E-mail secrets & lies: Creating fresh content

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It's not easy coming up with fresh e-mail content on a regular basis. Sometimes, it can seem impossible, even if you're employing best practices—analyzing industry news and events, writing case studies about customers, announcing new products, updates and hires, and highlighting social media commentary. Mike Kissel, interactive marketing specialist at Data Dog Interactive Marketing, a Milwaukee, Wis.-based interactive agency, along with his client, Brad Landry, a division manager with Grunau Metals, a metal fabricating company based in Oak Creek, Wis., spoke with BtoB about one little-known “secret” and one widely believed “lie” regarding content management and creation.

Secret: Go into the trenches for great ideas. As a marketer, you know what kind of messaging you want to put out there, but you may not have the granular knowledge to make a story interesting enough to keep readers engaged or—even better—to get them to share your content with friends, colleagues and their Twitter followers.

However, those working with your products and customers every day probably have invaluable insight into both. All you have to do is reach out and ask, Kissel said. For example, when he's writing case studies or profiles for the Grunau Metals newsletter, he and his team interview the company's executives as well as its project managers, he said.

“We have a brainstorming meeting to discuss ideas, and then once we figure out what we're going to discuss, we will interview all the technical people ... mostly engineers,” he said. “Basically, we'll go through a mini-interview process to understand the key points of each project.”

You can find inspiration by talking to your receptionist (possible column name: “A View from the Front”), your customer service team or your research and development team. The human resources department is also a good source of stories. You can profile new employees and talk about hiring trends in your industry or educational and training trends.

Lie: Planning should happen on the fly. There are few websites or news outlets that aren't updating their content minute-to-minute. This constant need for the newest information may make it seem like you should be doing e-mail marketing planning—especially for a newsletter—on a daily or weekly basis. However, it may be a good idea to take a page from the journalism world and create an editorial calendar or content map and plan out your next three to six months' worth of newsletters, Kissel said.

Grunau Metals plans its weekly newsletter in three- to six-month chunks, Landry said, so it can make sure stories are well-written and include deep, detailed information. “We'll sit down and look at the projects we've done, the things we want to disseminate,” he said. “This gives us time to work on the stories, but if something new comes up we can still move things around and throw it into the mix.”

Content maps, which provide a graphical representation of site content, can help you cross-promote content within a landing page. For example, if Grunau Metals installs a new ornamental stair made of stainless steel and glass and writes a case study about that project, the content map would point to other similar projects and on-site materials. “It lets you give customers more information right there on the page,” Kissel said.

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