How Content + Email Marketing Can Elevate Your ROI [Podcast Episode]

Amanda Milligan
By Amanda Milligan
February 16, 2021

Email marketing can make a huge difference in increasing your ROI.

Like a trusted friend who never lets you down, email marketing is always there for you—and nobody can take it away from you. 

This week I chatted with the wonderful SAMAR OWAIS to find out why email marketing is an invaluable tool, and how the right strategy and plan can help elevate your ROI. 

 

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In this episode, you’ll learn:

  • How to leverage the ownership of email marketing for buy in
  • How to learn about your audience to cater your content accordingly
  • How to establish the right voice and tone for an email channel 
  • How to gauge success and conversions of an email campaign

    Related links/resources:

Transcription:

Amanda: Hey friends, welcome to the Cashing in on Content Marketing. I'm Amanda Milligan, the marketing director of Fractl and every week on the show I interview marketing experts about ways to know the value of your work and get buy in for your strategies. This week we're exploring email marketing with email marketing strategist summer, Samar Owais, welcome to the show Samar.

Samar: Thanks for having me, Amanda.

Amanda: Of course, really excited to have you here. Just to kick things off, can you talk a little bit about your background and how you got into email?

Samar: Yeah, for sure. Okay, so I'll take it from the top because it's always like a long story when I've tried to shorten it. I started out as a content writer in about 2008. Interestingly, I had gotten married, graduated, and moved to the UAE within 10 days of each other, right.? So, the original idea was that I would get a job but the recession was just starting, I struggled to get a job and then I did a random Google search for writing jobs online, because this was something that I had also done embarks on. And so, I found a website that was paying me $10 an article, I thought I had hit paydirt but what I really heard was a content mill and that kind of, you know, launched my career as a content writer, I grew my business enough to write for big brands like Marriott Intercontinental, until I burned out. And it took me 10 years to get there, but it got to a point where I was charging about $1,000 per blog post, and I was still saying no to those projects. And then, I found Joanna Wiebe of the Church of Conversion Copywriting and enrolled in one of her courses and decided that I wanted to try other types of copy, and email was the one that spoke to me the most, and since then, I've just specialized in email and not looked back. Now, I do email strategies and email copy for SAS and e commerce brands and as an aside, because obviously, email is email, I also do like nurturing onboarding sequences, for course creators.

Amanda: That's awesome. Thank you for that summary of how you got into this work. I love hearing how people fall into the different marketing specialties they have, because it's always different. I don't think anybody's, any two people's stories are the same. So, now that you're focusing on email, I like to start with the very top-level question, which is, why should somebody focus on an email strategy? What are the major benefits of investing in the email channel?

Samar: Okay, so you've asked one of my favorite questions, because this is a conversation, I have with clients all the time. So, you know, there's this famous stat out there that says like, for every dollar you put into email marketing, or like, every subscriber is worth about 38, or $40, or whatever, right? But email is not a slot machine where you put in $1, and like $40, will come out, you need a strategy for that to happen, you need to do it long term for that to happen. It's not like you can send a random email every six months, and then expect, you know, to make money from it. And for businesses, I mean, email is own media, right? And so, that is one channel that nobody can take it away from them. You own whoever opt in for your email list, you own that, you know, kind of contact, basically, a Facebook group can be shut down, your ads can stop working but if you have an email list, you will always have a way to contact your customers, subscribers or target audience. And so, email is you know, it's important because if you're not talking to them, if you don't have a strategy for them, then it's like talking to a wall and it won't do anything for you.

Amanda: And I'd imagine that's a good way to get buy in for an email strategy is like what you were saying that nobody can kind of take it away from you, you're not relying on that third party platform to have this marketing tactic, it's like a more direct connection to your audience.

Samar: Yeah, absolutely.

Amanda: So, what role you know, we're focused on content, right? So, what role does content play in an email strategy or, when you actually sit down to do this, does the content come first and then you build email around it? Do you have an email idea and then you build content around it? How does that usually go?

Samar: No, so, the content comes first and simply because if you have content, then doing email marketing just becomes so much easier, because let's say you have an active blog, right? And you're just starting to get serious about email marketing, what is the first thing that you're going to think like, what am I going to email them? And if you have content, then you're just going to email them your content, got a new blog post published? Tell your email list about it. Are you launching something? Have you released a new feature? Tell your email list about it. Do you have a giveaway happening or a sale happening? Are you doing, you know, a webinar or anything? It's just every other piece of content that you create can be filtered into email.

Amanda: How do you learn enough about the people who are subscribing to your list to make sure that the content you're sending them speaks to those people specifically? 

Samar: Oh, okay. So, this is my favorite kind of email to talk about. So, when you are a business, or when you have a blog, right? You have a broad general idea of the kind of people that are coming to your website, right? So, an e commerce business will have people who are interested in their marketing, right? And then, from there, it becomes a matter of finding out whether they're male or female, whether they're interested in men's products, or women's products or gifts, or you know, shopping for themselves or somebody else and stuff like that, right? And so, for e commerce, it's easy, right? We have data based on their browsing history, their purchasing history and stuff, for SAS, it's a little trickier, because people are signing up for software that don't necessarily tell us a lot about themselves. And so, you segment them, you ask them, it's literally as simple as asking them in the welcome email, right? Tell me about yourself, what best describes you? And so, I'll take my example, right? I have a newsletter called Emails Done Right, and because I write about so many different industries, I know that I am attracting ecommerce, business owners, SAS business owners, other copywriters and so, in my-- when you sign up, and in my welcome email, there's a section at the bottom that says, hey, choose the option that describes you best and it says, I'm an e commerce business owner, the other is, I'm a SAS business owner, the third is, I'm an email copywriter and the fourth is, I have FOMO, send me all your emails. And so, I know already, right? So, when my emails are directed at ecommerce industry, I send it to two segments, FOMO and e commerce, similarly, the same for like FOMO gets everything, the rest get filtered out. And so, emails are very, very tailored towards them, right? Nobody gets emails on topics that they're not interested in.

Amanda: Yeah. And I like that you're basically saying, if you don't inherently get that from the data of how they're interacting with your website, then you just simply ask them and that's the way that you can make sure they get what they need. I saw you tweet something about an email sequence map. So, for people who are new to email, what is that and why is it important to have one?

Samar: Alright, so every time I explain email to people, I tell them, think of it as a journey, right? And not your journey, but your readers or your subscribers or your customers journey, and an email sequence map is essentially your subscribers or your customers journey, right? What happens when they land on your website, right? Do they sign up to your email list? And if they do, then what happens? And so, do they get a welcome email? Do they get a welcome sequence? And for e commerce brands, it's really easy, right? When something lands on-- someone lands on their website, they will sign up or they will, you know, they will either buy or they won't buy and then it becomes a question of if they have not bought, have they signed up for the newsletter. And so, it's literally, you know, imagining the steps that you want your customer to take, or your reader to take and then mapping it out.

Amanda: Got it. Okay. How do you go about figuring that out? Like, I know you'll have a baseline I assume with what you want them to do, and then do you kind of track as it's going to see if that's actually working and then make tweaks to adjust?

Samar: Yeah, so the starting point for it all is, I become my clients' customer, right? I go on their website, the first thing I do is I see what offer, you know, how easy is it to sign up for them, and then I sign up for it and then I get the welcome email and the other emails and I keep noting down all my thoughts and you know, whatever opportunities I see that they're missing, and that kind of turns into, like my audit report for my clients, because this is what I did, this is what happened, these are all the places that I feel you're missing opportunities. And so yeah, that's how I start my process.

Amanda: And how, if somebody is trying to set one of these up, and they're developing content for it, how can they go about figuring out the tone for the emails because sometimes I think that email sometimes has a more informal tone if people are trying to be more personable, even if that doesn't necessarily match their brands, like how can they find a good voice for this channel?

Samar: Alright, so I know that email is often sold as a sales channel or a marketing channel, but at the heart of it, at the core of it, it is a communications channel. So, you could be emailing 100,000 people, but only one person is going to be reading that email at any given time, right? So, it is a conversation and conversations are always a little informal and so, if you're brand new is like really scientific, then obviously, you know, maybe not use slang but for everything else, right? So, there's a greeting, there's just like, just imagine your best friend sitting in front of you, right? And not the kind of best friend that you drink with and, you know, get gossip with but the kind of friend where, you know, you're best friends, but you have to behave in a-- you have to be on your best behavior, essentially. And so, like, even when you're with your best friend, even being on your best behavior is fun, right? And so, it's kind of like that, think of email like that. So, yeah, brand voice is very important, but I feel like businesses that are already blogging have it a lot easier because you kind of already know what your brand voice is and then it's just thinking about writing it to one person.

Amanda: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. So, something I definitely want to spend a good deal of this episode on is understanding how the email campaign is actually working and you've mentioned in some other interviews that earlier in your career, you noticed that a lot of your clients didn't measure the ROI of the content they were publishing and sending out, can you talk a little bit about that, like once you encountered, and then kind of what you recommended to them?

Samar: Yeah. So, remember how I mentioned that I was, you know, quoting $1,000 for a blog post and people were saying yes? It was still companies like at that price point, companies were expecting the sun and the moon, right? So, I was putting in 30-35 hours of work in just a single blog post and when you compare that with the amount of hours I was spending, $1,000 isn't a lot. And so, and I would push my clients and ask them, like, how are you measuring the success of your blog posts? And it turned out a lot of SAS companies and startups that I was writing for were doing content marketing, for the sake of content marketing, they weren't really interested or knew how to measure the ROI of the content that they were putting out and now that I've like, grown up a little bit, let's say, I also realize that I didn't know how to talk to my clients about measuring the ROI, right? I would always ask them, but I wouldn't tell them like, I didn't realize that I could go out and do the research and like present this idea to my client and maybe they would have, you know, taken in on it. I just got disillusioned, and then I got burned out. But the easiest way for content marketers right now to encourage their clients to do the ROI is every piece of content that they publish, send out an email to an email list, right? And see how many people found that interesting, how many people clicked through to read the blog post, how many people opened that email, and that will always, always give you an insight on what topics your readers and subscribers are interested in because subscribers are ultimately readers, right? They came, they landed on your website, they signed up for your email list because they wanted to hear from you so, that gives you a really good idea. Like, I have a b2b SAS client right now and on our weekly-- on our monthly, you know, stats review calls we often look at, one of the things that we look at is what emails were most opened, like, what was the topic of those emails and is there a correlation between them, right? And like, post pandemic, every time we talk about remote working or remote project management, because they are a project management software, those emails get opened, like we get as high as 60% open rates. And so, the email stats, the behavior of their subscribers also informs their content marketing plan.

Amanda: That's so interesting, because it sounds like there's two tiers here. There's like, what you're describing is, a way of getting at whether your content itself is successful, by utilizing email to see what they're interested in. So, then the other tier is, how can you tell if the actual email process you have set up like these campaigns that you have going, or the best way to kind of communicate that content? Like, what kind of metrics do you look for to reassure yourself like, okay, this is the type of email I need to write for this, or maybe I need to optimize it in this way?

Samar: Yeah. So, I look for open rates and click through rates, right? Open rates are not as important as click through rates are, because those are the people that are actually clicking on the link and then going to that website or landing page and reading what we're telling them about. So yeah, if your click through rates are steady or increasing, that's great but if you find a sudden drop in open rates or click through rates, then you know that's time to evaluate, like, what's going on?

Amanda: And what is the -- I love asking this question because I feel like I always get interesting answers, but like, what is the most common mistake you see people making with email or maybe the most common misconception? 

Samar: Oh, okay. Common misconception about email is, I think I mentioned it already on this call is that people treat it as like a marketing tool. It's not, it's a relationship building tool, it's a communications tool, it is your in to getting one on one time with your subscribers or your customers or your audience. And so, it just breaks my heart when I see businesses or brands use email to just market and speak at their subscribers and customers instead of you know, have a conversation with them.

Amanda: Yeah, can you give an example, even if it's just like wanting makeup, hypothetically, of like, what that means to be like, sound to marketing like?

Samar: Alright, so it's a pet peeve. It's a easily, fixable thing, right? The no reply email addresses. Like, you are sending out an email newsletter that is conversational, that is talking to somebody, then why are you not letting them email you back? And that's like just shutting the door on customer voice of data, right? How are people going to tell you what problems they are facing or not facing or what problems you're solving for them if they can't get in touch with you? Nobody has the time to go to your website, find your contact page, then send an email to supportabusiness.com, right? Everybody, like when especially when a newsletter topic or an email topic resonates with people, they want to reply, people love having conversations. And so, yeah, I mean, a small example and I'm not a SAS business or anything but last week on my Emails Done Right Newsletter, I asked my newsletter subscribers a simple question, it was, what is the one thing that you want to ask me, right? And I purposefully did not say, ask me about emails or anything; I wanted to find out what they wanted to ask me. And I had over 50 replies and I kind of was like scratching my head, I was like, maybe this wasn't the smartest thing to do. Like, I had deadlines that week, but I made so many one on one connections with that and I realized that people do wonder about other things other than email, right? So many people ask me, like, this is unrelated to content marketing, but so many people asked me, how do you deal with the racial bias that comes with, you know, being a visibly Muslim person in this industry? And that's a deep question, that is not something that people ask me a lot and I get it, it's an uncomfortable topic; maybe they're shy, but because I asked them, what would they want to ask me, they felt that it was okay to ask me questions and it was a nice conversation to have. 

Amanda: Yeah, that's really powerful. So, if somebody is getting started with this, and like you said, they're going to start sending their content out to people, and they're going to do it in a personal way, do you think that they need to provide something extra in their email aside from like sending the stuff that's already on their websites? Like, how are they incentivizing people to sign up with the email subscription in the first place?

Samar: Yeah, so lead magnets are a really nice way to do it, quizzes are another. I have a quiz on my website called, you know, What's Giving you that Email Headache, right? And so, that's always -- it diagnoses your email problems, and then it gives you a solution so that -- those are fun. And I feel like quizzes make a really interactive way to get people on your list. Lead magnets, I don't know how well they work anymore, because I'm not in the content world anymore but I'm guessing anything that is a single page that gives them a quick win will work, checklists are always popular. And other than that, like, I realized that people also care about the person behind the newsletter so, even if you don't have a lead magnet, even if you don't have a quiz, you can just say that like for, like Emails Done Right, I don't have a lead magnet or anything of the sort. All I say is that I pick an email fight every Wednesday, that's it, and people still sign up. And you also kind of have to market it, I talk about my newsletter every Wednesday when I'm about to send out a newsletter, right? And I tease out the topic of that day's, of whatever I'm going to talk about. So, that always gets me like 10-15 newsletter subscribers, and my newsletter growth has been all organic, which I understand like businesses don't have the luxury to do that but, yeah, lead magnets, quizzes, even just somebody's personality are reasons enough for people to sign up. They need to be interested in what you have to say, essentially.

Amanda: Yeah, I love that you mentioned that because I think that applies to so many different aspects of marketing that they have to actually care about the people, even like if -- people are driven by that just the shop somewhere or to follow them on social as long as they kind of have like this affinity for the people behind the brand a lot of the time. I like asking at the end of these episodes, about creativity because I think sometimes it's easy to get stuck in a formulaic way of doing things. So, can you share some ways that you find inspiration or get your creative juices flowing when doing this kind of work?

Samar: Yeah, so, I look for the toughest problems to solve and that always gets me out of my rut, right? So, I have clients who like, retention focused email sequences are always tricky, because there's no formula, right? So, when you're creating, let's say, onboarding email sequences, you know, what you need to do, and it's pretty standard across the board but with retention focused, it's so heavily depends on the situation that the company is in. And so, you know, it could be like for a SAS business, for a SAS client of mine, we had a situation where they had changed platforms and upgraded their software, but they had like a stubborn set of users that were still using the old version of the software, and were refusing to move to the new version and so, we created an email sequence for them that encouraged them to move to the new one, right? And I had to sit down and really think about how I'm going to do that with email, and it took me a while but yeah, it wasn't automated as such, right? That first email, I realized that at first, I need to find out why they're hesitating to switch over, what's the hold up? And so, I asked them simply in the first email, I asked them, like, what's the big hold up, and that email got over 400 replies to my client. And you'd think that they would be overwhelmed and like maybe a little miffed, but they were over the moon, because they were paying clients, and they just were really worried why they weren't moving because the new version was better and more secure than the old one. And the other one that I'm working on right now is with an e commerce brand and they have about, I think, 66,000 subscribers who have just never bought from them, like they're, maybe they're opening their emails, whatever, but they have never bought from them and their research shows that people who buy from them for the first time, or that's the activation point, right? That's when they become loyal customers, because they realize how high value and good product that is, high quality product that is and so they keep coming back. And so, they wanted to turn these non buyers into, you know, buyers, and if they weren't buying, or they were just no longer interested then to filter them out. And so, projects like these, where I have to really sit down and think, right? Are the ones that really keep me on my toes.

Amanda: I love that answer. I don't think I've ever heard that answer, but it makes total sense. It's when you have a very specific objective so, you don't have to, I think we've actually talked about this on a previous episode, where if it's too nebulous, or you have like any option in the world, it's almost harder to be creative. It's overwhelming now, you have to pick like a specific objective. So, I have one more question for you and it's about the metric side again, but more I know, people are always searching online for like, benchmarks for click through rates and benchmarks for open rates and trying to get a sense of how they know they're on the right track through the data, right? And I think this is also because when you're reporting up, or if you want to make sure you can continue justifying this tactic, or what have you, people like expect some level of growth, right? I want to ask somebody who does this, like, is that realistic to have certain kind of benchmarks like that, like, how can you judge, like, this is a good number of subscribers, we're doing well, or this isn't great, we need to be promoting this or like, how do you go about that?

Samar: Alright, so when it comes to conversions, I tell my clients, one simple thing, I will never promise you a number, right? What I will promise you is that my emails will lift the conversion and if they don't, then I'm going to keep working until they do. Because there is no, like there's so many different factors when it comes to conversions, right? You could have the best emails but if the website or the landing page or whatever, is not well made or not well connected, then it doesn't matter. And so, you know, there are a lot of factors going into all these things so, I would say always, you know, shy away from making these big number promises, and just say that it needs -- it will be better than what it is right now.

Amanda: I love that, I think even just hearing the way that you have that conversation will be really helpful for people because a lot of marketers, I feel like they inherently know this stuff, like they know that they can't put a specific number on it or make that kind of promise but it's hard to say that when they know they might be disappointing somebody.

Samar: Yeah, and clients tend to always ask this question, right? What is an expected lift that we can expect? And I'm always like, there's none, it will get better, but I will not give you a number. And I'll be honest, it was the first time I said it, I was shaking in my boots, I was like, this client is going to not hire me, right? They're going to say, oh, we're going to go with somebody else but I also knew deep in my bones that if I make them a promise, it'll be so easy for them to come back to me and say oh, but you said this, that you would get us this number or you know, so I will either be working on this project for months, or I will be ruining my reputation and so, my reputation is something I guard really well and so once I understood that, it became easier and easier for me to tell my clients that.

Amanda: Well, I imagine it establishes trust to for you to be so straightforward and honest right from the get go, like you're not just trying to appease them you're telling them honestly, well, how do you think this is going to work.

Samar: Oh, yeah, that also was a side benefit that I didn't realize when I started doing it.

Amanda: Samar, the other question I ask everybody is, knowing the objective of the show, who would you recommend to be guests on future episodes? 

Samar: Oh, this is a good one. Okay. So, for content marketers, I feel they can learn so much from copywriters because a lot -- I know content marketing and content writing gets a bad rep but it is also copywriting. I think of content writing as copywriting and so, I would say Eman Zabi of the Scribesmith, she is a launch copywriter, turned SAS founder, she's also an agency owner, she's -- if you want to see how to grow your business from like, beyond the copywriting scope of things, she's the one to talk to.

Amanda: Awesome, really appreciate that recommendation. And thank you so much Samar for coming on the show and taking the time to share your insights.

Samar: Thank you for having me.

Amanda: If you've listened to this and want even more tips, sign up for our podcast newsletter by going to the podcast page on the Fractl website, and if you've learned anything from this show, we'd love it if you'd subscribe on your favorite podcast platform and leave a review. Finally, if you've any feedback, suggestions, ideas, sitcom recommendations, cat videos, theories about the new season of Dexter or anything you'd like to share with me, shoot me an email at amanda@frac.tl, I'm a shameless extrovert who would love to hear from you. Thank you to Sean Kelly for a podcast music and editing and Joao Pereyra or the logo design. And thank you, dear listener, I hope you'll join us next time.

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