Sunday, March 09, 2008

Latest Trends in Email Marketing: RSS and Calendar Reminders

As we move into a new week there are some interesting trends and technology enhancements that will start to change the way that B2B companies use email. For those that are thinking "email is email - how can it change?", keep reading.

Trend#1: The Blogletter is Coming - Actually, it's Already Here.

You may recall I blogged about a concept called the Blogletter (combo of email newsletter and blog posts). I don't hold anything against the blog readers out there who unsubscribed from my feed en mass after that post (OK, well a few of you I do). Here's the truth - the blogletter will be arriving very soon and will revolutionize the way some companies can create and execute an email newsletter or any email campaign.

The concept behind a blogletter is to be able to publish blog posts (or any RSS feeds for that matter) directly to an email and send it to subscribers. One of my readers back then asked me how this concept would work. At the time I didn't have any answers except for Feedblitz's tool which allows web visitors to get updated via email every time you submit a blog post (they have some new paid tools as well). This approach works for the average blogger but companies need better tools. The tools are now here and here are two approaches that you can use to take advantage of this technology:

  • Integrating RSS feeds and emails. Imagine if you could integrate an RSS feed (if you don't know what RSS is and you are in marketing, you may want to read the following) with an email. For those of you who have feeds already (which include blogs) this would mean that you don't have to update content in multiple areas. You can update an RSS feed and have it publish to your website and email.
  • Automating email using RSS feeds. Let's take this a step further with automation. If you regularly post content to your RSS feeds, you could potentially create an automated program that would send an email newsletter (Blogletter or RSSletter) automatically on the date that you defined. The newsletter would consist of the latest articles/posts from your RSS feeds as well as any other elements of your newsletter. What's key here is that the whole process to create a newsletter becomes much easier as you have an automated program that sends the email for you and the content is content that you've created for a blog or other RSS feed. This process works very well for new subscribers to your site as they can get a newsletter with the latest articles from the RSS feeds that you have defined.
Other advantages? As I mentioned in my previous article on the subject, your readers can comment on articles which adds a new dimension to email as it's no longer a one way push marketing channel.

I hope you find this interesting as the technology now exists to do this. The above examples are the tip of the iceberg.

Trend #2: Helping Your Customers/Prospects Organize Themselves

This tip/technology isn't new but it's now easier and thus has many more implications. A while back I wrote about how you can improve webinar/webcast attendee rates by creating a file that when clicked on, can book off the time specified in your email recipient's Outlook (and other programs too) calendar.

This process was a bit of a pain as you need to create the .ics file and then upload it to your server. It's much easier now as some systems will allow you to create this on the fly and integrate directly into your email or website. What does this mean? Here are some ideas:

  • Set real milestones: There are many "How to" white papers out there that pose a problem that that you may be experiencing and provide a solution with next steps. For example, a white paper that outlines a ten step plan to turn around their business using your product or service. Imagine if you could create a solution with key milestones including REAL dates that the your prospect/customer can save on their own Outlook/Lotus calender. In addition, this information (email clicks) can be tracked. By tracking this information, you can have your inside sales/demand gen team follow up with these prospects on the actual date of the milestone that was outlined and ensure that they are on the path that was outlined which may include a meeting with someone from your company.

  • Read later reminder: Do you hate an inbox full of email? I know I do. I can't hit the delete button faster in many cases (still waiting for that voice activated delete email function). What if you created a standard feature for all of your emails that was a simple link that said "I want to read this at a later date". By clicking on the link, the user would be presented with a calender item that had an online link to the newsletter and a recommended calender reminder to read the email at a later date as well as a suggested time/day. This approach may book off 10 minutes of a person's actual day to read your email. The email recipient can adjust the date to suite her/his schedule. The mobile folk may also like this feature as they can set a reminder to read the email when they are back in the office. Will this work? maybe. Is it worth trying? Definitely as it's very easy to do with some of the new enhancements out there.
Email is going well beyond the traditional approach where it was used to just push out information. The interactivity described above is part of a trend in B2B marketing which is focusing more on the ongoing conversation with prospects and customers rather then a one-off batch and blast approach. The ideas described above may seem a bit off the wall but should be considered along with other ideas on how to make email more interactive and to integrate it with overall marketing processes rather then as a tool in itself. I hope I have at least made you start to think about new approaches.

Chad H.

PS - Thanks for the image Just Say Hi

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