Got Content? Great, Now Let’s Grow Your Email ROI …

Small- and midsized-business marketers recognize the importance of helping prospects solve problems. And they know that quality content leads to more sales.

But when you’re wearing a half-dozen hats, as many SMB execs and marketers do, disseminating that content can be as challenging as developing it.

Fortunately, more marketers are rising to the occasion, according to a recent MarketingSherpa survey of more than 2,700 email marketers.

When asked about their top email marketing priorities for 2012, “delivering highly relevant content” ranked first among large and mid-sized companies (70% and 62% respectively), and second among small businesses (71%), surpassed only by “growing and retaining subscribers” – which, of course, also largely depends content. This is great news, because it suggests email will continue to improve in 2012.

The trick is, how do we keep making those content-driven email relationships better and more profitable for all involved, marketers and customers alike?

Five Steps to Stronger Email Relationships

To answer that question, we teamed up with the Sherpa researchers on their annual survey, and the result was a new ebook and email series that explores five key steps SMBs can use to maximize their email marketing.

Here are some highlights from the special report:

1. Approach list building strategically

There’s no shortage of tactics for growing email lists, but it’s all too easy to get caught up in them at the expense of a fully developed plan. Does your 2012 email strategy account for how and when to apply certain tactics, and when to test others? Does it include a consistent process for analysis and adjustments?

With less than a third of email marketers saying they send relevant emails to segmented audiences with a clear conversion goal, this is an area ripe for improvement.

2. Set clear expectations for subscribers

As marketers, we don’t always see the disconnect between how our offers are presented and how prospects perceive them. For instance, many email forms ask for name and email, yet offer little context or information about send frequency, specific content options or recent samples. These forms might generate larger lists, but produce lower overall response and engagement.

We may know the value of the content behind the opt-in form, but is it obvious to first-time site visitors who see a pop-up window before even reading one paragraph?

3. Segment lists to match your priorities

Whether you’re segmenting lists based on behaviors, such as opens, clicks and downloads (or lack thereof), or stage in the sales cycle, or more specific demographic data, the bottom line is that segmentation is essential for tailoring content to different types of customers.

Matching segments to your organization’s ideal customer personas makes your content more engaging and your offers and campaigns more likely to succeed. So why are only about half of email marketers using these techniques regularly?

4. Automate your campaigns

Welcome, thank you and transactional emails are widely used by organizations of all sizes, but research shows a significant drop-off in other types of automated messages.

Lead nurturing, drip campaigns, re-engagement campaigns and autoresponders make it easier for marketers to create email series with the intent of building relationships; however, these types account for roughly one-third or fewer of the emails sent by survey respondents.

If your content mix includes “evergreen” information such as how-to articles or training videos that won’t lose their news value, automation is an option worth exploring.

5. Optimize and test regularly

To quote the report, “Continuous experimentation is the quickest path to peak performance.” Yet only 28% of small businesses regularly test and optimize email messages. Mid-sized and larger organizations fared better, although only about half of them are testing regularly.

Deadlines and full workloads are a common culprit, but let’s say you run a test that produces an 18% lift in response – you’d probably find time to test more consistently next time, right? Interestingly, subject lines are among the most popular email tests, yet they often produce the smallest gains, compared to areas such as landing pages and target audiences.

Get the Complete Special Report

For more detailed charts from the survey, plus research-based recommendations and links to case studies, how-to articles and online tools related to these five steps, you’ll want to get the 36-page ebook and email series (free through Dec. 31).