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Eliminate Email Apathy with Active Content

envelope-circle-clipartIt’s been over forty years since Ray Tomlinson sent out the first-ever email, but it wasn’t until the 1990s, as the World Wide Web trickled into every household and workplace, that email became an effective tool for marketers. But did you know that the very first mass email was actually sent in 1978, when a marketing manager sent a message about his products to 400 Arpanet users and netted $13 million in sales?

Though deemed successful, that first message also received its share of complaints, foreshadowing what was to come as email rose in popularity twenty years later. We’ve come a long way since that first message and the unregulated email explosion that eventually led to the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. Nearly two decades of email marketing have produced endless data about subject lines, deployment times, content effectiveness, calls to action and more, all at our fingertips. And affordable, sophisticated marketing software has changed email from a laborious blasting process to a scalable and repeatable tool in our arsenal.

There’s no doubt about email’s effectiveness for generating revenue—a recent blog post by Jay Baer noted that those who buy products marketed through email spend 138 percent more than people that do not receive email offers. But are we relying too much on this known effectiveness rate and the sophistication of our tools? Do we simply coast through our marketing goals – and have we forgotten what makes people read emails in the first place?

An Annuitas study found that 64 percent of CMOs have either an informal process or none at all to manage their marketing automation. Certainly, email is only part of that, but an important part. As marketers, we have to remember that automation tools may make things faster, easier and smarter, but there’s still a lot of work to do in preparation for launching an email marketing campaign or email-driven funnel communications. And in fact, it’s easy to forget that the work doesn’t stop with the launch; we should be monitoring results every step of the way and making needed adjustments to ensure conversion rates are fully optimized.

Creating good, relevant, on-brand content for your emails is crucial to their success. Yet this is often where companies fail their prospects and customers. “Inactive” content—content that is bland, uninteresting and in some cases irrelevant—is becoming more and more prevalent as strategy falls by the wayside in favor of quicker deployment or just plain not taking the time to create content maps.

Inactive content is lazy content. Recipients will respond by not opening, not clicking through or worse, marking it as SPAM. The solution is to give your content a pep talk and devise a plan to whip it into shape by tightening it up and letting it flex the muscles that will appeal most to unique segments of your audience. That’s right, content, it’s time to get active.

Here are some helpful tips for transforming your inactive content into active content that not only communicates your message, but also (and more importantly) talks directly to your prospects and customers.

Remember, it’s all a part of a bigger conversation.

email-postImagine you’re an auto mechanic, and a new customer is telling you about the problems she’s having with her SUV. You respond by…talking about the features in a new sports car. Sure, you have knowledge about her issue and how to fix it, but you really want to talk about the sports car, so that’s what you do. Doesn’t make much sense, does it? So why do that with your email content?

We tend to isolate emails and think only of their individual set purpose. But take a step back for a minute and think, for example, where the webinar promotion fits into the picture. You see, all of your email marketing efforts and funnel communications are part of a larger conversation you’re having with people. So if you conceive of your emails individually and then try to fit them together in a sequence, the result will be a disjointed conversation that will leave prospects confused about what you’re trying to say.

Unfortunately, that messages comes across as, “What I have to say is more important than what you want to know.” But we can fix this—it just takes some planning. Before you start creating email content, it’s beneficial to map out the whole path first. Build a content map from initial touch to sale and determine what messages will be most effective along the way. From there, you can take things like webinars or other promotion and find where they fit best in this ongoing conversation.

Be smart and interesting.

owl-imageThis doesn’t mean you have to be clever or funny or anything your brand isn’t. It just means you should be the one providing the most interesting, relevant and valuable information. To be interesting, you have to shift your mindset from, “What features or products do they need to know about?” to “What problem do they have that I can help solve in this communication?”

The fact is, numerous studies show that the average employee sends and receives over 100 emails a day—and that’s just work email. Whether you’re a B2B or B2C company, you have to find a way to stand out from the crowd.

To do so, your content needs to be active, to inspire a feeling in the reader rather than simply pass along information. For instance, in an email for a webinar, focus less on just listing the speakers and bullet points about what they’ll cover, and more on how you will address specific problems and how the speakers’ expertise will take the attendee to a whole new level of understanding about the topic. Use more active words and verbs—for instance, would you rather “learn” or “discover?”

At the end of the day, the goal of content is to solve a problem. Vague or overly broad content doesn’t solve anything, and it may make people question whether your company really understands their problems and can help them solve it. So if you put out a white paper, don’t talk about how they can get better engagement on social media; talk about how they can use Facebook to get more case studies, or list 10 unique ways to use Pinterest when launching a new product. Let your content be the answer they’re searching for, and soon, your emails are the ones they’re searching for out of the dozens they get each day.

Don’t ignore subject lines.

Listen-or-Ignore-Button-945x1024You could have the most useful, most delightful, most extraordinary content inside your email – but if you can’t get them to open it, all of your careful planning and writing goes to waste. Subject lines are hugely important to the success of your emails. The same Jay Baer blog post we mentioned earlier reported that 35 percent of email recipients open email based on the subject line alone; on the flip side, 69 percent of email recipients report email as SPAM based solely on the subject line.

That’s a delicate line to walk, and if your subject lines are throwaway copy you hastily write just before blasting, you could be doing serious harm to your conversion rates and your company’s email reputation. You have to think of these as part of the content writing process, and like your email content, they must be active to inspire action.

For best results, be short, sweet and to the point. Relevance is the first rule of any content you write, and subject lines are no exception. Make sure you’re speaking directly to the reader’s needs and be clear about what’s inside. Shorter is always better; numerous studies have shown that the optimum length is 50 characters or fewer.

If you’re having a tough time creating subject lines, try some of these tricks:

    Ask questions—You’ll immediately engage the reader as they ponder their answer and consider the needs that arise from it.
    Use a call to action—Just like in an email, landing page letter or any other communication, a good call to action can compel the reader to complete the task.
    Mention a trend—Readers eager to always be in the know will want to see what’s new.

Perhaps the best advice we can give you is to A/B test your subject lines. Especially if you’re launching a huge campaign, try testing a small audience segment first to see which performs better. It’s easy enough to do with most marketing automation systems; and the small effort you expend to do so could mean a huge difference in conversion rates and sales.

Email marketing has evolved tremendously since that first blast in 1978, but its ease and ubiquity have given rise to a bit of complacency among marketers. We must always remember that at the heart of all marketing, the thing that drives engagement and sales and revenue, is good content. Content that addresses pain points and reveals solutions. Content that shows empathy and a willingness to help. Content that works to make your brand stand out from the rest. But good content takes effort, and your work as an email marketer is never done. For your content to actively engage your audience, you have to actively manage your content. Then, you’ll be in good shape.


2013 Justin headshot - NEWJustin Gray is the CEO of LeadMD. He founded the company with a vision to transform marketing through the use of marketing automation and CRM solutions. Follow Justin at @jgraymatter.