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Create Content That Engages Without Selling

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by: Loren McDonald (@LorenMcDonald)
10 June 2015

Content CreationFor many marketers, email drives more sales than any other digital channel. Using email only to generate immediate sales is shortsighted, though.

Email also is an excellent brand-building tool, whether you call it "branding" email or my favorite, "white space" email.

A more descriptive name is "engagement emails," reflecting all the ways you can use email that doesn't overtly sell.

Make no mistake: Engagement email can sell just like its promotional-email sibling. It's just not the only focus.

Promotional emails seek immediate sales, while engagement emails build for the future. Each has an essential place in a high-performance digital marketing program.

4 Advantages of Engagement Emails

1) Interact with your customers beyond the buy.

Your customers aren't always in the market to buy. If all they hear from you is "Buy this," then, can you blame them for tuning you out?

Maybe they'd pay more attention if you said, "Buy better."

Engagement emails give you more conversation topics. They help your readers buy better, solve problems and even find interesting things they wouldn't have uncovered any other way.

Don't waste your customers’ time with idle chitchat, though. An effective engagement email always ties in to a clear brand or customer strategy and takes the same kind of planning and execution as your broadcast campaigns.  

2) Anybody can get into the game.

Engagement email gives you more content options, whether you rely on broadcast emails or incorporate a full line of automated messages, including sequenced, triggered and targeted emails.

Swap out one broadcast email a month for an engagement email. Pair it with a broadcast campaign. Schedule it into a welcome or post-purchase series. Add it to a long-term drip campaign. The uses are as infinite as your needs or goals.

3) Give your existing content a second life.

We're big on recycling, and that means reusing content you've already created. Start foraging around, and you'll be surprised at how much material you uncover. 

Below are just some of the sources where clients have found material they can recycle into useful emails:

  • Your websites, including product pages, FAQs, company history, user guides, etc.
  • Blogs
  • User forums
  • Social media channels (hello, Instagram!)
  • Customer support scripts and insight from your call center
  • Guides, brochures, tip sheets and other print sources
  • Videos, whether on your websites or external channels like YouTube and Vimeo

An engagement email can be timeless. Repeat it (judiciously), or tweak it for different seasons, products or brands. Let it live on forever in triggered or drip campaigns. You aren't reinventing the wheel every week.

4) You don't have to fuss over frequency.

Study after study shows that higher relevance and value can support higher frequency. Engagement emails give you more opportunities to build up the kind of value and relevance that keep your messages welcome in the inbox.

3 Places to Find Engagement Email Opportunities

Instead of being calendar-driven, engagement emails suggest themselves at critical junctures in your marketing strategy.

Below are three marketing models, each of which can reveal key places for engagement email:

1) Fulcrum

Every business has a fulcrum: the point that can determine success or failure. Yours could be persuading free users to upgrade to a paid service or converting one-time buyers to join your subscription-purchase plan.

How could an engagement email nudge more customers into taking that necessary step?

2) Road map for the customer journey

Framing your email program as a road map can reveal opportunities beyond the hard sell to keep customers moving along on their journey with you. Each of the five stages of that journey is a fertile source of engagement email:

  • Research
  • Consideration
  • Purchase
  • Post-purchase
  • Loyalty/Retention

Listening for customer signals can also help you identify when to dispatch an engagement email.

If you detect that a customer is about to go inactive or cancel a service, you could launch an email that troubleshoots common problems or suggests ways to get more value from a product or service.

3) Persona marketing

No two customers are alike. Still, you can group them into relevant categories and send emails that speak to their different motivations, interests, knowledge/expertise, fears or other factors.

10 Topics to Talk About Besides “Buy This”

1) Teach your customers how to buy the right products.

2) Present information that can help your customers use your products correctly.

3) Show your customers how to use your products to solve problems or learn more about their world.

4) Help customers discover products they weren't necessarily looking for on your website.

5) Go behind the scenes by introducing customers to key employees. Show off your offices or factories. Talk about your company philosophy.

6) Add customer voices to your emails by featuring reviews, endorsements, photos and other user-generated content.

7) Become the authority in your market niche by sharing "insider" news and information. This popular B2B strategy works for B2C marketers, too. Your emails become must-read sources of news and thought leadership, not just the latest daily deal.

8) Pave the way for a good experience with pre-event emails, including opportunities to upsell or add value to the event.

9) Improve onboarding for your new customers with information that helps them find what they want faster or navigate better around your website.

10) Tell stories about interesting vendors, unusual products, important points in your company's history or how your company gets involved with its community.

The Bottom Line: Keeping Customers Engaged Is Good for Business

This is what it comes down to, ultimately: If you can use email to get your customers more engaged along their journey, they will buy more and be more loyal.

Related Resources:

1) Ebook: “15 Post-Purchase Emails That Build Loyalty and Drive Revenue

2) Video: “Where Do You Get Content for Automated and Triggered Emails?

3) Tip Sheet: “5 Ideas for ‘White Space’ Emails That Educate, Entertain and Engage




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