Read Time: 23 min

Delivering Episode 35: An interview with Email Spirit Award winner Kimberly Coburn

In this episode of Delivering, host Jason Rodriguez chats with Kimberly Coburn about copywriting in email, homesteading and self-reliance, and her recent Email Spirit Award win as part of Litmus Live 2020.

Show Notes

Topics

  • Kimberly’s introduction to email marketing (1:08)
  • On her daily work as a copywriter (2:40)
  • Tips on getting over writer’s block (3:40)
  • Kimberly’s preferred tools (4:30)
  • On Kimberly’s Email Spirit Award (7:00)
  • Creating joy in email copy (8:40)
  • Testing and data for copywriters (10:30)
  • How 2020 affected Kimberly’s work (13:20)
  • What’s homesteading and why does it matter? (15:20)
  • What Kimberly’s most excited about in email (19:15)
  • Kimberly’s advice on getting started in copywriting and email (22:20)

Links

Episode Transcript

Jason Rodriguez:
Welcome to Delivering, a podcast about the email industry from strategy to design, code of leadership, and all the people that make it happen. I’m your host, Jason Rodriguez. As always, Delivering is brought to you by Litmus, the premier platform used by email marketing professionals around the world to send campaigns with confidence every single time. Head over to litmus.com to start a free seven day trial and see how Litmus can help you build, test, and analyze better email campaigns faster. And be sure to subscribe to Delivering on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. Today I’m talking to Kimberly Coburn, who’s the senior copywriter at Digital Additive and the winner of the 2020 Litmus Email Spirit Award. Welcome to the podcast, Kimberly.

Kimberly Coburn:
Thank you so much, Jason.

Jason Rodriguez:
Glad to have you hear. As always, I like hearing about people’s stories in email marketing, because it always seems to be different from person to person. So tell me a little bit about how you got started in the email industry and your path to Digital Additive.

Kimberly Coburn:
Well it was a little bit circuitous. I graduated college and thought that I would return and get my PhD in Social Psychology, but I decided to join the workforce for a little while before committing to six more years of school and I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was living at my mom’s house and just sort of throwing things against the wall and see what stuck and I had a double degree in Communications and Psychology, and I saw a posting for a Junior Interactive Copywriter and I didn’t know what that meant. Then I looked it up and I said, “Oh, it seems pretty cool.”

Kimberly Coburn:
I’m aging myself, but this was before the days of Mad Men, and my only reference point for advertising copywriting was that Darren on Bewitched was an advertising copywriter. And I was like, “He seemed to have a good time.” So I cobbled together a little portfolio and got my first job and really, really enjoyed it. I loved the short form of email and digital. It really satisfies my crossword puzzle urges. So, I was at a different agency for a while, and then Digital Additive broke off from that agency and I joined them and it’s been fantastic. I’ve absolutely loved being their copywriter.

Jason Rodriguez:
That’s awesome. So what does a Senior Copywriter actually do all day long?

Kimberly Coburn:
Whatever needs doing that involves words. It’s everything from writing email and website copy to dealing with a lot of internal work as well, how we situate ourselves as an agency in terms of social, and things like the Email Spirit Award with Litmus. But yeah, it’s funny. So many people get very of writing even though they’re perfectly good at it, writing freaks people out. So I’m kind of there to step in and confidently learn different client’s brand voices and try to step into that space and also make a clear voice for Digital Additive.

Jason Rodriguez:
You mentioned people being scared of writing. I feel like it’s like public speaking. Everybody’s scared of it and once you get in it, it tends to be less scary. But do you have any tips for anybody that does feel that fear and wants to get more into writing? Just how do you get through that block?

Kimberly Coburn:
Yeah, just to do it. The first draft is always the hardest and once you have something on the page, it’s so much easier to set it aside, go make a cup of coffee, come back and realize, “Oh, that doesn’t make any sense.” And it’s much, much easier to edit, I find then to actually generate content. So just know that the content generation part is uncomfortable, get through it, and then you can make it something that you’re proud of.

Jason Rodriguez:
I like that. Yeah. All right, what are your preferred tools when it comes to writing, editing, working on emails, or landing pages? What’s that kind of process and tool stack look like?

Kimberly Coburn:
Oh I am so stubbornly old school. Our agency is a Salesforce Marketing Cloud Partner, so everybody knows how to use all of the big elaborate tools. I don’t know anything. I write things in Word and people then send me edits in Word. And we do use Jira as our kind of internal organization tool. But yeah, it’s not very fancy. I also have a large stack of small legal pads that I take notes on with an actual pen. For my personal writing, a little bit more long form non-fiction writing, I really enjoy the tool Scribner. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it.

Jason Rodriguez:
I am, yeah.

Kimberly Coburn:
Oh yeah, I really, really love that.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah.

Kimberly Coburn:
So that’s sort of my pet writing love program is Scribner.

Jason Rodriguez:
Do you spend a lot of time in that kind of cork board view, arranging stuff, or is it more just you like it as an editor itself?

Kimberly Coburn:
I like it as an editor and I also like all of the sort of file folder functionality.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah.

Kimberly Coburn:
Because I can then stash all of my research and all of my notes in one place and that way I can just have a repository.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah. That’s awesome. How about project management? What kind of tools or workflow does Digital Additive use to collectively get work done as a team?

Kimberly Coburn:
Yeah, we really tend to rely on Jira. We just recently restructured, within the agency, to have our campaigns and our journeys sort of function in different, what we call them, is lands. That way we can have a much better view of what’s coming down the pike and being able to see a really big picture view. So we really just did that transition, and it’s been … Every transition always has its little aches and pains to get there, but now that we’re kind of on the other side of it, it really does help us have a much more cohesive view of what we’re doing.

Jason Rodriguez:
That’s good. Yeah. Yeah. We also use Jira more on the engineering side, but I’ve been adopting Confluence more recently for documentation, but-

Kimberly Coburn:
Yes.

Jason Rodriguez:
The marketing-

Kimberly Coburn:
We use Confluence as well.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah, yeah. We’re still kind of dipping our toes in it, kind of getting used to it, but right now I feel like the bulk of things live in Asana, which has its good and bad elements to it.

Kimberly Coburn:
We tend to use Confluence for sort of our internal documentation work.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yep. Same. So you won last year’s Email Spirit Award from Litmus. I’d love to hear from you, what does email spirit mean and how does that kind of manifest itself in your day-to-day life and your work at Digital Additive?

Kimberly Coburn:
Absolutely. So, we have sort of an unofficial motto at Digital Additive that just sort of grew organically because it ended up being on a lot of the sort of swag that we have around the office. They gave us gifts, which says damn good email, which was vaguely inspired by Dale Cooper in Twin Peaks and his damn good coffee. We also have damn good coffee mugs around the office, but really we’ve always had the belief and I think it is true that damn good email comes from really having real relationships and authentic connections.

Kimberly Coburn:
And that’s the kind of thing that so many agencies will say and it becomes very buzzwordy, but I feel like the kind of hallmark to know if that’s really happening or the litmus test, if you will … See what I did there? Is a sense of joy and a sense of comfort and I think that that really is email spirit to me is this sort of genuine connection that happens, whether it’s between the client and the recipient, between us and our clients, or even just within our agency of just being comfortable with each other. And it brings a really lovely sense of joy and ease. That’s the kind of email I like to receive. It’s the kind of email that I respond to. And then that’s also kind of the ethos that we have in our office.

Jason Rodriguez:
So how do you go about, I guess from a tactical perspective, creating that sense of joy when you’re writing copy or even maybe starting earlier, how do you learn about your subscribers, your audience, so that you understand what will give them that sense of joy?

Kimberly Coburn:
We’re a really, really data heavy agency, so I think that really the core of that is understanding who we’re sending to and trying to address any pain points and really providing them with the content that they want, when they want it the same way that if you had a friend, you’d get to know them and you’d know what they need in your friendship and not just randomly dump things on them and be like, “This is it, right?” So I feel like that’s a really critical part of it. And then I’m able to step in at that point with the voice, the tone, the content itself, making sure that it’s targeted and getting to the right person. Honestly, subject lines are a huge deal. If somebody doesn’t resonate with the subject line, they’re not going to open it and your stuff’s never going to be seen. So I’m not sure if that totally answers the question, but I feel like the real root of it is good data management. And then to then put strong copy voice and marrying the brand’s tone with what you know the customers are looking for.

Jason Rodriguez:
Sure. Yeah. So speaking of, you mentioned that you’re very data-driven as an agency. When it comes to copywriting, what kind of tests are you running with your copy to kind of get that data and figure out what really resonates with your audience?

Kimberly Coburn:
That really kind of changes client to client. Some of our bigger clients, we obviously do a massive amount of subject line testing, but there are also some clients where we can start to get a grasp of what content is resonating with them or the amount of content that is resonating with them. We did a journey recently that was a lot of hits that was trying to provide more information to keep people really engaged and it was a client that had a really solid repository of all these wonderful articles. And we found that consistently offering more almost research material to the consumer was a really big deal and I don’t think that we had really known that prior to doing that testing and seeing if that resonated with them. So I think that there are lots of clients that have a bunch of things that they might not be capitalizing on, or they just think it’s sort of one of the many things that they have to offer that some testing would show really, really resonates and can help move the needle.

Jason Rodriguez:
Sure. Yeah. Has there ever been a time where I guess your efforts to create that joy through your copy have completely bombed and you got a terrible reaction and if so how do you handle a situation like that?

Kimberly Coburn:
Oh, man, I’m so relieved to be able to tell you nothing too catastrophic because, and I can only say that with confidence because I’m the kind of person that … 3:00 AM laying there, regretting things you did when you were 16. But yeah, no, nothing that’s just total horror story. There’ve been times where you think something is going to have more of an impact in testing, and then you’re sort of like, “Well, that didn’t do anything at all.” And then that’s just a little bit more of a back to the drawing board kind of vibe. Nothing’s coming to me, although I might get off this call and be like, “Oh, that horrible thing.”

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah. I guess that’s good.

Kimberly Coburn:
Yeah. I mean, it would be fun to be able to tell some horror story, but I am personally relieved to not be responsible for one.

Jason Rodriguez:
Knock on wood that that trend continues. So obviously 2020 was a year for the history books, how did everything from the pandemic to the presidential election, to social protests, all of that, impact your work and how Digital Additive goes about marketing?

Kimberly Coburn:
Absolutely. Digital Additive was pretty well situated to transition easily and swiftly to remote working. We have a lot of remote workers. We’re certainly not solely remote. We have a great office that’s super fun. I miss it, but we were able to make that transition and I think because of a lot of the internal structure tools that we use that made it a lot easier. I’m very grateful to the owners of the company for really going out of their way to make sure that we were all looked after. We were all able to … We didn’t have to do any layoffs and we all really, really worked together and went ahead and projected how bad it might and it really wasn’t. We really pulled it together and were able to have a, I wouldn’t say a great year. I don’t think anybody had a great year in 2020 but, better than one would have expected for sure.

Kimberly Coburn:
And there was a lot to adapt to like anyone else. And we wanted to make sure to respond. It all goes back to that sort of authentic experience. We wanted to respond authentically to things and sometimes that meant making a statement and sometimes that meant being quiet and making space for other voices or rethinking with our clients, how do you market to people who are experiencing a collective trauma? So there was a lot of adapting and conversations as I’m sure everyone had, but I really feel like sort of the glue that holds us together as an agency also allowed us to pretty nimbly work through that time.

Jason Rodriguez:
Sure. So I want to change topics a little bit here and talk about homesteading, which I’ve learned that you’re very interested in, in homesteading and building self-reliance. For those of us who don’t know, which I’ve heard homesteading as a term kind of thrown around. I’ve talked to a few friends in the industry actually that are getting more interested in it, but what is homesteading and why is it so important to you?

Kimberly Coburn:
Well, that’s one of those fun words that everybody’s going to have a different definition for. My personal take on it, at least is just, not even self-sufficiency, but just being willing and curious and interested in using your hands and understanding where things come from and trying to realize your capacity for being a producer and not just being a consumer whether that is growing a single herb on your balcony or having a full garden. Yeah. I have always, and especially the craft side of things, I’ve always really loved making things.

Jason Rodriguez:
Has your kind of focus on self-sufficiency and self-reliance impacted your work at all or have you brought any of those kind of values to your copywriting role?

Kimberly Coburn:
Well, I was kind of the resident weird, green, hippie person, and we started a little community garden at our office, which was great. And we had a CSA, community supported agriculture, delivery there for a couple of years. So, I was trying to bring everybody along on my weird adventures for sure. But Digital Additive was also super supportive that I started a small nonprofit while working at Digital Additive called the Homestead Atlanta and it was offering workshops, not by me, I’d coordinate workshops in all different self-reliance and sustainability skills. So everything from like blacksmithing and woodworking to gardening and fermentation. So yeah, I’ve always been very, very grateful that Digital Additive has allowed me to have the space to also follow my passions and do that.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah. That’s fantastic. Is there any one skill through this journey that you’re most proud of learning or like just … You mentioned blacksmithing or something, is there anything like that that you’re just really proud to have experimented with or kind of learn?

Kimberly Coburn:
I am a very mediocre blacksmith, but it was fun. I’ve really enjoyed learning about herbalism and learning about plant medicine. I just think it’s kind of mind blowing. That was our original medicine for a really, really long time. And I am totally pro Western medicine as well. It’s not at the exclusion of, but I’ve been pretty captivated by that. And I will say 2020 was an interesting year on the homesteading front because obviously everyone’s at home. But watching people really take to that kind of thing more, the huge bread baking explosion that happened and people, I don’t know if you’re aware, but seeds were really hard to get. Seeds were sold out everywhere. So that was exciting for me to see. It was also a little like, “Oh, is this …” You hate when something has to happen out of desperation, but we’re going to come out of this pandemic and then hopefully people will continue doing those skills.

Jason Rodriguez:
Sure. Yeah. Switching back to email.

Kimberly Coburn:
Yes.

Jason Rodriguez:
What are you most excited about in the industry these days?

Kimberly Coburn:
I’ve really, really loved seeing in the last little bit here, just more of a focus on accessibility. I think that email can kind of be a leader in that space of making sure that it’s inclusive and that everybody can receive the messages that they need to receive. We’ve always put such a focus on the message itself, but also now email as a whole putting an emphasis on making sure people can receive that message, whether it’s a visual impairment or whatever. I just think that that increase in accessibility is really a wonderful thing to see.

Jason Rodriguez:
Totally agree. Yeah. I feel like a couple years ago, it wasn’t even really a topic for most people.

Kimberly Coburn:
It wasn’t even a thing. Yeah.

Jason Rodriguez:
Which is weird, because it’s always been huge on the web side of things, I guess not huge by obviously a discipline on the web side of things, then email is the little cousin of the internet. So it’s strange that it wasn’t a big thing, but it’s, yeah it’s been really encouraging

Kimberly Coburn:
And I think that really improves visibility of that kind of thing. Even on beyond email, I feel like ever since I’ve noticed that in the email space, I’ve seen it even more in the social media space and people will have Instagram videos or stories that have captions so people can know. And I was just kind of like, “Oh, okay.” And I had that feeling of, maybe it’s because email made a bigger effort towards that, that it’s sort of spreading. Yeah.

Jason Rodriguez:
Sure. Yeah. How about in the future? Are there any new strategies, techniques that you’re really looking forward to adopting in your own work?

Kimberly Coburn:
Nothing jumps to mind. Now that we’ve talked about my weird homesteading fascinations I’m definitely on the Luddite side of things when it comes to people in this space. So I’m just still over hanging out with Word, chipping away and writing my … It might be because I’m just not quite sure what is coming down the pike, but I will be pleasantly surprised by whatever comes next.

Jason Rodriguez:
That sounds good.

Kimberly Coburn:
And I will look forward to integrating anything into my writing practice.

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah, for sure.

Kimberly Coburn:
I love tools. Like I was saying, like Scribner. I just find things are becoming easier. It’s like tools that used to be very expensive or hard to get ahold of just seem to be kind of everywhere now. And I’m like, “Oh, okay, great.”

Jason Rodriguez:
Yeah, totally agree. I guess finally, what advice would you give to someone that’s just starting out in email or just starting out in copywriting in general?

Kimberly Coburn:
I would just say to don’t get frustrated and keep going and I have a little folder inside my email where I just keep emails that I love, that they made me open because it had such a great subject line or they’re kind of making an interesting twist on their main messaging, or made me feel really seen, or did a good job with the data that they had. So that’s kind of has always been a really great way for me to go back and look at that and try to take lessons from that and apply it to what I do. The lists that tend to be out there always seem a little bit flat to me. So I would just say, make yourself a whole other email account that’s just to sign up for everyone’s emails and take your time to drink coffee and take a look at all of those sometimes and filter through those. But there’s some really, really great stuff out there.

Jason Rodriguez:
Awesome. Yeah. The swipe file is an excellent tool to use on an ongoing basis.

Kimberly Coburn:
Awesome.

Jason Rodriguez:
Awesome. Well, thanks so much, Kimberly, for chatting with me. Hopefully we’ll have you back again maybe in a year or so, and see how the homesteading practice is going, see if there’s any new skills here, blacksmithing skills have developed anymore, but congrats on the email spirit award and yeah, thanks so much for talking today.

Kimberly Coburn:
Thank you.

Jason Rodriguez:
So that does it for today’s episode of Delivering. As always delivering is brought to you by Litmus, which is the premier platform used by marketing professionals around the world to send email with confidence every single time. You can get a free seven day trial of Litmus, just head over to litmus.com to kick the tires and see how we can help you send better emails. And, as always, be sure to subscribe to Delivering on iTunes, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. Until next time, cheers.

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