How do I consistently come up with things to write about in my emails?

This is a question we hear all the time from our small business customers.

Whether you’re brand new to email marketing or have been sending emails for years, you know that it’s not always easy to figure out what type of content will get people to open, read, and act on the emails you send out.

This week, we decided to talk about this important question live on the video-streaming platform, Periscope. During this live session, we received a ton of email marketing questions and offered our best advice for coming up with content your readers will love.

Here’s a look at what we covered:

  • The 3 Principles of Content Marketing
  • The impact of mobile on the content you create
  • How to use your email reports to see what content your readers enjoy
  • How to use an online survey to learn what type of content your readers want
  • How to save time with content curation
  • How to segment your email list and send targeted messages with relevant content

You can watch the recording of the session now, or read the transcript below.

The 3 Principles of Content Marketing

I think a great place to start today would be to look at 3 principles of content marketing, which come from a blog post from Dave Charest, Senior Manager of Content & Social Media at Constant Contact.

If you’re doing email marketing, you know how important content can be. You not only have to worry about designing your emails, you also need to figure out what to put in those messages you send out.

Dave introduces three principles to help you solve this problem:

Number one: All good things come from focusing on the people you want to reach and helping them become more successful.

No matter what industry you’re in, your best results will come from making your customers more successful. The same is true when it comes to your email content.

You want to start by focusing on the audience you’re trying to reach. Figure out where they are spending their time. For most people, that includes the inbox which is why email is such a compelling channel for small businesses. But the same will also be true on social media where you need to figure out where you need to be to reach your target audience.

And then you really need to pay attention to who shows up. There will be people who, without even having to put a ton of effort out there, will find you and want to interact with you. Start with them because that’s where you’re going to be able to learn the most and get some of your best content ideas.

Number two: Content is all about them; not you

A lot of people try to focus on their own stuff. What is the sale that I have going on? How can I get people to buy?

But why not switch it around and ask questions like — what do the people I’m trying to reach want to know? What do they need to know? What are their needs? What are their problems? What are the challenges that they’re facing?

Also think about, what are the things they really care about? What are the things they really love? What are the things they really hate? All of those things will feed into the content you write and put into your emails.   

What we are doing on Periscope is a great example of this. We’re really here answering our audience’s questions.

Number three: Structure is going to make the content creation process a lot easier

This is where we get into the process of actually creating the content.

When it comes to creating your own content, or curating content from other people, having processes setup that you can follow is going to make your life a lot easier.

Instead of sitting down with an empty email template and then starting to think about what you want to write, setup a process that you can follow to create and organize your content.

A great example of this comes directly from one of our customers, who have a printed out template that they use each month to write their email newsletter content. They have different sections they fill out and make sure they are getting their message across in the right way.

Curated content is really the process of collecting the content that you find valuable — whether that’s on social or on different websites — and sharing it with your audience. So you’re not only setting up structures but you’re also starting to understand that you don’t need to create everything from scratch, and can share other people’s content that you find valuable and think your audience will enjoy. They will also be interested in your take on it, so don’t just share content, but also add your perspective.

Here are some of the other topics we covered on Periscope this week:

The impact of mobile

In the past, businesses really struggled to come up with content ideas because they felt like they needed to fill a lengthy email newsletter with a variety of content. But mobile has really changed that because those lengthy newsletters don’t have the same role as they did just a few years ago.

So in the past, you may have been creating three, four, or five articles for a newsletter — and you can still create that great content — but maybe instead of sending a monthly newsletter you look to break that content up into shorter emails.

Instead of trying to jam-pack one email, we can break that up and use your email reports to see what’s actually resonating with your audience.

Using video

Using video can go a long way in getting people to open.

If you look at what we’re able to do on Periscope, the technology has really made creating videos easier than ever. Just a few years ago, we wouldn’t have been able to broadcast live from a smartphone. And you could be using Periscope as well.

But you can also create videos and upload them right to YouTube. Constant Contact customers can add a video block right to their email and drive people to your YouTube channel.

If you’re someone who isn’t a confident writer, maybe video is a better medium for you to try out. You can give advice or update people on your latest news on video and add it right to your email.

Something as simple as Instagram — where you can create 15 second videos — makes it super simple to create share-worthy videos.

Looking at your email reports

You can learn a lot from how people have interacted with your emails in the past. This can help with your email content and can also help with writing subject lines.

For example, one of our best performing versions of our Hints & Tips newsletter included an article titled 6 Mistakes that Get Your Emails Marked as Spam. We saw our highest open and click-through rate on this article.

So this shows us that this is a topic that our audience is interested in. It also shows us that talking about common mistakes in our subject line was something that resonated with our audience. So when we have other topics — for example this month we have been talking about design mistakes — we can include a similar subject line and see if it helps getting people to open.

Collecting feedback

We’ve talked a lot about why it’s important to listen to your audience. One of the easiest ways to listen to your audience is to create an online survey to collect feedback.

Your survey can specifically ask, what would you like to hear from us? But you can also focus the survey on asking people about the challenges or questions they’re faced with.

Constant Contact customers can easily create an online survey to include in the email they send out.

Single topic vs. multiple topic emails

We typically advise that your email should have one or two main topics you want to focus on, rather than trying to pack too much information into the messages you send out. But it really will depend on the goal of your email and the actions you want people to take.

For example, in our Hints & Tips newsletter we typically include three of our best blog posts, along with information about an upcoming event. But what we really see in our emails is a high concentration of clicks on the content that’s positioned at the top of our email and less clicks on the other articles.

So while you can certainly put different articles into your emails, you really need to keep in mind that it’s going to be those primary articles in your email that will get the most attention.

Using segmentation to your advantage

If you’re creating a variety of content, consider segmenting your existing list of email contacts to get more targeted in the content you send out.

When we talk about segmentation, we’re really talking about organizing your list based on specific topics and sending information based on their interests.

There can be a little more a time commitment there, but you’ll be able to create emails that are more relevant to the different people on your list.

An easy way to segment your audience is to look at your click-through reports. You can see a breakdown of everyone that clicked the links in your emails and get a better idea of what people are most interested in.

Email frequency

The frequency of your emails will really depend on your specific audience. I don’t mind receiving a weekly email from my favorite restaurant letting me know about their specials for the weekend. But if it’s a store that I shop at, I may not need to know what’s going on every week. A monthly or bi-weekly email may work better.

So you really want to think about the information you want to get across and pay attention what’s working.

If you want to test a different frequency, you can do that. Just make sure you’re paying attention to how it impacts your open and click rates. Also things like spam reports and unsubscribes because that will let you know how your audience is responding.

Are you on Periscope? Make sure to follow @ConstantContact so that you don’t miss our next live Q&A.