How to choose the right email marketing platform

Choosing Email PlatformEmail is a critical element of any B2B marketing program because it enables you to communicate with your customers and prospects on a schedule that you control. In addition, if you grow your email list over time, it can become a strategic asset that can help you grow your business. And, don’t forget that costs per-person emailed actually decreases as your list gets larger. Like any marketing technology, email marketing platforms very widely in their features and usability. Here are some tips to select the right email marketing platform for your organization.

Step 1: Define your needs

First, create a spreadsheet that summarizes your team’s wish list of features and functionality. Next, rate each feature on a scale of 1 to 5, where five is essential and one is optional. Use this list to reach consensus with your team on its must-have features. Important features to look for include these:

Personalization. Personalized emails almost always perform better than those that are not. Look for email service providers that enable you to personalize subject lines as well as the body of the message.

A/B testing. You can never be sure what your audience will respond to. That’s why you need to run experiments with your emails. The concept behind A/B testing is simple: Create two variations of a headline, call-to-action button or other page element and send them to a sub-set of your list (e.g., 500 people each). Then, see which one performs best. Once you declare the winner, send that version to the rest of your list.

Performance tracking. To what extent can you track audience interaction with your emails? You not only need to track message open rates, but also click throughs for each of the links within each message.

Templates. How easy is it to set up templates within the email platform? Does the email platform vendor need to create the templates for you, and at what cost? You’ll want a lot of flexibility here, especially as you segment your list. Be sure you can customize templates with your organization’s branding requirements.

Deliverability. Before selecting an email platform, make sure you ask about these features, which can enhance the deliverability of your messages:

  • DNS, SKF and DKIM certifications help receiving mail servers verify the authenticity of your messages, which helps improve deliverability. Your email provider should be able to help you create these settings on your server.
  • Ask if the provider “seeds” client lists with email addresses, so it can verify the deliverability of each of them and can identify any problems before they become major issues.
  • Ask if your messages will be sent out from a shared IP or via a dedicated IP address. If it’s the former, you have little control over the reputation of that IP address. If another client is spamming its lists, your deliverability could suffer. With a dedicated IP address, you will be the only domain sending email over it, which improves your reputation and therefore your deliverability.

On boarding. What resources does the email platform provide to help you move your email lists over to their platform? Do they offer training or live support to help you solve common problems?

Support options. How quickly can you reach someone to help you solve a problem when it occurs? You should have the option of working with a human being when you run into big problems that need to be solved immediately, whether by phone or live online chat.

Step 2: Evaluate email platforms

Open your wish list of rated features and add columns to the right for each of the email platforms you are considering. Once again, rate each feature on a numerical scale based on the extent to which it supports the functionality you need.

Step 3: Trial use

Once you’ve identified one or two email platforms that appear to be a good fit, request a trial use. You need to determine how well each tool fits into your workflow before you make a final decision.

Step 4: Selection and implementation

Select the email platform that is the best fit for your company. Import your lists and set up your templates. Then, you’re ready to go. Good luck with your new email platform!

There’s a runaway train barreling towards you

RunawayTrain

Today, if you’re not yet on board the content marketing train, you may get run over. It’s that simple. Your customers have changed and you need to adapt the way you’re marketing. If you continue to use the same old ways to communicate with them, you’ll be left in the dust.

Today’s B2B customers tend to ignore pushy messaging and salespeople. They prefer to do product and vendor research on their own, and don’t want to talk to a salesperson until they’re ready to make a purchase. They want to be educated, not sold to.

That’s why content marketing is so powerful today. It starts with a target audience’s needs, and aims to build relationships and trust by providing informative, helpful, useful content.

If you insist on maintaining the status quo, you do so at your own risk. Here’s what’s at stake if you do nothing:

1. Competitors will run you over. What if one of your major competitors launched a well-designed and well-executed content marketing strategy? Let’s say it does a marvelous job of answering the questions and meeting the informational needs of your mutual audience. They’ve become THE trusted source for information on your type of product or service. It will be much harder if not impossible for you to catch up with and surpass them.

2. Flat sales. Your customers have changed how they buy products – but you haven’t changed how you communicate with them. They’re learning to ignore your messages, which are typically all about you, not them. They don’t trust you as much as they once did, because you’re not focused on their needs like your competitor is. That means you sales will probably remain stagnant or slowly decline, as your competitor’s content initiative gains steam. The content marketing train has left the station – and you’re not on it.

3. Commoditization. Your products and services are in danger of becoming commodities because you’ve not the company influencing the way people think and feel in your niche. Becoming the industry expert to your target audience requires a lot of excellent content. But you’ve decided to abdicate that role. Your competitors have filled that void by providing high-quality knowledge and education to your mutual customers. Maybe that’s why prospective customers treat your products like a commodity.

4. Diminished customer loyalty. Like a magnet, customers and prospects tend to gravitate to those suppliers who do the best job of anticipating their information needs – before, during AND after the sale. Today’s customers want to be educated, not just sold to. If you treat them as a single transaction, you’ll miss the opportunity to build deep relationships with them and that will inevitably result with them tossing you on the trash heap.

5. You’ll become invisible. At the very least, your old-fashioned interruptive ads, emails and direct mail campaigns will teach your target audience to ignore you and your brand. At the worst, they will remove you from consideration for upcoming purchases. They may even actively avoid your brand. Once the damage has been done, it’s hard to reverse.

What you need to do now

Don’t panic. You need to create a content marketing strategy now and here are some ways to get started:

  • Interview your sales people and key customers. Learn more about their needs, and the ways in which their buying process has evolved.
  • Use the information you have gathered to map out the customer journey, from the time a prospect realizes he has a need until he makes a purchase.
  • Use what you’ve learned to determine the types of content that are needed at each step of their journey to nurture them toward a sale.

Your focus should be to provide them with the right content, at the right time, in the formats they prefer. Good luck!

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Stop burning cash on these inefficient content marketing strategies

Stop Burning Cash

Would you stack bagfuls of cash into a crude pyramid, and then set it on fire? Of course not! That would be stupid, and you’re not stupid, so you’re not going to ignore inefficiencies in your content marketing initiative, are you?

Here are five areas that are especially problematic:

1. You’re producing content, but it’s campaign focused

Campaign thinking is deeply embedded in the minds of most marketers, which is why it’s so hard to escape. Campaigns, which can last anywhere from several weeks to several months, tend to confuse today’s buyers. They love the advice you’re giving them on a timely, valuable topic, but then you suddenly move on to something completely different as you transition to the next campaign.

And… you’ve lost them.

2. Failure to cut through the clutter

Your target audience is swamped with messages which all sound the same. “Blah, blah, blah…” (cue eye roll and tune out). Why should they pay attention to yours? To stick out like a sore thumb, your content must have what Joe Pulizzi, author of Content Inc. and the founder of the Content Marketing Institute, calls a content tilt:

“Your content must be different. It must fill a content hole that is not being filled by someone else… Without tilting your content just enough to truly have a different story to tell, you likely will see your content fade into the rest of the clutter and be forgotten,” he explains.

Too often, brands try to target too broad of an audience with content that is too similar to what their competitors are publishing. Generic, derivative, “me-too” content gets ignored today. What’s the solution? Narrow your focus until you can define a subset of your audience that you CAN serve with a unique, valuable content offering.

3. No plan for nurturing prospects

By now, most companies realize that they need to provide gated access to white papers, webinars and other resources as a way to gather email addresses. But then they confuse these interested people with prospects who are ready to buy. They’re not the same!

What’s missing is a nurturing strategy – a sequence of content, resources and emails, delivered over time – that is designed to move them steadily toward a sale. Don’t just focus on the “top of the funnel” (acquiring prospects’ contact information); have a strategy for the rest of their customer journey, too.

4. It’s all about you, you, you

Some marketers still insist on using their blogs to promote themselves and all of the great advantages of their products and services. That’s not what today’s customers want. They want to be educated. They want content that addresses their needs, challenges and aspirations. Instead of telling YOUR story, demonstrate your understanding of THEIR needs by addressing common pain points and providing relief for them.

5. Not building a base of email subscribers

During the last decade, many companies have focused on building their social media followers, while underinvesting in their email lists. There’s only one problem with this approach: You don’t own those social channels. The rules can be changed at any time – and have been doing so with increasing frequency. Frequently, they want you to pay to reach the followers you have painstakingly gathered. Instead, focus your efforts on the digital properties you DO own: your website and your email list. Continue to use social media, but adjust your tactics to always drive your followers back to your website.

Where can you improve?

Invest some time to identify your shortcomings and make plans to correct them. Remember: Every great success isn’t a “one and done” deal. Usually, it involves numerous setbacks and course corrections. Don’t get discouraged. Improve, assess, then improve again. The cumulative effect of this approach will put you miles ahead of your nearest competitor!

Rock your list – it’s your biggest asset

Rock Your List

Do you have a strategy for growing your email list and using it to communicate with your target audience on a consistent basis? If not, you’re missing a huge opportunity.

Email isn’t a sexy topic, but it represents the backbone of nearly every successful content initiative and digital marketing success story you’ve ever heard about. There is no better tool for building your online community and communicating with them on a regular basis than email.

Why is email vital to your company?

Email amps up trust. When someone signs up for your email list, it’s a sign of trust and interest in your brand. They’re intrigued by the content they’ve seen so far, and they want to learn more about how you think and the solutions you offer. Even if they aren’t ready to buy immediately, they’re thinking about it.

You own this. Your email list is an asset that you own and control. In contrast, the owners of the social media channels you use tend to change their rules on a regular basis, as they explore various models for monetizing their audiences. If you don’t own the platform, you’re at the mercy of someone else. That’s a huge plus for email. You own that. Plus, this asset can be valued if you ever sell your company.

Repeat traffic. An enewsletter, published on a regular basis, keeps prospective customers returning to your website to engage with your content. It’s essential to educating and nurturing your target audience down the path to a sale or other desirable action.

Email enables you to communicate with your audience in a creative, personalized way that blog posts or tweets can’t. Considering that research shows that people buy based on emotions and then backfill with logic, then it’s essential that you include this tactic in your marketing mix.

How to jump-start your email list

Even if you have an anemic email list, it’s not too late to transform it into a powerful marketing tool. Here are some “bodybuilding” tips for your email list:

  • Deliver your best content to your audience. Always. Audience attention is a fickle thing. Make a commitment to deliver real value with them on a consistent basis, sharing information that is tailored to their needs. Make them feel COMPELLED to sign up for your enewsletter, just so they won’t miss your NEXT big insight!
  • Place an e-newsletter subscription form prominently on your website. Many companies treat this as an afterthought. It should actually occupy a key position on your website. Here are some recommended locations for it:
    • Above the fold, on the home page
    • Above the fold, In the right-hand column of content
    • Centered, between your website’s masthead and its primary content area. This is a can’t-miss location.
    • In a pop-up window. Many people don’t like pop-ups, but they work. Make sure you select one that plays well with mobile devices – otherwise, Google may penalize you.
    • Make sure it’s clear and easy to understand. Limit the number of fields – the more you ask for, the less likely they are to fill it out.
  • Provide them with a compelling reason WHY. Be very clear about what you’ll provide them in return for sharing their email address with you. What will your enewsletter contain that is unique and valuable? How often will you send it out? What will they miss if they don’t subscribe?
  • Exchange something of great value for their email address. Offer them an ebook, a checklist or other exclusive content. But remember: This is a two-step process. Just because they gave you their email address to get your latest content asset doesn’t automatically give you permission to email them on an ongoing basis. After you get them to sign up for your free goodies, make a separate ask for the newsletter subscription. Get permission – always!
  • Publish consistently. Just like your blog, your enewsletter needs to be published on a consistent schedule. Your readers will become conditioned to receive your communications at a set date or time of day, increasing engagement.

“Tilt” your way to grab your audience’s attention

Grab Audience's Attention

In the classic Spanish novel The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, a nobleman becomes so enamored with stories of brave knights and ladies fair that his perception of reality becomes warped. At one point, he attacks windmills, convinced that he must bravely vanquish these “ferocious giants.”

Don QuixoteAll too often, content marketers act like Don Quixote, mistaking content volume for content quality. We churn out copious volumes of “me-too” content, and then wonder why it gets ignored by most of the people we want to influence. We assume we know what our customers’ challenges, needs and aspirations are, but we miss them by a mile. Still, we charge forward like Don Quixote, convinced of the nobility of our quest.

Are you tilting at windmills with your content?

Let’s try an exercise. Open your company’s blog in a browser tab, and those of your competitors in other tabs. Now imagine the company logos and color schemes were scrubbed from each of these web pages. Would you be able to tell them apart?

In most industries, the answer is a resounding NO!

If your company is like most B2B firms, you’re producing blog posts, newsletters and other content that looks and reads remarkably like what your competitors are publishing. But if you can’t tell your content apart from that of your competitors, then neither can your target audience. That’s a big problem!

How to differentiate your content

If you’re frustrated by the state of your content marketing efforts, it may be time for you to “tilt” your perspective so that you are able to tell a unique story – one that cuts through the clutter and that is uniquely focused on the needs of your target audience. One way to do that is to ask smarter, more creative questions:

  • What assumptions are you making about your target audience that could be skewing your perceptions of their needs?
  • Imagine you have no prior knowledge of your target audience. How would you accurately learn about their needs? In other words, return to a state of “beginner’s mind,” free of any preconceived notions about them and their needs.
    What other perspectives should you consider?
  • How can you change the conversation in a way that’s so compelling that it will command the attention of your target audience?
    Most companies go very broad when defining their target audience; that usually means they have a lot of competition. Instead, think narrow: Is there a sub-niche within your main audience that you ought to learn more about and target with your content? Your goal is to become the recognized expert within that sub-niche.
  • Should you create a new product category? It should give you greater visibility than introducing another “me-too product” in an existing category. Bonus: In the short term, your brand will come to be identified with this new product category, which increases your odds of success.
  • Take the advice of Peter Thiel, the co-founder of PayPal: “Figure out something that nobody else is doing and look to create a monopoly in some area that’s been underdeveloped. Find a problem nobody else is solving.” That’s often where opportunity hides.
  • Which issues and topics are none of your competitors covering in your market niche? What is everyone missing? What do customers and your competitors take for granted? Can you take a stand on one of these issues? Just make sure you’ve got your customers’ best interests in mind when you do so.
  • What “jobs to be done” are your customers faced with? What’s inadequate about the existing solutions they’re using? Look for opportunities to educate them about a more effective alternative that will elegantly meet their needs.

Armed with the answers to these questions, you should be able to identify a compelling content tilt that you can use to deliver real value to your target audience and build productive relationships with them. Unlike Don Quixote, you will no longer be tilting at windmills. You’ll be winning the minds and hearts of real customers like never before.