August 21, 2023 Content Chat Recap: How To Improve Your Email Marketing Content Strategy

A Content Chat header image that says today’s topic is how to improve your email marketing content strategy with guest Jessica Best, who is @BestofJess on Twitter/X.

More than 10% of marketers send emails to their subscribers daily, which begs the question—what is an effective email marketing strategy? And how can you find the right cadence for your brand, based on your goals?

In this #ContentChat recap, Erika joins Jessica Best, owner and chief strategist at BetterAve, to dig into the nuances of email and provide actionable ways you can improve your email marketing content strategy.

Watch the full conversation on YouTube or read through the highlights below.

Q1: To set a scope for this chat: what kinds of email marketing do brands send to their communities, and how do they fit into a comprehensive content strategy?

Email marketing is a core part of a healthy channel mix because it can steadily make money for brands in a trackable way.

“10 years ago we kept getting articles [saying] everything died—email is dead, now social media is dead. [But] it was never dying, right? It’s all part of the channel mix. And one of the things that we realized during the pandemic was [that] this is something that steadily makes money for brands. And suddenly it was one of the only ways we could trackably make money for our brands. There’s been this real movement in marketing to start to partner more with email marketing and what that first-party database of email address identifiers can really do for you.” – Jessica Best

First-party email lists power your other channels and help you find new prospective buyers.

“It also helps power and identify some of our other channels. Paid media can use existing first-party email lists not only to target those same people, but to target people who look like those people.” – Jessica Best

Email marketing can span a range of types, such as transactional emails, email newsletters, promotional emails, review request emails, sponsorship emails, re-engagement emails, and more.

“What does email marketing mean? It used to mean newsletters a lot more than it does now. B2C we see a lot more product- or value-focused emails.” – Jessica Best

Q2: What do brands often get wrong when it comes to their email marketing content?

Email marketing is one-to-one, but many brands send emails that are personalized no further than saying “Hi [Fname]!”

“One of the things that people seem to forget about email marketing is that it is one-to-one. It is personal. And yet, what do we see people still doing? We see so many marketers sending something that says, ‘Hi, Erika!’ and they’re like, ‘Oh, yeah, we personalize our emails.’ But then the whole email is exactly the same email that everyone else in my segment is getting.” – Erika Heald

“I’m a big proponent of making sure that you get a return on your effort. So it’s not just a return on investment. If I had to make a million versions of my newsletter in order for the articles to be super relevant to everybody on the newsletter list, it wouldn’t pay me back. First name still works better than almost everything I’ve tested, it’s just not the only tool we have.” – Jessica Best

Provide your subscribers with a way to tell you their preferences.

“I buy a lot of things from King Arthur Baking, but the emails that I get from them frequently have things I can’t eat, because I’m allergic to wheat. I don’t buy anything with wheat from them, so they know that from my buying history. And I’d happily tell them if they gave me the opportunity to give them that feedback through a checkbox and a profile or something.” – Erika Heald

“I think email marketers sometimes are overwhelmed by how much we could do. And it feels like it’s really hard to do. You just said two ways, it’s really easy! One: Check my buying history. Create a segment for that. [Two:] Just ask. I will literally tell you, I want to be on your gluten-free list. And all you have to do is send me only that 25% of recipes that you send out that are gluten-free or gluten-friendly.” – Jessica Best

Dig into your purchasing data to understand what customers might want from you through email.

“You could understand the buying patterns if you dug into that data. What do people who buy gluten-free flour typically buy more often than everybody else? Or what is the next most likely product? Well, they’re buying all of the bakeware. It’s all that first-party CRM data; you have to be looking at that.” – Jessica Best

Remember: You are likely not the persona you are trying to reach. Your email preferences are not the same as those of your subscribers.

“We as marketers sometimes go, ‘Obviously, the answer is this.’ And we need to sort of check ourselves and come back to the data a little bit. Make sure we are representative of our audience. If the audience is Jessica, party of one, sure, we can go with my gut all day long. But otherwise, we probably need to think about what that data is telling us. And if you don’t know, then test it.” – Jessica Best

NEVER buy an email list.

“Especially in 2023, buying an audience is done now. We can’t get away with that. We’ve got four states that have made it illegal and all of the EU, all of Canada.” – Jessica Best

Q3: How can marketers use images or videos to create a more engaging content experience?

When promoting videos in your email, include a line of copy that explains what the video is (and how long it is). Add a button with a call-to-action like ‘watch now.’

“We’re using video in email, but we’re kind of faking it. We’re doing the still shot with the play button over it, a line of copy, and a button that says ‘watch video’. We’re making sure there’s a ‘why click’ in there. What am I going to get if I click through? And we have to label those videos with what they’re going to see. And a lot of that stems around how long it’s going to be. Labeling the length of the videos right on the still [shows] people how long they are in for.” – Jessica Best

Be mindful of file size when including images or videos in your email.

“We were a little bit nervous that images in general, especially high-resolution images, were gonna get in spam filters. We’re seeing that go away a little bit, but I will warn you that not everyone’s connection is as good as what you are currently experiencing on your daytime work computer.” – Jessica Best

Use videos and images to showcase emotion and further explain the value or purpose of what you are selling or trying to accomplish.

“We’ve changed to be a lot more visual as an audience because of what we’ve learned from social media. So try to tread wisely, make sure that you’re using videos that fit, and that you are doing the fake version of a video insert. That’s one of the things that we can show consistently lifts response rates in email, not just good imagery, but good video imagery and good video content.” – Jessica Best

“Especially if you’re selling something that people are not going to necessarily intrinsically know what the ease of use or the impact is, being able to tease it with that promo still is going to make them click through because they want to see how they can have that amazing results themselves.” – Erika Heald.

Q4: Personalization is a hot topic when it comes to email marketing. How can marketers personalize their email content in an authentic and helpful way?

Personalization requires you to understand your distinct personas. Regularly invite your subscribers to share their preferences with you, and listen to their behavioral actions.

“Send them a survey and ask them about things that you want them to tell you their feelings on. Or listen through behavioral actions. I will tell you through my clicks or explicitly if you asked me for a checkbox what my preferences are.” – Jessica Best

A/B testing can help you refine general messages and delivery.

“A/B split test your copy, remembering that you only test one thing at a time. You want to make sure that you can roll out applicable results—you test Copy A versus Copy B, and you just learned Copy A won, but you probably can’t use that exact copy again. So what did you learn? Set up your tests in a way that mimics the idea of a market researcher. Find the mechanism that works best or the messaging that works best for your audience.” – Jessica Best

Jessica explains the four axes of personalization—with plenty of examples—starting at 25:25 in the recording.

“Typically, I talk about personalization or data-driven marketing across four axes. One is going to be timing-based, I am sending this to you at the moment you’re likely to need it. The second one is content. [The third one] is analysis. The fourth piece is attribution.” – Jessica Best

Personalization should extend to your partner emails, too!

“So frequently we got one of those partner emails, it is a generic email they send out to everybody as a message from our partner. But, going back to [an earlier example], you sold me the Winnebago? Well, I’m going to need melamine or other non-breakable fancy plates, right? I’m going to need an extra set of sheets. All of these different brands that share your brand values and share some overlapping audiences, you can be working with them to send highly personalized, targeted emails to your customers.” – Erika Heald

Q5: What makes for an effective email call-to-action to drive content engagement?

“Click here” likely won’t perform as well as value-based CTAs. Experiment with different copy to see what resonates with your unique audience. When possible, put your offer as the CTA.

“It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that actual ‘get $5 off’ or those types of value-based CTAs started outperforming ‘learn more’ and ‘buy now.’ Make sure you’re testing it. And test your email on multiple devices and make sure that the button copy fits inside the button. You need clarity and brevity.” – Jessica Best

“It also depends if you have a less tech-savvy audience or an older audience, they might need the ‘click here’ language to know that’s what they’re supposed to do. Whereas if you have an audience that is more tech-savvy and constantly buying things online, they don’t need ‘click here.'” – Erika Heald

Vary your CTA based on the stage of the buying cycle your subscriber is in.

“Different CTAs work for different parts of your buyer’s cycle. If you’re in the ‘I just got a new subscriber from paid media’ stage, ‘buy now’ is really aggressive. More info. Compare products. Find a plan that works for you. Make those info CTAs align with earlier stage nurtures.” – Jessica Best

Q6: How can marketers measure their email marketing success to identify areas for improvement? What KPIs should they be looking at?

Audience growth is one way to track your email marketing success.

“You can measure your marketing in three ways. Audience growth, usually list growth of some kind (which isn’t entirely [in the] email marketing team’s control).” – Jessica Best

Audience engagement is a great way to measure your results, but don’t place too much value on your open rate. Open rates are often inaccurate, given changes in iOS and Outlook’s process for pre-loading emails.

“Engaged audience or engagement from the audience is the big middle juicy section. Yeah, we grew, but how many stayed on the list? How many of them have opened? What is our open rate per email or our openers rate over the course of a month? In the engagement section, we lost a big piece of our truth when iOS started opening stuff without the user saying. iOS devices were going to pre-open emails as a privacy measure. Whether that person read it or not, it wasn’t tracked. Open has always been fuzzy math.” – Jessica Best

Assess how email is helping to drive the bottom line.

“The third component is ‘I need to know what I’m doing to drive the bottom line.’ That’s either a leading indicator like where to buy an offline product [or a direct trackable sale].” – Jessica Best

UTMs are incredibly helpful for tracking actions within your email, just be sure to include a ‘medium’ marker with email. Hubspot explains how to set up UTMs here.

Q7: Can you share any examples of highly effective brand email marketing messages or campaigns?

Erika and Jessica discuss their favorite brand email marketing examples starting at 43:55 in the recording.

Q8: How can teams use AI to improve their email marketing success?

Use AI to recommend products based on your subscriber’s shopping history.

“If you have more than one product or service, the ‘next best product’ recommendation is something that we’ve been using for years that is technically AI.” – Jessica Best

AI can analyze massive amounts of data much faster than humans can. Use AI to accelerate your research so you can get actionable insights using your customer data. Don’t worry, AI isn’t going to take your job!

“AI is going to take my job? No, it’s not. Right now, you might get an OK draft or correction from [AI], but coming up with a net new idea based on what it found is purely human.” – Jessica Best

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