This is the 32nd post of a 50 article series for beginners building marketing at B2B startups.
Despite the explosive growth in digital marketing over the last decade, good old fashioned email continues to be a primary channel for inbound marketing. Once targets provide their contact details to download a piece of valuable content and thus become a lead, we now have an opportunity to email them additional content each week, continuing to nurture the relationship until that lead “raises their hand” to request a demo and talk to sales, thus becoming an MQL.
The weekly email campaigns are incredibly important to get right since they are often directly responsible for driving MQLs. To keep us organized, let’s divide our email marketing into two categories:
1. Plain text emails
These emails look as if they were sent personally, and have a familiar look that drives responses. They are best utilized in nurture workflows or automatic responses to an action, like downloading a piece of content.
2. HTML emails
When we establish a weekly cadence of content marketing, our goal is to launch a new “offer” (i.e. piece of content like ebook or webinar) once per week. Each week, we distribute that content by sending an HTML email to our list of leads. These emails have graphics and call to action buttons, but the design has to be incredibly simple. For today’s post, we are going to focus on HTML emails. Let’s dig in:
When my team first launched our marketing campaigns, we experimented with many email formats, ultimately landing on one that looks like this:
Each email is structured the same way with a set of components that varies for each campaign. The design and content change, but each email contains the same components:
The top header is what catches the lead’s attention and ultimately determines if they are going to continue reading the email. Our design team creates each header from scratch to graphically depict the content offer in the email. It’s important that this header has text that is easy to read, and graphics that pop out to catch the eye.
The first paragraph of each email is the “tl;dr” (too long, didn’t read) of what the content offer is all about. It plainly states that the lead is invited to watch a webinar or download an ebook.
Bulleted value props
If the lead wants to learn more about the offer, we add details about the value they get (i.e. what they will learn) by taking the content offer. This is always done in bullet points so it is easy to quickly digest.
Call to action
Popping out in a contrasting color is the call to action button that links to the content offer’s landing page. The landing page has similar information as the email, with a form to fill in additional contact details and receive a link to download the content.
Signature with photo
Even though this email is automatically sent, it always comes from a person at our company with their name and photo at the bottom. This ads an additional level of personalization that makes leads comfortable to reply to the email and ask questions.
There is a ton of research out there on how to best structure subject lines that increase open rates. My team has done quite a bit of our experimentation and have found mixed results. Consider A/B testing multiple subject lines based on length, verb use and tone. Each target persona will identify with different variations.
Time to send
Similar to subject lines, there are plenty of studies that have measured the best time to send emails. After combing through many articles, my team landed on Tuesday mornings. We figured that Monday is when everyone is slammed coming back to work, and we want to leave as much time as possible to take action on the email during the week, thus Tuesdays were the next choice. Mailchimp compiled some additional insight on this here.
Each email we send should have a ReplyTo email address. Even if the email is HTML, many leads will hit the reply button to ask a question. We should be ready to answer.
Our marketing automation system should be the primary tool used for email marketing. All of our lead lists, email builder and mass sending engine should come from the same system. This is one of the reasons it is so important to have a marketing automation system, even at the early stages of a startup: it pulls all of the marketing activities, from email to landing pages to tracking cookies, together into one seamless place.
Each email we send generates a mountain of data we can analyze and optimize. Some details we should be paying attention to include:
- Opens: how many leads actually opened the email?
- Clicks: how many leads opened and then clicked the CTA button?
- Actions: how many leads downloaded a content offer from the email?
The marketing automation system tracks and displays all of these metrics. To best optimize email, we want to segment our lead list into smaller groups and send them different variations of the email to see which variation performs best (i.e. A/B testing).
This is a very high level overview of how to get started with your first email marketing campaigns at a startup. Email is all about experimentation — the best next steps are to write a few email templates with a valuable content offer and try sending to a small group of leads. Analyze the performance and iterate from there.