Who to follow: Kristian Robinson
27 April 2017
Who to Follow: Kristian Robinson (@joon82)
Kristian Robinson has some strong opinions about email and the direction it is headed.
In this community, that is certainly not unique.
What is unique, however, is how Kristian has chosen to express those opinions to the world.
While many pontificate on the creative heights email and email marketing might one day reach, Kristian has chosen a different path to sharing his vision of email glory: making awesome, boundary-pushing emails.
Kristian, who has become famous for developing eye popping, interesting emails just because he can, first caught our eye during his time with Two UK with this cool “Interactive Christmas tree” email post way back in January. He then sealed his fate as an #emailgeeks legend with his Sonic the Hedgehog game (Alpha and Beta versions) that was playable within an email and this fantastic post about developing an “email tribute to Alien”.
Now a newly minted Senior Email Developer at UK data/marketing firm CACI, (a company at which he has been re-united with @mattslaymaker – the man who first introduced Kristian to email development back in 2012), Kristian feels he may finally have found a home. His primary focus at CACI is to create great bespoke emails for clients as well as creating excellent self-service modular templates for them to use for BAU /day-to-day with in the CACI email studio platform.
Kristian’s path to email was one many in the field could relate to.
After slogging it out as a Marketing Comms Exec and Artworker for several years, Kristian found that his professional life could not hold his interest the way “playing drums and making beer” could So, he decided to make a change. He learned a little bit of code (enough to get through the interview) and joined his first digital team in 2012. Finding that he had a knack for email development, Kristian says he has made an effort to learn everything he can about email development and coding since that day.
An avid tweeter, genuinely funny dude, and gif aficionado, Kristian has quickly become one of our phavourite phollows, and we look forward to his contributions to the email Twitter community for years to come.
The prawns are a bit pic.twitter.com/SgqrxuY8WN
— Kristian Robinson (@joon82) April 13, 2017
But is there more to this email development dynamo than just quality tweets and amazing novelty emails?
Let’s take a deeper look…
Kristian Robinson tale of the tape:
Favourite food: Really good BBQ ribs
Pets: We have a dog called Daisy (Border Terrier)
Worst fear: I’m a bit claustrophobic – so packed trains, and busy bars stress me out. Submarines, I’d hate to be on a submarine.
Dream job as a child: I used to play drums and always wanted to be like John Bonham, Keith Moon and Neil Peart.
Last big purchase: Probably a new Macbook, and a One plus 3T.
Guilty Pleasure: I eat far too many crisps. And have some eclectic music tastes.
Pet Peeve: Lateness.
An interview with Kristian Robinson
So… you’ve set the email world ablaze with your awesome Christmas tree, Sonic the Hedgehog and Alien emails. What made you decide to make them?
Many reasons, really. It’s all part of a bigger body of work I’m doing, really for my own interest. I started by making the Interactive Xmas Tree while I was at TWO, which was really trying to create an email that would be shared socially, and increase mailing list size rapidly. I also wanted to make something my 5 year old daughter might like, and see how she reacted to it (she obviously doesn’t know what email is)
This all got me thinking about combining interactive email and CSS animation, and how I can use email in a different way, to promote things differently. So I deliberately ignored most of my instincts of right and wrong and “drew outside the lines” if you like. I just went for it, to see what happened.
And what happened?
I made both Sonics as an experiment, both around the same time. One being simple, and one leaning more towards a game. And the Alien version is very much part of that, (I have a couple of other things in my back pocket that I’m yet to share)….. so really each is a progression of the next. I’m putting new things in each time, and trying new things out.
People respond either positively to them, or negatively/cynically… I’m good with that, it’s better than ambivalence. They’ve been shared all over the place, which is great to see, and I’ve had some great feedback on them – but even if they inspire something workable for someone I’ll be happy.
What makes you want to inspire people in the email world?
There is a habit of “reverting to the rules and the norm” and although I get that, and see why that is important, I find that if you don’t move outside of those rules you don’t push boundaries then everything becomes quite stale. The emails I remember which stand out in my mind are always an exception to the rule, and have character. They have been laboured over, and I think it’s important, in an ever expanding cookie-cutter business that we don’t get the point where everything is the same, and we all end up creating digital cardboard.
Note: I’m not against simpler methods obviously. I get them, I encourage them. But I don’t want to see everything revert to the mean.
What separates good, creative email marketing from the “cardboard” as you put it?
I think ultimately email still need to have design and personality. It needs to feel like it’s been made by people, that people have put the time and effort in to it (at some stage if not all the way through).
For example, just because we can automate things and use data in powerful ways, we shouldn’t take away the skills of designers, copywriters, strategists etc… because they need to interpret that data, to make the best of it.
Why do you think more companies/brands don’t make use of the kinds of email design that you are talking about?
I’m not sure the experimental stuff i’ve shared is particularly sitting within a use case at all, it’s all conceptual. It doesn’t really sit within the category of ‘good emails’. My thinking is that at some point, someone tried to make an interactive email. (I do have a use case for it which I’m working on, can’t discuss it yet).
Innovation for email isn’t just about code, and the interactive animations aren’t really about code…. It’s just about looking at different approaches, and trying to expand knowledge if email people, and businesses that email doesn’t have to be judged on merely clicks and opens. Using email to connect with social for instance….
I think if people know it’s possible to do different things and they can explore further, it just opens ideas and opportunities up.
Do you think that brands are beginning to realise that investing in quality emails is worthwhile? How is this manifesting?
The key thing for businesses is that email is cheap to do, and bespoke things like this cost more, take longer, and probably won’t make you any more money.
So I think it might be about getting beyond this simplistic ROI approach, and thinking about brand awareness and engagement and all that nuance.
I think we can see specifically at key times of the year they want to do something special, that stands out and grabs attention… We’re seeing this with interactive emails, and elements of “gamification”. People are “dipping their toe in”. And emails like this C4 email which was created at CACI is making more practical uses for it.
What is your favourite and least favourite thing about working with email?
My favourite thing about working in email is that it’s this niche little environment that most people don’t get or understand. If you work and stay in email you tend to really like it, everyone tends to come up against similar challenges so there is an empathetic community of people out there who are willing to help.
I’m also pretty self indulgent, so showing someone something like Sonic on an iPhone inbox and seeing what their reaction is.
Least favourite thing is the whole “having to to look the same everywhere” thing, and you can give all the advice, suggestions, and rationale for certain things and you still don’t get listened to. There is a still a lot of hangover from the desktop, slicey, churn-it-out era.
So I would always encourage clients to listen, and think about what their email people are saying.
Final question, for branding’s sake, who is your favourite superhero?
Dr Strange is pretty cool.
I’m a Star Wars fan… and a Dr Who fan mainly.. I have a TARDIS sticker on my laptop. And theme things in Star Wars wherever I can.
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