Email content strategy: 2 ways to build up your email program

Tammi Miller

Tammi Miller

6 minute read

A well-rounded email program does more than just send messages that say “Buy this.” You can communicate effectively and continuously with an email program that includes many kinds of content and messages that align with your email content strategy and goals.

Effective email messages combine captivating images and optimized design with strong copy in  articles and offers. Images capture attention. Good design helps readers navigate through the message. Strong copy engages, nurtures and retains customers. These relevant conversations build long-term relationships and increase customer lifetime value.

Don’t lose the customer with too many of the same messages

While sales messages and other promotional content are useful, you can burn out your list if “Buy this” is the only message you send. Your audience will tune out by unsubscribing, hitting the “report spam” button or quietly disengaging (deleting messages without opening them or letting them pile up in their inboxes).

When you send valuable and relevant information beyond the usual “Buy this” or “Sign up for this” offer, you can establish yourself as a helpful and trusted brand – one that will be top of mind when your recipients are ready to act.

Build trust

Content that helps customers find answers or solve problems builds trust – an essential quality today and one your brand must score high on to be successful. The authoritative Edelman Trust Barometer Special Report: Brand Trust in 2020 reveals that trust is second only to price as a factor driving consumer buying decisions.

You have many channels at your disposal to build trust with your customers. That well-rounded email program we mentioned at the beginning can be one of your most effective ways to build trust because you’re reaching customers in that most personal of spaces – the email inbox.

Uncover relevant content

Your email content strategy needs to be about more than what you want to say. Instead, you need to consider what your customers want or need to hear.

Your content must quickly answer the reader’s unspoken question: “What’s in it for me?” Focusing your message on benefits and value instead of features shows subscribers why they should care. Meet customers where they are and remind them–overtly or subtly–why their lives will be better because they engage with you.

Tailoring your content strategy to meet your audience’s needs ensures you’ll send relevant, valuable content that drives long-term customer value.

But what, exactly, are your audience’s wants and needs? How can you help them achieve their goals? What prompts them to act? What keeps your brand in their set of considered brands?

You should be able to form answers to these questions by assessing what you already know about your audience using these two methods:

• Consider your customer’s journey as it relates to interacting with your brand, and make sure you have all the necessary content to support those tasks.
• Review your client engagement data to understand the types of content that gets the best traction.

1. Create content for the customer journey

Your customer journey offers you many opportunities for relevant messages that expands your collection beyond “Buy this.”

Your journey could take the form of a sales/conversion funnel or an email subscriber lifecycle, depending on your business model. Either way, you’ll want to focus on messages that drive actions at key stages. This helps you map content opportunities that best answer the questions we posed in the previous section. The visual below provides an example of content ideas that help support the email subscriber lifecycle.

content mapping across subscriber lifecycle
Mapping content across the email subscriber lifecycle ensures your email program has messages that help drive customer actions and are aligned with your business goals.

Automation is the driving force here. You can use new content to optimize your current message programs or to add new triggered messages based on behavior.

For example, customers who just bought from you for the first time would likely find value in content showing them how to get the most  from their purchases. In contrast, an email subscriber who is still in your onboarding or consideration phase would be more interested in trust-building or educational content.

You have endless ways to align content with subscribers’ behaviors. That’s why you must prioritize the most important actions you need customers to take to meet your business goals and to identify where you might have more opportunities to deliver a value exchange for both the brand and the customer.

2. Create content that gets clicks

If you want to expand on an existing content strategy or optimize your email newsletter, look at all  the ways your audience engages with your emails.

Start with link-click activity

This gives you insights on the kinds of content that resonate most with your readers. Start with your post-delivery reports (opens, clicks, conversions, etc.) and click heatmaps, which show what readers are clicking on most. Your ESP should deliver these shortly after your campaign concluded. But don’t stop there!

Aggregate and analyze your data

Look for trends and begin to identify strategic opportunities. This is the true value of your post-campaign analysis and your starting point for content development and optimization.

The content you send subscribers can easily be categorized and grouped to better answer the question: “What type of content is performing best among my audience?”

However you choose to organize the content you send, the key is to tag and track performance at the link level as often as possible and to aggregate the results in ways that give you the best insights about your audience.

At Trendline, we use an analysis report deliverable called the Content Leaderboard (see sample below). We recommend updating this report at least every three months to monitor content performance for optimization.  We also suggest including new or miscellaneous content that you are testing to see how it performs against your standard categories.

The Content Leaderboard in action: This report aggregates email content click activity providing a bird’s eye view of the most engaging content types. NOTE: The above report image is for illustrative purposes only and does NOT contain actual results or data.

At the campaign or program level, analyzing content performance by type allows you to identify best-performing (highest total click-through rate) content, both for each type and overall. These insights give you the direction you need to develop a content strategy for the messages your subscribers will value and act on.

At the subscriber level, you can develop solid strategies for content personalization and audience segmentation when you  know what engages your subscribers and moves them to act.

With automation, you can create multiple editions of a single newsletter to appeal to different segments. Here are three possibilities:

  • Use dynamic content that targets specific segments with content that matches their interests, needs, or location. This module can feature default content, such as a general-interest story, for subscribers on whom you don’t have data for segmentation.
  • Change the newsletter’s content hierarchy to highlight articles that certain segments are most likely to click on, thus increasing engagement.
  • Add a “You might also like” module that selects content based on previous click activity.

Take time to expand your email content

Content is the key to continued engagement and subscriber retention. But not just any content will do. It must be relevant to your customer’s needs, interest, or position on the customer journey. This should be at the heart of your content development strategy.

All of this takes time and effort, of course. You can’t expect to move from a simple “Buy this” message format to a complex set of automated messages that align with the steps on your customer journey overnight. Also, uncovering content ideas that are relevant to your brand and align with client interests takes creativity, testing and data.

The best tactic: Review your entire content program along with your business goals. This will show you where the “big rocks” are – the challenges you need to overcome first.

Do you need to convert more prospects into customers? Consider expanding your welcome email into an onboarding program that encourages subscribers to buy, such as linking back to your website with an incentive.

But you don’t have to limit your options to incentives, especially if you are worried about training new customers to wait for discounts before buying:

  • Share customer testimonials to build trust – one of the top Edelman concerns, as we mentioned at the start of this post – and give them a reason to believe.
  • Anticipate questions with an FAQ.
  • Encourage engagement by inviting new members to join a user community or social group.

Whether you’re just starting to build up your email program, or you’re evolving it to the next level, remember that building up on content is the foundation for an email program that builds loyalty and trust with subscribers.

Trendline Interactive

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About the Author(s)

Tammi Miller

Principal Consultant at Trendline Interactive. She’s an experienced email marketing professional with 11+ years experience leading email channel strategy, across acquisition, member retention, CRM & data analytics for high-volume B2C, B2B & e-commerce brands.

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