Without fail one of the most common questions that come up in every email networking and membership group I belong to is “If I can only attend one email conference this year, which one should it be?”
It’s a valid and critically important question. Considering that most brands budget for marketing team members to attend but a single event per year, and taking into consideration time out of the office and travel costs, the decision isn’t easy. And feedback can be soooo biased!
As a veteran conference-goer, seasoned speaker, and email industry advocate with 20 years of experience in the channel, I’ll attempt to set the record straight with this run-down of 2019 email marketing events. I have spoken at, attended, and/or been on the planning committees for most of them, so in the interests of total transparency, I’ll disclose my involvement when applicable.
The Email Conference Landscape
But before we start, here are four critical factors in understanding the intersection of email marketing and conferences:
1. Vendor-Specific Events
Nearly every major Saas platform enabling email marketing – whether an email services provider (ESP), marketing automation (MA) tool, eCommerce platform, CRM system or whatever – hosts its own annual user conference. This list is not all-inclusive of those events, since most are open only to clients of the hosting company. Where such vendor-hosted conferences are open to the general public and have attained critical mass, I’ve included them. Companies like Experian, SalesForce, Adobe, Bronto, Marketo, Magento, Dotmailer, Iterable, MailChimp, Emma, Emarsys, Litmus and many, many more have put on large if not legendary events in the past (ET Connections anyone?).
I recommend you DO attend your vendor’s annual event, especially if you’ve never gone before; but – go beyond! Only by attending a non-vendor-specific event will you get a truly unbiased view of what’s happening in email – whether specific to your industry, sector or the channel as a whole.
2. Retail/eTail Events
Retailers and etailers were early adopters of email marketing, so the many events in this arena routinely include email marketing experts and thought leaders, plenty of email vendors, and even pre or post-conference sessions and workshops on email. Conferences like eTail West and eTail East, ShopTalk, NRF’s Shop.org, Internet Retailer’s IRCE, CRMC, and more come to mind. These are fantastic if you need to cover the gamut of merchant marketing concerns from analytics to email to website to in-store, inventory, and merchandising. However, many of them are huge, diverse and distracting. Again if it’s email-centric you want, you’re better off with the list below.
3. Digital Marketing Events
Less email-centric than etail and e-commerce events yet nonetheless covering the channel, digital marketing conferences offer a broader omnichannel perspective vs. deeper channel-specific expertise. My favorite events in this category are TechMedia’s annual Internet Summit and Digital Summit series, which travels to 18 cities this year (I’ve spoken at many in 2017 and 2018). Again while email is on the agenda, it’s not the main focus, so consider your goals.
4. Vertical-Specific (Industry) Conferences
Travel, Insurance, Retail, CPG, Banking, B2B, Healthcare – all verticals also have their own marketing conferences. Chances are email and related digital marketing channels will be on their agendas, but you’re unlikely to get a deep dive so if email is essential to you or your primary job focus, check out the list below instead.
The 2019 Email Conference Hit List
Without further ado, here’s my 2019 Email Marketing Conference Hit List, in chronological order:
Since their first EiQ conference in 2017, email agency BrightWave has built a reputation for focusing on the cutting-edge in email marketing.
Topics are typically wide-ranging and diverse. Past conferences have included sessions on customer data, email production hacks, gender in email marketing, strategies for journey-focused campaigns, and information on using channels beyond the inbox.
The goal of EiQ is on the progressive and unique topics that matter most. Many sessions focus on how to look at typical strategies – like email newsletters or triggered campaigns – with fresh eyes.
Keep in mind, this is hosted and funded by a single vendor (albeit an agency vs. software company) so they are the sole determiner of the program, topics, and participants.
The annual conference of the Email Experience Council (EEC), this is the largest and longest-running independently-produced email marketing event in the US (if not the world), having debuted in 2008. And yes, I not only serve on the board of the EEC, but have attended and been a speaker at this event every year since it began.
On the plus side, it takes a democratic approach to programming. Every year there’s an open call for speakers, and a planning committee votes on all submissions based on quality, relevance to the state of the channel, and speaker experience. All sessions must include a brand-side (marketer) speaker, so you won’t see any vendor pitches here.
The conference focuses on the most relevant, timely issues in the industry, features many established thought-leaders, and seeks keynote speakers both from within and outside the channel so fresh perspectives are conveyed.
Topics cover the gamut from strategy to tactics and include everything from AI to testing to analytics, deliverability, design, data issues, use of automation, and more.
The event is a great mix of education, networking, and social fun offering an optional pre-conference full-day workshop before the 2-day main event.
Occurring multiple times per year in both the US and Europe, this is one of several digital marketing events from Mediapost, an integrated publishing and conference company whose mission is to provide a complete array of resources for media, marketing and advertising professionals.
Anyone who has attended an EIS knows all-too-well how unconventional it is. Yes, this is the “vacation” conference, where daily sessions end after lunch and outdoor fun (like sailing, sunning or skiing) begins! First-time brand-side participants can attend at no cost other than airfare, the expense subsidized by vendors/sponsors who pay a premium to participate. Venues are exclusive if not lavish, such as the posh Deer Valley ski resort in Utah (for EIS winter). Most meals and activities are included (and delicious).
Best of all, the scope is intimate, introspective and senior-level – so it’s ideal for relationship-building, strategy, and vision. I’ve spoken or led panels at various US-based events over the years. There’s also a European summit now.
Notes of caution: if you’re an introvert or not into the outdoors these may not be ideal events for you. Also, the full conference is nearly three days plus travel, so it’s a time commitment. Finally, if you imbibe bring a spare liver!
Debuting in 2016 and developed in conjunction with Only Influencers, a closed email marketing networking community, the Email Innovations Summit focuses on exactly that – innovations in strategy, mindset, technology, and application of the channel.
Like other conferences, topics cover the gamut of concerns in email marketing and speakers include both brand and vendor-side innovators. A unique feature is the fast-paced “shoot-out” style pitch session where early adopters can experience over 20 beta and emerging technologies and innovations in less than an hour.
I spoke at and attended the event during its first and third year, and am always amazed at the unique mix of attendees at each conference. While there is some vendor- and thought-leader overlap between this, EIS, EiQ and Email Evolution, they all tend to attract slightly different mixes of both brands and experts.
What I like about this event is the focus on what’s emerging or innovative in email. You’ll also find a slightly greater proportion of acquisition vs. retention marketers here since this conference is held simultaneously with conversion marketing events produced by organizer Rising Media. If you’re well beyond the basics in email and burnt out on your usual events, give this one a spin.
This is a newer email marketing conference with a slant more toward data, deliverability and performance concerns than general strategy and tactics. Like Email Innovations Summit, you’ll see a greater degree of acquisition marketers and transactional senders here than classical retention, CRM and retail marketers.
The conference is organized into 4 tracks focused on specific roles in email marketing, like content marketing or managing data, making it easy to find the speakers and material relevant to you.
This event is less proven than its competitors, happens multiple times a year, and doesn’t include as many established thought-leaders and vendors. On the plus side, it’s affordable and may be local to you.
With an established track record and growing momentum, this is the ideal event for email marketing designers, coders, channel managers, strategists, and creatives.
The event focuses on helping attendees become better email marketers with real-world advice, practical takeaways, and success stories related to designing, coding, planning, workflow, and analytics.
Organized annually by email technology company Litmus, sessions range from data-driven email design, lifecycle campaign planning, cross-channel strategies, tools to automate email development, and more. And since this isn’t a user or customer conference, anyone is welcome to attend.
I attended and spoke in 2016 and can attest to the youthful, high-energy artistic vibe of this event. If you’re in the trenches making email happen at your brand or agency, and want to make it happen more fluidly plus learn the latest in cutting-edge creative, this is the event for you!
This one is a little different, with a focus on the future of work and communication. Email marketing is about connecting with people, and that’s InBox Awesome.
The focus is on how to better communicate and improve your marketing. It’s a packed day, with 30 speakers and more than 350 attendees across the tech, media and enterprise industries. They’ll discuss everything from automation and AI, to the latest tools and the future of engagement.
It also has a very different vibe than your typical conference, with plenty of opportunity for interaction with the speakers and industry leaders. Anyone interested in finding and connecting with people will enjoy InBox Awesome.
Email Conferences 2019: Wrap-Up
Finally, as much I’d love to definitively answer “which conference should I attend?” there isn’t one. The event that’s best for you depends on your role, experience in the channel, goals for attending, budget, and timing. What I can definitively give you is a framework for making the best decision possible. If you have to narrow the field to just one or two events this year, here are four criteria for deciding where to go:
Goals: What Do You Want?
Decide on what’s most important to you. Is it professional education? Peer connection and networking? Vendor-shopping? State-of-the-channel immersion and an understanding of cutting-edge developments or regulatory changes? Or maybe a solution to a specific problem? Every event has a different mix of these elements. Figure out your goals and objectives ahead of time, then study conference agendas to uncover the mix of education vs. networking vs. social time. Really look at the programming to see if the topics, speakers and vendors participating are what you want and need.
Size, Scope, and Focus
First, there’s event size to consider. Do you tend to do better at an event with a few hundred people, or thrive on the energy of a major Vegas conference? If you’re looking for a new vendor or services, you’ll need an event with many in attendance, whereas if that’s not an objective vendor-variety won’t matter.
Second, what’s the scope of the event as it relates specifically to email? Some events focus on a single aspect of email marketing like deliverability, or creative design. Others are more general. The event program will tell you if topics covered are relevant to your type of business and/or day-to-day responsibilities.
This one’s obvious; you “get what you pay for” certainly applies. But there are deals to be had so do your homework! Early-bird registration discounts are common. Speakers and sponsors can often give discounts to their clients or peers. Events put on by associations usually discount rates for members vs. non-members. Group packages are often available, as are membership + conference registration bundles. Finally, consider not just the registration price tag, but travel costs and time away from the office (time is money after all).
Location & Timing
Another obvious factor, since you’ll only be able to attend events that fit your schedule or geographic constraints. Remember that exotic locations, while enticing, often require extra travel cost and time.
Whatever you decide, remember the most important thing is getting out there to soak up the abundance of inspiration, education, and connections waiting to help you unleash the full potential of your email marketing.
Questions? Hit me up on Twitter and I’ll do my best!