Ten Steps for Developing an Effective E-mail Strategy, Part 4

Welcome back! If you’ve been following along you have the first five steps of your e-mail strategy done. If you’re just joining us, it’s not too late! Check out parts one, two, and three of this series. There’s still time to catch up. If you start today, you can have a complete e-mail strategy by June.

Once again, here are the 10 steps required to develop an effective e-mail strategy:

  1. Identify your qualitative goals
  2. Analyze your current situation
  3. Complete a competitive analysis
  4. Define your target audience
  5. Determine which type(s) of e-mail meet your needs
  6. Develop a content strategy, frequency and send schedule
  7. Design the e-mail template(s)
  8. Create quantitative goals
  9. Compile budget and ROI projections
  10. Evaluate your results and tweak your strategy accordingly

These come from the “strategy” section of my new book. The publisher is offering this chapter free of charge, if you want more detail about the process. Also in the chapter is a case studylike example, so you can see how it’s done.

Part 1 went into the importance of developing an e-mail strategy and walked through the first two steps: identifying your qualitative goals and analyzing your current situation. A month ago, we hit steps 3 and 4: completing a competitive analysis and defining your target audience. We then spoke in detail about determining which e-mail types meet your needs. Today, we’ll cover developing a content strategy, complete with frequency and send schedule.

Develop an E-mail Content Strategy, Frequency and Send Schedule

Once you’ve decided what type of e-mail to send, you must finalize a content strategy and set frequency and send days and times.

A content strategy should include:

  • A detailed but general description of the content that will be included in each e-mail title.
  • Frequency for each e-mail title.
  • Production schedule, detailing the process and timing for each e-mail title.
  • A consolidated send calendar, adjusted for holidays and other events that challenge your ability to publish.
  • An ongoing editorial schedule with topics, writing resources, and deadlines.

For a newsletter, a content description might say:

  • Opening Paragraph (50 words or less)
  • Article 1: Review of industry White paper. We’ll choose one third-party white paper per issue and provide a review (500 words or less) of its strengths and weaknesses, with a link where readers can get the full document.
  • Article 2: Industry news roundup. This will include 3 to 5 brief blurbs (each 100 words or less) about key happenings, with links to the full original source.
  • Ad 1 (468 x 60 full horizontal banner) –- House ad, rotated between product A, product B and service C.
  • Article 3: New industry job postings. List of 3 to 5 job openings (title, company, geographic location, description; 50 words or less each), with a link to view the full job descriptions and the rest of the employment database on our Web site
  • Ad 2 (125 x 125 square button). Third-party ad; if no third-party advertiser, then house ad
  • Article 4: Alternate between (a) profile of an industry VIP and (b) interview with an industry expert. The profile will be written in the third-person, interviews will use a question/answer format. No more than 750 words, full text being included in the e-mail.

These general guidelines will structure each issue of the e-mail title.

Content should drive frequency. Start by determining the maximum frequency your resources will allow. One person who has other responsibilities on top of e-mail may be able to publish a daily e-mail tip (short-form editorial). They’d have a lot more trouble trying to produce a 4-article e-mail newsletter (long-form editorial) or catalog e-mail (long-form promotional) on a daily basis.

Consider your readers. While they may enjoy a daily tip, there’s a good chance sending a daily e-mail newsletter is too much. And sending that daily e-mail newsletter along with a daily catalog e-mail would be a recipe for e-mail disaster, assuming you even had the resources to pull it off. Focus on the frequency your readers will want to see your content.

The correct frequency is one that works for you and for your readers. When in doubt, less is more. Better to do a good monthly e-mail newsletter than a mediocre weekly one. Here’s a sample frequency list:

  • Customer E-mail Newsletter (Monthly)
  • Prospect E-mail Newsletter (Monthly)
  • Promotional Postcard E-mail (2X month)
  • Press Release E-mail (Weekly)

The production schedule is pretty straightforward. Figure out all the tasks that need to be accomplished for each e-mail and put them in a spreadsheet. Then, assign a number of days (or hours) to each. When you know how long the entire process takes, you can back that out of the send date (don’t forgot to blackout weekends, holidays and other non-work days).

The send calendar takes your frequency and sets a specific day and time for each send, taking into account holidays. Here’s a sample:

  • Customer E-mail Newsletter (Monthly, first Tuesday at noon)
  • Prospect E-mail Newsletter (Monthly, third Tuesday at noon)
  • Promotional Postcards (2X month, second and fourth Thursdays at 3:00 PM)
  • Press Releases (Weekly, Wednesdays at 2:00 p.m.)

An editorial calendar takes the content description from general to specific. Here’s an example, building on the content description above:

Customer E-mail Newsletter – April 12 Issue
Copy Deadline: April 9, 2007
Send Date: April 12, 2007

  • Opening Paragraph (50 words max)
    • Written by Susan Marks
    • Brief overview of current issue highlighting new spam regulations (article 2, item 1) and Profile of Yellow Bug Interactive founders (article 4)
  • Article 1: Review of industry white paper (500 words max)
    • Written by Megan Eklund
    • Review of ABC Company’s newest white paper on deliverability
  • Article 2: Industry news roundup (3 to 5, 100 words each max)
    • Written by Laura Hanrahan
    • (1) New spam regulations, (2) Merger between LJJ Inc. and WeDoE-mail, (3) Promotion of Christine Schadler, Carter Industries
  • Ad 1 (468 x 60 full horizontal banner)
    • Product A
  • Article 3: New industry job postings (3 to 5, 50 words max)
    • Written by Alexi Martinez
    • (1) E-mail Marketing Manager, Karl-Anikka Consulting, (2) Director of E-commerce, Erik Brandon & Company, (3) Production Assistant, Blue Jay Creative
  • Ad 2 (125 x 125 square button)
    • Third-party ad from JSJ Consulting
  • Article 4: Alternate between (a) profile of an industry VIP and (b) interview with an industry expert (profile this issue; 750 words max)
    • Written by Wayne Bartholomew
    • Profile of Jane and Bill Thomas, founders of Yellow Bug Interactive Group

That’s a quick thumbnail on how to create your content strategy. Take some time over the next two weeks and let me know if you have questions. At that point, Part 5 will be posted covering steps 7 and 8:

7. Design the e-mail template(s)
8. Create quantitative goals

Until next time,

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