Last month I talked about how the quality of your email list is rapidly becoming more important than the quantity of folks who are on it. You need to make sure that people on your email list are opening and reading your emails, lest you get tagged as a spammer by internet service providers.
So how do you get your constituents to open and read your emails? Well, by sending them content that they WANT to read, obviously. But how do you know what they want to read?
To answer this question, I like to look at one of the best examples of commercial e-mail marketing that I’ve ever experienced as an end user – babycenter.com.
BabyCenter has a highly motivated audience of people who are hungry for the information and content they provide. Pregnant women and new moms are the target audience. And when I say they’re HUNGRY for the information, I mean it because I’ve lived it. Consider a newly pregnant woman who is SOOOOO excited and wants to know what’s happening week to week with the development of her child-to-be AND a brand-new mom with her first baby who might be feeling a little overwhelmed and has a million questions.
BabyCenter has answers – both official content that they provide themselves, and a wealth of user-contributed content on the message boards. The site receives its funding from paid advertisements, so they have a vested interest in getting subscribers to open their emails and visit the site – and also to click on the ads. And they’re good at it. (For example – subject line from yesterday’s BabyCenter email: “Is my baby normal?”)
There are two main target audiences for BabyCenter emails:
- Pregnant women get a weekly email telling you about what’s happening week-by-week with your pregnancy and fetal development, plus how you can expect to be feeling.
- New moms get a weekly email about your baby and his or her development. There’s also usually a list of common questions that new moms have for babies of this age.
For BabyCenter, the beauty of how the emails are constructed is that the article’s title appears in the newsletter, but you have to click through to the site to actually read the content. Ergo, they are continually driving traffic back to their site. That’s great for them and for their advertisers.
Beyond the weekly emails, BabyCenter also sends occasional emails about specific topics. How do you handle teething? What age is the best to start solid foods? How do you choose a great caregiver for your child? By magic, the emails almost always touch upon a topic that has recently become top of mind. Again, this is content where the email itself can be considered a teaser – you have to click through to the website to read it. But you can bet that I’m opening the email. IS MY BABY NORMAL?
What does this mean for nonprofits? Well, I think it means that you have to find your baby. What is the THING that your organization works on that provides emotional ROI to your members? What do they care about? What do they want to read? (Note that this might be different from what YOU want them to read.) So here are some lessons we can take from BabyCenter:
- Identify your baby. Maybe it’s equal rights, health care, preserving wild areas. What’s the baby – why did your members sign up to receive your email in the first place?
- Make sure the email you send your members is about the baby.
- If someone says “We’ve got to promote our great work on XYZ to our members” then I want you to ask yourself – is it our baby?
- Note also that to make their emails relevant, BabyCenter has to segment the heck out of their list – 40 weeks for the pregnant women, and then week-by-week after the child arrives.
- Make great use of the website – the weekly emails and special updates most often link to content that is evergreen, rather than needing to create new content each week. It’s new to me, but not necessarily new per se.
The always-prescient MarketingSherpa has a similar post, by the way, about crafting relevant e-mails and how to learn from your audience with some interesting ideas. Open access till October 28 so click now – unless it’s after October 28, then you’ll have to become a member.
P.S. BabyCenter also is one of the best examples of both personalized web content AND user-contributed content that I’ve experienced, as you might imagine. That’s a story for another day – but something to keep in mind, because it goes together with relevant email content like chocolate goes with peanut butter. Mmmm, chocolate.