The term 'Content is King' is clichéd for sure, but with the continued growth and investment in digital, content is more important than ever before. Vivek Sharma, CEO of Movable Ink lays out why content matters so much today for email marketers, makes the business case for greater investment in better (not just more) content, and shares thoughts on how to approach it.
The business goal of marketing is universally consistent: maximize the commercial impact of content. Think about your favorite most memorable marketing campaign. Great content built the brands we know and love today. The best content creates a tangible and compelling experience that moves people - even if they're not the primary target customers.
Content is the cornerstone of marketing, but it also presents today's marketers with a catch-22. Digital provides great scale and reach, but content that speaks to customers one-to-one is difficult to scale. The more marketers invest in launching additional programs or channels, the worse the content problem becomes.
In the email channel, this paradox is rooted in the ways marketers traditionally tackled the objective of maximizing content's commercial impact (i.e. generating revenue).
1. Send more campaigns
It's simple logic: more campaigns equal more revenue, right? The 'send more email' strategy made email the workhorse and highest driver of ROI in digital marketing for years. This approach has hit an inflection point though. Yes, you can simply send more campaigns, but you also need to produce and populate those campaigns with more content. And it can't just be more of any content; it needs to be better content. Without better content, you'll burn out your customers and put program deliverability at risk. Sending more emails requires a greater amount of compelling content.
2. Create more segmentation
Email content is often more about volume than value. In an effort to shift this dynamic, many marketers are sending fewer emails to more finely targeted customer segments. The approach has been about sorting content into the right buckets and getting the right buckets to the right audience. The problem is that more targeted emails without more relevant content is counterproductive. People don't purchase just because you put the right product in front of them. If you send the same five offers (fewer emails) to 500 segments, you'll undercut campaign performance. Like more campaigns, more segmentation still requires a greater amount of compelling content.
3. Build more triggers & customer journeys
There's been a big push in the email industry toward building more triggered programs and customer journeys. Marketers aren't changing what they do with traditional campaigns per say, but they are sending more individualized retargeting emails (e.g., cart abandonment, lifecycle emails). With one-to-one emails, marketers need to send a message tailored specifically to the recipient or will (a) risk training the customer to ignore the message or (b) need to always resort to promotions and discounts to get customers to act, which jeopardizes the email program. More triggers and segments requires - you guessed it - a greater amount of compelling content.
For every strategy, the answer always comes back to content. The above approaches have worked well (or well enough), but I believe there's a compelling business case that says if you continue to invest resources in more campaigns, more segmentation and more triggers but fail to make a corresponding investment in content, you're going to eventually hit a wall.
So how can email marketers scale content for the digital era? If the continuous improvement of email marketing hinges on investing in content, what does that look like in practical terms?
A few years back, everyone talked about the 'big data' problem. The recommended solution was to hire a data scientist who could build algorithms that enabled the company to use data to make important business decisions. Today scaling content is the problem for digital marketing, and companies can consider hiring a content strategist - someone that looks at content from pre-production to post-production. Such people can do exactly what their title says: look at content strategically across the entire organization and map it to business goals - including for email.
For many companies, hiring a content strategist might not be feasible with current budgets, but every company can and should analyze how their current internal team is organized and/or work more closely with their creative agency on content. Creative directors sit at the top of the marketing organization but should come downstream and be more involved in the email creation process beyond reading the brief and providing the hero image. Creative directors should be intimately involved with all of the email content from start to finish.
2. Existing content
In a recent Forrester report "Valuable Content Is Every Marketing Team's Job," analyst Ryan Skinner talks about the importance of bridging content silos by aligning teams to serve customers and goals that relate to them, not channel- or product-centric goals. Investing in content doesn't always mean pouring money or human resources into a new solution. Sometimes it can simply be about leveraging and maximizing the content you already have. Content strategists should think and plan cross channel.
Email marketers generally report to digital marketing teams. Those teams have creative people that take photos for use in product promotion across multiple channels both digital and print. However the email marketers don't necessarily have access to all of the available content assets. Especially for visually driven sectors like retail, think about how having access to all of the product photos across the company could change the way those products are effectively presented to individual customers when combined with other content and customer data.
Say you now have access to thousands of product images. How do you manage them all and make sure you get the right content in front of the right customer and present it in the best way for each individual? Technology can get us there, but also can make people nervous. The fear of technology isn't just about the financial investment, the worry is: will technology replace the creative director? The answer is no. Automating processes isn't necessarily about replacing humans. In email marketing, it's about optimizing decisions that machine logic can make much faster - freeing up creative directors to focus on creative decisions.
The traditional focus for email marketers has been about what offer to provide (free shipping, what product to put in front of customers), but not how they should actually present the content to each individual. Think about an email hero image. The product might be the same, but the product variable (blue or red sweater) and product in a lifestyle setting (urban or outdoors) could be different for each recipient depending on multiple factors. Technology can easily generate all of the variations and create the final combination of image, text, font, colors, etc. - all while staying on brand - in a way that's impossible for humans to do efficiently at scale.
New devices and channels create almost endless possibilities for marketers to engage with customers today - and these things will only increase with time. Marketers can and should continue to make strategic investments in digital as things like wearables and IoT open up new opportunities to deliver content. Email will continue to be a tried and true channel for marketers due to its reach and unique role as a hub for all kinds of content. However, for email to continuously improve and drive even greater results, marketers must invest in content and the methods to make content more intelligent and effective.
About the Author
Vivek Sharma is the co-founder and chief executive officer of Movable Ink where he is leading the charge to make email a more dynamic and relevant communication channel for marketers and consumers. With a background in both sales and product development, Vivek brings a potent combination of engineering talent and business savvy to his role as Movable Ink's CEO.