June 3, 2024 #ContentChat Recap: How Content Marketers Can Create More Engaging Email Content

A Content Chat header image featuring an array of flowers behind a text overlay that says today’s topic is how content marketers can create more engaging email content, with host Erika Heald and guest Julie Revelant.

“Email feels so personal, right? You get excited when you get an email. What did they want to tell me? What do I need to know? What am I missing out on? Marketers really need to be taking advantage of this channel.”—Julie Revelant

In this #ContentChat recap, Erika Heald is joined by Julie Revelant, B2B healthcare writer and owner of Revelant Writing, to discuss how content marketers can create more engaging email content. They explore why email marketing is a valuable investment, the types of content-centric emails organizations can consider sending, and tips for boosting your email click-throughs and conversions.

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

Q1: Why is email marketing a valuable investment for marketing teams? 

Email is a powerful channel for delivering personalized content. 

“For decades now, we’ve been talking about wanting to adopt personalization and customization and tailor content to the individual. Those capabilities are available in a lot of different channels; however, some of the most accessible ways of doing that are through email. But a lot of folks don’t recognize that that’s something they should be thinking about. Or that it’s going to really drive things forward.”—Erika Heald

Most people check their email first thing in the morning, and everyone on email checks it at least once a day. 

“Research shows that 78% of people who work full time check their email when they wake up in the morning. Before they do anything else—before they grab coffee—they are checking email.”—Julie Revelant

“Studies also show that almost 100% of users who are on email check their email every day.”—Julie Revelant

A lot of companies are missing out on opportunities to engage customers and support their content goals through email. 

“I find that many companies in the B2B healthcare space, in particular, are not sending emails. And they’re missing out on a huge opportunity.”—Julie Revelant

Email can deliver a 600% return on investment. 

“You’re getting a huge ROI. 600% ROI on email. It’s like, why wouldn’t you?”—Julie Revelant 

Email can be especially helpful in supporting B2B buying cycles, where customers conduct research and consume content on their own before making a purchasing decision. 

“In B2B in general, it’s becoming even more important because buyers are taking less face-to-face meetings, virtual meetings, and they’re spending more time in the digital ecosystem. They’re consuming content across various channels. By the time they get to you, they’re maybe 75-80% of the way there in terms of their decision. You need to be optimizing your email and leveraging it. It’s an amazing way to educate buyers, to build brand awareness, to build relationships, to stay top of mind.”—Julie Revelant

Email is a great channel for amplifying your existing content or repackaging it to address an individual buyer’s needs. 

“If you’re already creating content, you should be sharing that on email. You should be sharing new company happenings, announcements, new solutions, new research reports you’ve published. If your SMEs or your C-suite leaders have been interviewed—you should be sharing that.”—Julie Revelant

Best of all: You own your email marketing data.

“You own your email list and you own your email content in a way that you don’t own your social media profiles or your ability to get in front of all of your social media followers. It is really important to think about how you can use email as that primary owned channel.”—Erika Heald

Q2: What types of content-centric emails can organizations consider sending? 

B2B brands should find inspiration from consumer-facing brands. What emails do you open? What value do they give you? 

“In B2B, we should be looking to consumer-facing brands, because they’re doing it well.”—Julie Revelant

Deliver emails that move your customer forward in their journey. If they take an action, consider whether an email could support them in that action or guide them through their next step. 

“In content and your email strategy, I love taking notes from influencers, if you will, or course creators. When you engage with brands like that, they immediately send you an email, and then they send you four more emails. And it’s not annoying. It works. It’s effective. The best B2B brands I’ve seen are those that take that opportunity; when someone engages in some way, they send them a welcome email.”—Julie Revelant

Set expectations with your subscribers and explain what you will provide through email and how often.

“Completely underutilized, I’ve seen maybe one company do this in the B2B healthcare space: Sending an email with ‘Hey, thanks for doing X action or downloading that piece of content. Here’s what you can expect, this is a little about our company, here are some other pieces of content that we think you may get value from, and here’s what you can expect.’ Maybe you’re going to hear from us once a week or once a month. Or here’s what you should expect in terms of what we’re going to send you or what we’re working on.”—Julie Revelant

Use email to humanize your brand and establish a point of contact for customers.

“It’s not asking for the sale. This is coming from a person at the company, and this is how you can reach out to us.”—Julie Revelant

Promote your research findings and provide your readers with interesting statistics or takeaways. 

“If you just spent months creating an original research report, those are so valuable. They’re newsworthy. People love numbers, they want to know the latest trends.”—Julie Revelant

Build excitement (and drive registrations) leading up to an event.

“Anytime you’re hosting a webinar. One of my clients does a really good job of this. They send out not only an announcement, but they’re sending out speakers that were just announced. Just because you’re sending it on email doesn’t mean that someone is going to see that particular email. They need constant reminders.”—Julie Revelant

Showcase customer case studies, share video content, promote executive interviews or media coverage, provide checklists, send out a survey, and offer behind-the-scenes content. 

“Customer case studies. Anytime you create a video. If your C-suite has been interviewed in the media or has conducted a podcast interview, that’s great content. I also like behind-the-scenes content. And then also checklists, surveys, anything like that.”—Julie Revelant

Q3: What do marketers often do wrong when creating email content? 

Many brands send no emails at all, or they don’t send enough. 

“They’re not doing it all. They’re not sending emails at all, there’s not strategy. It’s not a priority.”—Julie Revelant

“Not sending emails enough. Maybe there is kind of a strategy in place and they send an email once a month. [But] that’s not enough.”—Julie Revelant

Enable people to respond to your brand emails and customize the “From” field to be a person’s name.  

“B2B brands have a tendency to send emails that the return address is ‘No Reply’ and they have notes that say ‘This email account is not monitored.’ And it just comes from the nameless brand logo. And that’s so horrible because that’s three things you’re not supposed to do if you want to actually engage people with email.”—Erika Heald

“Personalization. It should come from someone at a company. You should be personalizing your subject line. You should be capturing names and then personalizing emails accordingly. It should come from someone at the company, even if it’s not their personal email, maybe you set up another one with their name.”—Julie Revelant

Subject lines should appeal to the “What’s in it for me?” for the recipient.

“Bad email subject lines. What a big offender this one is. I come across these really dry email subject lines. What are you telling me? Why do I want to open it? What are you offering me? I’m not going to open something that doesn’t add value, that doesn’t want me to click it.”—Julie Revelant

Marketing teams need a strategy for their email content.

“People are focused just on newsletters, versus an actual email strategy campaign. And as a result, you’re getting emails that are filled with copy. No one’s reading that.”—Julie Revelant

Q4: What are the essential elements of a content-focused email marketing strategy? 

Your organization needs to define the business brand and document your brand voice before you can effectively scale your email content creation. 

“First and foremost, like any other piece of content, you need to have your brand strategy, your brand messaging framework in place. You need to know why you exist, what your company offers, how it’s different, how you do it, how you deliver it. And then, of course, your buyer personas and all of your key messaging.”—Julie Revelant

Set a goal for your email content. What do you hope to accomplish using email?

“The second step is to know your goal. Why are we sending email? Because some guru said we should? No. You’re sending emails because you want to stay top of mind, you want to build brand awareness, you want to generate leads, you want to target different areas of the buyer’s journey. Know your goals around that.”—Julie Revelant

Understand your audience segments and create an email strategy for each segment. Many email marketing tools enable you to send tailored emails to distinct segments easily.

“Audience segmentation. You can segment your audience by job function, buyer persona, organization type, customer lifecycle stages. Know who you’re talking to and what you want to say, because that can be different depending on your buyer personas or any of the other demographics.”—Julie Revelant

“Segment your audience according to their engagement with your content. If you have very engaged users, they’re clicking and they’re reading, send them some exclusive content. Send them behind-the-scenes content. Make them feel special. People are giving you their email address, they’re giving you their name, they’re maybe giving you their job title and maybe a phone number. So give them value in return. You can send them exclusive promotions, exclusive content.”—Julie Revelant

“All of those ways that you’re talking about segmenting your audiences, those are all things that, if you have an email marketing tool that allows you to use dynamic content, you’re able to define variables for all those different things that are important for your messaging. So you can have that one email you’re sending out, but each person could get a completely different version, because snippets of what’s included or the image that you use, or the language you use for a specific sentence—all of those different things could be created and customized based on them fitting into one or more separate or even overlapping categories.”—Erika Heald

Incorporate audience feedback and surveying into your email content strategy. 

“Use that channel to conduct surveys to gather additional data on these users so you can better understand them.”—Julie Revelant

Create an editorial calendar to guide your content. 

“Like any content marketing strategy, you should have an editorial calendar. This is another area where B2B, or marketers for that matter, falls short. Have that editorial calendar, know what you’re going to send out every week, every month. What your themes are, how it all kind of revolves around your other pieces of content.”—Julie Revelant

A/B test your content to learn the most effective approaches for engaging your subscribers and appealing to their individual needs.

“Test everything. A/B test everything. See what works and don’t be married to it.”—Julie Revelant

“Add value. Answer the question ‘What is in it for me?’ That is why people are engaging. They want to know ‘How is this going to affect me? How is it going to benefit my job?’”—Julie Revelant

Set up automation to deliver trigger-based emails. 

“Automation. I’m not saying use AI to write. But use automation to send those campaigns, those trigger emails after a purchase, or someone has engaged with content.”—Julie Revelant

Q5: How can content marketers increase their email click-throughs and conversions? 

Email open rates are unreliable given spotty tracking methods. 

“People over-rely on open rates. As we know, some email programs automatically open email and use that, so you’re getting false opens. And then there are other situations when people are using their phones where they’re not passing any data back. So you’re not seeing that they’re opening, but you see them clicking.”—Erika Heald

Deliver personalized emails to maximize the value for the reader.

“It all comes back to content. Knowing who you’re talking to is very important. Segmentation and knowing your buyer personas.”—Julie Revelant

“Custom copy, images, custom CTAs according to the persona.”—Julie Revelant

Experiment with subject lines and learn what resonates with your recipients. Be sure to deliver on the promise of your subject line.

“So much lies in the subject line, because that’s your front door. If it’s bad, no one’s going to open it, they’re just going to hit delete.”—Julie Revelant

“Play into FOMO. Play into data. If you just published an original research report or if you just published a new blog post and there’s a data point in there that your buyer likely doesn’t know, include that in the subject line.”—Julie Revelant

“Play into their pain points. What are their biggest fears? What are their biggest challenges?”—Julie Revelant

“Make it sound newsworthy. Like you would write any article or blog post or news story, think about the headline as a great subject line.”—Julie Revelant

“So many emails we get promise to be boring. Do you want to open an email that says ‘Important announcement’ from whatever brand? Or another new product update? Why are you sending me an email about you? Why do I care?”—Erika Heald

Send timely emails to solicit feedback and opinions. 

“Why not follow up with them after they’ve made a purchase? Whether that purchase was done digitally or in person, follow up with them and ask them how they’re doing. How are they using it? What kind of results are they getting?”—Julie Revelant

Experiment with interactive content. 

“Something I recently discovered is interactive content. I’ve seen some healthcare companies dabble in this. You can do interactive surveys, and countdown timers, and videos. Have fun with it. People are sick of the same old.”—Julie Revelant

Optimize your email setup. 

“Make all your emails mobile friendly, plenty of whitespace, optimize your images, have simple layouts, responsive email design.”—Julie Revelant

Q6: Can you share your tips for how marketers can learn more about what their customers want from their email content? 

A lack of engagement or an increase in unsubscribes shows your content isn’t resonating with its audience.

“You should be looking at your metrics to see click-through rates. And then also if people are unsubscribing, that’s a clear cut sign.”—Julie Revelant

Conduct reader surveys or focus groups to solicit feedback to guide your strategy.

“Those conversations have to be taken in a different way. Maybe you’re conducting surveys, and maybe you’re even offering up some sort of an incentive. Here’s a $5 gift card, will you you give me three answers to this short survey about if you’re finding our emails helpful, what you would like more of, and what you don’t like.”—Julie Revelant

“You can conduct focus groups with prospects and with customers.”—Julie Revelant

Partner with your sales team to ask prospects questions about their preferences during early conversations. 

“Those conversations can be had on sales calls when you’re interacting with prospects and clients.”—Julie Revelant

Pose quick questions to your audience in your email. 

“I’m a huge fan of asking a question and telling folks to hit reply with an answer, especially if you’re looking for a really quick, qualitative response.”—Erika Heald

Erika explains the benefits of an ongoing readership survey:

“I love when folks send out a readership survey on a regular basis. They’re explicitly saying ‘What do you want to hear more about from us? Where else are you getting information?’ So that way, if you really love a publication and you enjoy getting their emails, you’re happy to give them that info. And then they can create more of the content that you really like. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll get some juicy answers back that you can turn into more content.”—Erika Heald

“When I was at Achievers, we sent out a readership survey to our list, and we got more than 2,000 HR folks responding. We used a lot of that for ourselves internally, but we took the more general questions and created some fun visual content that we then shared with everybody. Because people wanted to hear what their peers are most concerned with and the trends as they were emerging to keep up with it.”—Erika Heald

Julie reinforces the value of creating a two-way dialogue with your audience:

“People want to be part of the conversation. A great example of this recently is Peter Shankman. He had HARO, and then people got upset when Cision acquired it. And people spoke up, and the reason why is they had access to him. He was approachable. And now he has created this whole other business that he never thought he was going to relaunch. It’s like, yes, your buyers are talking. They have an opinion. They want to be a part of a movement. And B2B buyers can do the same thing, if they just made their senior leaders or someone at their company that forward-facing person who they felt are approachable to buyers.”—Julie Revelant

Q7: If you have an existing email strategy in place that’s not getting results, where do you start to evaluate ways to improve it? 

Julie and Erika share their advice below:

“Think about what your audience wants. Have online and offline conversations. Focus on better content. Every channel, regardless of what it is, it all comes down to good storytelling, good content, and serving up what your audience wants.”—Julie Revelant

“Make it a better experience. Add engaging elements to it. Changing those subject lines. Add humanity, add empathy, add humor. We can make B2B less boring, if you will.”—Julie Revelant

“Test and change out one thing at a time. Don’t overhaul your whole email marketing strategy, but A/B test some of your subject lines, change out graphics, think about if images resonate with your buyer.”—Julie Revelant

“There’s a reason it’s called A/B testing, not A through Z testing. But at the same time, think about some of the emails you get where it’s a brief email, yet there are five different links to things. So there isn’t even one job that the email had. Instead, it had five or six objectives, and I think that’s really difficult because you can’t assess how effective that email was at doing any of those things. Because that one objective was not the whole point or reinforced if you are giving them a bunch of different options of different things to do.”—Erika Heald  

“Maybe shorten your emails. I can’t tell you how many emails I get and they’re too long, there’s too much copy. I need to know what I need to know and do quickly.”—Julie Revelant

“You’re sending one email, it needs to have one job to do. You can’t be asking people to do a bunch of completely disparate things and then figure out where it went wrong.”—Erika Heald

Q8: What email marketing tools do you recommend? 

Respondents to a poll Julie shared said HubSpot is their favorite email platform, followed by “another platform.”

“I ran a survey on LinkedIn last week saying I was preparing for this interview and wanted to gauge where people were. 62%, not surprisingly, said HubSpot. The rest really said ‘Other,’ so I’m not sure what that is, there’s so many.”—Julie Revelant

Julie recommends MailChimp and MailerLite. 

“I have used MailChimp, and I think it has this reputation as like a bare-bones email platform, but they’re not. They have interactive capabilities, and they are great.”—Julie Revelant

“I use MailerLite and I love it. I love the layouts and the automations that they have. It’s really user-friendly. And they have a ton of support articles, which is helpful.”—Julie Revelant

And Erika recommends ConvertKit and CoSchedule’s Headline Studio.

“I personally love ConvertKit. I’ve been using it for quite some time, and it’s been pretty easy to use.”—Erika Heald

“When I get stuck, I will use CoSchedule’s Headline Studio to help me figure out how I can create a better subject line. Because sometimes you’re just stuck.”—Erika Heald

You can get more marketing tool recommendations to support email marketing in this post.  

Q9: What makes an email one that you are always sure to open? 

Subject lines can provide facts or offer the recipient a better way to do something.

“Something like ‘Your ebook sucks’ or ‘You’re totally doing this wrong,’ things like that. I think that’s really where we should be. Not in any negative light or mean-spirited, but I think that shocking emails, clickable emails are effective. Anything that is playing into that fear of mising out or did you know that X amount of buyers are doing this. And anything where people are like ‘I have to click that, I have to find out.’”—Julie Revelant

The subject line needs to accurately reflect what the reader will receive if they open it.

“I think they do a good job of letting me see what the value I’m going to get is if I’m going to take the time to click through. They don’t just try to tease you and leave you wondering because, a lot of the time, I don’t have time. I don’t have time to click through if I don’t know for sure that I’m going to feel like it was a good use of my time.”—Erika Heald

“If I click through and what you got is something completely different than what [the subject line promised], I will hit the spam button.”—Erika Heald

Email design and content curation can make a memorable or forgettable reader experience.

“Of all the places that I get emails that I almost always click through and read, Martha Stewart Living Magazine. They send me the best emails with the best subject lines, and I open them probably more than any other random email I get. They do a good job of bucketing similar content. But, to be fair, I’m also a dog and cat mom, and I have my garden, so I am definitely their target audience. I get a lot of emails from a lot of people with similar types of content, but they don’t package it up and make me feel like I can go look at this.”—Erika Heald

And most of all: The email needs to prove it understands the recipient and their specific situation.

“I get emails and people haven’t done their research and they think I’m a big company, when it’s just me. Or they think that I need a specific type of service that doesn’t resonate with me whatsoever.”—Julie Revelant

Ongoing Content Marketing Tips and Resources

If you’re looking for ongoing advice and resources to help you understand your audience’s needs and engage them through content on every channel—including email—subscribe to the #ContentChat Bulletin. Every other week, you’ll receive an email with recent #ContentChat recaps and industry articles that help you stay ahead of the content marketing landscape.  

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