Email Design Podcast #51: How Under Armour Personalizes Email with Meg Tiffany

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In the 51st episode of The Email Design Podcast, hosts Kevin Mandeville and Jason Rodriguez sit down with interactive designer Meg Tiffany to talk about retail in email and the challenges along with it – including corporate brand requirements, segmentation, and list fatigue – and how Under Armour manages its email marketing process. Be sure to follow along and join in the discussion on Twitter using #EmailDesignPodcast.

Watch the full video above or listen to the audio-only version below.

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In this episode:

  • (0:54) How did you get involved in email? After studying graphic design and illustration in college, Meg’s first job out of college was at Appterra, where she was responsible for producing the company’s marketing materials. She took one code class in college, but largely learned about email development and marketing on the job. Her next job at Vera Bradley was more focused on email and was where she really honed her email skills.
  • (3:34) You’re an interactive designer at Under Armour now, so what does your job consist of? Meg is a part of the e-commerce creative team, which oversees everything from the website to social media to photoshoots and of course – email. Meg focuses on overall email strategy, art direction, and redesigning general templates.
  • (5:07) Do you think being involved in more than just email in your day-to-day job is beneficial? Meg believes that it definitely benefits their email marketing. She is able to get insight into how different creative content performs across other media (website, social media, etc.) and how customers interact with it. She can then use that data to inform their email campaigns.
  • (6:43) How big is your creative team at Under Armour? There are 21 people on Meg’s direct team, ranging from interactive designers to copywriters to art and creative directors – 6 of which are email marketers working directly on email.
  • (8:43) Are you involved in the designing of all emails? Meg focuses on certain categories, such as training, and some ad hoc campaigns like “top rated picks.”
  • (10:00) What tools do you use for design? Under Armour largely uses Photoshop as its design tool internally. They use an internal server as a backup service and Workfront for managing internal communication.
  • (10:41) How do you develop copy and content for emails? Meg works with the copywriters on her direct e-commerce creative team.
  • (11:38) How do you handle the email development process? Under Armour uses the agency Merkle to build all of their emails.
  • (13:00) Do you try to make emails look the same in every email client or do you design for different environments? Meg tries to be as consistent as possible and to make the email look the same everywhere.
  • (14:09) How do you handle the email testing process? Does Merkle handle all of that? Merkle handles the majority of email testing in Litmus and hands it off to Under Armour where they do a final check in their own email accounts.
  • (15:10) What challenges exist for you in doing email marketing for retail? The biggest challenge from Meg’s perspective is the corporate branding requirements of using fonts and imagery. With the limitations of email client rendering, this means emails are very image-heavy in order to maintain those brand guidelines. This can lead to slower load times for end users, so Meg has been trying to optimize the performance of their email load times. Many of their emails are also using a separate desktop version and mobile version. Meg is undergoing a project to unify the emails into one version that is responsive, which should also benefit their load speeds. A lot of the video and image assets developed by the creative aren’t optimized for email campaigns, so Under Armour is working on making those assets more email-friendly as a part of their workflow.
  • (18:41) Do you rely on style guides and design pattern library for emails? Under Armour uses their own style guides, even down to individual projects or campaigns they work on. Their entire email library also has its own style guide.
  • (19:55) Do you plan on moving any components from images to HTML, such as buttons? The core focus currently is moving all of the templates into a single version (not split by desktop/mobile). Then, the hope is to become even less image-heavy with certain components like buttons that aren’t as brand-centric for style requirements.
  • (20:45) Retail sends more emails than many other industries. How do you deal with list fatigue? Under Armour’s goal is to only send emails to people they believe are interested in receiving them. Under Armour has a lot of segments and monitors a lot of activity, such as what activities subscribers are interested in. This data, along with shopping behavior, allows them to make assumptions so they can split an email into multiple segments. When Meg first started, their email marketing was mostly gender-based segmentation, but they’re evolving into affinity lists. They see more list fatigue around the holiday season with so many promotions, but it’s also harder to identify end user interests over the holidays as they could be shopping on behalf of others.
  • (23:22) What are the key email metrics and analytics you care about? Under Armour looks at all the core open rates and click rates, but are mostly concerned about tying activity and behavior to the website to measure conversions and ROI. Monitoring website behavior also helps inform their email logic.
  • (25:40) What are the challenges to email personalization? Meg believes the biggest potential drawback is that you can be completely wrong with predicting users’ interests and end up sending them emails and content they’re not interested in at all. Under Armour updates their segments every week to keep their personalization up-to-date.
  • (27:15) Where does your audience typically open? Under Armour’s audience is heavily mobile and they design with mobile-first in mind.
  • (28:45) What Email Service Provider do you use at Under Armour? Under Armour uses Salesforce Marketing Cloud to manage their email marketing.
  • (30:05) How do you craft copy and design for affinity lists? Meg says the structure is largely the same but the tone is a bit more personal and more editorial.
  • (31:50) You’ve been testing out interactive emails at Under Armour. What types of interactivity are your experimenting with and what type of results are you seeing? Under Armour is the “infancy” stage of interactive email but has tried some carousels and hover effects. Meg believes there is some education required for end subscribers to understand some of the interaction, but they have not seen any negative effects on their important performance metrics.
  • (35:01) Is there any fear around using interactive email? Since Under Armour relies so heavily on website analytics, Meg doesn’t want to go too far with interactivity in email since it can’t be measured as easily – she doesn’t want emails to become microsites. Meg only wants to use interactivity to the point where it acts as extra hook to get you to the next step, which is the website. Meg also fears that full checkout experiences in the inbox can limit upsell opportunities and additional purchasing.
  • (37:43) How are you measuring interactive emails performance? Under Armour is using Litmus Email Analytics to measure engagement and time spent in the emails on top of the other basic metrics.
  • (38:21) How do you get buy-in for interactive email? Meg says you have to be vocal and push for these types of initiatives. She says Under Armour considers itself a technology company as well and is very open to experimenting.
  • (40:23) Where do you want to see email go next? Meg wants to see retailers “kick it up a notch” and push the boundaries more as it has “a lot of catching up to do.”
  • (42:07) What are your some of your greatest learnings from working in email marketing? The biggest learning Meg has had is that you need to dream big. She thought email was a “delicate little puzzle” at first but has learned otherwise, with events like The Email Design Conference opening her eyes to what’s possible.
  • (43:21) What advice would you give to your younger self when you got started with email marketing? Stop using colspans and rowspans. Go find a mentor and go find a blog to help you out. It was very hard at first on her own and she didn’t realize that there was a great community of email geeks to help her out.

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