Five Questions To Shape Your Automated Email Content

Once you decide to expand your broadcast email program to include a growing number of low-volume, high-ROI automated messages, you'll confront a new set of challenges, including, "Where am I going to get all of the content I need to populate these emails?"

Beyond resource and content creation issues, a critical question also becomes, "What content approach should we take in each automated email?"

If you are a retailer, for example, not every email should have a strict promotional theme with offers to buy Product X immediately.

Instead, think "content marketing": messages designed to increase loyalty or post-purchase satisfaction, educate customers or simply move prospects a step closer to a purchase.

The framework below can help you think about your content approach:

1. What is our relationship with the customer?

Different customer types require different kinds of content. You could populate a browse or cart abandonment reminder email or cross-sell message with one set of offers or incentives for high-value customers and another for prospects who have yet to purchase.



Messages for one customer group could focus on features and benefits, and on price for another group. Prospects who are close to a decision receive a two-part educational series; those who need more education or nurturing receive a five-part series.

2. Where is the customer in the purchase process?

Browse-abandonment emails that try to convert immediately aren't going to deliver value to customers who aren't ready to buy that wine refrigerator or rechargeable leaf blower.

A better approach: Focus your browse reminder series on helpful content that addresses the reasons why a browser might not be ready to buy.

One client's browse follow-up messages include helpful content and links to tools such as price comparisons, how-to videos and a wizard that helps the customer select the right product. 

3. Which devices are customers using to read your emails?

In my recent column, "Are You Ready for a Mobile Subscriber Base?," I outlined several statistics and challenges for email marketers as mobile readership heads toward 50% in the next 12-18 months.

Knowing which devices your customers are using to view your emails can drive decisions about content style, length, layout, etc.

Mobile reading is a fast-approaching challenge for email marketers whose automated messages have become very complex and include lots of dynamic content blocks.

As more of your readers view your messages on their smartphones instead of their big desktop screens, you might need to scale back these sophisticated elements to ensure high mobile engagement and conversions.

4. Where is all of this great content going to come from?

That's one of the biggest challenges you'll face if you take the big leap to 10, 20 or 30 automated programs, each with multiple messages per track or series. My one-word solution, especially for initial versions: "Repurpose."

You probably have many of the basic creative assets you need, whether they're on your website, in previous broadcast email campaigns, or in product manuals, catalogs, white papers and other sources.

You just have to customize it for your email scenarios.

The content probably isn't perfect, but it's likely good enough to allow you to scale up quickly now and then optimize when time permits.

Another challenge: Some of the content in your automated emails might be inserted dynamically from third-party technologies or feeds like recommendation, personalization and review engines or ecommerce systems. So you might not be able to customize the content these feeds generate for mobile.

5. Is a specific message going out in real time, or is it scheduled?

Immediacy is the issue. Real-time messages need a different tone and style from those you schedule in advance or have a different purpose or goal, such as a birthday greeting or purchase anniversary.

Consider the timing and context in which your recipient will view your message. The tone of your cart- or browse-abandonment reminder can determine whether recipients view it as a helpful service or a creepy, Big-Brother invasion of privacy.

Emails that you schedule far in advance don't necessarily have these sensitivity issues, nor perhaps the same sense of urgency or timeliness, and can probably afford to be more aggressive.

These questions can help you decide which content-marketing approach to take with your automated messages. Creating and choosing the right content approach will help take these messages to an even higher level of relevance and performance.

Are there other questions I've missed or that you consider for your own automated programs? Please let us know in the comments.

Until next time, take it up a notch.

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