This article was published by Content Marketing Institute and curated by Closer Spot. Be sure to check out other Closer Spot news and advice to help you win more business.
Editor’s note: Because email marketing continues to be one of the most used and most effective cornerstones of content marketing, Jodi Harris updated her 2015 article.
Think of a well-executed email strategy as the backbone of a successful content marketing program. It’s an essential structure that supports your various content efforts and is the best technique for building a subscriber base – which is critical for achieving value from your content marketing program.
Just how important is the email channel? Consider this: 93% of B2B marketers report using email to distribute their content, according to CMI/MarketingProf’s B2B Content Marketing: 2018 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends—North America research. And, perhaps even more importantly, 74% of marketers who use email consider it to be the most effective distribution channel for their content.
But, just like most things in the world of content marketing, email is not a set-it-and-forget-it tactic. Media trends, informational needs, and consumption preferences evolve; and people change careers, upgrade their devices, develop new interests, and discover new obsessions. If you aren’t prepared to maintain the effectiveness of your email content to ensure that your experience is always viewed as fresh, useful, and personally relevant, your once essential resource can transform into a fly-like nuisance that won’t stop buzzing in your reader’s inbox – keeping it from performing to its full potential.
If you are looking to evaluate the fitness of your email content, CMI’s original 7-Minute Email Workout infographic is a great quick-start guide on how to test the strength of your e-newsletters and fine-tune your delivery strategies at all levels of experience – beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
Of course, it never hurts to go the extra mile when it comes to enhancing the impact and performance of your email efforts. Here, I revisit my original article on the topic and add some fresh tips and takeaways from a few of CMI’s most trusted email experts. I also share some new examples to inspire you to branch out and get creative in how you use this channel to build and maintain your vital audience relationships.
Build a strong listYour email content won’t do your business any good if you aren’t reaching the right people – or reaching enough of them to drive your content marketing strategy forward. Fortunately, there are plenty of techniques at content marketers’ disposal when it comes to attracting consumers who will be delighted by your email offerings.
As Aaron Orendorff explains, email list-building techniques typically fall into one of three main categories:
- Options – exclusive content offers, forms, and various types of button ads to tempt readers to opt in to hear from you regularly
- On-site techniques – landing pages, pop-ups, and other types of sign-up notifications to alert your site visitors to your subscriber-only assets
- Off-site techniques – Social media fans and followers can join your subscriber list without having to interrupt their social experience on sites like Twitter, Facebook, or Medium.
Example: Salesforce’s sign-up formsSalesforce takes a multistage approach to build its email lists. For instance, it initially attracts blog subscribers with a simple two-field form that clearly outlines what they are opting to receive:
The company also uses more detailed forms that require additional audience information in exchange for higher-value assets, such as its industry reports. The longer forms provide additional marketing benefits for Salesforce. They are used as a preliminary step toward customer qualification (i.e., identifying high-quality leads) and help the company to better tailor its outreach to the needs of individual consumers.
Craft meaningful, compelling messagesOnce your subscriber list is filled with consumers eager to hear from your business, you need to take steps to ensure that they like what they receive. Sujan Patel reminds us that this boils down to creating email content that your recipients will want to read. Of course, this means your content needs to be well-written and focused on their interests (rather than your company’s); it also means you must deliver on the promises made to your email subscribers – including publishing on a consistent, reliable basis, and avoiding unwanted surprises and not bombarding them with content they opted out of receiving.
To make sure all your bases are covered, follow Sujan’s top recommendations summarized below:
- Only send emails when you have something of value to say.
- Keep your messages simple, focused, and concise.
- Write great copy – or hire a professional writer to do it.
- Go easy on sales-y messages.
- Allow subscribers to customize the types and frequency of the messages they receive.
- Invest in creating a well-thought-out design that will grab your readers’ attention from the get-go.
Example: The 21-Day Self-Care ChallengeNonprofit organization Move to End Violence issued a challenge to its audience members to become more impactful and strategic change agents by incorporating sustainable, mindful practices – like exercising self-care – into their everyday lives. According to the website, what started out as a short-term email campaign that invited social change-minded activists to receive one self-care tip a day for 21 days became a wildly popular ongoing content initiative – helping to grow Move to End’s email database from 400 to 11,000 subscribers in just over a year.
Segment your list for increased relevance and impactAs a smart marketer, you surely recognize how important it is to create content that targets a particular persona – the audience member who will benefit most from the insights you plan to share. This is particularly true for email content, given how discerning today’s consumers are when it comes to allowing marketers to penetrate the inner sanctum of their inboxes. Remember, as CMI founder Joe Pulizzi always says, if your content is meant for everybody, it won’t end up benefiting anybody.
By segmenting your subscribed audience by known interests and communication preferences, you can deliver an email experience that’s more personally resonant as well as relevant – something that, according to Andrea Fryrear, will increase the likelihood that the recipient will do something with that content, such as sharing it.
How do you gather the insights you’ll need to accurately characterize and categorize your email subscribers? Andrea recommends asking a few targeted questions at the start of your subscriber sign-up process to gauge their top priorities and engagement preferences:
- How often would you like to receive emails from us? Daily? Weekly? Monthly?
- What particular topics are you interested in?
- What kinds of content interest you the most? Text? Video? Infographics?
Example: EventbriteAccording to Eventbrite’s Mark Walker, the company recently updated its newsletter to personalize event picks based on the recipient’s stated preferences and order history. Not only does this technique increase the likelihood that recipients will find Eventbrite’s content to be relevant, the emails are algorithmically generated – so they can easily scale to target all subscribers regardless of how they are segmented.
Surprise and delight your recipients
For instance, as Mathew Sweezey points out in his presentation at Content Marketing World 2016, your subject line and sender details (prime email real estate) are the only pieces of information readers have to quickly determine if an email is worthy of their attention. As such, he recommends customizing this valuable bit of real estate to speak to the recipient’s current stage in the buying process. Here are his guidelines for achieving this:
- Stage 1: This audience is asking generic questions. They may not even know the keywords in that space. If they see a vendor’s name in the prime email real estate, they know the email is from a marketer. In the prime email real estate, don’t include keywords or brand names.
- Stage 2: This audience is looking for social proof to support their research. Use the subject line to give them ammunition to get support from others. In the prime email real estate, use a keyword or brand name, but not both.
- Stage 3: This audience wants to be assured that they have researched all the viable options before they make a decision. In the prime real estate, use a keyword and brand name.
Example: Xerox’s Get OptimisticWhen the marketing team at Xerox was looking for a way to differentiate its messaging from its numerous competitors, the big, audacious idea it came up with was optimism. It started a biweekly email campaign targeted to CIOs called Get Optimistic, which provided a look at the future of technology, business, and the world through an optimistic lens. This e-newsletter quickly grew in popularity, leading the marketing team to expand it into a full-fledged print and digital content initiative – Chief Optimist Magazine – which has reportedly helped the company generate over 1,000 new sales appointments and more than $1 billion in pipeline revenue.
Nurture your subscribers on an ongoing basisEmail newsletters may be one of the best ways to build and communicate with your target audience, but, as Gini Dietrich pointed out during CMI’s ContentTECH virtual event, there’s a potential flaw to consider: “New subscribers only see your new emails. They don’t see anything that came before it.”
To quickly help your subscribers – new and old, alike – get better acquainted with the value your business provides, consider creating an email drip campaign. As Stephanie Stahl explains, a drip campaign is a progression of pre-written marketing emails sent automatically on a set schedule or directly triggered when a reader takes an action – like signing up for an e-book on a particular topic, or registering to attend a conference or webinar your business is hosting. Below are some of the forms this useful technique can take:
By crafting a series of messages customized to address a topic or purpose, marketers can nurture their subscriber relationships and increasingly earn their trust. However, Gini cautions, unless you are certain the subscriber data is accurate, you need to be careful about using it to personalize an email. “Good personalization can help you convert. Bad personalization will actually kill your efforts,” she warns.
Example: The Start-up Sales Success Email CourseCRM provider Close.io created a drip campaign to deliver a free course designed to help start-ups get better at sales. At the bottom of the first email, a testimonial from someone already enrolled in that same course is included. What Sujan Patel points out is that testimonial doesn’t push (or even mention) Close.io’s products. Instead, the testimonial reinforces the value of the course, consequently addressing a key question (potential objection) that subscribers are most likely to have – is the course worth continuing with?
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Measure and optimizeThe above tips and guidelines will take your email content efforts far. But, as Jessica Best contends, you aren’t truly ready to unlock your “email rock star” badge until you are prepared to do two things:
- Accurately measure the returns on your marketing investment – not just opens and clicks
- Understand how to maximize your content assets and email framework
Once you understand your baseline email ROMI, Jessica offers the following high-impact ideas for optimizing, enhancing, and amplifying your email content:
- Look for ways to automate and extend the email experience, such as delivering your welcome message as a series of customer-nurturing (i.e., drip campaign) emails.
- Ask for the referral: While sometimes this amounts to no more than a new subscriber or lead, it can also mean a purchase under the right circumstances.
- Use motion to move your audience: Not only can including animation and relevant motion effects in emails add emotional appeal to your messages, it can drive up response rates up to threefold, according to Jessica.
- Take advantage of video: While embedding a video in your email messages simply doesn’t work well in the inbox setting, there are ways to get around that. For example, you can offer text about why readers might be interested in watching and link to the full video.
- Make email a two-way conversation: Use your email content to convey how receptive your company is to hearing from its audience by encouraging subscribers to ask questions and offer their feedback or even inviting them to take a detailed user survey.
- Tell a great story: Even some of the most seemingly mundane of businesses can harness the creative muse and deliver an emotionally resonant experience through this marketing channel.