Author - Pierre Hage

The Future is Collaborative: Marketing Better Together

Ten different hands piled on top of one another representing team work

Teamwork makes the dream work, but for some reason, collaboration among marketing teams tends to be overly complicated.

Marketing teams today are busier than ever, trying to keep up with never-ending technology changes and shrinking budgets while still finding time to innovate and drive their brand and business forward.

The last thing they want to do is spend time hunting down feedback and approvals, but with teams spread between different departments, different locations, and even different countries, the lack of collaborative systems has become a major pain point.

Nothing ruins innovation faster than good ideas stuck in an outdated process, so Knak is making collaboration – both within marketing teams and cross-functionally – a focus this year.

We work extensively with marketers every day, and we know that the future of email marketing is going to have a major emphasis on collaboration:

  • Less reliance on email as the channel for feedback and approval
  • More visibility into the workflow, from creation to completion
  • Better access controls for stakeholders inside and outside of the marketing team

Here’s a look at the pain points we often hear from our customers and what we’re doing to make them a thing of the past.

Pain Point #1: Our workflow is unclear

The more decentralized your marketing team becomes, the more important it is to identify a clear workflow to make sure your process is consistent and your brand guidelines are protected. Yours may vary, but here are some of our common elements:

  • Objective / goal setting
  • Creative brief
  • Project scope
  • Timelines
  • Content creation
  • Design/build
  • Review/feedback/edits
  • Testing/final edits
  • Launch/wrap-up
  • Performance evaluation

A quick note here: workflow and project management are not the same thing. Project management — also very important — deals with the big picture, including overall planning and oversight for a project. Workflow connects the tasks and dictates how the project will move from stage to stage.

We use Knak’s collaboration functionality to manage our workflow because it allows us to easily track emails through the approval process — more on that later — but we also use and highly recommend Asana for project management.

Don’t just assume your team is on the same page. If your team is small, get in the habit of setting a clear workflow now so your system will be in place when it’s time to grow.

If your team is large, be consistent by documenting your approach so your team knows what to expect. This will also allow you to refine your process over time more easily.

Pain Point #2: Our team is literally not here

Gone are the days when you could just shout across the office and get a response from your coworker. Teams are becoming more dispersed, and it’s not uncommon for your fellow marketers to be working in fully or partially remote roles.

You also have the challenge of working effectively with team members who might be traveling or are based in other parts of the world.

We get it. About half of our team is based in Canada, but we also have team members working in the U.S. and Europe. We’ve got some great tools that help us bridge the differences in time zones, but we’ve also had to learn to embrace asynchronous collaboration.

If you’re feeling the pinch of trying to juggle schedules and make progress across time zones, it’s time to lay out a strategy so your team isn’t losing good ideas and feeling isolated.

Pain Point #3: Technology has changed, but our process hasn’t

Technology changes quickly. Many of the changes are positive and could make life easier, but updating your process takes too much time.

This is actually something we hear often from our customers. They know a new version/update/software would increase efficiency, but learning the new system and teaching it to their team takes so long that they can’t afford to do it.

Unfortunately, the only real way around this is a mindset shift: Accept that adopting new technology is a time investment that will pay off in the long run. Sure, it may be easier to continue with your current (outdated? non-existent?) collaborative system, but implementing something more efficient can pay off quickly.

Do your due diligence with the proof of concept, make sure your new software has amazing customer support, and give your team tools that makes life easier.

Pain Point #4: Approval is a nightmare

Here’s the deal: approvals have been a problem as long as approvals have existed.

Most approval processes have all the visibility of a blizzard at midnight: you’re not sure where the email is in the process or who’s supposed to be approving it.

Test emails are sent, then forwarded for approval, but the emails get distorted, which makes them hard to preview.

Or – and this is the most unbelievable in the year 2020 – teams rely on email threads to manage approvals, and deciphering who said what, when basically requires its own full-time position.

In our 2019 Email Benchmark report, approvals were listed as a frustration over and over again, so here are our recommendations for breaking up the bottleneck.

1. Start with a creative brief. This may seem irrelevant to the approval process, but we assure you that it’s the best place to start. If your team is on the same page from the outset, getting approval at the end is going to be much easier.

A good creative brief sets the tone, scope, and task list for the campaign and should clearly communicate deadlines and touchpoints along the way. For help creating strong briefs and an email brief template, check out our January How Knak Does Email post.

A graphic of a Knak email brief template showing project name, point of contact, and project overview fields

2. Identify a review order, starting with the least senior member of the team. Does your CMO need to be the one to point out that you listed the wrong promo code or put the CTA in the wrong place? They do not. The most senior approver should be the last one to see the email. Assuming your creative brief was approved by the team’s senior leadership, you should be able to move through feedback and edits and only look for final approval when it’s completely ready to go.

An additional note here: the best way to drive your copywriters crazy is to give your email to 6 different people at the same time and have all the feedback pile in at once. This method actually makes everyone a little crazy, because there’s a good chance that stakeholder #1’s feedback has already been incorporated, but since stakeholders #2 and 3 don’t know that, they’re actually reviewing a document that no longer exists (keep reading to see how Knak’s updated editor eliminates this problem).

3. Set deadlines. You likely already do this, but we can’t oversell the importance of establishing deadlines and adhering to them. If each point in the approval process takes just one or two additional days, you could be adding a week or more to your timeline. Clearly communicate the deadlines, and then follow through with them. After one or two rounds of this, everyone should be on the same page.

4. Streamline your approval process. Does the email really need to go from Jim to Heather to Kyle and then back to Jim and then back to Heather before it goes to Karen? Probably not, right? Approvals can turn into an endless feedback loop, so do what you can to eliminate steps along the way.

Ideally, feedback can be collected all in one place in a timely manner so that your writers and designers can make the necessary edits (once!) and then pass the email along for final approval. In the past, I worked with an organization that had 7 or 8 steps in the approval process, but when we really took time to look at it, we realized we only needed 4. By passing the email from one person to the next and collecting the feedback all in one place, we were able to make all the edits at once and get the emails out the door much faster.

5. Get some technology. Seriously. There is no need to try to manually manage approvals, even if that’s what you’ve always done (See: Pain Point #3 above). If you’re a Knak Enterprise customer, our editor will make the approval process easier because you can collaborate, build emails, and manage feedback all in the same place, but even if you’re not (yet?), you have options.

Check out Filestage, Box Notes, or WorkFront for tech options that simplify approvals and make it easy to collect feedback from stakeholders and team members who aren’t necessarily co-located.

Our Collaborative Tools

Collaboration is one of our main values over here at Knak, so here’s a look at the technology we use to make it simple.

For Project Management:
Asana – if we’re working on a project that’s not related to an email build, we use Asana to manage the details. Tasks and milestones are assigned by the project owner, the calendar and deadlines are shared with everyone who’s working on the project, reminders are sent as deadlines approach, and everyone has great visibility into the current state of the project.

The temptation here is to look for a different piece of software for each thing you need, but a good PM platform eliminates the need for multiple tools and brings everything you need under the same program.

For Real-Time Communication:
Slack – Like we said, our team is only partially co-located. We rely on Slack channels and DMs to keep communication lines open, organize conversations, and celebrate wins.

Zoom – A few weeks ago, our weekly marketing meeting included team members in India, Austria, Canada, and the US. Zoom makes it possible to connect in real-time so we can continue moving forward even when we’re not together.

For Design:
InVision – Finalizing design requires a certain amount of back-and-forth, especially if you’re working with an agency. InVision is great because feedback is collected directly on the design slides, make it easy to track comments and changes.

For Approvals:
Knak – Knak’s email approvals feature is split into two streams. On the approval side, users define an approval workflow so everyone can see whose approval is needed and where the email is in the process. Multiple approvers can be assigned to each stage to help improve efficiency.

On the collaboration side, non-approvers have the ability to view and comment on emails also. The combination of the two allows for better collaboration between the team and the approvers and greater visibility into the approval process.

Knak’s tool also provides an audit trail so it’s easy to identify the previous and future approvers and keep track of changes. Plus, in early 2020, we’ll be introducing an annotated feedback feature that will make collaboration even easier.

The Future is Collaborative

Collaboration is becoming more and more of a focus among marketing teams, and we can’t see that changing any time soon. As a new year of marketing kicks off, I think we’ll see defined approval processes become the norm and collaboration become an even more integral part of day-to-day life for all Marketers – and we’re doing all we can to make sure our platform makes it possible.

Want to learn more? We’d love to show you what’s new at Knak. Request a demo, and let’s talk email creation and collaboration.

On-Trend: Email Marketing Trends to Watch in 2020

Email marketing trends are nothing new. Trying to make sense of them can be a bit daunting, though. Everywhere you look, you’ll find another list telling you exactly what you should be doing to attract new customers and stay ahead of the competition.

We are marketers ourselves, and our experience on the client side has given us some insight into the trends that can really influence your bottom line and those that are just a flash in the pan.

In reviewing our choices for the top marketing trends of 2020, we took a look at what our customers have to say. After all, some of the best marketers in the world are our customers, so between them and our own team, we’ve got some expert insight close at hand.

Here are the trends we think are poised to have the biggest impact in 2020:

You’re probably already making some of these moves. Some of them are just now becoming possible in today’s MarTech landscape. But all of them can have a lasting impact on your marketing strategy, not just deliver a temporary bump in your KPIs.

Read on, and then weigh in. We’d love to know what trends you’re excited about right now.

Trend #1: Collaboration
As marketing departments trend towards decentralization, the need for collaborative tools is on the rise. In our 2019 Email Benchmark Report, customers noted once again that the collaboration capabilities offered by marketing automation platforms are unhelpful, leading them to rely on third-party integrations to manage workflow.

Even those who don’t use Marketo seem to feel the same way: they’re tired of working in silos, and they need software in their MarTech stack that can keep their team in alignment and their projects on track.

As 2020 kicks off, we think we’re going to see more and more marketing teams adopt collaborative tools and workflow software that manage the details so they can get their emails out the door faster.

We use Asana for project management, and we love that it keeps our projects organized while giving our (largely remote) team a central location to communicate about tasks.

Source: Asana

Workfront and Wrike are other great options for project management.

For email approvals, we drink our own champagne and use Knak’s collaboration tool to streamline the process. Anyone on the approval workflow can provide feedback right in the platform, and it’s easy to track progress through the email center. It makes the approval process much simpler and speeds up our time-to-email.

Trend #2: Mobile-First Design
Rather than just optimizing their designs for mobile, many organizations are turning to mobile-first design. Mobile browsing has surpassed desktop browsing 53% to 37%, and Litmus reports that mobile is the most popular email reading environment, with 42% of all emails being opened on a mobile device. Even mobile purchasing, once a very small percentage of revenue, has increased 23% year-over-year, leading to a push for mobile optimization across digital marketing channels.

A minimalist approach to content and design will help facilitate mobile optimization.

Source: Litmus

While you may not be ready to take a mobile-first approach yet, we wouldn’t be surprised if the bulk of emails are built this way in the near future.

Trend #3: Animated & Live Content
Animated content is a great way to grab interest and boost engagement. Animated CTAs, GIFs, and other short animations draw attention, and they continue to become more prevalent as marketers start to see the benefit. In fact, we use them ourselves in our digital newsletters:

Live content is also gaining popularity, and we love it because it populates any time the email is opened, keeping it up to date and engaging for readers.
Some popular examples: weather forecasts, countdown clocks (usually to the beginning or end of a sale), and sports or survey results, like this example from Xfinity:

Source: Litmus

With this email, readers can see live poll results and add their own voice to the mix. It’s fun, and it adds a level of interactivity that feels fresh.

The main caution here is to make sure your animations are engaging but not overwhelming. Too many flashing objects are distracting — some may even say annoying — and if they’re leading to slow email load times, you’re negating the benefits.

Trend #4: Personalization
Personalization is not new, but as inboxes get more crowded, you need to do it better if you want to stand out.

Fortunately, we’ve got good news: customers are willing to give up more data in order to receive better personalization. In fact, according to a study by Liveclicker, 55% of customers say they prefer email messages containing relevant products and offers.

Check out this example from JetBlue:

Source: HubSpot

This email is in perfect keeping with the brand’s tone, and the personalization is on point: it calls out shared experiences and provides relevant content that’s tailored to the reader.

Other great examples of this include Amazon and Netflix, whose customized product and viewing recommendations draw users back in and keep them engaged.

Note: We recommend Campaign Monitor’s Ultimate Guide to Personalized Email for an in-depth look at email personalization.

Trend #5: Minimalism
A “less is more” approach is king right now, and with good reason. Litmus reports that the average read time for an email is only 13.4 seconds, so you’ve got a very limited amount of time to get your message across.

A clean, minimalistic design feels authentic and allows for easier consumption, but it does not mean your design has to be black and white. Choose a simple color scheme that enhances your branding, like Hawthorne does here:

Source: Really Good Emails

Their design is clean, the content is minimal, and the entire thing is highly scannable. When your emails are this easily digested, you drive the focus toward your CTA, increasing the likelihood that readers will click thru.

A few other benefits here: a minimalistic design is easier to create and easier to make mobile-friendly.

Trend #6: Interactive Email Design
We’re big fans of anything that simplifies the user experience, so asking users to rate or review an item in the body of the email itself gets high marks from us.

Source: Omnisource

This is super easy for users – they don’t have to follow a link to leave a review, and the simple connection between the email content and their instantaneous response encourages a higher level of engagement.

Organizations like Capital One frequently include a brief survey at the bottom of their emails asking users to choose from a set of smiley faces to rate how helpful the email was.
Home Depot and many other retailers use emails like the one above to allow users to instantly rate products. Sephora takes it a step further by letting users pin products directly to their Pinterest boards.

On your end, this kind of discovery will help you tailor your content to make it more relevant and drive participation.

The end goal here is the ultimate interactive email experience: allowing users to check out in an email. The tech isn’t quite ready, but we bet it will be soon, so including some interactive content in your emails now is a great way to stay in step with the trend.

Trend #7: AI & Machine Learning Systems
AI-designed emails may eventually be the holy grail of email personalization. Imagine being able to use exactly the right subject line, product suggestions, and interactive content, and make sure your email is sent at the optimal time.

We’re not quite there yet, but in the meantime, you can start to reap some of the benefits of AI and machine learning, and one of the keys here is modular email design.
Email building programs based on modular design make it easier to use machine learning to insert relevant content into emails based on rules set by the developer. It’s a step in a very future-forward direction, and it’s a trend we’re excited to see unfold.

AI and machine learning aren’t without their drawbacks, of course. Safeguards are needed to keep AI-driven content from seeming, well, artificial.
Note: For a guide to the basics of AI and machine learning, check out How to Use Artificial Intelligence in Email.

Customer Experience > Trends
Times change, right? The world of marketing moves quickly, and the things that were on trend a few years ago have likely been replaced, updated, and modernized.

That’s part of what we love about marketing. We get excited about new tools and new technology, so lists like this have us thinking of a thousand different ways to update our strategy.

But we know that delivering a first-rate customer experience is job #1, so we don’t stress out about trends. We evaluate them through the lens of customer experience, and if it’s something that’s going to make life better for our clients, we work to make it happen.

Want to weigh in? Comment below, and let us know which trends you think will have the biggest impact in 2020.

Buying a URL to Animation

What to do when it’s time to join the .com club

Having worked with a number of smaller organizations in my career, I can tell you that it’s a huge moment of pride for the company and the marketing department to finally purchase their .com URL. It feels like a right of passage.

I’ve managed this process a few times already, and I’ve learned a thing or two that can make this milestone less stressful and potentially less expensive.

Here’s a look at why Knak decided to move to, along with some insight into managing the timing, purchase, and transition at your own organization.

Why invest in

Purchasing was one of the largest marketing investments we’ve made to date. So what made us decide to pull the trigger?

It’s all in the timing. The timing was right, and the opportunity to purchase the URL at a reasonable price presented itself.

Some of my fellow Marketers will disagree, but I believe that owning your .com URL gives your business an increased sense of legitimacy. It may be a bit less relevant than it used to be, but it’s certainly still a factor.

A few other key reasons:

  • It makes Knak easier to find – direct traffic makes up an important part of our website’s traffic, and it’s a common assumption that an established company will own their .com URL.
  • It’s the most recognizable and accessible top-level domain (TLD) – even though it’s 2019, the bias toward .com still exists.
  • It keeps the URL out of the hands of the competition.

How do you know when the time is right?

I’m often asked how you know when the time is right to purchase your .com URL. Unfortunately, there’s no magic moment, but I do think that some times are better than others.

Here are some key markers to help you determine if the time is right:

  • Your company is gaining momentum in the market, and you’re consistently winning new business.
  • Your brand is still somewhat flying under the radar compared to your more established competition.
  • You’re profitable – this is key if you’re funding the purchase yourself, less so if you have outside funding.
  • You’ve received a round of funding or are about to announce funding.
  • You’re about to announce a major corporate or product update.

Making a successful URL purchase

The first step here is knowing what your URL is worth.

Like almost everything else, at the end of the day, the value of the URL is what the market is willing to pay, and that value can increase with the visibility of your brand.

If you’re working with a reputable broker (and I would strongly encourage you to use a broker), they’ll likely have developed an evaluation process to help you arrive at a ballpark figure. Make sure you’re comfortable with the range; once you understand the cost, it’s time to talk to the URL owner.

Here’s how to help it go smoothly:

  1. Use a Broker! Unless you’ve done this in the past, you’ll likely need the help of a professional. Yes, there are fees associated with this service, but a properly structured commission plan should help you get a lower overall purchase price and take the stress out of the transaction. Some additional benefits to using a broker:
    • They assure anonymity, which can help with negotiations.
    • They know the ropes and can advise against tactics that may come back to haunt you.
    • They’ll be willing and able to answer your 1,001 questions.
    • They may have an existing relationship with the seller that can expedite the process
  2. Don’t approach the URL owner until you’re willing and able to make the purchase. Putting out feelers now can make your purchase more expensive down the road because it alerts the seller to your organization and allows them to keep tabs on your growth.
  3. Proceed in good faith. Whether you’re dealing with an individual or a business, at the end of the day, you’re looking for a win-win outcome to your negotiations.
  4. Get creative with your financing. Maybe a lump sum purchase isn’t feasible right now. Some companies that specialize in buying and selling URLs will offer a payment plan. Beware, though – the penalties for missing a payment can be grave. You can lose your URL and forfeit the payments you’ve already made.
  5. Use an escrow service (hint: we like An escrow service will manage the contract and money transfers and help protect both parties. It’s well worth the extra investment, and it may be non-negotiable: most reputable sellers will insist on using an escrow service.

If you haven’t already done so, I’d encourage you to consider purchasing other variations of your URL at the same time (.io, .net, .ca, etc). They can usually be picked up on services like GoDaddy for a few dollars a piece.

What not to do

Unless you have a rock-solid case, avoid going through ICANN to forcefully claim the URL. If you fail, there can be some serious consequences, which can come back and cost you from both a brand and a dollars perspective. Remember: you’re dealing with people. People will remember your actions when you’re negotiating with them, and until you own the URL, you’re vulnerable to retaliation.

Case in point:

Once I inherited a situation where, before I joined the organization, management had attempted to forcefully claim the rights to a URL, only to have the request rejected.

As a consequence, the rightful owner decided to retaliate by directing said URL to an adult website.

In the end, the URL was purchased successfully, but the acquisition price was well above what we had anticipated (and budgeted for). A different approach might have yielded a more positive outcome.

We got the URL! Now what?

Once you’ve completed the purchase, make sure you’re ready for the technical transfer of your URL. That means engaging with your IT team or lining up a trusted consultant ahead of time to make the hand-off and implementation as smooth as possible.

  • Make a list of what will need to be updated with your new URL:
    • Digital assets – website, landing pages, social media, forms, etc.
    • Digital links & redirects.
    • Martech – marketing automation platform, email creation platforms, chat bots, etc.
    • Corporate email – update to the new URL while making sure you maintain access to old inboxes.
    • Printed materials – business cards, swag, banners, handouts, booths, signage, etc.
  • Let your customers and your broader audience know about the switch. Make an announcement and encourage them to take a few steps to ensure it’s business as usual on their end:
    • Update digital bookmarks to the new .com.
    • Add the new .com to their email safe-sender list.
    • Ask them to click the new .com URL to test accessibility. Instruct them to reach out to their IT team to whitelist the new URL if there are any issues.

I would encourage you to check out this article on SEMrush. I would also suggest downloading their comprehensive “Migration Checklist” to help ensure your bases are covered.

Handle the basics first

Purchasing a .com is a big step for an organization. It helps further your brand, protect your brand identity, and make it easier for prospective clients to find you. But, it’s important to remember that it’s not a magic bullet.

If you’re unable to generate leads, struggling to attract the right audience, or experiencing SEO challenges, a .com isn’t going to solve your problems.

My advice would be to hold off on the purchase, and instead, invest your time and money in fixing the fundamentals.

But if you’re ready to move ahead with your URL purchase, congratulations! You’re about to achieve a major milestone in the life of your organization, and we want to be the first to welcome you to the .com club.

For some helpful advice on naming your URL, check out “How to Choose a Domain Name” on Moz’s blog.

Recap: MarTech East 2019

Knak Team at MarTech East

Top trends and takeaways from Boston

I look forward to any opportunity to connect with fellow Marketers, and MarTech East, which took place in Boston last month, was no exception. After all, if you truly want to know what’s top-of-mind for your peers, the best way to find out is to spend a few days deep-diving into conversation with them. It’s the most direct (and enriching) way to keep a finger on the pulse of an entire profession.

I’m also a big believer in the value of giving your team the opportunity to attend conferences. They get to meet people they might not otherwise interact with and gain valuable insight into the current state of your industry; you get the benefit of extending your organization’s reach and having a greater impact while you’re there.

For this event, we didn’t pull any punches. Our CEO, COO, Lead Email Developer, and I made the trip and spent three days chatting with Marketers from every type of industry, with every variation of job title.

Here are my key takeaways from the event, and why I left with the reminder that we’re all in this together.

What’s Trending?

I came across quite a few trends at the show, but the two that everyone was talking about were Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Are CDPs the next big thing?

CDPs have been buzz-y for the last few years, so it’s no surprise that I saw an abundance of CDP product offerings at the conference.
Unfortunately, lots of my fellow marketers are asking questions that seem to be motivated more by a fear of missing the bandwagon than by an actual understanding of the pros and cons of CDPs.

The fact of the matter here is that most organizations are already collecting and analyzing various types of customer data with the goal of getting a single view of their customers. So are CDPs the next big MarTech trend? The one that will move the needle and improve the bottom line? Or is the buzz simply being created by a few influential MarTech companies looking to create a market for their latest technology? The answer remains to be seen, but for better or worse, I don’t see the CDP hype dying down anytime soon.

What role will AI / Machine Learning play in the future?

AI was another hot topic, with many companies presenting their take on how to best use AI in a MarTech stack. Based on the number of conversations I had about AI, it’s something most Marketers are considering (in fact, Litmus predicted that AI would be one of the top email design trends for 2019).

The general consensus seems to be that it’s too early to make any big bets on AI, but if I were a betting man, I’d wager that it will dominate MarTech offerings in the coming years. The solutions will be similar to what’s available today, but with AI added to enhance performance. I imagine we’re still a few years away from a huge AI-powered MarTech breakthrough, but I don’t think it’s too far off.

Email Creation is a Universal Hang-Up

It’s always a positive feeling when your peer group reinforces your corporate “why.” It’s like checking your compass and seeing that, yes, you’re still moving in the right direction. So while I’m sorry to hear that the email creation process is still as painful as ever, it’s a good reminder to the Knak team that the work we’re doing is vital.

From the conversations I had, it was abundantly clear that most Marketers — Knak customers not included, of course — tackle email marketing the same way they’ve been doing it for years: develop a concept, wait for a designer to build the email, wait for feedback, wait for design changes, wait for approval, wait, wait, wait.

Knak’s goal has always been to simplify life for Marketers, so if we can eliminate one major headache-inducing activity from their day-to-day by simplifying email creation, we’re hitting our mark.

Face Time for the Win

One of my favorite parts of going on the road is the chance to connect with our customers and prospects in real time. In a world full of video conferencing and email, nothing beats face-to-face conversation, so we took the opportunity to host a VIP dinner get everyone together in the same room.

Knak Customer Dinner (Martech East)Our main intention for the dinner was to build relationships with our fellow marketers, but something else great happened: we got to introduce our prospective clients to existing Knak customers.

I truly appreciated the evening for what it was: a chance to put aside the business agenda and connect with some amazing likeminded people who share our passion for marketing.

It’s the People

In addition to the technical insight and great conversations, I left MarTech East with a renewed appreciation for the commonalities that Marketers share.
No matter what technology we add to our stack or what innovations change the game in the next two or three years, Marketing will continue to be a people-driven field, and I’m grateful to be part of a field — and a team — filled with such dedicated, creative people.