Corralling Email Content To Create Value


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There are a lot of supposed monarchies when it comes to email marketing. Depending on the conversation, content rules one day, the user holds the crown on the next, and data picks up responsibilities on weekends.

With that many claims to the throne, you’d think messaging would be easier!

In reality, they’re multiple facets of the same challenge: aligning content to balance sender and subscriber needs. So, how should we think about constructing messages that a subscriber finds interesting and meaningful?

This post isn’t meant to be a mediation on content strategy or content marketing, but rather a simple look at ways to organize content that subscribers are likely to find valuable.

Distilling Messages From Diverse Content Sets

Content that stands well on its own — an interesting foundation, compellingly written and aligned to audience interests — is obviously an ideal starting point for individual pieces of content. Even independently-compelling content is only a starting point, though, and may not be enough to sustain an audience over time.

Any source of online content goes through a development process in regard to that content. With limited volume, the mere presence of content creates value. As the amount of content expands, value partially shifts to the ability to navigate that content. As both content and navigation expand, volume becomes overwhelming or mundane, so the value add becomes pathfinding (guiding subscribers through content) or curation (which lends meaning to the content).

At this point, both organic and manufactured methods of navigation are available, so value returns again to quality. Now, though, it’s about both the quality of navigation methods and the quality of content itself.

Let’s think about pathfinding and curation for a moment – what mechanisms can we introduce to help subscribers traverse content? This can happen at the highest and lowest levels, from a creative contact strategy to dynamic recommendations to curated messages. A few specific methods jump to mind:

  • Timing – content relevant via the contemporary nature of its subject or publishing. Primary method of news and editorial content.
  • Category – content unified via a shared trait (product type, price, brand, etc). Primary method of navigating retail.
  • Search – user defined pathfinding based on specified parameters.
  • Reviews – pathfinding defined via qualitative user response.
  • Behavior – pathfinding defined via past user activity. Examples include content sets such as “users also bought…”, “users also viewed…” and so forth.
  • Curation – manually created content sets, either anonymously or themed.

All of these, except perhaps search, have direct translations to email. Among those, most can even be automated or data-driven, if desired. Think about timing, category, reviews and behavior – all make very natural transitions into a data-driven model.

Curation, though, is notably manual – in fact, the whole attraction of this approach is the idea that even in a data-driven world there’s a place for messages and content that are specially constructed.

With that idea in mind, let’s jump into a few specific examples of how you might use this kind of approach to guide message content. I’m thinking about messages that compel me to act, and am using a few easy starting points to get us moving.

Using Themes To Structure Content

Independently themed content is one of the hallmarks of promotional calendars. More generally, centering content around a theme helps create a purpose for communications. Taken even further, themes can help subscriber navigate, whether it’s a full path through content or simply a comfortable starting point.

  • Categories – product categories are a natural starting point for theming, but the content planning shouldn’t stop there. Push beyond and use supporting information to give the theme additional meaning or intrigue. This can be done with a unifying element like color, and element of timeliness like season, or another unifying characteristic. This approach is readily apparent when you look at how retailers construct promotions, but many don’t use it or have never brought this kind of thematic presentation to their email programs.
  • Holidays – there are plenty of themes already on the calendar. Some come with a clear expectation (Christmas, Valentine’s, etc), but others can be used for interesting alternate promotions, or to present brand-building opportunities. Variety can also be created via invented holidays, whether they are tongue-in-cheeck, small scale messaging tactics or fully realized promotions.
  • Curation – the next step is actually providing a guided tour through content. This can be as simple as carefully selected content to actually promoting the personalities that select message content. This is the basic idea behind blogging and the idea can translate quite well to marketing communications. The key is that the content and/or curator must hold meaning for the audience. Many retailers have dabbled with this kind of content, and sites with significant variety (such as Etsy) thrive on it.

Leveraging Social Content

Let’s move past general ideas and think about ways to use non-standard sources for individual content elements. Social content can come in a few varieties, from the interactions taking place on social networks to the socially-impactful content you may already possess. All are based on the same idea, though – customers’ opinions and behavior related to your products create value to other customers.

  • Highlight comments – use a post, tweet, or other comment to highlight a product or service (assuming this makes legal and contextual sense for your brand). These can take a lot of flavors, so some creativity may be required to work it into the message, but there’s strength in that variety. It’s one of the most genuine pieces of information about your brand, so there are lots of possibilities here.
  • Let popularity drive – basing a promotion on a theme as simple as “our most popular…” is very compelling, with instant social validation. Some data work may be required, but it’s not required to happen in the email – this can be a static promotion. It’s a great theme for a message or a compelling CTA.
  • Feature reviews and the highly rated – leverage review information, from “top rated” to quotes from individual reviews. It makes great individual content, and can easily translate to an entire message.

The question of how to create content and messages subscribers will find compelling and valuable sits at the forefront of every email marketer’s mind.

Do you have examples or a compelling approach to your own content? Drop a line below.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Channel: Email Marketing | Email Marketing | Email Marketing Column


About The Author: is Global Practice Manager, Design Solutions at ExactTarget. He heads email design execution and standards at ExactTarget and works with leading brands across a range of industries, from Expedia to Bank of America. Find him on Twitter @cstudabaker and ask what board games he's playing lately.

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