A Recipe for More Convenient Email Marketing
If you've ever built & sent an email campaign, you know it can be a time-consuming process. There are approvals, test emails, spam checks, and a host of other little details that go into sending out a quality email campaign to your subscribers. Throw in a lack of human capital, experience and time, and email marketing is easy to push off to the side (in favor of, say, posting updates to your social network profiles). But there's a really simple recipe to make your email marketing not only more convenient, but also more effective than doing it yourself! Read on...
How to make your email marketing more convenient
You post to your blog, right? Or have press releases, or some other stream of time-indexed content? You add events to a calendar, right? You have other activity on your website, like new photo albums, case studies, contest and other announcements, right?
What's to say you can't extract that same content from your website, and format it differently, like, say, in an email? You already did the work once by posting content to your website. Now, send it off to your subscriber list without doing any additional work!
Great idea! This will save tons of time! But...um...how do I set this up?
To automate the parts of your email marketing that correspond with content management (not triggered or transactional emails, those are different), follow this recipe:
- Email Service Provider with an API
- Content Management System
- Graphic Designer*
- A budget of at least $1,000
* Can be all the same person, and most likely is for smaller companies.
1. Design & test your email template.
- Have your email template custom designed, don't use a pre-made one. Pre-made templates were not designed for your content, they were designed with Latin placeholder text and stock images that are pixel-perfect until you need a larger image, or another line of text.
- Make the template fit to the content, there's no "one-size-fits-all" in email marketing!
- Test the template with your sample content in various email clients. Litmus works great for this, or your ESP probably has an "Inbox Preview" tool.
2. Convert the template to a dynamic page.
- Your webmaster/programmer will take the template and put in all the various placeholder codes to display your email content. They will also come up with criteria on how to extract the appropriate content from your website and flow it into the template.
- This is definitely the most complex part. By automating the process, you're relinquishing your control over content, display, formatting, etc. Instead, you create rules for all these things, and it may be that you have to have a "wizard" form to tell the templates which content to pull up.
3. Connect to the API.
- Once you can create your email message on the fly using content from your website, it's time to feed the HTML into your email marketing service's API.
- Again, you may be required to set up some ground rules as to which lists to use, how to segment, when to send, etc.
- Test it out on some dummy addresses or a dummy list, and when you feel good about how everything works, deploy your templates with your live lists.
4. Sit back & relax!
So in the end, you have professionals handling all the heavy-lifting related to your email marketing, and all you're doing is writing content for your website that you'd already be writing in the first place. Yet, now you have increased the exposure of your website, your social media channels (through social sharing within the email messages), and added more touchpoints to your communication strategy with your customers...all positive things, and all conveniently absent of extra work on your part.
Examples of automated email marketing in real-life:*
Adding Events to a Calendar:
Every time an event is added, a script runs to process the event data and send an email. Not all event types have emails sent out about them, though, only events in the Webinar category. The email has all the Webinar data plus a link to register.
Every Friday, a list of the next 4 weeks' events are queried and formatted into an email, with just the dates & titles and a link to the full event page on the website.
On the first of every month, all the news/blog posts from the month prior, as well as the upcoming events this month, are pooled together into a comprehensive newsletter. The blog posts only show a snippet of text and encourage readers to click through to the website for the complete story.
There is an Announcements section on the website that isn't tied to a date like blog posts or events. Posts to this section have a longer shelf-life and are usually more marketing-related in nature. When one is added to the website, an email about the announcement is sent out, directing people to the same link they would go to if they were on the website.
* These are indeed real-life examples we have integrated into our clients' websites as a standard feature of our eCampaigns Enterprise service.
Keys to success with automation:
The template design and formatting are critical to ensuring your messages are going to look great every single time you create a message. Good news: this is also the easiest part of this process...which is ironic, because that's usually the part that takes up the most time for DIY-ers. But then again, you're hiring a professional to handle the design and formatting up front, and don't have to go back to it each time you send an email.
The other key to success is putting the time in up front to get all the configuration rules in place so your emails will have the right content and get sent to the right people with as little input from you as possible (the goal, remember, is to make this more convenient for you). Again, this isn't something you'd handle yourself; a professional will do this up front, and you won't have to deal with it each time you create a campaign.
How are you using automation to make your email marketing more convenient? Tell us in the comments below!