As part of a new series, we’re talking with Campaign Monitor customers to detail how they approach and run email marketing at their various organizations, so our readers can learn from their challenges and successes.

Today, we’re sharing our chat with Kori Mirsberger, the Marketing and Analysis Coordinator at SXSW. Kori works on all aspects of SXSW’s emails, from list management to copywriting, to the creation of compelling imagery.

For those who aren’t already familiar, SXSW is an annual event in Austin, Texas. With a reputation as a creative playground, SXSW brings together the latest innovations in new technology, the independent music scene, and high caliber films.

What began as a gathering of 700 creatives in Texas has become a global event. These days, more than 400,000 people attend SXSW every year, making email marketing a top priority for the event’s marketing team.

Here’s what Kori had to say about how email marketing works for SXSW:

Why do you think email marketing is so successful as a way to market to people?

Email marketing is extremely important when attempting to target the general public, due to the change in technology that has occurred over the past decade. Emails now come to our phones daily and which are always within reach. Even if you don’t want to open the email right away, there’s still a reminder on your phone. With preview lines marketers can now give a quick clip of what’s in store, then the customer can choose to open it or can save it away to read later. The important part as a marketer is to put yourself in the front of their brain.

Marketing is about finding the people who are interested in you and being able to talk to them on their level. Where a billboard might be very generic, email allows you to get personal with your subscriber and talk to them like a friend.

Emails function as snapshots of our website, so that users don’t have to dig deep into our site to find the information they are looking for.

SXSW’s 2015 welcome email, sent to all attendees

What role has email marketing played in SXSW?

Campaign Monitor plays a huge role in SXSW’s marketing expansion. It has completely changed how we see email marketing.

By allowing us to segment subscribers that are interested in SXSW into particular lists, we’re able to make sure that subscribers receive content that is relevant to them. It’s really changed the game for us on how we market our materials via email.

Fast Fact SXSW used six different companies to manage their email lists before switching to Campaign Monitor.

How did you use email segmentation to step up your game?

Segmentation is the biggest part of our email lists. Using segmentation, we’re able to target our subscribers with the information they choose to receive and with information that is most relevant based on how they interact with us. Segmentation allows us to ensure we’re not cluttering inboxes with irrelevant information.

We have many levels of our segmentation to sure that our subscribers get the specific information that is most relevant to them. Let’s say a subscriber only wants information about the SXSW Music, Film & Interactive event, then they will only receive emails pertaining to that particular conference and festival. We have all of our events and email subscriptions sectioned out so subscribers can pick and choose what they want.

Many of our subscribers are signed up for multiple lists. Because of that, we have to space out our email send times to ensure that we do not bombard them all at once. If we carefully consider those subscribers on multiple lists, we see much more success with segmentation.

2015 SXSW Music highlights email, sent to those interested in music

We’ve been able to create these segments using the Campaign Monitor’s Segmentation feature. When people sign up, they’re signing up for what they want. We no longer blankly send emails to everyone with everything that we have to see what sticks. We’re now able to target subscribers with their unique interests.

Segmentation has resulted in a large increase in our open rates, a higher click-through rate, and a much higher share rate. It’s completely changed the game for how we use email marketing.

Fast Fact Marketers are seeing the ROI of segmented emails– A 760% increase in email revenue came from segmented emails in 2013, up from 55% in 2012. (DMA’s National Client Email Survey, 2014)

How important is it to target emails to specific attendees?

It’s extremely important to target our attendees with information pertaining to the event of which they are registered. By doing so, we’re able to pique their interest and talk to them in a more personal manner, plus we can deliver content that we know interests them.

Our range of programming is very diverse, including four different conferences and festivals. Before Campaign Monitor’s segmentation option, that meant managing four separate lists on four separate accounts. Now we are able to section out the attendees from the non-registrants and send two styles of the same email; the one for registrants has extra information about housing, badge pick-up and scheduling, while the non-registrant versions encourage the purchase of a badge with exciting news from the event.

We want to keep our registrants updated about the event they are attending and if we sent them everything, it would be overwhelming and not helpful.

2015 SXSW email sent to all subscribers who have not registered

Fast Fact Email marketers estimate that 30% of email revenue comes from targeting to specific segments. (DMA’s National Client Email Report, 2013)

How has Campaign Monitor helped grow marketing at SXSW?

Campaign Monitor has definitely helped us grow. We were using a different company before to manage our lists, completely separate from everything else we were using. Once we switched to Campaign Monitor, we saw a 140 percent increase in our subscribers.

We went from almost no traction on emails to very high open rates, low bounce rates, low unsubscribe rates and a new statistic of high shareability. People are getting the information they want to receive– and they love it so much they share it with their friends. It’s been incredible.

Your marketing team at SXSW is small, so you have to operate as a small business. What email marketing advice would you give to other small businesses?

Get to know your audience. We A/B tested playful vs. business language, subject lines, photos vs. text, and more. We discovered how our audience consumes our information then began optimizing the placement and timing of the emails.  You need to target your audience and talk to them on the level they prefer –that’s the best way to get them to respond. For example, I receive emails from other small businesses. Their content is curated to have playful and fun tones because they have seen that I will click more using that language.

Fast Fact SXSW has a lean, nimble marketing team with four full-time members, so they operate much like a small business.

What role does respect play in email marketing?

There is a high level respect and a mutual agreement with the subscribers on our email list. We don’t want to overwhelm or annoy them with our content and they don’t want emails from us that would do that as well. We take great care not to email people who have not directly opted in to our communications. The people on our lists are there because they are actually interested in our company and products.

We know how important our subscribers are to our company and what we have to offer them for the best experience possible, so we take every step to ensure they are informed and feel comfortable with us. It’s very important that we keep our email designs clean, our message concise, and only email relevant content.

Top email marketing takeaways from SXSW

  • Send subscribers what they want – Subscribers sign up because they want specific information, so use segmentation to give them exactly what they want.
  • Prioritize mutual respect – Respect your subscribers. Don’t bombard them with messages they don’t want.
  • Leverage a small team – Large brands segment into uncountable categories, but you only need a few categories to be successful with email segmentation.
  • Email marketing tools can help – Campaign Monitor makes it easy to segment your email lists and create dynamic email content.

Watch Kori and her colleagues in action

Your turn: How do you use segmentation to set your email marketing up for success? Share your insights in the comments below.

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