Travis Ketchum – One of the Heavyweights of the Online Space

Travis Ketchum Interview (click link on page 16 for Spotify broadcast)

Interview transcript:

Martyn Brown:

This time, we're chatted with another heavyweight in the online space. For the past decade, Travis Ketchum has been the CEO of Campaign Refinery and Contest Domination, helping tens of thousands of businesses build bigger email lists filled with qualified leads. If your focus is email marketing, analyst building, then you're going to love what we have for you today. Travis, welcome. It's a pleasure to chat with you.

Travis Ketchum:

Oh, wonderful being here. Thanks for having me on.

Martyn Brown:

Well, I'd like to start by asking a little bit more about you and your background.

Travis Ketchum:

Sure. Where should we start? How far back do you want to go?

Martyn Brown:

Let's go back to the cradle. No, no, let's go back to when you first decided that you wanted to have a business in the online space.

Travis Ketchum:

Sure. I've always been interested in entrepreneurship in general, right. I'd go a little bit further back, the car washing and lawn mowing and paper routes. I was always hustling to make something happen, right. I always had this dream of having my own thing. That's always been in the periphery, right. Technically, my first legitimate business, you had to be 18 to have that, be here in the United States, was actually started in high school. I remember having to get past the school filter and do all these things and apply for a business licence. It was actually a drop shipping business on eBay and was drop shipping laptops all over the place and building high-end game machines. That was where I got my taste of money, the value of your own business and the leveraged ability of a business to generate revenue.

In fact, in just a couple months, I went from basically a broke 18 year old to being able to pay for at least the first full year of college, room and board, the whole deal. That was a really eye-opening experience. Once I got through school, got the normal job, hated it, quit right after nine months and went and worked for a best-selling author and speaker, filling her events live in-person events, filling her affiliate programme, all that stuff. But I realised I'd been building a list and building assets for someone who wasn't me. Right. I had basically replaced one job for another and that's when I thought, "Okay. I need to build my own list as fast as possible. What's the best way to do that?" A contest is what came to mind, but I didn't like any of the contest solutions that were out there.

I went and dabbled around and tried to find some developers and had some false starts and errors and wrong alleyways and all that stuff. But eventually, I did get this little WordPress plugin idea that worked and it followed my very simple, minimal viable product vision of what it should look like. I had been blogging on the side for years and it only collected a couple 100 leads over about four years. Then I ran this contest and I generated 2000 leads in a week. That to me was the aha moment that A, this works and B, you know what, software is kind of fun. That's what kicked things off and got me down the path of being really, I guess a software entrepreneur.

Martyn Brown:

Are you a coder yourself, Travis?

Travis Ketchum:

No, I know just enough to be dangerous, to go break things, but not enough to actually build it myself. When I was at school, I actually, even though I went to school for marketing in a minor international business, but I've always been technically minded because I was building computers and nerdy in that regard. When I was at school, I actually self-trained myself to build enterprise IT. By the time I started as basic help desk, like "Hey, my Outlook doesn't work." To by the time I left, I built, it was a $14 million server system for the school. I worked my way up that way.

I have some technical jobs and I know enough about database structures and that stuff to at least know what to ask for from a developer, but not enough to go build it myself, right. But I can investigate technologies and weigh their pros and cons and say, "Hey, I think these are what we should maybe be weighing." But not be deep enough into the code to know, "Hey, we need to pick this technology and go this route." I leave that up to the people I hire, because they're experts in that space, but I can weigh in and say, "Let's investigate these pathways and see if that makes sense." But I don't actually do the development myself.

Martyn Brown:

Got you. That's outsourced, is it you found some coders that can take your vision, if you like, and bring it to life?

Travis Ketchum:

In the early days, that was the case. Yeah. I mean, now obviously I hire people full-time, but in the early days it was actually a pretty big risk because when I was creating that first version, that client, that best-selling author and speaker I was working for, we basically had a difference of opinion. They told me to take a hike and I was like, "Well, I just signed an 18 month lease with my then girlfriend, now wife. It was literally the next day she wanted to part ways. I was like, "Oh no, I just signed the longest lease of my life for more money than I'd ever paid for a place to live and I have no income now." Like, great. I actually financed that first version on a credit card. I had no idea it was going to work out. I figured if it really went to heck in a handbasket, I could go down to the Apple store and start slinging iPhones to people or something. I could figure out how to make it work, but yeah, just hire people outsource in the beginning and eventually hire them full-time now.

Martyn Brown:

That's an amazing story. Your back is literally against the wall and you've got to make this a success. What were the steps that you took to give yourself the best chance of success?

Travis Ketchum:

Well, being under pressure is definitely a good way to do it, right. Having a big rental check to stroke. I still had a car payment at the time. I had student loans, the whole deal, right. Pressure makes diamonds sometimes, right. Then, basically what I did is I tried to really trim down the scope. I think a lot of people, when they get the software and this still happens to me sometimes still, I have to rein myself back in, but you get what's called feature creep, right. It's like, the first thing is deciding what does it really absolutely have to have? It won't work without it. What does that feature list look like? Everything else is version 2, or version 1.1, at least. For me, that literally meant, I didn't even have a members area in the beginning.

My delivery was an AWeber autoresponder with a link to an Amazon S3 file that was unprotected on the first version. Right. Then I knew I needed enough sell, but I didn't know how to do that. Instead of saying, "Oh, let's make a bunch of crazy features." I said, "Well, I could sell a different licence to the product." I knew just enough to go in and literally rename the file to a different zip and rename it, so when you installed it, it said, "Business licence." But it was actually the same software. I wasn't trying to scam people, but it's like, "This one has our blessing to use with clients, and this one is for individual use." But it, simplify, simplify, simplify, and once you can really trim it down, I think you'll find that 90% of a software thing.

You're like, "Well, that's a nice to have, but what do I have to have, to make it work? If you can really be disciplined in that, you can take what would otherwise cost tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of dollars and all of a sudden you're five figures instead of a lot more. That was really the discipline I think that was required to get it to going. Then it's getting traffic and sales, right. I had a couple friends with some small email lists, but it's a lot easier to go to the medium size players than the big dogs and just get them to send it to a couple thousand people and see if it bites. Even those first few thousand people, we sold 100 copies or something, which wasn't insane, but it was enough to show that it had legs. Then at that point, I could take that little bit of data and go and get a big launch partner and actually do a proper launch. That's where we sold tens of thousands of copies in a week.

Martyn Brown:

Wow. You were able to pay off that initial credit card that you loaded up to make it happen?

Travis Ketchum:

Yeah, for sure. Credit card, take a bite out of the car payments, a bite out of the student loans, give myself some breathing room. Then at that point I could say, "Okay." Then I took the rest of the money and started investing in a SaaS version. Once I knew it had legs, I didn't want to just like, that's one-time money for a WordPress plugin. I didn't want to just say, "Great. Cool." Pay awesome things and move on with my day. I wanted to build something proper. I went and found a more experienced developer who happened to actually be one of our first 10 customers that was excited about the idea. He actually wanted to use our name. I was like, "No, no, no. Here's my vision. Let's partner instead. He and I actually worked together to build the SaaS version that went on to do quite a few customers.

Martyn Brown:

The original version is Contest Domination, is that right?

Travis Ketchum:

Yeah. Yeah. Contest Domination is what they were both called, both versions of that software. But one was a very simple WordPress plugin and one actually turned into a SaaS that we were able to kickstart and actually get recurring revenue and all that stuff, so it could continue to fund itself. Then that became our launchpad to then have me build Campaign Refinery.

Martyn Brown:

Got you. Now, you mentioned your girlfriend at the time, you've just signed this super long lease, but then you also mentioned that she's now your wife. I guess that she was quite supportive throughout this process.

Travis Ketchum:

Yeah. I mean, if you ask her, she said she was maybe a little bit naive at the time, but she was even like... We started dating when I actually had the regular job, right. Before, I even had gone and worked for the client, and I think we were on month two or three or something of dating when I made the decision pretty unilaterally to quit my job and go down this path, basically a contract worker. I remember sitting down at dinner with her and her family and her dad, who's been a doctor his entire career, just like, "How's this going to affect your CV?" He has softened on how he remembers that event. But at the time I'm thinking he's probably like, "Who's this scrub trying to date my daughter, doesn't even have a job, gave up his benefits, his retirement accounts, all that stuff. What an idiot."

Martyn Brown:

How's that worked out for you, Travis, since then? Was that the best decision of your life, would you say?

Travis Ketchum:

Yeah, it definitely was. The only reason you hear a little bit of hesitation there is because it's not for the faint of heart. There's been some significant challenges and some euphoric wins, but that's the journey I think of an entrepreneur and being willing to ride that up and down game is the make or break attribute I think of entrepreneurs that can make it to the other side. Because it's easy to get yourself in a pickle, but the challenge comes in having the mental stamina and the support system, friends, family, colleagues, et cetera, to not only back yourself out, but to turn pickles into good pivots that end up being long-term wins for the business.

Martyn Brown:

Sure. Now, for anybody that's not come across Contest Domination in one of its many guises. Maybe you could just tell us a little bit about why contesting is so important.

Travis Ketchum:

Yeah. What made contest special and what made it so effective for me at the time is twofold. One is contest just plain, if you don't even talk about the back end yet, just the front end conversion of a contest tends to be a lot higher than say, get this free report. Because you can make the prize a lot more attractive, even if there's only a chance they're going to get it. It becomes more enticing and more of an incentive for someone to actually give up their information and they're willing to give up more specific details. Usually, if someone enters a contest, they might be willing to give you their zip code. Maybe their phone number, so they can be contacted if they win. They may even give you some specific interest or pain point answers on the way in, so an example that I like to give, one of our clients over the years was promoting a gym, right. On that entrance, it was like, get access to a personal trainer.

Then it would say, what are you most interested in? Cardio, spin class, strength training, that kind of thing, which tees up your sales team perfectly because now they just told you what their pain point is. Whereas, if someone had just opted in for a workout at home PDF, you're more zoomed out on what their real needs are. The second component about contest that makes them special is the virality on the back end and where you can incentivize them to then share that front end offer with their friends. That's where you get your viral lifts or your viral coefficient. Not only are you a much higher conversion rate on the front end, but then you get this additional lift on the back end, and sometimes you can actually generate more leads than you send in direct traffic. If you send 1000 people to the page, you might actually end up with more than 1000 leads because of all the sharing and stuff that they do with their friends on the back end. That's what makes contest this really special way to build a list.

Martyn Brown:

How did you discover that as a concept?

Travis Ketchum:

Well, we had run some contests for that client that I was working for, but at the time I didn't like the way that the incentives were set up. You have to remember it's been a while since they did that first version, right. That was back in, I actually launched it in 2012, started building it at the end of 2011. Back in 2011, most contest tools, they had a high fronting conversion, but then on the back end for sharing, it was like, "You get five points if you share it on Twitter, five points if you share it on Facebook, five points if you email it to somebody." Right. It was this unilateral even incentive system. It didn't have any correlation to how many new leads actually opted into the contest as a result of the share. The concept that I was going for at the time, which has now become, I'm not trying to beat my own drum here, but has become the standard in contest is that the sharing mechanism should have a direct correlation to actual referrals.

Our concept at the time was, you don't get any points just for sharing. You get 10 points when someone actually opts in. It incentivizes them to share on a real Twitter account instead of a throwaway Twitter account. It incentivizes them to actually maybe have a Facebook Messenger conversation with their brother or cousin about the cool contest, because you're trying to entice them to enter because it's going to help your chances to win. That flipping of its head went from, "Oh, you get a five or 10% bump on the back end." Sometimes tripling your overall leads. That was the big paradigm shift that I think needed to happen in contests. If you look around at other contest tools, everyone else seems to agree.

Martyn Brown:

Yeah. Yeah. It has become, as you say, the standard in contesting and this is useful for not only online marketing, is it? This process could be used by any business, pretty much in any different niche or whatever it is you're offering?

Travis Ketchum:

Yeah. I mean, I would say that it does better in stuff that's B2C as opposed to B2B. It can work in B2B, but you're going to find that the sharing aspect of it is going to be significantly diminished. However, usually the lead value of B2B is so much greater that it doesn't matter.

Martyn Brown:

Yes.

Travis Ketchum:

Even if you've got a 5% bump, more of a standard thing, as opposed to a 50 or 300% bump, that 5%, that might be worth six or seven figures to your business, depending on who those people are.

Martyn Brown:

What have you found people are willing to put up as prizes for competitions in your experience?

Travis Ketchum:

I mean, the biggest mistake people make is trying to give away an iPad or a gift card or something, because it doesn't do anything to pre-qualify the user for what you actually do and sell. You need to make sure it's correlated to your core business. I said the example of a gym membership, right. If they gave away an iPad, that might actually be a couch potato that wants to watch Netflix, right. But by giving away time with a personal trainer, it's people who are looking for a transformational outcome, those are a lot better prospects for a gym type scenario, right. That makes a big difference. You just got to think about what's the pain point, what's the mechanism that can get them across that bridge? That's what'll get them there.

Martyn Brown:

For anybody that's interested in finding out more about contesting, which website should they go visit?

Travis Ketchum:

I mean, we certainly have contestdomination.com. We've got some free information there as well, but contests are great, but that's only half the story, right. That's how you get the people on your list, but then what happens once you have them on your list?

Martyn Brown:

That's right. That's the next stage, isn't it, now with Campaign Refinery. You've taken that initial list building process and then now refined it to make sure that the delivery of those messages get through to the right people as well. I mean, I'd love to touch on that as well. But if anybody is interested in contesting, is it Contest Domination?

Travis Ketchum:

Contestdomination.com and we even have a PDF. It's the contest funnel formula. Honestly, if you Google contest funnel formula, you'll find the link to go grab that. But that's basically breaks down what a good contest funnel looks like, what the attributes are or how the mechanisms work. Some good prize incentives, as well as some case studies to help give you some ideas about how that works, what good prizes look like and actually snapshots from the dashboard, what their analytics look like once they're all done.

Martyn Brown:

Excellent. We've started building our list via contests. Now that we've got a list, what happens next, Travis?

Travis Ketchum:

Yeah. This has been the biggest personal challenge, I guess business challenge, but thing that I've personally invested my heart and soul into is trying to fix email because like I mentioned, I was really a simpleton when it comes to email in the early days, right. I did the normal path most people, they start with the MailChimp or AWeber or ConvertKit or something, right. Then I jumped over to Infusionsoft, thinking it was the World War II warship that was going to get me where I needed to be. In the early 2010s, they have the market cornered in a lot of ways. What I found was two things. One is that automation and tagging is amazing. Okay. The ability to flexibly manage your audience is great.

But the challenge I ran into using tools like Infusionsoft, and then as you can imagine with Contest Domination, having tens of thousands of customers using all the different ESPs and logging into all the different ESPs and bug testing all the ESPs and figuring all that stuff out, there was a recurring issue that I was having and it seemed like a lot of our customers were having as well, which was that as you grow your list, you become problem aware of deliverability. Because once you start getting a bigger list, clicking send does not equal hitting the inbox. Right. I didn't know at the time and my customers certainly didn't know how to be a good email citizen in such a way that more email actually hit the inbox so that you get the maximum open rate, the maximum click rate, and thus the maximum return.

We knew even from, in hindsight, the fraction of results we were getting that email was not even close to anything else in terms of being so amazing on ROI. Even with getting a fraction of the deliverability that we needed to, it was still blowing away every other channel in terms of what it delivered for us, in terms of conversion, revenue, relationship building, all of those things. The issue was, there was technical problems about how the email got there and then there was an educational problem for how we managed our list, for keeping it clean and optimising our sender reputation and the ability for email to hit the inbox. I went on this basically long winding road by figuring out what are all the rules of email, because a lot of them actually turns out are pretty counterintuitive. They're not exactly what it says on the [inaudible 00:19:22].

We started building a system from scratch that we could actually control that would make a lot more of that success more automatic, even if you didn't know what the rules were. For example, most people as they start to scale up, start to learn that list hygiene is a very important piece. I don't just mean removing the unsubscribed, that is important. But I mean, checking your list, using a cleaner to remove undeliverable, email addresses, spam traps, bot addresses, disposable emails, roll accounts, right. There's so many potential hazards living in your list right now, if you don't do hygiene, that it's a problem. Then if you want to fix that, the way you fix that is complicated, right. If you have a standard ESP, you have to go either export your list, run it through a cleaner, try to re-import and make sure you get the tagging right.

Get rid of the right ones and keep the right ones. Don't screw up which emails are going to who, and don't restart a campaign, right. There's human error. Or you have to do an integration or hook up Zapier or do some other thing. It becomes this big problematic thing and if it's problematic and hard, you don't do it. With our email system, we said, "Okay, let's just make that automatic, high quality and requires zero thought." When you import a list or a lead gets added through any mechanism possible into a Campaign Refinery account, we automatically check before the first email is ever sent if it's a undeliverable spam trap, disposable bot account, roll account, et cetera, so that you're protected by default and we will recheck anyone who passes that cleaner and is still subscribed down the road so that every time you click send, that list has been sparkling clean through a good service that you did not have to think about.

Right. That's one example. Then we said, "Okay. Now that we've learned more about what it takes to hit the inbox and how to be a good sender, how do we give ourselves and our customers tools that will maximise deliverability in other ways? What we learned is engagement is key. This shouldn't be shocking, because we all went through this with Facebook and we've gone through it with insert social media platform here, YouTube, whatever, that engagement tends to be the currency. When you realise that Gmail and Yahoo and Microsoft are basically having to weed-whack through billions and billions and billions and billions of emails every day, and that most of them are junk, engagement tends to be one of those metrics that they use to decide if your email goes to the inbox, the promo tab, or God forbid, the spam folder.

We've built some tools that help you, not only say, "Okay, I want to send the email to people who have already opened in the last 30 days or so, but we actually also built tools to encourage engagement, right. Just like how we talked about in contests, the core concept back in contest domination was, let's tie the incentive to actually get in the referral, because that was what was important in that scenario. In email, the important piece is getting them to engage. Taking some of that contest theory and gamification and whatnot in the back of our minds and saying, "How can we apply this to email?" We actually built what I believe is basically the first of its kind, email engagement gamification. What it is, is you can actually give your subscribers points when they open, when they click, and soon when they reply to your emails, three things that Google loves and will reward you for in spades in terms of where your email lands, and you can automatically set up rewards.

If someone hits 100 points or 500 points or a thousand points or whatever, you can use the cool automation tools that automatically deliver those rewards. What you're doing is you're training your list to engage with you as a sender in a way that is unlike any of your competitors. When you do that, you get treated unlike any of your competitors with much, much better placement. That philosophy between hygiene and automation and gamification is what led us to consistently deliver almost unbelievable results for customers, because our average customer doubles the open and click rate of their email list compared to the email platform they're on right now, simply by plugging and playing in our off-the-shelf tools without having to stitch together this scaffolding of craziness, some that looks like the back alley at Hogwarts or something, right. Something much more interesting and easy to use.

Martyn Brown:

How did this process come about for you? What was the pain point for you where you thought, "No, we need to do this and need to make it available as quickly as we can."?

Travis Ketchum:

I was deep into Infusionsoft and it was consistently having errors where it wasn't doing what it was designed to do, even though it was set up correctly because I paid their team to do it at an Infusionsoft sanctioned event that had Infusionsoft employees that I paid $10,000 at an event to make happen. More than 50% of the time, it would erratically fail. Okay.

Martyn Brown:

Wow. Okay.

Travis Ketchum:

When I would go to support and they basically, the most support I could get was, "Here's a link to our developer forums. Good luck."

Martyn Brown:

Yeah.

Travis Ketchum:

As like, "Well, this is crazy. This doesn't work and this doesn't work. My open rate's garbage and it's going down. I don't know why, and, or I'd wait too long to send and go to send again." They'd slap you on the hand and throttle you and hold you back and say, "Oh, you can't do that." Or whatever and it's like, "Well then, how do I become a good emailer? Show me the way. I'm happy to follow the rules. I just don't know what the rules are."

Martyn Brown:

Yeah.

Travis Ketchum:

Right. Your system doesn't necessarily put me through a process that allows me to be a good sender. When that was the core issue, at first I said, "Okay. Let's see if we can build something for ourselves first. Let's see if we can solve this issue." In our case, it more than four X'd the emails' results that we had, the opens and clicks. We have some customers, we have as much as 25 X'd.

Martyn Brown:

Wow.

Travis Ketchum:

We know the process works, but that was what really kicked us down that road. It took years before I was like, "Okay. This is good enough now to replace the spiderweb that was our Infusionsoft installation at the time." That's when we could start to offer it to clients. Then we've been just continually and religiously iterating based on feedback from other people. Because it's one thing to build something for yourself, it's a whole different animal to build a tool that anyone else can come use. Because they're going to use it differently, you never expected. It's like letting someone else use your car. They're going to grab the wrong handle, turn the wrong knob. They're going to find out how to make the check engine light come on.

Martyn Brown:

Yeah. Always happens, especially with my friends and never let them behind the wheel of a car, even their own car. You don't really want them behind the wheel of that one either. But in terms of your process now, moving forward, you've got the two businesses, you're running them side by side. How do you find that? Does that take up all of your time, Travis? Or how do you spend your time?

Travis Ketchum:

Yeah. I mean, thankfully once we got Contest Domination to a good place, that business pretty much is just, it's in drive, it's moving forward, but it does not take a significant portion of my time. It probably deserves more of my time, but it doesn't get it, if we're being completely honest. It's been very good to me over the years, but Contest hit a ceiling in some ways. The market in general at this point is a race to the bottom. I'm not super excited about pouring millions of dollars into maybe the next evolution that it could really maybe benefit from because it's diminishing returns. It does a great job. It still continues to pump out leads, people at a consistent basis. It still does all of the things that the original promise was. There's always improvements you can continually do to software. But in general, I think it's at a pretty mature place where it can hang out for a while.

Campaign Refinery is a whole different beast. Email is a constantly moving target. There's always new ways that the algorithms are handling and all the different ISPs do differently, right. Google is always changing how they're doing, way more frequently on email than even they do on SEO updates. If you're plugged into the marketing world, I feel like SEO stuff is more visible to marketers. They feel that reaction, that guttural reaction in the overall community. I don't think that as many people feel the ripples as email changes because you have to be usually pretty big to even notice. The smaller email marketers are honestly not very problem aware, which is a challenge. That is what it is, but email is just this constant moving landscape and so because of that, it requires more attention and more oversight to keep up with what's changing. But it's a fun challenge in my eyes. Some of our emailers that we pull on are pretty significant. I mean, some of the emails, we don't send all of the traffic for them, but some of them as an organisation send a billion emails a month, right.

Martyn Brown:

Wow. Yeah.

Travis Ketchum:

We have multiple that are sending hundreds of millions of emails a month and we bite off a piece of that traffic. We don't have 100% of that with each one of those clients, but we have a meaningful amount. When you talk about sending at that level, at that volume, it's really a beast. Now, we do have a lot of people that were basically, Travis in 2011 that have hundreds, or maybe 1000 or 2000 subscribers. I find enjoying helping those people too. But it's trying to systemize things, educate people on how email's different. There's just a lot that goes into that front and there's a lot of meat left on that bone for us to drill down on and help people get the most out of. That's where most of my time goes.

Martyn Brown:

Do you like the fact that it's changing constantly or is that a complete... is that a frustration? I was going to say something else, but is there frustration?

Travis Ketchum:

It has its moments both ways. At times, I enjoy the challenge. Other times, it's frustrating because you refine a system in a process that you know is repeatable and then sometimes you wake up the next day and maybe that's not as repeatable as it used to be. That is frustrating, but if this was easy, everyone would build an email platform. If I hadn't... yeah. I knew it would be challenging. I knew it would be expensive. I underestimated both by at least 10X.

Martyn Brown:

Right.

Travis Ketchum:

If anyone's like, "Oh, I want to go into emails." Honestly, it's not an anti-competitive thing at all. It's like, the market has changed. There's a lot of good platforms. Campaign Refinery is one of them. There's quite a few other quality ones in different ways. Go pick one. It's much cheaper and much easier to partake in another email platform. But it's definitely a fun challenge, and it helps us stay relevant too, because when we solve those problems, our customers really appreciate that. That's the kind of relationship that you earn for life, right. If you're the person that every time the rules change and you can keep your customer winning, they're usually thrilled to be your customer forever.

It's just been a fun business challenge in the sense of not just the deliverability aspect, which is the moving target, but that the type of customer that buys Campaign Refinery is often a very different type of customer than who bought Contest Domination, because Contest Domination is usually, the bulk of that market is opportunity seekers or hobbyists, right. The kind of buyer and the needs and the... I don't mean this in a disparaging way, but the sophistication level of the buyer that purchases Contest Domination tends to be a lot greener, right. A lot more novice.

Martyn Brown:

Yeah.

Travis Ketchum:

Whereas, the type of buyer that comes to Campaign Refinery tends to be at least moderately experienced if not near expert level on email and they have much different demands, but there's a way different upside to that too, because you can imagine someone sending hundreds of millions or a billion emails a month is a very different opportunity than someone who wants to run a single contest.

Martyn Brown:

How do you reconcile those two things though yourself, because obviously as you say, it is two totally different audiences in many ways?

Travis Ketchum:

I try to appreciate each for what they are. Yeah. That doesn't necessarily need to be a huge overlap or whatever. Sometimes it's nice to switch gears in my brain too, the same way that working at your desk for eight hours, getting up and going for just a walk around the block can be refreshing. Sometimes just changing the problem set that you're working on for a minute, not only feels good, then when you come back to the harder problem or just the different problem, you're able to look at it through a fresh lens.

Martyn Brown:

Sounds good. I mean, you obviously enjoy the process, Travis. Is there anything else you're working on or are these businesses, the two core businesses right now that you want to carry on moving forward with?

Travis Ketchum:

These are definitely the core businesses and I hope I was fairly clear, most of my energy goes into Campaign Refinery.

Martyn Brown:

Yes. Yeah.

Travis Ketchum:

Because it's a really hard problem to solve for email and it's not going to get any easier.

Martyn Brown:

Yeah.

Travis Ketchum:

It's actually going to get harder. So-

Martyn Brown:

Has it got harder for you in recent months? Because of course, I know Apple have made a whole load of changes. You mentioned Google before. It seems that the two dominant players seem to be wanting to squeeze email right now, which I guess is good for the end consumer in some ways, but it could also make your life a little bit harder.

Travis Ketchum:

It can. It's interesting. I'd basically develop a thesis on a marketing problem and then I go and try to test it. The interesting thing about the Apple thing specifically, what you're referring to for those who aren't aware, it's called Mail Privacy Protection. It came out as part as iOS 15, iPadOS 15 and macOS. Basically, if people open up Apple Mail and if they opt into what's called Mail Privacy Protection, what the system does is it will basically cache emails on your local device when the device is plugged in on WiFi. What that looks like to the email provider is, you get an open rate one time, that's when the device is plugged in on WiFi and not actually when the user opens it, or if they ever open it. But it does tell you that it hit the inbox, at least as opposed to the spam because they don't do that to spam.

I have a differing philosophy than a lot of my competitors in this space. When it comes to that, because my initial knee-jerk reaction was similar to theirs, which is, "This is the open rate apocalypse." Right. Opens are dead, they're useless, now what? But the reality is in my opinion, starkly different than that. Really that opens are still useful. They're just a rough measuring stick, more rough than they had been before. Because they've never been perfect. But now it's more of, how does it compare to yesterday and how does it compare to tomorrow? It's still a useful data point to get rid of people that aren't opening, if they aren't opening and clicking because the guidelines from all the major ISPs basically say, "Please send to people who've recently engaged."

They're basically begging you as senders in their text, plain is day. "Please send to people who recently engaged." It's a little funny that Apple actually makes it hard to tell who's actually engaged or not, but that's a whole different hour long talk for a different day. But I mean, there's an ever evolving thing and there is a war on email to a certain extent. I think at a certain point it'll probably pull back a little bit, but even if it doesn't, that's okay, because what it's going to mean is it's going to mean a couple things. One is, real relationships are going to matter even more than they've mattered in the past. The concept of a generic abstract "email brand" sending out a bunch of generic, low quality, high volume offers and content, that's not going to fly. It's already been tough.

In the future, that's not going to fly because even if they removed pretty much all of the analytics from email, which getting rid of the click is tough, not impossible, but tough. Even if they got rid of all of that, if you write compelling, creative, and you actually write things that make people care about you as a sender, you're going to win and email will continue to be an amazing ROI, even if you could never tell your numbers. Because if you can build a relationship and send content and you know that they get it, even if you can't read who got it and who didn't, that's going to be the most powerful asset a business can have outside of their own website. Because a website and an email list are the only two assets you really own. Everything else is rented land.

Martyn Brown:

Yes. Yeah, yeah.

Travis Ketchum:

Right. I knew that all the way back in 2011, which is why I wanted to build that email list, because I knew your website and your email list in 2011 were the only digital assets you had. The same is true in 2020, 2022, 2030. I don't see that changing significantly. Your customer list, which right now is basically email, maybe SMS and your website. That's all you have. Focusing on, how do I make it compelling? How do I add value? How do I build rapport? Even if my analytics don't reflect the engagement level, if you're being compelling, you're going to convince people to buy and you're going to get conversations and interactions and transactions as a result of that, period. That's been the story since the beginning of humanity talking to each other. It's not going to change in the future.

Martyn Brown:

Great. Well, Travis, it's an absolute pleasure to go through this with you. Anybody that's interested in Campaign Refinery, I'm going to guess campaignrefinery.com?

Travis Ketchum:

Yep. You nailed it. We actually have a PDF there as well, which is called the Inbox Formula. For those people that are struggling or are frustrated and tired of landing in spam or the promo tab or whatever, we have our best practises guide and there's a couple little weird tricks in there that you would never expect in a million years make a difference on deliverability, but they absolutely do. Check it out. It's a free PDF, to help people take that first step towards being a better email citizen, like I was trying to do so many years ago.

Martyn Brown:

Great. There's a little tease if ever there was one. If anybody wants to find out more about you personally, Travis, what's the best way to get in touch?

Travis Ketchum:

Yeah. I mean, they can shoot me an email if they want, [email protected], but I'm on pretty much all the social platforms that you can imagine. Twitter is actually a fun place for me, personally. @TravisKetchum is a good way if you have a quick deliverability question or you want to know the best place to get fish and chips on Orcas Island or it could be as weird as you want it to be. I'll do my best to get you an answer.

Martyn Brown:

Excellent. It's been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for your time today.

Travis Ketchum:

Thanks so much. It's been a real pleasure.

 

Travis Ketchum Interview | Feat. Martyn Brown's Marketing Bugle Podcast

Source: MarketingBugle.co.uk

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