Marketing colleagues discussing the preparation of an email marketing campaign.
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If content engagement is falling across social networks and organizations are finding it increasingly difficult to create content that will result in better customer experiences and better customer engagement, chances are email is in the same boat. When we asked organizations what they were doing to manage the fall off in content engagement many companies stressed the difficulties they were having on social networks. Many also pointed out that they were also trying to improve the way potential customers were engaging with emails and email content.

However, while content engagement is an important element for email marketers, in order to ensure email content engagement, organizations need to personalize content for individuals. In fact, according to recent research from Dynamic Yield, a Tel Aviv, Israel-based digital marketing company, consumers respond best to targeted email promotions and tailored recommendations. The report, which was published earlier this month, was based on data from a survey of 550 consumers from North America, Europe, and Asia age 18 and older. It shows that with many companies planning to increase their spend on email marketing there is increasing pressure to provide content that will encourage people to open their emails.

Other research, this time from Return Path, a New York City email marketing organization, content engagement is key to ensuring emails are opened and don't end up in the waste bin or in the spam box. In a statement about the Hidden Metrics of Email Deliverability report, Tom Sather, senior director of research at Return Path pointed out that good content data is key to ensuring emails end up in inboxes and not in the spam box. “In recent years, subscriber engagement signals have become a critical factor in filtering out unwanted email…These providers are constantly looking to improve their customer experience and refine their ability to deliver only wanted messages,” he said. “Engagement data can also provide unique insights to help marketers improve deliverability and enhance customer relationships.” So how can you make your email content more engaging?

1. Video Engagement

Matthew Dunn is founder and chief explainer at Bellingham, Wa.-based Say It Visually, creators of Vid.One, Fast Forward Stories and other visual-communication services. He points out that people, generally speaking, process visual content first, so it is important that email marketers looking to maximize engagement take this on board.

As a result of the fact that people process visual content first, and comprehend it thousands of times faster than written language, visual content and design of campaign messages can make — or break — campaign outcomes.  “People judge the media 'promise' of an email message almost instantly. Overall visuals — elements like images and video as well as layout and typography — are akin to the personal first-impression for the message,” he said.

Video has proved especially magnetic in email, lifting all key measures — open rate, clickthrough and particularly response rate. “When you add motion to visuals, visual processing goes into hyperdrive,” he said. ”Whether its real video in the inbox — which is still difficult — or animated GIF thumbnails, we are wired to watch what's moving.

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2. Relevant Images

Videos can be difficult and sometimes expensive to produce, so many email content creators opt for images. Wes Marsh, director of digital marketing, with Solodev, an Orlando, Fla-based developer of content management systems, says visuals can be just as engaging as their moving-picture equivalent. He points out that emails and posts that include images receive 650 percent higher engagement than a text-only email, according to WebDAM. “If possible, avoid stock images,” he said. “Readers want to engage with the real humans behind the ads, not some cheesy and disconnected counterpart (that's always smiling). And if the ad doesn't need to feature a human element, make sure your images fill in the blanks for your written copy,” he said.

3. Responsive Email Templates

He adds that having responsive email templates gets the recipient one step closer to engaging with the product or service. Optimizing for mobile isn't a just common courtesy from web designers, it's now an expectation that visitors have when engaging with any brand. It keeps the focus on an email's message rather than the frustrations of zooming in and out to get appropriately sized content.

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4. Subject Line Marketing

Before any kind of engagement can happen, email content creators need to get people to open their emails in the first place, according to Jordan Harling, a digital strategist at Interior Goods Direct, one of the UK’s largest online retailers of home furnishings. He says that to get people to open your email in the first place you have to get the subject line in any email right. He points out in this respect that only one in five marketing emails ever get opened. “It doesn’t matter how good your content, how enticing your imagery or how convincing your copy is if your email doesn’t get opened. That’s why your subject line is the single most important part of your email,” he said.

In fact, the subject line is so important that marketers need to spend as much time on the subject line as they do on the content of emails. “Usually you want to keep your subject lines short (roughly five words), to the point, and engaging. But don’t be afraid to experiment, what works for your audience may be different for what works for others,” he said.

5. Top Content

Dave Charest is director of content marketing at Constant Contact, an Endurance International Group company, which offers email marketing solutions for small companies. He points out that unless the email content makes an immediate, positive impression, users will simply discard it. 

He added that it’s easy to trivialize branding and design as a nice to have, rather than a business essential. However, this is something that should be done from the very start. “A lot of small businesses approach it as something to tackle down the road, or think making things look good can wait until they're more established But the reality is, design can make or break businesses and small businesses that prioritize good design win perception wars against their competitors, big and small. Well-designed, good-looking emails make lasting first impressions and that matters,” he said.

6. Top Writing

He also points out that small businesses often find it difficult to get their written content right. For most small businesses, though, all that's needed in marketing emails is the answer to three basic questions: What are you offering? (This becomes the headline). How will it help the reader? (This is the body of the message.) What should they do next? (This is the call to action.) Unless you include these items, your content will not resonate with intended audience no matter how clever or well thought out the content is.

7. Localized Content

For Josh Winzelberg, president of New York City Vodka Mariette, email content, like any other kind of content, needs to be localized and adapted to the market  and audience to which you are sending emails to. “There's no better way to make your content relevant to readers than to base it around their location. But this doesn’t mean you have to have 25 totally different versions of each email. You can have a few versions that just replace key details.” You need to think about what is useful to your readers, not just what is exciting for the content creator.