eCommerce Email Marketing: How to Sell Through Content

Updated: July 30, 2019

Content and commerce is all the rage right now, and rightfully so. More than ever, customers are looking for brands that they connect with, and content is key in building this connection with your audience.

If you are a brand that is looking to grow your customer base (and what brand isn’t), content should be a key part of your strategy.

Hard sales just don’t work anymore. You cannot bully a customer into a sale the way a used car salesman of the past might have been able to.

Nobody likes this, and honestly, people just won’t stand for it in this day and age. When a salesperson tries to bully or take advantage of you, it gives you a horrible feeling that just makes you want to walk away. And in online sales, it is just too easy to close out of a tab if you don’t like what you see. Bombarding potential customers with emails and offers won’t force them to convert. It will just cause them to disconnect from your brand.

Content, on the other hand, gives you the opportunity to sell softly and to build a real relationship.

With content, rather than making that hard sell before you even know your customers or whether your product is right for them, you can educate. You can help potential customers learn about your products and offering, nurture them as leads, and then finally make a sale if there is a good fit that is the result of genuine interest.

Customers love this. They love to feel like the people they are buying from actually care about getting them the right product and meeting their needs.

So where does email come into play?

Where does email marketing fit in?

Email is not the first touchpoint with potential customers. It is generally a couple of levels down in the conversion funnel. Generally, we run educational ads that link to content to first bring a potential new customer in and then will request their email address as part of a promotion.

If you don’t get their email at that point, don’t stress. Once a potential customer has visited your site, you can use retargeting ads to serve them additional content and bring them back to your site again for another chance to capture their email address.

And once you have a potential customer’s email address, you’re on the road to conversion.

At the point that you gather an email address there are two scenarios: either that person has purchased from you or they haven’t purchased from you.

If they haven’t purchased from you, we’d recommend dropping them into a pre-purchase sequence that is designed to educate and then provide an offer at the end of the sequence.

If they have purchased, we would drop them into a post-purchase sequence which is designed to help them get the most out of their purchase and encourage them to give a review, share their purchase with friends, or cross-sell them on additional products.

How important is email marketing?

If you get email marketing right, then it will likely be your number one revenue driver. This is true for most businesses that we work with.

If you get email marketing wrong, you are leaving money on the table. If you are spending money and putting effort into building your email list, you need to make sure that you know what to do with it. A high-quality list is a huge asset when used correctly and produces great returns.

Not sure if you want email marketing to be your number one revenue driver? Well, think again. Email is a direct line to your potential customers, and one of the only channels that you have complete control over. With email marketing, you can not only talk directly with customers, but you will also gain more and more data about them over time. Based on their interaction with your list and their purchases, you can create increasingly personalized content and more targeted offers going forward. In other channels, you can’t do that, which is why email is the best and most reliable channel that you can have.

That being said, here is a note of caution. Be careful when you are building your list. You want to build a high-quality list of people that are actually interested in your brand and your product. Don’t trick people into joining your list through massive sweepstakes or too-good-to-be-true offers. This might lead to a huge jump in your list size, but it will likely be low quality and lower the overall metrics of your email marketing performance.

You really don’t want people to sign up to your list unless they are truly going to be interested in your product. If they do, the jokes on you. You will be wasting your time and money trying to sell to a potential customer that will never buy.

Steps to Developing an Effective Email Marketing Channel

There are two different types of email marketing that we recommend pursuing in parallel.

The first is behavior-triggered sequences. The second is promotional emails based on your marketing calendar.

Behavior-Triggered Email Sequences

These are automated series of emails that are sent out based on a subscriber’s behavior. There is no administrative effort to trigger these emails once they are set up. If a subscriber does something that drops them into one of these sequences, the emails go out automatically.

A few sequences that we usually set up as a base for new email marketing clients are a pre-purchase sequence, a post-purchase sequence, and an abandoned cart sequence. The pre-purchase sequence gives you the opportunity to educate a potential customer and build a relationship with them, before making an offer they can’t refuse. The post-purchase sequence is intended to make sure your customer is happy with their purchase, to encourage them to share it with their friends and to bring them back to the store to purchase again in the future. The abandoned cart sequence is triggered when a visitor initiates checkout but does not complete their purchase. Encouraging them to return to their cart and eventually offering them a coupon helps capture visitors closest to making a purchase.

Beyond this, you might have product-specific email sequences or a VIP sequence for customers that pass a certain purchase threshold.

Over time, you should optimize these sequences to make them more and more personalized.

Promotional Emails

Promotional emails, on the other hand, are based on your predetermined marketing calendar, where email is just one of the channels through which your promos get announced.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t segment your list and be intentional about the offers that you send to your customers. Every promotion won’t go out to every person on your list. If an offer is irrelevant to a certain segment or if a customer has just purchased before a sale launches, it is a good idea to exclude them from these emails.

How to Build a Successful Email Campaign

When you build an email campaign, whether it’s for a behavior-triggered sequence or a promotional email, here are the top things to consider to ensure your campaign is successful.

1) Define an audience and pick one message.

You want to be as personalized as possible in every email that you send. Then, keep it simple. Make sure there is only one core message inside your email. Focus is key. You want people to take action and click through on the main purpose of the email, so don’t make it crowded with a bunch of secondary messages.

2) Write the copy.

Say as little as possible inside the email. As we mentioned above, you want your readers to take action, so don’t overwhelm them with text. People have short attention spans, so don’t make them work too hard. Tease them with the offer or content and then get them to click through to your site as soon as possible. Make sure your CTAs are clear.

Getting people to click through to your site is not just about conversion. Once you get them back to your site, you can retarget them with ads to bring them back and convert them later.

Also, make sure to get several people’s eyes on this content before the email goes out, perhaps even a professional editor. There is nothing that lowers your credibility quite like silly typos in your subject lines or headlines (trust us, this happens all the time).

3) Design the email.

Your email design should be reflective of the tone of your message and the audience. It may just be a text based email or it may be a fully custom email design. We recommend A/B testing email designs to your audience. Sometimes text based emails out-perform heavily designed emails when the message is right.

4) Test your subject lines.

We recommend testing 3-4 punchy subject lines for each email. Getting a subscriber to open your emails is the hardest part. Most people receive a ton of emails each day, and you need yours to stand out enough to warrant attention. That is very difficult. So, test a few different subject lines to intrigue them (without being dishonest). Send your test out to a portion of the list, and then send the winning subject line out to the rest of your list.

5) Keep the scent alive.

If someone reads your email and is interested enough to click through to your website, you need to maintain the scent. Make sure that the message on the page they land on is consistent with the message they read in your email. If you advertise a promotion in your email, make sure that the homepage banner matches the offer in your email.

This is a key place where brands fail all the time and is often the difference between a customer dropping off the site and continuing through to make a purchase.

6) Schedule the email.

There is no “best” time to send emails. This will depend on your audience. You can start with best practices on what time of day to send emails and what days of the week, but make sure to test this for your own audience and your own brand. Think about your customers and their typical behavior and schedule your emails accordingly.


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