As a marketing channel, email is coming off a banner year! 2013 boasts some of the most significant investment and acquisition activity in the industry’s 20-year history (Salesforce.com acquired ExactTarget for almost $3 billion, Oracle offered $1.58 billion for Responsys). Despite the occasional sensational headline to the contrary, email marketing’s use and popularity continues to grow and technical innovations abound.
Even with email’s evolution as a marketing channel many companies are still far behind the curve when it comes to crafting a long-term, successful email messaging strategy. The problem? Resources – namely not enough time and staff.
Two and a half years ago I wrote this blog about the over-reliance on purely promotional messaging, and today there’s still much to be done in architecting better targeting, message variety, content marketing programs, and behaviorally triggered email.
So is there a blueprint for email marketing message strategy success that can work for any business? I believe there is. As I recently explained at the EEC Email Evolutions 2014 conference, the key to drafting a successful messaging blueprint is to make sure it not only mirrors the purchase consideration path of your prospects, but also enables the journey down the path to its ultimate destination: conversion.
How your company’s specific blueprint is drawn will differ from another company’s and all depends on the type of consideration path your products and services fit into.
But for now, let me share what I believe to be the essential structural elements of a successful email messaging strategy that when artfully assembled, form a connected, engaging, holistic program that your subscribers and customers will want to live in for years to come. Keeping with our architectural analogy, think of each “building block” described below as an integral part of the edifice that is your email marketing program.
Building Block #1: Foundational Messaging
Your foundational email messages are your touchstone of channel communication and should occur on a regular, consistent basis. The most obvious example of this building block is an e-newsletter or e-zine, but foundational programs could also be weekly bulletins, monthly recaps, seasonal style-guides, etc.
Foundational email messages are broadly targeted. They may be sent to your entire list without customization, or versioned for different major segments. For marketers, they make great “umbrella communications” under which a multitude of topics and content – promotional, event, educational, and even partner offers – can be blended.
Why You Need: People place credibility and trust in communications that arrive consistently and predictably because regularity breeds comfort and familiarity. These messages are important in establishing that, and in conditioning a pattern of low-commitment response and engagement which will pave the way to higher-commitment actions (keep reading).
Building Block #2: Promotional Messaging
This one’s obvious: your promotional messages exist to generate sales and bring revenue in the door. Moreover, they can and should boost product awareness and are necessary for new product introductions and launches, or product line expansion.
Why You Need: If you’re not reaping the almost on-demand revenue-producing potential of email and leveraging the direct response channel with the highest ROI, you’re missing the boat. Although you need promotional messaging it should not constitute your entire program. Next to foundational messages, though, promotional and sales messages are the infrastructure – the girders, walls and ceilings – that support the rest of your program.
Promotional messages are largely self-serving vs. audience-serving.
Building Block #3: Content Messaging
Content messages are primarily educational and informational. Their purpose isn’t to directly sell, but to alert, familiarize, train, and inform in order to influence a sale by creating prospect readiness and qualification. Many B2B email marketing programs rely heavily on content marketing as a means of “selling by way of serving first”. Content email messaging often takes the form of a series which is tightly segmented (and may splinter or branch into sub-segments depending on audience characteristics and response behavior). Lead nurturing programs and welcome/onboarding series are good examples of content-centric email messages.
Why You Need: For companies with longer and more winding consideration paths, a high volume of information is needed before prospects can commit to buying. Content messaging not only delivers that information or education, but also creates familiarity and comfort. Plus, engaging with content is a lower-commitment action than a purchase, so response is often higher. Over time, a pattern of conditioned response and trust from content messaging alleviates resistance to higher commitment actions. Plus, especially in B2C program, content messaging provides an ideal “rest” and break in a heavy promotional email schedule.
Content messaging is analogous to the electrical, plumbing, kitchens and bathrooms of a building – it provides great utility and creates illumination, comfort and flow.
Content messages are mostly audience- vs. self-focused and are service-oriented in tone.
Building Block #4: Entertainment and Engagers
Ask yourself: how FUN is your company’s email? Is there anything entertaining about it at all?
Just as every building needs a decorative style, so does your email message mix. Entertainment and engagers provide it in the form of games, contests, sweepstakes, trivia questions, surveys and feedback requests. They are designed to surprise, delight and stimulate participation. Because they are often fun, like content marketing they cultivate a pattern of conditioned response to lower-commitment actions (such as entering a sweepstakes) that paves the way for response to higher-commitment actions (like buying).
Why You Need: So many reasons! Let’s start with the fact that these messages are not only great pattern-interrupters and breaks from promotional and foundational messaging, but also ideal for data-gathering and enticing interaction in complimentary channels, such as social media. Plus, they’re almost impossible to resist because they’re easy, entertaining and not very common. They also tend to be shared and forwarded more often.
Entertainment and engagers are neither content nor-promotion centric, but rather experience-centric. They are also almost entirely audience- vs. marketer-focused.
Building Block #5: One-to-one Messaging
At some point, you’ll need to get personal. Triggered one-to-one messages like welcome, confirmation, birthday, up-sell, and browse- or purchase-abandonment emails constitute our final building block. Enabled by automated rules-based logic driven either by previous behavior or subscriber attributes, one-to-one messages are highly targeted but low in volume, sent to small percentages of your list at any one time.
Why You Need: Although low in volume, one-to-one triggered email messages like those mentioned above produce even more revenue and profit than lifecycle-targeted campaigns sent to ten times as many subscribers. Plus, one-to-one messaging supports and guides subscribers from one stage of the customer lifecycle to the next. Finally, if we’re serious about using email to cultivate long-term engagement and relationships, individually-segmented messages are a must for taking conversations and relationships to a level of greater trust and intimacy.
Every structure ultimately needs to be furnished with finishing touches that make it unique. One-to-one email provides exactly the specificity, exclusivity and individuality subscribers crave and value. It may take a little more work, but don’t leave it out of your mix.
Assembling Your Masterpiece
Now that you know the structural elements of a successful message strategy, it’s your job to fashion them into an email marketing program of lasting value, beauty and interest. Which building blocks do you already successfully use and which are you missing? Which are you now inspired to add? Tell me in comments below.
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