to deliver better customer experiences keeps me interested and passionate about it.


Can You Tell Us Something About Your Website synchronicitymarketing.com? What Inspired You to Start Synchronicity Marketing?

Around 17 years ago I’d left my second start-up in three years. I was at a career crossroads, not sure of my next move. Up to that point I’d worked on the provider side of marketing and didn’t want to stay there; if I took another full-time job I wanted to work brand-side or for a big agency. But again the job market wasn’t great – the first dotcom boom had busted – so I decided to hang out my shingle and try consulting. I simultaneously pursued brand-side jobs and consulting gigs, and self-employment won. 

The business name Synchronicity Marketing dawned on me as the new millennium unfolded and I noticed how quickly digital communication channels were emerging. First text (SMS), then YouTube, then social media, then smart phones became part of everyday life Email was a logical connector to them all and a perfect bridge between online and offline traditional channels like catalogs, direct mail and printSo as I thought more about my sweet spot, it became clear I could help companies create synchronicity between the proliferating mass of marketing channels and integrate them to develop a whole greater than the sum of its parts, as well as synchronize data and technology for more insightful marketing. 


How Do Marketing Leaders Prepare for An AI-Centric World?

The development and adoption of AI-driven martech is at an all-time high and will only increase from here. In marketing, AI and machine learning technologies are being employed to optimize campaign spend, audience response, and make intelligent predictions that inform targeting, segmentation and timing. As a common example, based on annual customer spend, purchase recency and specific services or items sold, predictive technology can run propensity models that identify the best customers for specific offers. It can uncover correlative preferences to recommend the next product in a journey (“since you bought X, you might like . . . “) more accurately and faster than we can guess at what would work. This is especially true in email and other data-driven marketing channels where small tweaks in language, call-to-action phrasing, offers, timing and creative can make or break a campaign.

I encourage marketing leaders to proactively, if not aggressively, embrace AI and predictive technologies and allocate budget accordingly. AI and machine learning can generate test variables and process correlations our human brains are too biased or limited to conceive, and far faster than we can even if using statistical or regression analyses. The gains in campaign execution, time to market, and reduction in frustration are more than worth the monetary investment.

As a result, understanding and using these tools requires technical savvy. The acumen needed in the average marketing employee is more technical than it’s ever been. Marketing professionals now need to learn and manage a wide variety of platforms and tools to execute campaigns and projects, from marketing automation and email sending platforms (MA and ESP) to content management systems, social media dashboards, customer data platforms (CDPs) and analytics software. The list goes on. Leaders should prepare to not only improve their own proficiency in this area, but seek candidates strong in both analytical and creative thinking. The new marketing “unicorn” will demonstrate mastery in both the art and science of what it means to market in the digital era.


What is Your Philosophy on Email Marketing and Lead Generation?

My philosophy is simple: think long-term relationship vs. one-night stand. The goal of email marketing and lead generation – especially lead generation done via email drips or automated sequences – should always to create a loyal customer vs. a quick sale. Entrenched, experienced B2B marketers know this, yet I still see way too much “batch and blast” email mindsetI see a focus on quantity over quality, when it should be the opposite. I see delusion along the lines of “If I build it they will come.” 

Wrong. Just because you have a great business and got your hands on a huge email list, and even if you have a wonderful offer, they will not come just because you ask, especially if they don’t know you and especially if that list is not opt-in.  Maybe a small number of people will respond, but that the model is not sustainable. That’s the business model of data pirates and spammers, not legitimate email marketers.  

Batch-and-blast email lead gen is the equivalent of a Tinder hookup. Sure, if you swipe right on enough people you’ll eventually find someone willing to engage, but playing that kind of numbers game with email isn’t sustainable, let alone desirable. Not to mention it will ruin your email sender reputation with the ISPs, effectively killing your deliverability. 

Instead, in B2B lead gen funnels should be created. Content makes for an excellent destination, so create a funnel that leads to a web site, video, webinar or other asset and invest in multiple digital channels (SEO, SEM, CPC, Display, Social) to drive traffic there. Once a prospect enters the funnel they usually have to or are at least invited to opt-in to email at some point, or to gain access to the content asset. At that point email can take over for nurturing and relationship development. There is no magic bullet or secret sauce, only well-thought-out strategy in which conversion paths and customer journeys are mapped and relevant messaging is sent at key inflection points. 

Successful email marketing is the long game. 


What Are The Biggest Email Marketing Trends to Prepare for in The Next Couple of Years?

I believe we’re on the cusp of an explosion in response-optimization technology. Not only will it become standard in ESPs and MAs, but expected. Best of all marketers will benefit in multiple ways:

  • Optimization tools eliminate guesswork. Marketers won’t be limited to making arbitrary human decisions when designing email marketing campaigns, creative, or tests. Optimization tools aggregate actual (vs. predicted) data in quantities far greater than humans can process and as a result, uncover patterns, correlations and relationships that statistically hold up and are scalable.
  • Optimization can be “real-time”, which saves time. Rather than running multiple test sends, aggregating results, and then separately deploying the “winner” to a selected list or segment, email optimization tools can deploy multiple message versions with different subject lines, creative, personalization, timing, etc. to percentage segments of a full list in real time, measure the winning combination as results are generated, and then deploy the “winner” to the remainder of the list all within the same send.
  • Machine learning can overcome human bias. AI-driven systems “see” and learn in ways we cannot or may be blindsided to. Our personal biases or feelings about creative treatments, subject lines, offers, or other components of campaigns are eliminated, choices are wider, and approaches we may not believe will work can actually be shown to be successful.

We’ve already seen tech-driven optimization empowering email for the last decade, but where it’s on the rise now is in enablement of more personalized and customized messaging. In email it’s possible to generate dynamic messages on the fly, subscriber-by-subscriber, from a library of components that are uniquely assembled as relevant to each recipient based on known attributes or purchase history.

A final and related email trend to prepare for is continued evolution in message design and the technical options available. “Dynamic email” allows marketers to bring functionality that’s common on the web into their email designs, such as live forms, carousels, accordions, and hamburger menus.

If Google and other ISPs can get their act together and support proper rendering of more sophisticated email coding, we’ll see much more action in email than simple animation or video. The inbox experience will be closer to that of a web or app visit. Purchase enablement and completion from with an email has long been discussed but still not mastered. I think with every evolution in dynamic email design, we’re one step close to conversion right from the inbox. And that’s the holy grail for email marketers.

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