Home / Email Snob Interview: Dylan Boyd

Email Snob Interview: Dylan Boyd

I’m catching my latest email snob interview subject right as he’s leaving the email marketing industry for mobile marketing. But he’s still an email snob at heart. Today I talk email with Dylan Boyd, Vice President of Growth at Urban Airship.

Dylan_Holiday_Cheer_09-300x213ScottWritesEverything.com: Dylan, thanks for joining me. I know you’re making “the switch” to mobile marketing, a passion of yours. But I’d love to know how you got your start in email marketing. Tell me a bit about your background.

Dylan Boyd: I started in 1996 with a large regional real estate company building their first website and educating their hundreds of agents about how the Internet was going to change the way they did business and communicate with their clients and prospects. From that opportunity grew a chance to work at a few companies in development and marketing communications. (Yep, I used to code.)

By 1998, I was getting into email marketing for customer communications, lead communications, and business development. At that time, it was really the early stages of what we are seeing now in email marketing. I am happy to see how it has evolved.

SWE: For as long as I’ve been in the industry, you’ve been heavily involved in the “conversations” around email marketing. How did you develop your passion for mobile? And what would be your recommendations for those who want to get involved in either industry?

DB: I started getting into the conversations because I have a strong desire to continue to learn. Engaging with people via chats, email, blogs, and now Twitter has helped me get the things and the questions I have in my head out and down in writing.

I originally started a blog as a way to organize all the thoughts I had rumbling around in my brain as well as a way to the put those things and facts down somewhere I could go back and reference later. The blog was really for me, and yet it turned out people seemed to like what I wrote. The Email Wars ended up being a 6-year effort in collecting my thoughts. I’m thrilled that tens of thousands of people read it every month and that it has helped them learn as well.

My passion for mobile has really been shaped over the past 18 months. I have a “slight” addiction to mobile devices (some might say) and apps/mobile web. But with all my travels over the past few years, I have watched people and seen how they have all caught onto mobile as a prime way to engage with content. It made me look deeper and explore what was happening in the space. I spend an equal amount of time researching mobile as I do on email, web, and marketing each day and a few hours a night.

All the signs are pointing to mobile as where the world is really going, and I want to be involved. I did not set out on a path to do anything different, but by pure coincidence, my next step is life was presented to me, and I am excited about the challenges ahead of me at Urban Airship (where I started just yesterday).

What is amazing already in my exploration before starting at Urban Airship is how similar email, mobile, social, and interactive are in so many ways that many people might feel are totally different. If you can’t tell already, this is going to be something I am jumping into and hope to go as deep as possible. (If you don’t see me for a while, it’s okay. I am just going to the bottom of the deep end and can hold my breath for a while.)

My advice: If you have a passion or “side projects” (as we like to call them in the business), go learn about them. Find everything you can about them. Call people and ask questions. People LOVE to talk to you about what they know and do. And then go do something with that knowledge.

The thing I always tell people with whom I’ve worked over the years is that if they are passionate about something, go do it. The last thing I want to do is hold someone back from their path. This, I realize, is the next step in my personal and professional path.

SWE: Who is your biggest influence in the email marketing industry?

DB: There is no one person, but rather a collection of people who I look to for influence. Stefan Pollard, who is now gone, was one of my original influences. He was so open and welcoming to take my calls and get deep into conversations with me.

But at present, I really look to Loren McDonald, Andrew Kordek, Alex Williams, Jeanniey Mullen (whose advice and knowledge are now slightly missed since she is in the publishing world), Morgan Stewart, Dela Quist, Mark Brownlow, Chad White, Lisa Harmon, Aaron Smith, Anna Yeaman, Tamara Gielen, David Daniels, Stephanie Miller, David Baker, and John Caldwell.

As you can see, it’s not one but a collection of these minds that collaborate and discuss things all day long, making all of the work we all do better. I could go on and on about these great folks and list 20-30 more for whom I am grateful for their friendship, advice, and knowledge.

Could you imagine if we could make one company of just those people listed? It would be unstoppable.

SWE: That would be pretty amazing. Let’s continue talking about influence. What are your top three books you feel every email marketer should read?

DB: My three:

  1. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed: Revised Edition
  2. The Hero with a Thousand Faces (by Joseph Campbell)
  3. Anything by Hunter S. Thompson – a great, engaging, gonzo storyteller

SWE: Let’s stay in that vein and talk blogs. What are your top 5 blogs for email marketers?

DB: Ones I read religiously:

SWE: Nice list. Let’s talk shop. What would you say are some unique opportunities for email and mobile in terms of customer communications?

DB: Email and mobile are tightly connected. What is holding some things back (as is often the case) are people willing to take risks, trying new things out and not worrying about failing. Failure teaches us how to do it right the next time. Trust me that we all fail. It is only those that remember and learn from failure who succeed.

The other part would be the standards–and those are changing. Email, mobile, apps, web, voice, print, broadcast, and experiential are all finally starting to work together. Those that are pushing the envelope on what they all can do are going to lead the way.

I am hoping in the coming weeks to take the vast amount of data that Urban Airship has already and make it presentable to the email marketing industry to show them just what it means, how consumers and business people are using both in tandem, and how marketers can get smarter about what they are doing. We are already seeing the changes in email behavior to go from the “desktop” to mobile devices. What is lacking is the web or app experience to make it connect.

I expect that you will all see many changes (for the better) that will dramatically impact email marketers’ approaches to how email drives the engagement and how mobile can complete the interaction.

SWE: What sort of overall effect do you see mobile having on email marketing as a whole in the next 3-5 years? Any paradigm shifts?

DB: 3-5 years? I say 9-18 months. The impact of mobile is moving faster and faster. The points of engagement are being forced closer every day with all the rapid advances in this space. We are going to see some real big changes a lot faster than most of us can keep up with because mobile is being driven by the consumer and not the marketer.

My advice? Get some sleep and get ready to fish where the fish are.

SWE: In light of mobile and social media, what do you think are the biggest challenges facing email marketers today? How can these challenges best be fought?

DB: The challenges are not just connecting all the touch points, but also understanding what to do with the data and results. That is what I feel most marketers are having the biggest challenge with. It’s not the simple stuff–although, unfortunately, those things still get missed or messed up every day–but rather the data.

What is missing is the “Holy Grail” to me: A dashboard system that allows all marketers to see the impact of all their programs in a way that allows to work together rather than in data silos.

You will see some companies emerge this year and next that are going to solve these problems not only in the enterprise software market, but down to the low-level marketer.

SWE: For both email and mobile campaigns, what are the top three questions you believe marketers should be asking themselves before they hit send?

DB: My three questions?

  1. Why are you sending this? Is it for you? For them? And is it wanted or needed?
  2. What is the desired impact and goal? What will you do next based on what happens?
  3. How will you get 2-3 months (if not, only weeks) ahead of your next step?

SWE: Fun questions now. How has your work in email marketing affected your personal use of email?

DB: I am an email junkie. I came to this realization over the last two weeks as I started to change preferences and unsubscribe, I start my day with 160 emails from marketers and brands, and see how many things are still done wrong. It made me wonder if, after all of this effort, I had made any impact over these past 8 years at eROI and the email marketing industry.

I love email. But I find myself turning to other systems like text, chat, and social for things that did not add any weight to my personal inbox. With over 600 emails a day, I have a personal rule of no more than 33 emails in my inbox before I go to bed each night. Email owns me.

SWE: What is your favorite thing about email marketing? What gets you revved up in a good way about email?

DB: I love how simple it can be to do the right thing. When I see campaigns and people doing smart, new things, I want to celebrate them and let them know they are doing a great job. Oftentimes, people think too much about what they are doing instead of using their knowledge, experience, tools, and personal interactions to let them drive the right idea or campaign.

SWE: On the flip side, what’s your least favorite thing about email?

DB: People making the unsubscribe hard. Let people leave your programs. If they hit the button, they want out. Let them go.

SWE: Good point. Okay, let’s say you are giving a keynote speech to the email marketing industry as a whole and it is your personal soapbox. What would be your message to the email marketing industry?

DB: Man… I have created some controversy over the years with my soapbox rants. I’m not sure now is the time for another. I’ll pass those on to all of you—and I will be watching from the cheap seats.

SWE: Last question. If you were stuck in an elevator with the CEO of a company that doesn’t utilize email, what is your “elevator speech” for email marketing? How about mobile?

DB: I would ask the CEO how he or she planned to still be in business or if they were getting close to retirement. It is amazing how many people check the box on email at the C-level and either don’t utilize it for the powerful tool that it is, or misuse it, thinking it will tip the revenues at the cost of relationships.

As to mobile, I think it is still a bit of a scary place for some people. It shouldn’t be, and I hope in the coming year I can help people to understand how it can be used right and truly impact the bottom line when done so.


About Dylan Boyd

Dylan Boyd is now the Vice President of Growth at Urban Airship. Prior to that, Dylan spent the last several years with eROI, a digital marketing agency with particular focus on email marketing. As an early member of the eROI management team, Dylan led business development efforts and client strategy programs. Under his marketing and sales leadership, eROI enjoyed seven years of continued growth, was named an INC 500/5000 Company from 2006 through 2008, and garnered numerous creative and business awards.

Working in interactive since 1998, Dylan is a widely renowned email marketing, customer life-cycle, and engagement marketing strategist, developing and enhancing online presences for brands like HBO, Kettle Foods, Konami, FastCompany, Icebreaker, Travelocity, Providence and OHSU Health Systems, Wacom, and many more. Prior to joining eROI, Dylan successfuly built global e-commerce and online business solutions for large corporations, and developed interactive content and strategy programs.

Dylan current serves on boards and chairs initiatives for the Email Experience Council, Portland Advertising Federation, HIVE Awards, and Start Making a Reader Today (SMART). He routinely speaks at OMMA, EIS, AMA, EEC, and other industry events. Dylan is regularly published in MarketingSherpa, MarketingProfs, iMediaConnection, MarketingVox, Chicago Tribune, ClickZ, and All About Email, along with authoring The Email Wars Blog since 2005. In his spare time, he works more.

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