Know Your Speakers: Brian Graves and Brent Walter

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The Email Design Conference is right around the corner and it’s packed with great talks from a bunch of amazing speakers. The email community is a tight-knit group, but we can always get a bit closer, right?

With that in mind, we asked the speakers a few questions to get to know them better. We’ll be posting their responses over the course of the next few weeks leading up to the conference.

Today, we’re talking to Brian Graves and Brent Walter from DEG. You can catch Brian’s talking about Winning the Design Battle on Every Screen on Tuesday or see his panel on email hacks on Wednesday and Brent’s talk, Get Relevant or Die Tryin’, also on Thursday at The Email Design Conference.

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Brian Graves

Brian Graves is on the UI Team at DEG, where he does design and development work for a range of major brands. An industry leader, he created two of the best resources on responsive email design:

When he’s not enjoying craft beers and hunting for awesome food, he can be found writing for Smashing Magazine and helping people out as a moderator in the Litmus Community.

Who do you think is crushing it with email?

The people and companies I’ve been following as of late have been the ones doing work around tooling. Whether it’s Action Rocket working on Taxi, RebelMail and their ambitious goal of providing inbox checkout, or Campaign Monitor and MailChimp providing solid tools with a very high level user experience, these are the people that are making the everyday designer’s job easier. I always look forward to seeing what comes out of these places.

What’s your favorite part of working with email?

The community that has been building up over the last year or two has been amazing. The email design community was small to nonexistent and then seemed to explode out of nowhere, a lot of it centered around the responsive email movement. I always go back to your article, On The Cusp of Craftsmanship, and realize just how true it is. We’re currently where the web design community was around a decade ago but growing by leaps and bounds every day.

Continuing to grow and strengthen the email design community is one of the best things we can do to improve tools, workflow, and maybe start to put pressure on email clients to standardize in some meaningful way.

What email client could you live without?

I assume the standard answer here should be Outlook, but really I’m going to go with anything Google is involved with. Working on the web side of things, I generally expect more from Google than Microsoft in terms of quality and standards. But whether it’s not allowing embedded CSS in Gmail, no media queries in the Gmail App, or allowing Samsung to do crazy things to Android clients, Google-related email clients seem to be the biggest pain to deal with as of late. Google deciding to step up in this regard would do a lot to help move the possibilities forward.

When you’re not knee deep in Outlook issues, what do you like to do?

I love trying out new spots for dinner or drinks. Craft beers especially and really any type of food. My girlfriend Lisa and I plus our dog Marty just got a house in the Brookside neighborhood of Kansas City so that has provided us with a lot of new restaurants to explore and beers to try. Working on side projects is also a way that I like to spend time outside of everyday work. I’ve found that creating something for a small group of designers and developers allows for much more creativity than building something that’s going to be sent out to millions of people. It’s a great way to experiment with new ideas and techniques that can then be merged into everyday projects. Currently I’ve been spending some time on Yeo-Lab, a project started by friend and coworker Aaron Ladage.

What can we expect from your talk at TEDC14?

My talk, Winning the Design Battle on Every Screen, will cover both design and development techniques for dealing with the pain points that come along with responsive email design. As usual, I’m sure there will be some loathing for Gmail and Outlook thrown in. I’m also super excited for the Hacks panel. Knowing Fabio and Kevin and the amazing work both of them do, I’m excited to hear more about each of their individual approaches to workflow. The panel was one of the my favorite parts of TEDC13 and I imagine the same will be true this year.

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Brent Walter

Brent Walter is a Marketing Automation Strategist at DEG, where he uses customer data and innovative designs to create better personalized messages for everyone. A veteran of the email marketing industry, when not crafting better campaigns for subscribers, he’s typically found eating good food, drinking good beer and enjoying the company of man’s best friend.

How did you first get started in email?

I graduated from college with a degree in marketing management and quickly moved into a marketing role with an investment company in the Midwest. The company was a global investment firm, but only based in Kansas City, so they had been scaling back traditional marketing efforts in favor of digital. As one of the youngest members of our digital marketing team, figuring out our ESP naturally fell to me and, over time, I began to assume more ownership of campaigns, integrations with sales efforts, and so forth. That exposure opened the door for me and I haven’t looked back since!

Who do you think is crushing it with email?

My talk is all about relevancy, but this company is an outlier: Moosejaw. Those guys seem to know that their audience is full of weirdos and they cater to it – HARD. They produce some of the funniest copy and creative on a daily/weekly basis. If only they segmented a little better…

Why is email important to you?

As a marketing channel, you don’t get much more cost effective than email. If you invest correctly in the right technology set and the right people to manage the channel, you can have an enormous impact on your customer base, whether that manifests itself via revenue or positive perception of your brand.

But, like any marketing tool, email must be used responsibly.

It can be our blessing, but it can also be our curse. Much like Spider-Man’s Spidey Sense.

What’s your favorite part of working with email?

Well, marketing as a whole is cool to me: it’s like psychology without all the pesky science. Email is great because it’s one of the only marketing channels where you can get direct feedback from a customer—you can understand how they interact with your message almost instantaneously. That level of transparency is difficult, if not impossible, to find with other traditional marketing channels.

What was your first email address?

Frogwart1@aol.com. I was a different kid.

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