You can define conversion any way you choose.
Marketers, especially those with longer sales cycles, often elect to call an email opt-in a conversion. It’s not wrong to do so; but let’s face it, most of your email subscribers don’t give you a lot of their time, and only a few give you their money.
A real conversion involves cash or a credit card, right? In this post, I explore a vastly underused, but highly effective, tactic for winning sales — the email autoresponder series.
The highest performing email strategy
What types of automated email messages do online businesses use?
Research indicates that welcome (onboarding), thank you, and transactional emails are the most common. Autoresponders are another email strategy used by businesses.
A few years ago, businesses were just starting to use email autoresponders. Email marketing expert Chris Hexton of Vero said, “About 75% of businesses are missing out on the email marketing sweet spot.” Hexton explains:
“Newsletters have an open rate around 20%, and transactional emails have an open rate around 50%. This means that trigger-based transactional emails are over 100% more effective than newsletters. The fact is that emails sent based on customer actions get more opens, clicks, and conversions because they are contextual.”
Now, however, more businesses (about 49%) are using autoresponders to their benefit. Autoresponders are in the sweet spot because they provide the user with context. For example, according to one study, “the most powerful automated email for B2C retailers is the abandoned cart email, which receives a whopping average click-through rate of 40%.”
Autoresponder emails build trust
An autoresponder is a series of emails, usually focused on a specific topic, delivered in a predetermined sequence at predetermined intervals. The process can begin when someone subscribes to your general email list. Alternatively, you can create new lists catered specifically to those who want the content.
Generally, the autoresponder aims to transfer know-how, but making offers and attempting to sell are not out of bounds. You’ll probably need to experiment to arrive at the right balance of educational and promotional copy. You’ll want to consistently address your prospect’s needs and stress the benefits of your products or services.
If things go as planned, your email autoresponder series will build trust with your prospects. Your messages will make regular appearances in their inboxes. And, you’ll be sharing useful lessons and progressively gaining mindshare. If your content is well received, you’ll essentially be training the reader to open your emails, visit your website, and ideally, do business with you.
This is the formula, simply stated:
Repeated touches and visits = familiarity = trust = sales.
Select a smart topic for your autoresponder
If your autoresponder series is to be a hit with your readers, it has to satisfy an informational need, so you’ll want to choose your topic carefully. As you would smartly plan the development of any content, you’ll want to tap into your audience’s needs and uncover leading pain points.
To find these, try some combination of the following:
Ask readers – Your current readers are a logical starting point. You might use a reasonable sample of current customers and simply question them via email or telephone. You can also use a survey. Another possibility: tap into a group you lead or participate in a social network or via a forum.
Listen to social media – Social media is your ideal market research tool. Look at some of the better blogs in your industry to see what generates the most sharing and commentary.
Pay attention to the hashtags being used in your niche. Dig into question sites such as Quora and Yahoo Answers.
Assess your own content – You might get ideas for your autoresponder series simply by assessing the interest in your existing content. Which posts have performed best? Look at the shares, comments, and your analytics.
If your site includes a search tool, you can look at what visitors have searched for. Chances are, you field questions via email and/or chat. Take note of the questions and look for common threads and themes.
Research keywords – The Google Keyword Planner tool won’t literally tell you the topics your readers are interested in, but you can test your hunches by using it to check the popularity of various keyword searches.
Three suggestions for writing autoresponders
You can write new copy for your email series, or not. Consider your options:
Plan A: All new
Based on the research you conducted, you can write all new content for your autoresponder. While doing so obviously creates writing work for you or someone you hire, your new content can be offered as exclusive content unavailable anywhere else. Your readers might find the exclusivity an enticing reason to opt-in.
But you may want a shortcut or two.
Plan B: Your blog
Why not resurrect old posts? You can bet your readers, especially new subscribers, haven’t read everything you’ve published. Consider scouring your blog for posts that remain valuable. You might batch together several that cover a single category to make it easy to create a topical and thematic series. Or, you might have written a series of posts in the past that could be ideal for an autoresponder series.
Plan C: An e-book
You may have created e-books. Or similarly, you may have written a mega-post to serve as a thorough guide for a specific topic. Either resource could make creating your autoresponder series a simple slice-and-dice exercise.
I’ve said it before: the e-book is the stud in your content marketing stable.
Three options for presenting the lessons
Whether you choose to create new content, resurrect old blog posts or e-books, edit existing content, or run with some combination of these approaches, you’ll need to decide how to present the content.
One option is to simply include your full blog post (or an e-book section) in the body of your email.
Another option is to present a portion of your content (for instance, the first few paragraphs), and then include a link to the original post or e-book.
You also can write a summary of your piece and include a link.
Tips for delivering autoresponder emails
Set a schedule. Put some thought into the number of emails your autoresponder series will include and the delivery intervals. There’s no right or wrong way to make these decisions, so you might consider:
- Go with a hunch. You might suspect your readers can’t wait to get the content, so you’ll deliver them in consecutive days. Or, maybe you feel spacing them out by a few days or sending them weekly would be preferred.
- Test. You could put a schedule in place and keep your eye open for unsubscribes. You also could try two variations to see which is more effective.
- Emulate. Autoresponders are a common tactic of smart content and email marketers, so you might simply emulate the tactics of a series you liked.
Short Series? A short course will be easier to produce and may sound more appealing to your readers, especially to those who haven’t yet discovered how great your content is.
Long Series? A longer series can delve deeper into a topic. It might also serve your lead nurturing better because you’ll make more frequent visits to your subscriber’s inbox.
While it’s possible you’ll get more unsubscribes with a longer series, it might effectively work to separate those who actually are interested in your services or product from those who aren’t.
Sell it. Whether you go long, short, or somewhere in between, I suggest you use your plan as a selling point. For instance …
- Our short series of 4 emails will deliver a helpful crash course on (topic).
- Or … The (topic) 30 lessons in 30 days series will cover everything you need to know to (…).
The length of the emails
The length of your emails, like a number of the choices you’ll be making, is also worth considering carefully and testing. I’ve been known to say, “Don’t count characters, but make every character count.” Read: I believe there is no right or wrong length.
The right thing to do is edit your copy until you believe every line contains value. If you do so, hopefully, your readers will agree the length doesn’t matter and will read longer works. Given the context of an autoresponder (that is, it should be the pinnacle of “permission-based marketing”), you may find your readers embracing long copy emails.
That said, a lot of readers want to blast through email fairly fast. Again, your email can feature just a snippet of the article with a link that directs the reader to a page on your blog or website. But some will prefer to see all the copy in your email.
If you plan to rapid-fire your emails, say in five consecutive days, you might consider shorter copy.
It won’t hurt to ask your readers what they prefer. Or you might add the issue of copy length to the variables you test and monitor. Actions speak louder than words.
How autoresponder emails should look
Here we go again examining what is clearly a matter of preference. HTML or plain text? Sidebar or single column? Generous use of images, or one, or none?
Regardless of the choices you make, be very deliberate about being kind to the eyes. Break up your copy into short paragraphs and feature ample white space.
Yes, screens are getting smaller. And yes, an ever-expanding percentage of email is being consumed on mobile devices. Understood. But all that said, readers are entirely accustomed to scrolling and will appreciate a tidy and uncluttered look.
Use headers, bulleted lists where appropriate, captions, and any other tactics to help go easy on the eyes and communicate effectively with the skimmer.
P.S. Try using a P.S. after the signature. Time and again, research reveals how effective postscript messages are.
Autoresponder email marketing can be an effective tool for most types of businesses. You need not wait until you have a book or information course to sell. In fact, not having these types of things makes your autoresponders even more important. They’ll be instrumental in helping you build the email list you need.
I gathered many of the ideas for this post from my friend Julie Neidlinger, who writes for the CoSchedule blog, so I’ll close by quoting her from The Ultimate Guide to Creating an Email Autoresponder Course:
“Your email course is how you go about building your email list, one agreeable reader at a time.”
About the Author: Barry Feldman operates Feldman Creative and provides clients content marketing strategies that rock and creative that rolls. Barry has been named a Top 40 Digital Strategist by Online Marketing Institute and one of 25 Social Media Marketing Experts You Need to Know by LinkedIn. Visit Feldman Creative and his blog, The Point.