Depending on the kindness of strangers has been my modus operandi for most of my adult life. The kindness of strangers is what brought me to OptIn ’19. While it’s a life approach that’s worked well for me, it’s not one I think email recipients should be forced to rely upon – neither to ensure a pleasant email experience nor to feel confident that their data is being used wisely.

OptIn ’19 leads me to believe that the email marketing industry is moving towards a mindset in which we expect email marketers (mostly strangers to the recipients of the emails we craft) to use what you could call “email intelligence” to create enjoyable customer experiences that not only drive ROI, but foster a culture of respect for our subscribers.

As one of two fortunate recipients of a Diversity & Inclusion Scholarship, I attended OptIn ’19 thanks to the largesse of SparkPost and of Women of Email, a professional organization I’m honored to have joined. The kindness of these groups of strangers allowed an email copywriter and strategist from an unconventional background to attend an industry-insider event – and I hope what I learned will benefit the many recipients of the emails I’ve created since the conference and will create over the course of my career.

Over the two days in late October, OptIn ’19 attendees enjoyed the opportunity to attend a number of panels and sessions that forced us to reconsider what the term “email intelligence” really means and perhaps even reconsider what the phrase should mean. “Email intelligence” could be used to describe any number of ideas within the email marketing industry. As an email copywriter and strategist, I hope the term “email intelligence” comes to refer to a sort of emotional intelligence in email marketing that results in fuller, more empathetic attitudes towards email recipients.

That core belief is much of why I was particularly struck by the Wednesday morning keynote presented by data scientist Hilary Mason. Her brilliant insights on the potential and evolution of data science forced me to reconsider most of what I thought I knew about data science. “Personalization at Scale”, a panel discussing exactly that, was similarly thought-provoking. The idea of “personalization” in email marketing loses any value when you take a one-size-fits-all approach to the concept. The way you personalize an email intended for a long-time Cracker Barrel customer has to be different from the way you’d personalize the email experience of, say, someone making their first purchase from a firm in a high-tech field in a B2B setting.

As email marketers, we have far more data points on our customers accessible to us than anyone speaking on the subject thirty years ago could have predicted. Instead of an opportunity to see this as a marketing free-for-all, this is a chance to create more fulfilling customer experiences through consideration, empathy, and common sense. As email marketers, we’re duty-bound to guard our subscribers’ data and – extrapolating from that – their privacy. However, it’s also worth considering whether our own choices regarding usage of the data we can access results in easier, more pleasant customer journeys, or if we’re simply using data to “personalize” our emails just because we can.

I’m confident that most email marketers use the data available to them prudently. Attending OptIn ’19 reaffirmed that belief and left me convinced that the terms “email intelligence” and “emotional intelligence” would only grow closer in meaning as our technological capabilities advance, as the email marketing industry evolves, and as consumer preferences change over the years.  

Are you interested in watching some of the panels I was able to attend at OptIn’19? Don’t miss SparkPost’s Winter Wednesday Webinar series. Register for the first of the series, titled “Leveraging Data in Marketing” on December 18th.


Mariana Santiago is a copywriter and email marketer based in New Orleans, Louisiana. She develops email strategies that meet your customers and prospects along each step of the customer journey. You can find her at