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Email Marketing: A Fresh Take From the Experts


Email and content are long-time buds. Subscribers are central to building a successful business. There’s no better content distribution channel than email. What would email marketers have to do if content wasn’t there to give them something to say?

In fact, 93% of B2B marketers reported using email to distribute their content in CMI/ MarketingProf’s B2B Content Marketing: 2017 Benchmarks, Budgets and Trends—North America research.

But, more importantly, 93% of those who use email consider it to be an important channel for their content marketing success.

93% of those who use email say it is an important channel for their #contentmarketing success via @cmicontent. Share on X

It’s clear that solid email strategies underpin successful content marketing efforts, but you can’t just send a weekly newsletter to your entire list and expect great results. Marketers need to create email that subscribers want to open.

A panel discussion with B2B marketing experts during Content Marketing World 2016 yielded invaluable insight into how content marketers can take their email to the next level and includes ideas about list segmentation, email relevance, and inactive subscribers.

Led by Chris Bondhus, senior director of demand generation for Brightcove, this roundtable featured Ardath Albee, B2B marketing strategist with Marketing Interactions and author of Digital Relevance; Carla Johnson, president of Type A Communications and co-author of Experiences, the 7th Era of Marketing; Skyler Moss, director of digital marketing for HCSS; and Dusty DiMercurio, content marketing and strategy, Autodesk.

Segment your list for increased relevance

You create content with a particular persona in mind, and you should do the same when drafting an email. It takes little effort to allow new subscribers to select their email preferences during their initial sign-up, but these few seconds can pay huge dividends during content delivery.

Create #content with a persona in mind when drafting an email says @andreafryrear. #cmworld Share on X

As you onboard subscribers, ask them questions like:

  • How often would you like to receive emails from us? Daily? Weekly? Monthly?
  • What particular topics are you interested in?
  • What kinds of content interest you the most? Text? Video? Infographics?

These people might be engaging with your brand for the first time so don’t overwhelm them with too many questions. But asking a few targeted questions can help you deliver an email experience that’s resonant as well as relevant (yes, there is a difference). As Ardath explains:

I know vegetables are good for me, so they’re relevant to me, but they don’t resonate. I’m not going to go on and on about my vegetables. When you get that message that is really cool, that really resonates … it makes you want to do something, it drives intent, it drives action.

When you get a message that really resonates, it drives intent & action says @ardath421. #cmworld Share on X

Providing an email message that resonates with a subscriber increases the likelihood that the recipient will do something with that content such as sharing it or taking another specific action.

Dusty offered one of his favorite email newsletters that resonates for him. He sought a subscription to a San Francisco-based email list called The Hustle because a friend shared it with him. Now, he’s an evangelist too, all because this list is, as he says, “playful and engaging. They’ve sorted out what persona I fit into …(They) are literally emails I look forward to getting.”

Think outside the newsletter

The B2B research also showed that 77% of content marketers are using email newsletters — and they are among the top five tactics that marketers say will be critical to their organization’s overall content marketing success in 2017. While newsletters are a critical tactic for many, these scheduled blasts don’t need to be your only email communication with subscribers.

77% of B2B content marketers are using email newsletters via @cmicontent. #research Share on X

It’s time to embrace behavior-based automation triggers with your email distribution.

Epsilon reports that automated emails get 152% higher click rates than broadcast emails and, when done right, these emails can create a more personal relationship with your subscribers.

Automated emails get 152% higher click rates than broadcast emails via @EpsilonMktg. #cmworld Share on X

Automation triggers should be based on your personalized buyer behaviors, but common choices include:

  • Welcome emails when new users join your service, start a trial, or create an account
  • Abandoned cart or incomplete account notifications
  • Anniversary emails to mark their time as a subscriber, customer, or both
  • Engagement-driven emails based on what a subscriber previously clicked on

If you take steps to collect some basic email preference data during the sign-up process, you can also use that to drive email automations.

For example, if one subscriber indicates liking daily emails and learning about managing a large team, it makes sense to let that subscriber know the day you launch a new e-book on structuring enterprise teams. A subscriber in a small business, however, probably isn’t interested in that content.

During the roundtable, Carla called on content marketers to keep their emails about the subscriber, not about the brand:

Too many brands, they may have that list right, but then they meander around. They’re talking about themselves first and the branding and what it is they want to say. They never get around to what is relevant and important to that persona.

Marketers need to keep their emails about the subscriber, not about the brand says @carlajohnson. #cmworld Share on X

Focus on list quality over quantity

Let’s all pause for a moment and take a deep breath, because this section is going to be a little bit painful.

We’re going to talk about removing subscribers from your email list.

On purpose.

When you struggle to build your audience on your own land by growing an email list, deliberately deleting subscribers can seem like the height of poor decision-making.

But, if not every subscriber is a member of your target audience it stands to reason that not every subscriber is good for your brand. Plus, for B2B marketers, an unengaged email subscriber is unlikely to ever turn into a high-quality sales lead.

This means that you need to set up a workflow that reaches out to subscribers who simply aren’t that into you and offer a graceful exit from their inboxes.

If someone doesn’t click on an email for six months, for example, you might send an automated email saying you’re sorry they aren’t getting value out of your content, and you’d like to save them some time by removing them from your list unless they take an action.

Surprisingly, this can actually work to bring lukewarm email lurkers into a more engaged state.

For example, Carla had received this type of email from a brand a few days before the roundtable discussion. She took action to stay on the list because the message made her feel that the brand genuinely respected her time.

Bringing your email into 2017

Email and content are still BFFs, but both need to evolve in tandem to keep up with the increasing expectations of your subscribers. To get the most out of this tried-and-true distribution channel:

  • Segment your email list based on persona and preference.
  • Supplement your regularly scheduled newsletters with behavior-based automations.
  • Keep your list lean and mean so you can deliver value to your most valuable audience members.

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute