Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Jason Keath who is CEO of Social Fresh, a social media education company.
My foray into blogging has been a long one. 14 years now, best I can count. Unfortunately, it took me too many of those years to start understanding the importance of email to any publisher and business. To start to “build a list” as they say.
I have worked with social media as my primary career for going on five years now. And still to this day, when I talk to someone that needs marketing advice, I am more likely to talk to them about email strategy than Twitter strategy.
Email is far from dead. It is still the most reliable way to get a message to your customers and fans. A lot of businesses understand this today and are getting better at email.
The first piece of the puzzle, list building, is a pretty scientific endeavor these days. There are tested methods to get the emails of your customers and fans into a list, from simply asking at the register to clean opt-in forms on your website.
Where I see a lot businesses struggle more often is what to do with the list once they have it. I wanted to walk through 8 different methods of email strategies and the pros of cons of each. No company needs to lock themselves in to just one type, but they should think through the all to find the ones right for them and more importantly right for their audience.
So let’s jump in.
1. Bad Relative Strategy
This one falls squarely in the avoid category and yet is pretty common. You ask your fans for their trusted email address. They give it to you, hoping for something awesome. And you never call. You never write. But 7 months later when Christmas comes around, you get on it and email out to your list. Or a new sale is coming up, you remember those emails you have been collecting, and you shoot your list a rare and abrupt note.
Just like the bad relative that you see at holidays and when they need money, your customers will ignore you or unsubscribe from you in droves if they only hear from you several months apart. This is not a strategy, this is an afterthought. Be sure to have a plan.
The email newsletter is the catchall of email marketing. It usually includes multiple types of content that we are going to touch on, for better or worse.
Pros: Newsletter can be great for maintaining a relationship existing customers and your biggest fans. If done well (see Chris Penn or DJ Waldow) fans will get value from them, get updated on your business, and look forward to the next installment. These work really well when your company culture is clear and oozes throughout the email.
Cons: The risk of a newsletter is boring your fans to death. If you just throw in your latest announcements, new hires, latest clients hired, and you leave out personality, culture, and useful content, boredom and disinterest ensue. Your newsletter becomes a quilt of grey and is ignored. Newsletters are difficult usually because of too much content. The more items you add in the less focus for the reader. Usually I would advise fewer options and making them count.
3. Blog Post Feed
This method requires you have a blog. So get a blog if you don’t have one.
When someone asks me what RSS is, I tell them it is a way for geeks to read a lot of blogs and content more easily. RSS subscribers historically are a small club, the adoption rates are very low amongst internet users. What works better is taking your blog content (through RSS) and having people to subscribe to it through email. Feedburner, a Google product, even makes this quite easy to do if your email service provider (ESP) does not offer this feature.
Pros: The big benefit here, if your blog content is interesting, is it’s a high value way to connect with your audience. Providing useful and hopefully interesting blog posts to your fans and customers on a regular basis, straight to their email inbox, can build a great fan loop of stakeholders for you, waiting to support your next product, event, etc.
This technique is also really helpful because you are reusing or distributing existing content, so there is little added work. Social Fresh focuses on this strategy because we are a publisher. Many blogs do. Copyblogger is another good example here.
Cons: As I said this email campaign requires that you have a blog. It also, this is where it gets tricky, requires that you have a good and readily updated blog. If you do, this method is gold. Unfortunately blogging is really hard to get right and most businesses do not blog or do not blog well. So this strategy can easily become the Bad Relative kind of email campaign.
4. Special, Products, Coupons
If you are a retail operation a lot of your fans are probably expecting this email strategy from you. They probably want to know when your latest and greatest new widget is coming out. They likely would really love to know before the rest of the world. And they of course would also like a 100% coupon so they can pick it up for free.
Pros: Consumer love coupons and sales. And these are proven marketing engines. These types of emails get major traction for retailers. I have worked on a few retailer email strategies and the product is what subscribers react to.
Your biggest fans want to know the second new products are out. They want to see previews. And they want discounts for being loyal. Most retailers will tell you, as well, that email traffic from this type of campaign over performs almost all other traffic when it comes to converting to actual sales.
And this does not need to be a physical product. HubSpot is a great example of product emails. They consistently ping their list about ebooks and webinars that are free and keep their fans coming back.
Cons: Unfortunately you are programming your customers to only pay attention to specials and coupons and new products. This can work for some business models, but if you have more to say, anything without a 20% off code might be ignored even more than usual.
5. Partner Promotion Emails
Getting someone else with a good email list to email their subscribers on your behalf is an amazing way to get access to a new audience. Many businesses may have toyed with this a little but very few commit to this strategy as a long term, repeatable effort because it is difficult. Traditional internet marketers that move information products like self help seminars and blogging workshops are really good at this. They team up with other like minded marketers to email their list on their behalf.
Pros: You get access to a brand new audience to promote your product or cause to. You can target your partners based on their audiences and who would likely be best aligned with your goals. And typically organizations that can help in this capacity have an audience that is use to getting emails and can be more responsive than a cold list.
Cons: For one this is hard to do. Finding partners with email lists is easier in some industries, say marketing or event planning, than others, like pool cleaning. Yes, random, but you get my point. With effort there are usually partners to be had though.
Once you do find potential partners to send email on your behalf you then have to offer them something in return, which can be tricky. Sometimes people will help you out because you are offering a benefit that their audience wants, but not always. And sometimes what you would need to give up in order to make the partnership happen, might not be worth it.
This is a tricky but rewarding strategy when you put the work in.
6. Curated Content
Scouring the web for interesting and useful content from your website and others can be a very useful service to your audience. This is one of the oldest types of email newsletters and continues to pay dividends for many. SmartBrief has several curated email channels by industry. Others like CityBizList provide lists based on geography. We have seen great response at Social Fresh to our weekly 7 links. Industry goers love the service.
Pros: You are providing a very high value content offering to people. Curating content on a very specific topic that they care about saves them a lot of time and shows them your expertise at the same time.
Cons: It can take a lot of time if you are curating well. And you are going to be promoting a lot of links and websites that does little for your bottom line.
7. Personal Letter
The personal letter approach is very personal and best for a high profile employee (CEO, VP, etc) or for startups and sole proprietors. In effect you are sending personal notes through email. Evoking personality. Building a report with the audience. Derek Halpern does this well at Social Triggers. As does Peter Shankman as part of his HARO emails.
Pros: You build a strong relationship with readers this way. Derek promotes a piece of content weekly with his emails, usually something he has written or an outside project he has been involved with. But instead of the RSS strategy above where things are automated, Derek crafts a personal note and points to only his best content. Peter simply adds life to what is otherwise a very utilitarian service. Without his personal notes, his readers might get a little bored and would not identify him as much with his brand.
Cons: Writing a personal letter can be good in some scenarios and fall flat in others. In retail for instance, a personal letter is not what most subscribers are looking for primarily. This requires consistency, good writing, and the ability to be consistently interesting. Most humans fail on one of these points. As with a lot of these, the work has to be put in.
8. Exclusive Content
Email courses, drip content, many types of traditional email efforts fall into this category. Think of the exclusive content category as writing a blog through email. A great example of this drip content can be found at Copyblogger and their “Internet Marketing For Smart People” course.
Pros: This content is something that is often set and forget. You can create a 20 email content piece that includes calls to action to your products at the end and sprinkled throughout carefully and let your audience find it and consume it as they see fit. Some of these courses can be going for years with little work needed. You can even take existing content from your blog or other content channels and package it together in a unique way to produce this package.
Cons: The negative here is the lack of fresh content. You are not keep your fans up to date, sending them to the latest products or offerings, giving them a current sense of your business.
As an add-on, this type of campaign can be great for a product that will not go through a lot of change. Writing out 10 or 20 emails ahead of time is also a time commitment. Good drip email needs to be very helpful to succeed.
As you review your email marketing results for 2011 or start them from scratch in 2012, think carefully about what kind of emails you are going to send. Pick and choose from this list, as long as you avoid #1, and put together a cohesive strategy for the new year.
Jason Keath is CEO of Social Fresh, a social media education company. Their next social media conference is Social Fresh EAST on February 6-7 in Tampa, FL featuring speakers from RadioShack, Pepsi, Nordstrom, and Scott Monty of Ford.
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