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A guide to using eDMs in your content marketing

Electronic Direct Mail (eDM) is another way of referring to emails. The two main types of eDM marketing include newsletters and automated email marketing.

Newsletters – a brand or organisation can have multiple types of eDM newsletters they send out on a regular or irregular basis. It depends entirely on their content strategy. From product campaigns, sale or event announcements through to long-form articles and blogs – the world’s your oyster.

Automated eDMs – these are sent to customers or members after they set off a trigger. When you get an email from a clothing brand a week after you purchased something from them, showing you other similar clothes? That’s a triggered, automated eDM.

In this guide, we’ll help you understand how to approach and test your eDM marketing.

Deciding your eDM content strategy

The first step is deciding what you want to get from your eDM marketing. Is it just to promote products that go on sale every few months? Is it to keep audiences informed about the latest news in your industry?

Once you start sending out your regular eDMs, recipients will quickly generate feelings towards it. First impressions count, as your audience is unlikely to click on your second newsletter if they didn’t get much from the first.

A good way to start is to decide if you want your eDM strategy to revolve around brand building or product marketing.

Product marketing is fairly straightforward. You have a product you want to sell, so you might have a regular newsletter that lists out new products or discounts/sales. People will quickly come to associate your eDM’s with discounts or news about your product. This means you don’t have to do too much work with your eDM – it all comes down to the quality of your product.

Brand building is a bit more nuanced. Brand building can be achieved all sorts of ways. You might write four blogs per month and list these in a monthly newsletter. This is a form of brand building as people come to associate you with the type of content you put out there.

You can tackle both brand building and product marketing with your eDM content, but it’s best to keep the two separate. Have separate strategies and calendars for each, so you can make sure you’re dedicating the right resources and time to each.

And remember, product marketing still impacts your brand. We all know those clothing brands who are always on sale and always emailing us about it. That impacts their brand perception in both negative and positive ways.

Planning your eDM content

The planning element of your eDM content can be broken down into two stages: identifying your audience and creating a calendar to follow.

Identifying your audience

Strategies come to life when they're designed with a clear audience in mind. Once you’ve identified who you’re targetting with your content, that then defines the nature of your content.

Depending on your organisation/brand, it might be obvious who your audience is. But sometimes you might have a range of audiences or you might be targeting a new audience. This often requires some qualitative research, digging deep into the needs of these audiences and mapping everything out so you can identify how to approach your content.

With a complete understanding of your own value and offering as a brand, coupled with an understanding of your audience/s, you can move to the next stage of mapping out content calendars.

Content calendars

Just like you set up content calendars for blogs, product marketing campaigns and social media, you need one for your eDM marketing. Why? Because having good visibility of what you’re producing creates consistency in your content, avoids errors or double-ups and keeps things running smoothly.

So how do you structure your eDM calendar? Do you need more than one?

Just ask yourself what’s going to be in those emails and how often you send them out. If you’re a retail brand, you’ll likely have campaign emails. But you might also have a monthly recap of your blog. This means both types of eDM can probably fit into the same calendar. Depending on how many eDM’s you’re sending out and how different they all are from one another, you may need to use a colour coding system or have separate calendars to keep track.

Example of an eDM content calendar
Try using colour coding to consolidate your eDM calendars

It doesn’t take long to set up a calendar for your eDM marketing, but once you do, you’ll have much greater transparency across your company.

Choosing an eDM platform

There are MANY eDM hosting platforms out there. Mailchimp is one of the most popular platforms, and for good reason. But there are platforms that offer different things, depending on your needs as a business/content marketer.

As a growing brand, email services like Gmail or Outlook just can’t offer the same functionality and ease-of-use as custom-built eDM platforms. Design, customisation, automation, segmentation, metrics and testing – all of these things are made easier with dedicated eDM marketing platforms.

To keep things simple, let’s list out some of the questions you should be asking to narrow down your choice of eDM platforms.

1. What do I want to get out of my eDM?

Your demands on your eDM as a channel will dictate what platform you choose. For instance, if you’re a small business looking to just keep your dedicated customers informed, a user-friendly platform like Mailchimp may be good for you. If you’re a multinational brand with a huge database and need some serious visibility of your customer behaviours, there are other platforms that offer you greater control.

2. How much do I want to pay?

Look at your budget, look at what different platforms offer, and decide on what functionalities you need and can afford.

3. How much work do I want to put into this?

It’s great to be able to do A/B testing, segment your recipient lists, automate emails based on trigger points – but if all you want to do is keep things simple and put a couple of hours into it each week, then that will help you decide between platform providers. Some platforms come with a range of integrations to help you analyse, plan and execute. Others a more simple. If you know what you want to get out of your eDM marketing, you'll be able to pick a platform more easily.

4. What support do they offer?

One of the least considered (but most important) aspects of an eDM platform is its support service. Things can go wrong with email marketing, and it helps to have a human on the other end of a line helping troubleshoot things. Look at online reviews/conversations you have with those who work in your industry and any conversations you have with sales teams from a platform to assess their support service.

Testing, testing testing

Testing is key to effective eDM marketing and long-term growth as a channel.

This can seem like an intimidating area at first, but most mainstream eDM platforms make it very easy to structure, monitor and report on any testing you do.

The power of A/B

There are various testing methods for eDMs, but one of the most popular and effective is A/B testing. This involves splitting your email database (or segment) and sending out different emails. This way, you can test between two different versions of the same email for that week. When you get your data back in real-time, you’ll see which version achieved higher performing metrics, and this acts as a data point to make more informed decisions for future posts.

Tip: the key to effective A/B testing is to 'isolate the variable' by not changing things up too much between email A and email B. The best way to do this is to plan ahead. In your eDM content calendar, create a note/column in your spreadsheet or doc where you can identify what you are testing. This could be broken down into categories, like ‘Imagery’, ‘Subject heading’, ‘CTA’, ‘Tone of voice’ or similar categories. You then know that, in that week, you’ll be testing one thing in your email. You could then pull data for multiple A/B tests around ‘Subject heading’ styles, for example. With multiple test results for this category, you have the knowledge to set rules for your eDM.

While it’s a good idea to minimise how many variables you’re testing each week (to avoid diluting the power of your data), you can test multiple differences. The trick is to test very different categories of data. For instance, you might test both your subject headings for an eDM as well as the location of your main button (Call To Action). These are very different data sets and are easier to track/analyse.

Ask a friend

Another easy but powerful way to test your eDMs is to do some old fashioned user testing (UX). This might just mean sitting down with some friends, colleagues or family members to note their experience of your eDM.

Generate a range of questions you ask them, based on who they are and they’re knowledge of your brand/product. Different audience types will come to your eDM with different expectations, so they will change in how they respond to your questions.

Effective UX testing comes from having a wide range of testing subjects. Diversity leads to richer data as a marketer, giving you the knowledge to make better decisions for your eDMs.

Tips for your eDMs

With an idea of some of the core principles behind effective eDM marketing, below are some quick tips we’ve compiled to keep posted above your bed. If your eDM engagement is falling flat, remember to give these a look over to make sure you’re on the right track.

1. Make first impressions count

In a world of cluttered inboxes, you only get one chance. A dynamic subject line is the deal breaker between Open and Trash. A dream subject line should spark curiosity.

Your subject line should reflect the tone of voice you want to project for this channel. It might be more casual than other channels. Entice your reader but be cautious of that fine line between engaging subject lines and clickbait. If you stray too far into clickbait, you’ll alienate your audience.

2. Be in the right place at the right time

Consider when your demographic is most likely to have the time to read your email. Sending something important on a Friday afternoon when everyone has escaped the office probably isn’t going to be as effective as sending it on a Tuesday lunchtime or on the morning commute.

It’s time for an experiment. Monitor open rates when you send messages at different times of the day and work to develop your winning formula. There’s no set answer, as it depends on your audience type.

3. Keep your eDMs short and sweet

We all have a bias against eDMs. We’re always closer towards sending an email to our spam folder than reading it. For this reason, keep your language concise, clear and helpful.

4. Be cautious of overusing images

Images are a debatable topic. Avoid an eDM that sits entirely within an image, or even overusing images throughout your eDM. An employee’s email settings might have a default setting that turns off images, making your eDM look disjointed. A lack of text in your eDM can also impact its accessibility, while bad image settings can make them appear odd on a mobile.

Testing will get you to where you want to go with images. If your emails list out a bunch of links, for example, then keep your images to a minimum. Why get in the way of the audience and the information? If you do use images, make sure they are serving a purpose. Do they enhance the experience and engagement of the eDM, or are they just window dressing?

5. Reach the right people

Make sure your message is always personal and appeals directly to your audience. Segment your database to achieve this. The great thing about eDM marketing is that you can meticulously tailor your emails to parts of the database and send out as unique messages as you want. Activate this opportunity. Don’t just carpet bomb everyone with the same words. And remember to always monitor performance and learn from the stats.

6. Set expectations and stick to them

In terms of scheduling, you may get to the point where your database gets accustomed to receiving their weekly eDM on a Wednesday morning. This is a golden opportunity, so stay consistent. This kind of relationship is just what you are trying to build. Maintain that regular trust and write killer copy in every instalment. If you get it right, your readership will get into the habit of reading your weekly message.

7. Tell people when you’ll be back

Why not try a 3-week ‘series’ eDM special to encourage people to get into the habit of ‘checking back’ each week? Drop a teaser of what is to come over the coming weeks. A promotion you would like to run, or a multifold product. The ultimate cliff-hanger being that it won’t be revealed until the next instalment. All of a sudden, you’re not a corporation, you’re a friend sharing a secret. You’ve built a relationship already and made your emails a habit of every week.

8. Put a face to the name

It can be a great idea to make your eDMs come from a person. There’s nothing more powerful than the voice of personal experience. It doesn’t just have to be from the CEO or the Marketing Manager. Open up to the possibility of giving everyone a voice. It’s a great opportunity to introduce staff in their area of expertise or establish the idea that eDMs are generated by a team of dedicated people.

9. Avoid the spam filter

Avoid spammy words like ‘free’, ‘discount’ and ‘win’ in your subject line and you’ll avoid being filtered straight into Junk folders. Reward your readers with good copy and something they can take away with them. Use punchy, clear and mobilising call-to-actions and bingo! They’re on your website, flocking to your store or calling for more information.

10. Create a scannable eDM

While you can create an eDM which has a lot of content on it, if you want to take people to your website, it’s best to make the eDM scannable. To do this, you can:

  • use shorter sentences (approximately 12–20 words)

  • use bullet points

  • use plain language (don’t be overly verbose)

  • break up paragraphs (four or five sentences maximum)

  • use descriptive language for all links (e.g., avoid ‘click here’ or ‘find out more’, as it requires them to go back and read the previous copy).

11. Finish strong

Finish the email by prompting the reader to act. Using a verb-driven call to action (CTA), such as ‘explore our current discounts now’ or ‘discover more articles’, can help secure more customers by encouraging your reader to go where you want them to. Remember to be descriptive enough in your CTA’s that people don’t have to go back to prior copy to understand where it will take them.

12. Know your regulations

Regions and countries have different laws and regulations around online advertising. Be aware of what laws relate to your marketing communications, such as GDPR rules in the European Union. In Australia, ACMA has rules around spam, consent to marketing communications, and providing opportunities to unsubscribe. You may also need to be conscious of product/service-specific regulations and any promises or claims you make with your communications.

Get support with your eDM strategy

One of our specialisations as an agency is helping you navigate everything mentioned in this guide. From creating a clear strategy through to execution, we can help you. Or we can simply help polish an already solid approach. Get in touch with us to chat about your eDM strategy.


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