Why you should be extra careful with your email marketing strategy

Countless times we’ve seen email portrayed as uninteresting and simple, a mere role player within digital marketing strategies. Given the fact that email is one of the Internet’s cornerstones since the very beginnings, to assume that it carries little interest can be a deadly mistake. Not only it is one of the most effective communication methods ever created, but it also works as a powerful and consistent marketing tool. There’s even a saying between digital marketing strategists for its reliability: email is gonna outlive us all.

As most things that survive the pass of time in the Internet era, email has evolved through the years, and still proves itself as a very effective player. For example, according to Mailchimp’s stats, email marketing campaigns grant a very attractive average open rate of 21%. And we’re talking about a company that sends +10 billion emails per month on behalf of its users – numbers not to be taken lightly.

The first thing to know about email is that it works in a perhaps riskier way than let’s say a Facebook or Google ad. For example, an ad that doesn’t get enough conversions can be tested, refined, changed, improved and relaunched. The worst thing that can happen with an ad is not getting enough eyeballs and clicks – a problem, sure, but one that can be adjusted and solved fairly quickly. Email, on the other hand, plays on a different court: the user’s inbox. The rules are different in the inbox; if you mess up, you get a spam label. In little words, game over. Digital strategists and brands that want a shot in the game should always remember that in the user’s inbox, exile is always just a click away. It’s their territory, not yours nor a neutral one.

When it comes to email marketing, a quick look at the Internet can be overwhelming: tons of advice, do’s and don’ts, rules and tips. Heads up, we’ll make it shorter for you:

  1. Propose first. It’s always better to ask first. If it’s not required, don’t push it.
  1. Personalize. When engaging, know who you’re reaching. This includes name, interests and appropriate hours: cold emailing is just as obnoxious as cold calling. Email means you’ll be approaching people on sensitive ground, not just viewers, consumers or audiences. You’ll need to know their names, interests and motivations.
  1. Dress up. Make your messages beautiful, both in terms of content and design. Like old-school mail, make people crave for it, expect it, want it.
  1. Be relevant. Once you’ve got someone’s attention, it’s showtime. If you don’t have anything relevant to say or give, chances are you’ll get blacklisted. Never show up with your hands empty!

Brand values vs. attributes: the change is real

The most refreshing soda. The crunchiest snack. The fastest internet connection. Attributes like these have become so common in communication strategies that many people just don’t fall for them anymore. Do you want to know why? Two big reasons: the first one is noise. For example, a snack can be as crunchy as ever, but it is hard for an attribute like this to stand out when twenty competitors are claiming pretty much the same thing at the same time. Thing is, people don’t really care if a snack is 5% more crunchier than other: both end up falling under the same category. If noise is high, our brains tend to simplify. Yes, we get it, you’re all crunchy, but we stopped caring a while ago. Too bad!

On the other hand, attributes function in a (sort of) predictable way: if you want them to become valuable attributes that work for your brand, they need to be unique. This way, people can easily associate them with the brand. The bad news is that even if this is the case, they will fade over time. Let’s use the fast internet connection example: unless you’re living in a sparsely populated rural area, chances of having a handful of reliable, fast internet providers at your disposal are high. High-speed internet was a great attribute fifteen years ago, but the scenario changed and the once good attribute faded in the background. Furthermore, this happens to most brand attributes out there. Building brands on attributes is like building houses on soft foundations. Yet many communication strategists keep falling for them. The why is something that escapes our comprehension.

To be fair, many brands – big and small – have realized that attributes are flaky and shifted their strategies towards the use of values. Good examples are Coca-Cola and Apple. ‘Marketing is about values. This is a very complicated world, it’s a very noisy world. These aren’t our words, but Steve Jobs’. The opinion of former Apple’s CEO acts as a powerful argument here: the brand he used to command had many unique attributes, and despite that, he chose to build upon values. He envisioned Apple as something bigger than the unique attributes of their products. Apple is not a state-of-the-art phone; instead, Apple is pure, functional innovation. Today it’s a phone, but tomorrow it might be a self-driving car. Who knows? The only certain thing is that they’ll keep using the same value as a guiding light for their communication strategy.

Apple has always been an innovative brand, but the shift from attributes to values can be observed in traditional brands as well. Coca-Cola did it a few years ago, relying on the ‘happiness’ value. Now they’re taking things even further: the new value of choice is ‘feeling’. Both are values that can translate into pretty much everything one can imagine. Brand managers, communications strategists, and consumers are more eager to develop a strong relationship with the brand through values: it’s easier to for them to relate to feelings than to the beverage’s refreshing attributes.

The same principle can work for every brand out there. Choosing to communicate values over attributes is nothing but a win-win situation. Values enable a whole new world for brands, and they offer much more possibilities than the use of attributes.

From viral to vital: the things we’ve learned about BuzzFeed’s evolution

Not long ago, the prestigious Financial Times outlet ran a story that spread like fire throughout the internet, raising concern within news, media, advertising and digital marketing communities on a worldwide scale. Suddenly, everyone seemed to be a bit more worried than usual. The reason? Among other significant data, FT’s story showed the world that BuzzFeed was cutting their 2016 revenue expectations by half: from 500 to 250 million dollars.

Just three days after the publication of FT’s demolishing story, another eminent publication decided to run a strong piece covering BuzzFeed’s reality. The big internet waves didn’t seem to bother The Atlantic’s editors, who on April 15th jumped into the conversation by releasing a magnificent profile on contemporary media’s Flagship.

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The article came out under the title of ‘The Eternal Return of BuzzFeed’, and placed the company among America’s top historical content trendsetters. According to The Atlantic, BuzzFeed had taken the spot that was once occupied by other media behemoths, such as People, MTV and USA Today.

To be fair, the Financial Times’ article was right: BuzzFeed did overshoot its financial predictions by a large margin. But does this mean that their content model can be labeled as useless? That’s a whole different story.

Despite the exaggerated projections, BuzzFeed provides a very efficient model, both in terms of revenue and content creation/distribution. Let’s add numbers to complete the panorama: the company, which was founded in 2006 (yes, just ten years ago), registered 78 million unique visitors during last March, and almost a billion video views in the same period of time. For perspective, that’s about 21 million more unique visitors than the long-standing New York Times. Not only is BuzzFeed a successful company, but also proves itself as a successful role model for the digital marketing professionals and companies wanting to reach the younger layers of their audiences. That’s the people that, like it or not, are going to shape America’s economy for the next couple of decades. If you ask us, it’s quite a big deal.

Much like MTV or USA Today did thirty years ago, BuzzFeed gets young people right: what they want, consume and desire in terms of information. In addition, by running pieces that range from Pulitzer-aspiring investigative reports to mindless listicles, they show the true value of content flexibility. It’s not that they have the formula: instead, they seem to rely on a number of content options to appeal their multiple, diverse audiences. This should tell a lot to companies that want to push content online: people out there is diverse and so is the content they consume.

The key is to look at what works and make it happen!

Photo credit by Tama Leaver
Art work credit by Tech In Asia

Is there a Golden Standard for Content?

It hardly is news that content is experiencing its very own ‘Gilded Age’, happily riding along the internet’s fast and furious evolutionary cycle. In all its possible (and impossible) shapes, content can be regarded as one of the principal fuel types that power much of the world’s internet experiences, and the demand for it grows faster than the internet itself.

We’ve finally reached the case scenario that Bill Gates famously proclaimed 20 years ago, where content is king. However, content itself is a (very) broad definition that includes several types of information units, spanning from random Facebook commentary by each one of its 1.6 billion users to multi-million audiovisual productions. The broad nature of what content can be often find brands wondering about what kind of content should be pushed next, which leads to the question that headlines this post: Is there a golden standard for it?

When it comes to inbound marketing, the answer is probably no: foolproof content that guarantees success for the brand using it has not been invented yet. On the other hand, there are a number of tools out there that can help mitigate the many risks of implementing a certain type of content over another: one of our favorite ones is the SMART approach.

The SMART approach

The SMART acronym stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-bound, and it’s been widely used by project management teams across a variety of industries for years. When it comes to content, SMART works as a more-than-useful guide to look at before deciding what to push. Let’s break it down and see why:

  1. Specific: we live in a context of content proliferation, and the alternative to being
    specific is to be yet another water drop in a rapidly expanding ocean. Being specific about the content implies to think about:
  • The goals to be achieved by the content. Should it raise awareness about something? Generate leads? Show the company’s values? Get people to buy something? Let’s define the goals to refine the options.
  • The whys behind the goal. Some might come up as evident, some not.
  • The whos. A big part of crafting the perfect piece of content is to think about the audience. Who’s gonna see what you publish and who would you need to have as an audience?
  • The where. This is like choosing a battlefield: which one gives you the most advantages, and why? Are your content choices suited to be published there?
  1. Measurable. Keep track of what numbers say about your content of choice, because they say a lot. Ideally, the road that leads audiences from awareness to fidelity is made up by a proven track of figures.
  1. Attainable. The basic question is: Can we pull this out? Are your preferred options reasonable, and are they worth the (financial) effort? Content is usually affordable when compared to other marketing actions, but not all of it. Believe it or not, overshooting is more common than you think. In other words: don’t bite more than you can chew.
  1. Relevant. Successful companies usually know what their customer base want, and try to stick to that. Let’s illustrate with an example: a reputable bakery wanting to push relevant content could be taking the right steps by posting news of the organic wheat trade and how it affects their both their business and customers’ well-being. Now, on the other hand, if they want to get traction by posting updates about the financial aspects of global wheat trade – think of shortages in Russia due to bad weather – it would be far-fetched: obliquely related to their activity, but not relevant. At some points, there’s a thin line dividing interesting, relevant content from non-relevant one.
  1. Time-bound. The big ‘when’. When is it the best time to push the content? If your company has access to relevant data that can help define the best timing, perfect. If not, it’s time to think about other factors. Time is part of the context, and context can be just as defining as the content itself. A good example can be observed with Christmas: some businesses start pushing Christmas-related content far ahead of the actual date. For a number of businesses (e.g. big retail chains that need to get rid of large amounts of stock) that may work just fine, but that doesn’t mean that any business should be doing the same thing. Framing actions within carefully planned time-frames is both financial and brand-wise.

In short: thinking about content goes far beyond the content itself, and requires knowledge of environmental factors that can tilt the effectiveness scales in favor of a particular type of content over another. It’s not an easy task, but planning, data and analytical skills go a long way when it comes to obtaining results.