Don’t use promotional bait personalized with your company name
by Meryl K. Evans, editor, Professional Services Journal
InternetVIZ CEO Hank Stroll — director of marketing, operations director, salesperson and waiter — knew that it took more than simply publishing an email newsletter to attract and keep subscribers and eventually convert them into customers. He worked to publish content that touched the hearts and minds of B2B executives and professionals by providing them with information that adds value to their everyday professional lives.
I learned Hank’s mantra when I started working with him in June 2001. B2B professionals buy when they trust that the value of the content applies to them and it comes from a trustworthy and stable company. He accomplished this by helping clients share expertise, advice, tips and other information that adds value to their readers’ everyday professional lives.
Since opening its doors in January 2001, InternetVIZ has aimed to be a custom publisher of content for B2B companies. In other words, we started doing content marketing almost a decade before it got its fancy name. Hank’s journey into helping businesses with their lead-nurturing efforts began with this content marketing.
Filling the pool with qualified leads
One primary benefit of a well-crafted journal strategy is to capture information from people who may not be ready to buy yet may be potential customers. A company’s email newsletter converts faceless, anonymous hits into measurable Web leads by providing a low-commitment offer to people interested in your type of product or service. There’s no cost other than sharing your email address.
This permission-based marketing approach identifies potential prospects who may not even perceive they have a need. Nonetheless, they face the challenges that your product or service can help solve.
Email newsletters also keep your company in front of prospects on a regular basis, increasing the chance that they’ll think of you when they’re ready to buy. By consistently pulling prospects back to your website and placing your company in the top of their minds, newsletters work to create a pool of qualified leads.
Why bad content is bad bait
B2B decision-makers have a low tolerance for interruptive marketing practices, such as companies sending only information about their company, products and services. This is especially true in the early stages of the sales cycle, before prospects become warm leads.
Smart, effective content marketing provides executives and professionals with constant access to information that touches their hearts and minds. This gives them power over commercial messages they didn’t have before. For a company to succeed today, it must focus on acquiring — and continually nurturing — its customers’ permission to receive content.
Instead of annoying prospects by disrupting their most coveted commodity — time — content marketing offers incentives to accept advertising voluntarily. It’s a fundamentally different and powerfully effective way of thinking about advertising products and services.
The content marketing test
Is your company practicing content marketing? Take this three-question test to find out:
- Does every single marketing effort encourage a learning relationship with your prospects and customers?
- Does your content invite customers to raise their hands and start communicating.
- Does your content add value to your readers’ everyday professional lives?
To be most effective, the focus of newsletters should be on the customers’ interests, not on the company’s achievements. Hank prefers to call the email newsletters “journals,” because the name denotes value. Using a subtle and effective process, email journals gently lead readers to adopt, over time, an outlook the company supports.
Most companies ignore this basic principle. They send newsletters that make vanity statements, telling people about their latest partnerships or pestering readers with “buy me now” messages. People delete these as soon as they arrive (I do!), and companies following this practice rarely see their journal lists develop the way they should.
A review of three types of email marketing approaches
Spam is bulk unsolicited commerce email, and it makes up more than 90 percent of all email sent. For the few messages that make it past spam filters, B2B business professionals like you and me have developed a sixth sense that detects spam in an instant by glancing at the from line and subject line. Simply, spam is the enemy of permission marketers and despised by most everyone. (Many still send it, so they obviously like it!)
Since email is still the most effective B2B marketing tool in the marketer’s toolbox, the trick is to ensure nothing in your journal triggers your reader’s sixth sense. (Bet you’re thinking of the movie. Get this. My mom figured out the big secret behind the story without ever seeing it!)
Opt-out email lists require readers to take action to unsubscribe from the list. Without requesting the email, a reader receives a message that includes the words, “If you don’t want to receive email from us, unsubscribe by clicking this link and we’ll remove you immediately.” A journal with a high reader value and a targeted opt-out list is a good combination that some content marketers use with success.
The legal requirement to use an email address is to have a previous business relationship with the recipient. That includes email collected at trade shows or from “Send me more information” forms on your website. That said, some companies spurn sending any email to a recipient who hasn’t given explicit permission to opt in.
Opt-in email lists require readers to agree to become part of an email list, and they’re not subscribers until they agree. Some companies use double opt in, whereby you have to not only give permission to be added to the list, but also confirm it with a follow-up email.
Getting bites with your journal
Want more subscribers? Send one journal to your opt-out list. Add a note before the banner that explains the value of subscribing to your journal and includes a link to the subscription page. Those who sign up are opt-in subscribers.
With opt-in and opt-out lists, make it clear to your readers why you want their email addresses and how you plan to use them. That is, you will not rent their address, you will protect their privacy and you will only send information that adds value to their professional lives. Skipping this step could have people think your company is a spammer. And that won’t sit well with your best customers. A good practice is to include “We respect your privacy” in the subscription box.
Once you receive permission from readers, start working on earning their trust by sharing the tools (valued — not promotional — content) from your tackle box that will help them catch more fish and grow their business. You gain credibility and name recognition, so your company stands out in the vast ocean that’s the inbox.
That’s how Professional Services Journal has thrived for more than 10 years. (Here’s the exact 10-year-old September 2003 issue!) Not subscribed? Check out the PSJ newsletter archive to see what you can expect, and subscribe here.
About the author
Meryl K. Evans is senior editor at InternetViZ and the content maven behind the Organizational Excellence Journal and Professional Services Journal. Contact her or connect with her on Twitter @merylkevans or elsewhere.