Banish Shades of Gray From Your Email Program With Informative, Useful Content

  |  June 26, 2013   |  Comments

Learn how to increase your inbox placement, subscriber engagement, and the long-term health of your email program while preventing your campaigns from being lost in a pile of gray mail.

Competition for subscriber mindshare is fierce. It starts with getting into the inbox, which requires a good sender reputation and a file of active and engaged email subscribers. However, reaching the inbox isn't a guarantee of high performance and ROI. You need to provide messaging that subscribers want to receive (at a preferred frequency) and interact with. It's also necessary to stand out from the gray mail - mail that subscribers signed up for, but no longer want - and ensure subscribers don't mistake your campaigns as something they'd rather see lumped into the "everything else" folder.

Just as important as distinguishing your messaging from other marketing and promotional messages is standing out from your competition, especially if a percentage of your list overlaps with theirs. For example, how many of your subscribers also receive email from your competition? How big is the percentage of overlap? Do these subscribers engage with your competitors' messaging more than yours? If so, what campaigns are the most successful? Make sure you have a competitive intelligence tool that can answer these questions for you.

Once you know where you stand, you need to make sure you stand out. Sound exhausting? It can be; which is why I often compare email marketing to golf. There are so many things to consider, analyze, and adjust before you even swing your club (or press send) that it's easy to experience analysis paralysis, become overwhelmed, and just keep doing what you've always done while hoping for a different outcome. Unfortunately, I can't offer any advice for improving your golf game, but I do have an effective solution for increasing your inbox placement, subscriber engagement, and the long-term health of your email program while preventing your campaigns from being lost in a pile of gray mail and competing messaging: content. Adding content-focused messaging to your email marketing strategy serves a variety of purposes:

  1. Content breaks up the monotony of a one-dimensional program focused purely on promotions, helping to prevent subscriber fatigue and disengagement by those who aren't in market to make a purchase every week or month.
  2. Content creates relevancy by providing subscribers with useful information that can improve their perception of and experience with your brand, while showcasing the value of your products/services in the context of a need or challenge a subscriber is experiencing.
  3. Content inspires viral and social sharing, as well as organic forwarding, which exposes you to a new audience of potential customers and presents your brand as a trusted resource.

What is the best way to create content for your email program? The good news is that content comes in many forms, can be repurposed across multiple marketing channels, and can likely be pulled from assets that already exist today. Here are some content ideas that work well for engaging with email subscribers:

  • Tips or advice positioning your brand as an expert resource in your vertical segment.
  • "How-to" guides featuring your products or services being used to solve common problems your customers might experience.
  • Lists featuring your products or services categorized by interest area, such as best sellers, highest customer ratings, most recommended, must have, etc.
  • Q&As with a brand-appropriate specialist who is uniquely positioned to answer your customers' questions.
  • Excerpts of discussions/interactions taking place on your social sites.

A number of brands are successfully integrating content-focused campaigns into their email marketing plans today. Here are some great examples across three verticals:

  • Home improvement. Home Depot sends campaigns with seasonal and department-focused project ideas, like how to build a vertical garden and how to update your patio to be eco-friendly. Other content assets include a Martha Stewart guide to starting your own vegetable garden and a how-to guide designed to help customers choose the right flooring material for their lifestyle and budget. Ace Hardware features content with tips and advice for common home improvement challenges, as well as tips and advice from design experts. A recent email campaign promoted a live Facebook chat with a featured expert and listed the types of questions that would be covered.
  • Online dating. sends a monthly newsletter called "Yid Dish" with advice for users on a variety of dating-related topics, including how to survive dating burnout, how to speed date, couple success stories, and online dating etiquette. sends a frequent content-focused campaign called "Singles Scoop" with humorous dating tips and advice, including how to respond to nosy questions about your love life from family and friends and first date do's and don'ts.
  • Travel. IHG starts the subscriber relationship off with an immediate dose of content by sending a four-message welcome series to educate users about its Priority Club Rewards program, including the benefits, how to earn points/miles, and how to redeem points for awards. The campaign includes quizzes that subscribers can take to earn additional bonus points. Tablet hotels sent a campaign featuring 10 hotels for music lovers highlighting properties that offered amenities such as an onsite recording studio, singing waiters, and themed rooms. Similarly, TripAdvisor regularly features campaigns with Top 10 lists, such as properties with the best swim-up pool bars and itineraries for once-in-a-lifetime trips.

Image on home page via Shutterstock.


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Margaret Farmakis

As vice president of professional services at email intelligence company Return Path, Margaret Farmakis oversees teams of specialists helping global brands improve the deliverability, response, revenue, and ROI of their email marketing programs. Prior to her six years at Return Path, Margaret spent 10 years producing and managing multi-channel integrated direct marketing programs for Fortune 100 companies, focusing on the financial services and technology sectors.

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