SUMMARY: Content is a struggle for many marketers, but it can be quite effective at informing and moving your audience along the purchase path.
In this how-to article featuring information from a Return Path-sponsored webinar, see how to develop a plan for cultivating and publishing email content, which can lead consumers to the more extensive content on your website or blog.
Email marketing is not automatically considered an inbound tactic in the way social media or SEO are. However, by integrating engaging content into emails sent to subscribers who have asked to hear more information, it can be. Plus, promoting email content across inbound channels (and vice versa) breaks down content silos and brings together two powerful forces of marketing by combining their assets.
Delivering highly relevant content is a top priority for many marketers with 72% of B2B marketers reporting it to be as well as 68% of B2C marketers, according to the 2012 MarketingSherpa Email Marketing Benchmark Report.
Daniel Burstein, Director of Editorial Content, MECLABS, and I hosted a recent webinar, "Email Marketing: 3 Tips for Producing Engaging Email Content" sponsored by Return Path, which explains this issue, and sheds light on the topic of inbound email.
Integrating inbound and email provides a service to consumers that will compel them to seek more in-depth content from emails, driving traffic to learn more through your website.
Tip #1. Produce relevant content
Relevancy is unique to each consumer and should be reaching the right person at the right time. Focus your staffs’ energy on producing something your audience will appreciate and trust in enough to continue along the sales funnel with you.
Producing content is a big problem for almost everyone — it is a daunting task, and the solution may come in many forms:
Hiring new employees
Allotting a few hours a week for content creation to current employees
Once you have established a repeatable and consistent process for your content and created available resources that will work, you can focus on creating content that people will crave.
Make it relevant
Your story must convey personality, which means while you are trying to communicate your value proposition, you must present it in a way that is also compelling.
Part of marrying these two ideas of value proposition and personality is disregarding the notion of pitching your customers.
Compelling content should fulfill a promise of answers to consumer questions. Education is vital when producing content, and no one knows your product or service like you do.
If you have a knowledgeable employee, have them write a blog post you can then send to your email subscribers. Even if they are not comfortable writing, have them work with someone who is. A side effect of this will be a transparency that consumers will really see and appreciate.
Three types of content
"Repurposing content is a lifesaver," Burstein said.
Content is a never-ending need, and once you start, you must consistently follow through to make any kind of dent. Repurposing can both help stretch your content and reach consumers in the way that may serve them best.
Information from your website, data sheets and publicity can all be repurposed for your email messages. Sharing highlights from analyst reports, extracting quotes from an executive email with the press, or interesting product attributes can all be of value to your customers.
Repurposing blog posts into your newsletter is also a great tactic. Picking the most popular ones, based on retweets or comments, will not only strengthen your credibility of listening to consumers but the more conversational writing style of blogs can break up the formal style in some e-newsletters.
The best way to start is with a really robust piece of content and work out from there. Never let a good piece of content be a one-off; instead, determine alternative ways it can best be used. Focusing on developing rich ideas can provide value from many different angles.
User-generated content includes your consumers' pictures, videos and words. You can use these in your email marketing campaigns to speak directly to other consumers about your product or service.
Any of the below tactics may be used as user-generated content:
Social media interactions
Placing this message in your emails not only allows consumers to connect with each other, but it also shows you listen and care about what your consumers have to say.
If you do not receive enough feedback, or the kind you want from traditional outlets, social media can be especially useful. Social networks encourage the inclusion of visual elements, but it has more of an easy, conversational tone.
Employees serve as another potential source for user-generated content with good stories of their own to share. Burstein said marketers can also glean good customer stories from their daily customer and partner interactions, but it will not happen automatically. It is important to "have some internal plan in place" for your employees to always be on the lookout for compelling customer stories.
Craft original content
Sometimes, with limited resources, creating original content is not always possible, but it is the best way to provide real, personal value to your email subscribers.
Being clear and directly addressing the value of your product, by answering questions or solving problems your customers have, is what will really resonate. When you focus on service, you will generate many new ideas for valuable content that does not necessarily have to be "exciting" or time consuming to create.
"Looking for the ways that you can serve your customer, to help ease their pain point, to help them meet their goal or dream … that’s what content is all about," Burstein said.
Tip #2. Create an editorial calendar
"Once you start creating this content, the next thing that comes is how are you going to ship it?" Burstein said.
It is different for every company, with all having "a certain cadence to it, a certain cycle," according to Burstein.
Different organizations have different seasons when certain content subjects will be particularly interesting to their consumers, he added, giving the example of those in the tax industry.
"There are certain things that are evergreen in there, like when it comes to gathering all your receipts for taxes," he said, adding that other things are going to be more time-specific, like when the time comes for filing.
Yet, other subjects will be new and only appropriate for a short time — such as recent changes to the tax code.
Once you have an editorial calendar created, stick to it. This is essential in creating trust and keeping your audience interested in the content you are producing.
It can be difficult to work current events or big news stories into a carefully planned content calendar, but it can also pay off tremendously when it comes to catching your audience’s attention.
However, "you’ve got to be careful. As with any interaction between us human beings, you have to know what is appropriate and what’s not," Burstein said.
He gives the example of knowing how to be respectful with high-profile deaths such as Steve Jobs, or when taking advantage of weather events, knowing the difference between a storm and a disaster. However, taking a conversational tone with events such as the royal wedding or a fun fact can help consumers relate to your company.
Tip #3. Use data to fuel content
In the current era of big data, segmenting your audience through their likes, dislikes, habits and other factors is more than standard practice, it is expected.
A key to producing effective inbound email content that will leave customers wanting to learn more through your website is to not bombard or overwhelm readers with random offers that do not apply to them. Part of developing trust is practicing considerate marketing by providing them with content that will appeal to them.
"There’s a reason more email marketers aren’t segmenting, because frankly it is challenging," Burstein said, citing the 2012 Email Marketing Benchmark Report, where integrating email data with other data systems was a top challenge for 55% of marketers.
"[Your database] helps you segment and get content to the right people," Burstein said.
Endemic data is unique to a particular record, examples of which would be contact and demographic information.
For instance, in the MarketingSherpa article "Email Marketing How-to: 5 steps to improve your email newsletter," Scotts Miracle-Gro uses endemic data to segment its audience by areas of the country. That way, it can send highly personalized content specific to that area’s soil and planting seasons that will be incredibly useful to customers.
With this type of data, Burstein gives the example of measuring "how many people and who are opening your emails, who are clicking through on your emails, who are redeeming your coupons — essentially, what actions are they taking with you?"
Through subscribers’ actions, "they are going to tell you a lot about what is important to them," Burstein said.
Knowing what your consumers value as important can help guide your content and to whom you send it. Clickthrough rates can demonstrate the success of this tactic as consumers visit content on your website wanting to know more about the content you have specifically sent to them based on their interests, as determined by their behavioral data.
Watch the Replay
For more information, watch the full replay of "Email Marketing: 3 Tip for Producing Engaging Email Content" below:
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