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How to improve the email experience

Matt West
How to improve the email experience Matt West

In today's publish or perish marketing environment, attraction-based marketing is more than just content generation -- it must also be specific, customer-focused, and engaging. Prospects are educating themselves online, and if they don't find your website informative, or at least interesting, then they will move on to next option -- your competitor's site.

To optimize your email marketing results, you not only need to create great content, but you also must map that content to the prospect and their buying stage while providing them with relevant information without selling your products (which more than likely is a big turn-off for these self-educators). While it's counterintuitive from the traditional product philosophy, to be successful you must ditch the pitch and attract prospects with insight and information from thought leaders within your company ecosystem. The payoff comes when these consumer look to you as a trusted thought leader in the space, bookmark your webpage, subscribe to a feed from your blog, and purchase the solutions that you recommend.

Get connected. Want to meet up with the companies that are leading email into the future? Check out the exhibit hall at ad:tech New York, Nov. 3-4. Learn more.

The goal of content mapping is to facilitate this process and match the right content to the needs of your prospective buyers. Content mapping allows you to customize an experience for different groups of readers or consumers.

To do this you should build a content framework based on three pillars:

  1. Establishing buyer personas

  2. Creating a content library

  3. Mapping content to persona's buying stage

Here's a closer examination of each pillar.

Establishing buyer personas
So we're all on the same page, let's get an understanding of what personas are. Here are two great definitions from industry authorities.

David Merman Scott, author of "The New Rules of Marketing & PR," refers to "buyer personas" as "a distinct group of potential customers, an archetypal person whom you want your marketing to reach."

Content expert and marketing strategist Ardath Albee says, "A persona is a composite sketch representative of a type of customer you serve. Personas extend beyond the traditional demographics."

Establishing personas is important if for no other reason than the process forces you to sit down, carefully consider who your customers are, then take a walk in their shoes. With a more informed and sympathetic understanding of your customers, you are then in a position to abandon clichéd product statements in favor of rich content that addresses customer needs and helps solve specific problems. What's the benefit? The consumers get content that's actually useful, and you're in the position to refer your products.

When developing personas, start by looking at the history books. Take a sample of the deals your company has won and examine who played what role in each stage in the buying process. Then focus on listening to your prospects and customers to gain a better understanding of what their problems actually are and how you can help solve them. Through this, you'll be able to speak their language, not yours.

In order to be on the same page with your prospects throughout the buying process, you'll need to determine what kinds of questions they might ask during each stage of the buying process. Buying stages should be broken down from "early" (where the customer has no awareness of a problem) through "late" (where the customers are making a final product selection):

  1. Early: no awareness of a problem

  2. Mid-early: awareness of some problem

  3. Late-early: inspired to solve a problem

  4. Mid: awareness of solution set

  5. Mid-late: understand solution needs

  6. Late: product selection

When leveraging content to nurture leads, it's crucial to think how you will encourage consumers to take the next step, from one stage to the next, rather than moving them directly from initial response to closed deal. For each stage, you should have a different set of goals. By determining the goals for each stage, you are one step closer to mapping the correct content per persona, per stage. Think about this: Would you ever go on a blind date with someone and ask him or her to marry you on the spot? Probably not, yet this is what you're doing when you try to "close the deal" too quickly. And think about how your prospect must feel.
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Creating a content library
Once you've got personas in place, it's time to take stock of the content that you have and how that addresses the needs and wants of each persona. While auditing your content can be a lengthy process, it pays off in many ways. Right away you'll discover the content that can be leveraged and how much content you have already generated. Then you'll uncover gaps in your content that need to be addressed.

Mapping content to personas
With your audit complete you then need to map the content to both the persona's role and the buying stage.  

Persona roles:

  1. Influencer

  2. Decider

  3. Buyer

  4. User

  5. Gate keeper

Customer buying stages:

  1. Need recognition

  2. Information search

  3. Evaluation of alternatives

  4. Purchase decision

  5. Post-purchase behavior

In the end, you've created a living document that outlines the appropriate content for delivering the right information to the right person at the right time. With this in place, you are now in a position to build email campaigns that will be both more personalized and more relevant to your audience. Your prospects and customers will be more engaged and more likely to pay attention to your email marketing efforts. The good news is that your opens and click-throughs will increase.

To assist in the process, you should make sure that each email campaign is based on a specific persona and a specific buying stage. This can be done by creating emails around themes and issues that you've uncovered during the persona exercise. To maximize your results, make sure to attach a strong call to action that's related to that issue or concern. You also might consider testing both the theme and the offer in your campaigns to further optimize your efforts.
Not only will you get stronger opens and higher click-throughs, but you'll also have established a dialogue based on content that's specifically relevant to each prospect. Marketing gets the win with greater metrics, and the sales team will enjoy higher rapport with qualified prospects that have been pre-introduced to the company. Sales can then take the ball to provide further service to their customers and close more business.

If you're looking for more information about creating sticky content that engages your customer, check out these resources:  

  1. Ardath Albee at Marketing Interactions and her book "eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale"

  2. Joe Pulizzi, Junta42 blogger and co-author of "Get Content. Get Customers"

  3. Ann Handley, the chief content officer at MarketingProfs

  4. Connected Marketer blog

Matt West is director of marketing programs for Genius.com.

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