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The Key to Creating Effective Emails

Most all email marketers ask themselves this one question: How do I keep my messages out of the spam folder? Mailify‘s CMO Eric Krattenstein says the answer is simple: content. The strategy behind that answer, however, is a bit more complicated. In a lucid (and humorous) Q&A, Krattenstein breaks down what readers are looking for in emails, the things marketers should avoid, and what the future of email marketing holds.

What makes an email message effective?
An effective email provides value to the recipient in the form of content that is both relevant and unique. Your readers are constantly flooded with emails, so as marketers we need to remember that what we deliver must not only look good but be unique and hyper-targeted to our recipients. Stand out from the overcrowded inbox by drawing the reader in with a great subject line and pre-header, and then deliver excellent content once you’ve won the open.

You’ve got to know your audience to be able to understand how to speak with them effectively. A key point here is to also remember you are speaking with your audience, not at them. If you treat email like a personal conversation—rather than a billboard—you’re on the right track.

What are readers looking for in an email from marketers?
Statistically, we know that most readers subscribe to email lists to receive discounts and promotions. Of course, that doesn’t mean every email you send needs to be selling something; it’s important to find balance. What readers are really looking for is value—and it isn’t always monetary. Share with them what you do best and how it can help them. If you run a DIY blog, share recent projects and advice. If you’re a digital marketing agency, provide useful tips for optimizing a website for Google’s latest algorithm update. 

How does content fill those needs from the audience?
Email is all about content. More and more companies today are investing time and money into content strategies designed to develop and distribute great pieces of thought leadership content in the form of eBooks, whitepapers, videos, and the like. The same qualities that cause this content to get shared and distributed are what make email subscribers want to read it.

Marketers can be extremely successful either repurposing that content for email newsletters or using email as an additional lever for viewership. Imagine a great eBook you wrote with 10 great pieces of advice. Repurpose that eBook into a series of 10 extremely helpful email newsletters to let your subscribers benefit from the same great content via the channel they’ve chosen to use.

How do you pick the right content for an audience—and the company?
Well that’s the question that marketers have been asking since the beginning of the profession, right? How do I position myself to best resonate with my viewers? Since email is just another cog in your marketing machine, the same considerations for content and tone that you apply to other marketing materials should be true to your email as well. That said, the beauty of digital marketing (and email specifically) is the ability to segment based on data. The only sure-fire way to pick the right content is to test. Split testing your email campaigns allows you to get a real world look into what makes your recipients tick. Use the results for your tests and historical engagement data to create a model for the type of content your recipients respond to and then plan accordingly.

Is a content plan really that important for email marketers?
When we speak with clients, especially small businesses, we find that one of the primary issues we encounter is the irregularity of frequency and substance in their email campaigns. Having a content strategy in place allows a marketer to schedule their campaigns ahead of time, preventing the last-minute scramble to “get an email out.” Planning ahead with your email content strategy also makes it easier for marketers to look at the big picture and plan for seasonal events or promos.

Should email marketing always be a part of a content plan?
Absolutely. With email marketing you’ve got a proven channel for matching content with eyeballs. Even if email is just a supporting player in your content strategy, the fact that it is unparalleled in terms of cost-efficiency and the relatively small amount of time it takes to execute means marketers have no reason not to use it. Email marketing is so versatile that it can always be adapted to the needs of the overall content strategy. Email could be the focus of the content—like a series of 10 informative newsletters from the previous example—or it could be another outlet for driving traffic to a landing page for content downloads and lead generation.

What should readers expect when they open an email and read content?
(I love this question.) Readers should expect to open an email and not be able to think anything other than, “Wow, this email is exactly what I needed.” If you know your audience, each email you send should be so targeted and relevant that they can’t help but believe you are inside their heads waiting for the perfect time to send that coupon or the exact piece of information they were looking for.

What would you like to see less of in email content creation?
I think one of the things I’d like to see email marketers improve on is not always feeling the need to go the “hard sales” route in every email. It requires a lot of trust in the program, but a good email marketing strategy establishes trust and builds relationships—the revenue will follow. Believe in your content.

What would you like to see more of in email content creation?
I’d love to see email marketers start to embrace a mobile-first approach to their email campaigns when it makes sense. We know the number of emails being opened via mobile devices is increasing each year, but very few marketers specifically plan for these circumstances. Designing your emails to be responsive is a good start, but it goes further. When marketers realize that the chances of their email being viewed on a mobile device are greater than it being viewed on a desktop, the entire campaign should change. Can your recipient easily complete your desired call-to-action from their smartphone? Does your landing page take too long to load on a 3G/4G connection?

What do you see for the future of email content?
The future of email is exciting. Eventually email client capabilities will catch up to the creativity and ingenuity of marketers (I’m looking at you Outlook), and email can be taken to new levels. Videos, animations, interactive experiences; all of the things that make great dynamic Web content will be delivered right to your inbox. Spam filtering and inbox segmentation will continue to improve, which will even further increase the need for email marketers to deliver exceptional content and establish great relationships or be discarded.

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