Email Marketing, a Citi Bike Story

One of the many privileges of working on the HubSpot Academy team is that I get to teach a handful of our inbound marketing training classes. These classes are taught to our customers and administered via GoToTraining. We cover the whyhow and what of HubSpot software. We teach inbound marketing methodology, discuss best practices/tactics and walk through HubSpot software’s various moving parts.

One of my favorite classes to teach is Email.

Email marketing has been on my mind a lot these days. Despite having been cited by marketers as one of the best marketing channels in terms of ROI, many companies continue to fall short in their email marketing efforts.

As an example, I received an email from recently-launched Citi Bike, whom I gave my email address to several months ago via an “I’m interested to hear more information when you launch” landing page.

Let’s walk through the email. I’ll provide honest opinions and suggestions.

This is how the email arrived in my inbox.

There are two things I’m looking for here. Who the email is coming from, and what the subject line is. Citi Bike is relatively clear, but it would be much better if this email was sent from Tom @ Citi Bike or Pamela @ Citi Bike. Research shows that folks are much more inclined to engage with an email that comes from a real person.

I like the subject line, “The Bikes are Coming!” It’s short, clear and compelling. I’m wondering if Citi Bike A/B tested that subject line at all. Granted, open rates aren’t the most reliable metric in the world, but they can still be useful when benchmarking emails sent to similar lists.

Let’s open the email.

Everything you’re seeing in this screenshot is above the fold, meaning this is what I can see on my laptop screen without having to scroll down. As a best practice, email marketers should place their most important content and call-to-action above the fold.

1. Again, I’d rather see a specific person here. Why can’t the email come from or As a communal organization that targets a very specific buyer persona, Citi Bike could get more personalized here. As email marketers, we need to create emotional connections with reader at every opportunity.

2. Nice! Love to see this. Despite email marketers’ best efforts, it is difficult to design emails that render properly on a growing myriad of email-friendly devices. This option is a nice backup for folks who have formatting troubles.

Here’s where I’m starting to ask myself, OK, what’s the goal of this email?

Every email a company sends needs to a) build or nurture a relationship with the reader, b) offer some kind of value to the reader and c) drive one primary form of engagement via a click. As email marketers, we always want to drive our email recipients to take some kind of action, as it allows us to better measure the effectiveness of an email. How will we know where to improve if we don’t track click-through or conversion rates?

With that said:

3. I wouldn’t feature social media buttons in such prime email template real estate. Is connecting via social media the primary purpose of this email? Probably not. What about letting me know when the bikes are coming? I’m expecting to see a date at this point.

Also, I’d nix “Friend Us,” “Tweet Us” and “Forward Us.” Those actions are implied in the icons themselves and not necessary.

4. Nice fluidity between the email subject and this main title, but I’d still like to see more. Again, this is the only thing I can read without having to scroll down. At this point, I should be able to see a specific link to click, and I should understand why and how clicking that link is going to provide value.

1. They’re asking me to become an annual member? As a reminder, at this point all I’ve done is poked around their website for more information several months ago. I’m early in the buying process. I filled out one form with my name and email. That’s like asking a girl to marry you on the first date!

What should Citi Bike put here, then? What about a link to their station map? Or a reminder as to how things work? I need to be wooed and educated here, folks. I haven’t even seen what their bikes look like!

2. Most effective emails are less than 200 words. This paragraph can be tightened up. That, and I’m still not being provided a clear call-to-action yet. What link am I supposed to click? That link should be in the first few sentences, at the very top of the email.

1. There’s the link! Too bad it points directly to their home page. A decent call-to-action, but not nearly as effective as sending me somewhere more specific, like the How It Works page. That’s a more actionable and compelling request.

2. There’s redundancy here between this text and the social media icons above. Not sure this line is necessary.

3. Ooh, I like what I’m seeing here. The ability to update my subscription preferences? Say I’m interested in receiving their monthly newsletter, but not these annual membership email blasts. Usually, a link like this would point to a page where I can select what type of emails I’d like to receive from Citi Bikes, or at least how often I’d like to receive them.

Unfortunately, I’m not being offered much. I like that Citi Bike is using MailChimp to send emails, but because I know how easy it is to manage multiple email lists in MailChimp, I’m disappointed that I’m not being given more opportunities to engage or tweak my relationship on this page.

That One Time I Nearly Died

Just yesterday, I gave a short speech on gut-wrenching adventure.

I spoke in front of my HubSpot peers as part of our company Toastmasters group. It was my first speech in the program, an ice breaker speech, where the goal was to teach the audience a bit about myself.

Over the course of 6-7 minutes, I spoke about adventurous times throughout my life. Careening down our neighborhood hills on scooters and skateboards and mountain bikes. Starting a high school breakdancing club. Climbing Mt. Shasta and Mt. Rainier, getting lost in Alaska’s Talkeetna Mountains. Studying abroad in Nepal and trekking into the Himalaya. Adventure racing. Traveling to 60+ countries as a cost-of-living analyst. It was a fun first speech, and while I undoubtedly fumbled my way through it in some parts, I thought it went relatively well.

There was one story that I left out, and that’s a story that I’d like to share below. I’ll be sharing the story by transcribing a few snippets of an old journal entry I dug up over the Thanksgiving holidays.

A bit of background — it was the summer of 2004, and I was 18 years old. I had flown from Nashville, TN out to Aspen, CO to meet up with an outdoor buddy of mine, Brandon, to visit another outdoor friend of ours, Perry. Perry’s family had a house in Aspen, and we planned to use the house as a base camp of sorts.

It was a two-week trip, and we had planned in advance to hike the Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop, a 26-mile jaunt through Colorado’s finest wilderness. We had researched ahead of time and had also planned to follow a more challenging itinerary – sticking to the trail the first day, then the morning of day two, veering off (and up) toward Snowmass Mountain, a 14,092-foot mountain that we had deemed appropriately technical for our own abilities at the time.

That brings us to Friday, July 23rd, 2004. Below is the journal entry from that day.

We awoke at 4:45am to start our ascent of Snowmass Mountain. We packed up in the cold, in a soft pink and white alpine glow, and had bagels and cream cheese for breakfast. We made for the scree field at about 6:00am, slowly hiking up the mountain.

When the sun started to come out, we stopped to apply sunscreen and lip balm. We ventured upwards, playing then “name game” until the scree field became looser and more technical. In the distance and to our right, we saw a man ascending a steep grassy slope. We traversed a small gully and followed the grass up, a much easier path.

Over the next twenty minutes, the mountain opened itself up to us. It was massive. We meandered farther up, stopping to check our map, pointing out cairns and trying our best to navigate the most efficient route. At around 13,000 feet, we hit many patches of snow, and on one I dropped my water bottle. It rolled thirty feet down the slope into some rocks. I felt sluggish and unbalanced. It was about 10:00am. We kept moving toward the ridge. We looked at the map again and picked a line between Hagerman’s Peak and Snowmass Mountain.

We reached the ridge and our jaws dropped. The guides, the book and the Internet all classified this climb at a rank of Class 3, but it looked much more difficult. We knew that the only way to get to Geneva Lake, our intended destination, at this point was to go up and over the mountain, and considering we were 80% of the way there, we made a group decision to keep going.

We traversed the ridge, scrambling, using rock climbing moves to avoid the occasional cliff-like drop offs to our left. There was no way around them. We reached the summit around 12:00pm, and because we knew the chances that an afternoon storm would roll in soon, we started heading down the other side of the mountain as quickly as possible.

At that point, it was too late. We didn’t have time to look for cairns, or at the map for the right trail. We needed to get down. We stuck to our closest route – loose rocks and boulders. During our precarious descent, the clouds rolled in. We knew how serious the situation was. Lightning kills about 100 people each year in the Rockies, mostly during the summer, in the afternoon, on climbs just like this.

With lightning flashes a half-mile away and thunder crackling and roaring overhead, the three of us descended as quickly as possible.

I slipped.

I slipped, and I fell about eight feet down the gully of small and medium-size boulders. As I tried to stand back up, I slipped again, and this time I began tumbling down the mountain. After fifteen feet and two or three somersaults, my 45 lb pack became wedged between a couple of larger rocks.

Perry shouted at me from above. “Hold on! Hold still!”

I tried to move my limbs.

A broken bone or serious injury at this altitude, around 13,000 feet, would have been bad news. My arms and legs felt OK, as did the rest of my body. My arms and hands were cut up and my legs bruised, blood on both knees, but nothing serious. Deep breath.

Brandon and Perry helped me back up. I tried to maintain composure on the way down, but I was shaken up. I thought about my life, my family, my friends, how I was only 18. As the storm continued to envelop us, I remember Perry yelling, “hand’s all about the hand holds!”

At 2:00pm, the storm cleared up. Seemingly safe from nature’s wrath, we stopped for a much-needed lunch and recapped the morning. Salami and cheese never tasted so good. At 2:30pm, we began heading down an even steeper slope, and wouldn’t you believe it, another (the same?) storm rolled up and over ridge – this one was even more severe.

A heavy, dense mix of rain and sleet and snow. Brandon slipped and hurt his hand. I felt the hairs on the back of my neck dart up as lightning struck several hundred feet away. The three of us kept each other in check – we stayed close but moved fast, and didn’t stop moving until we hit a river.

We followed the river until it ran into a deep gorge, and that’s when we spotted our trail.

At that point, we followed the path in a zombie-like state toward Geneva Lake. We found a nice, scenic spot, made camp and plopped down in our tent just as it started raining again. It was 7:00pm at the time, and the three of us took a nap until 8:45pm. Hungry but too weary to venture outside, we cooked pesto pasta in the tent’s vestibule. It got cold. We fell back asleep.


Reflecting back on the situation, I feel…lucky. I feel terrified. I feel alive.

I cried that next day. I thought of all the people I would have left behind.

I still shiver with the sharp cracks and penetrating booms of lightning and thunder.

When Politics and Marketing Gloriously Intersect

Note: Due to high winds and unfavorable weather, I called off the Presidential Traverse. These decisions are always tough, particularly with so much physical and emotional preparation. Keeping an eye out for a window in 2013. Stay tuned!

Every Friday at HubSpot, two employees host a live-streamed Marketing Update. Notable marketing events from that week are covered, and many a beer bottle is opened.

This past week, a number of interesting stories were discussed, two of which I want to share. Both stories involve companies that put a clever marketing spin on the current political race.

JetBlue Offers Free Flight if Your Candidate Loses

If your candidate loses the presidential election this November, don’t worry, because JetBlue is there to help soften the blow. Their consolation prize? A complimentary international flight.


1006 people will win an opportunity to flee the country. Most of JetBlue’s international destinations are in the Caribbean, a fine spot to ride out a presidential term or two.

I should note that the contest tickets are roundtrip, so winners are free to return if they so choose.

Based in Queens, New York, JetBlue invites voters to enter at At the moment, Obama is being chosen in favor of Romney at a ratio of 56% to 44%.

7-Eleven Coffee Drinkers Predict Next President

At 7-Eleven, your coffee purchase counts.

When purchasing coffee, 7-Eleven patrons in participating states are asked to choose either red or blue cups to indicate their preferred candidate. Results are captured in real time and displayed on the website, 7-Election.

What a brilliant idea. I’d imagine the infrastructure to set this up was a hefty investment, but I’m curious to what extent average coffee sales have been affected. Either way, my brand perception of 7-Eleven is much stronger than it was before.

Similar to JetBlue, at the moment, Obama is being chosen in favor of Romney at a ratio of 56% to 44%.


I love these two examples. Brands embracing a high-profile current event and weaving it into the fabric of their marketing landscape. Contrast these two clever examples with that of Pizza Hut, whose presidential debate stunt triggered enormous backlash, becoming the butt of many jokes.

Nerve Rush Turns One (3 Things I Learned)

This past Saturday, Joel Runyon and I celebrated our first anniversary.

Aww, shucks.

One year ago, with a mission to inspire gut-wrenching adventure and deconstruct extreme sports for the masses, Joel and I launched Nerve Rush to the world. We set out to interview professional athletes, to curate heart-wrenchingly cool content and ultimately, to tackle Red Bull as the #1 extreme sports brand.

Fast forward to this evening, 170 posts later.

Things, I must say, are going swimmingly. Traffic has shot up these last few months, and each week Joel and I are  speaking and working with some really cool people. Building Nerve Rush, I’ve taken away business lessons and experiences that will undoubtedly help me in the future.

In an effort to jot down my thoughts more frequently, here we go.

1. Scheduled Communication is Critical

Joel and I live in two different cities, so this was important to hash out early. After talking through our schedules and weekly bandwidth, we decided to speak at least once every two weeks via Skype or phone. Between then, we agreed to use email and our project management HQ to keep pushing projects forward. This continues to work well for us.

At HubSpot, I meet once every two weeks with my current manager for an hour long, one-on-one session. On my last team, I met once a week. In both cases, that frequency of communication worked really well.

I know Kristen and Shannon, founders of Revolution Apparel, as they worked remotely from each other to build their business, made a point to chat with each other at least once per day.

What kind of regular, communication do you have with your co-workers? Scheduled communication is critical to a team’s, a project’s and a company’s long-term success. Particularly when the agenda is clear, but that’s another bag of marbles.

2. Define an Organizational Process

Trello, Basecamp, Evernote, Dropbox — these are a few of the tools that groups can use to collaborate with each other online. Over the last year, I’ve become comfortable with my own personal organizational process, as well as a process that works for Joel and I as a team.

Individually, I use a combination of Dropbox and Gmail tags/filters. As a team, Joel and I use Dropbox and Google Drive. There are a number of other tools that we use, but everything, in some  form or fashion, makes it onto Dropbox or Google Drive.

At HubSpot, my manager and I use one single Google Drive doc to track everything I’m working on. Personally, I use Evernote, Google Drive, Gmail and yes, a series of hand-written notes and post-its around the desk.

There is a lot more I’d like to say here, but I defer any additional insights on organization to David Allen’s Getting Things Done. A phenomenal read.

What tools and processes do you use to stay organized?

3. Deconstruct the Vision to Work Smarter, Not Harder

At any given moment, Joel and I have 101 half-brained ideas.

We constantly revisit our 30,000 ft. vision for Nerve Rush and break  that down into small, manageable tasks. By writing out these tasks, estimating what it will take to complete them, prioritizing them and relating them back to our vision, Joel and I have learned how to work smarter, not harder.

It’s been tough. We haven’t really pinned down a business model for Nerve Rush. At this point, we could see Nerve Rush manifesting in a lot of different ways.

And I think that’s OK.

We’re ready to pivot when the data starts pointing us in one direction versus another. For now, we’re testing out a series of these small, manageable tasks, each with it’s own micro-vision, to help us better assess our future plans.

I look forward to Nerve Rush’s future milestones, to working with Joel and to sharing these stories and insights with you.

In the meantime, stay adventurous out there.