E-Mail and RSS: Two Ways to Get Your Message Out By Going Old(er) School

You know that you’ve got great content that your customers – both existing and potential – are going to love; you know that there’s a market out there that would appreciate this information. But sometimes it seems never the twain shall meet.

Traditional advertising can be expensive and, for many businesses, it’s not a good method to share an in-depth story. So here you are, sitting with a digital presence, information at the ready – but what’s the best way to share it?

A lot of the time we focus on social media as a message-distribution strategy: Tweets and Facebook posts are great options, but can sometimes get drowned out by the sheer volume of messages that are out there.

Maybe it’s time to revisit some (relatively) older tools: RSS and e-mail.

Just as you continue to be exposed to advertising through print, radio, and television, so too can you complement your existing message-dissemination efforts with some formats that are a little less en vogue right now.

The rise of social somewhat put the kibosh on e-mail – and unfairly so. Yes, SPAM filters became more aggressive, but that shouldn’t discourage you from e-mailing your customer base. In fact, if you’re providing quality content that the customer values, then it’s an ideal distribution method.

I’ve done a lot of work in e-mail marketing and I’ve worked with companies that loved it – unfortunately they also loved to do it badly. So how do you make e-mail marketing work? Like Don Quixote tilting against corporate windmills, I fought the good fight in vein. Here are a few thoughts gleaned from my corporate communications battle scars:

  • Keep it Out of the Marketers’ Hands: the best way to ensure success is to take the keys to the e-mail system out of marketing’s hands. Often the idea of targeting e-mail runs counter to the desires of a stressed-out, financially limited marketing department. E-mail has the potential to help your business, but it also can hurt it. The difference is because of the next point.
  • Target Well: Where e-mail works best is when it’s delivered to an appreciative public. Many marketers love volume messaging: “Send this out to anyone who has bought a product from us in the past year.” That type of thinking results in many people receiving content that doesn’t apply to them. And what happens next? You’re either flagged as SPAM, your customer unsubscribes from your e-mail messaging, or they get automatically routed to the trash.
  • Less Can Be More: I’ve always believed that I’d rather target a message to 10 people who are likely to act upon an e-mail than to blast out 10,000 e-mails to a group of people vaguely tied to a product. The potential for damage in the latter group far outweighs the chance of someone actually being moved to buy your product. 
  • Think Long Term: Sure, the appeal of sending out an e-mail to all 10,000 of your subscribers sounds great, but remember that people’s time is valuable. If they receive too many messages from you that don’t speak to them, then they’ll simply tune you out. And that means they may miss the one message that would have spurred them to take action – and make a purchase.
  • Measure, Test, and Measure Again: What’s the point of doing something if you don’t do it well, right? How do you know your e-mail marketing efforts are working if you don’t test? Hold out a 10 per cent control group that doesn’t get the message. See if purchase activity from the groups that receives these messages is different than those who don’t. And it helps to make sure that there are no other variables are in play – e-mail blitzes are measured best in isolation, not in conjunction with other forms of advertising and promotion. After all, how do you know if your e-mail is what prompted the sale as opposed to your TV ad, your newspaper promotion, or your in-store efforts?
  • And, Yes, I Said Messages: Part of the testing involves testing different messages. It’s more work, yes, but it’s also extremely rewarding. Test different headlines – does your customer base respond better to straight informational headers or catchy, teaser-types? Test different ledes, different messages, different tones. And, if you have the information, try to test different demographics. Maybe your older customers respond better to e-mail, while your younger demographic tends to act on Facebook or Twitter recommendations. The more you know the better.
  • Make it Easy for Your Customers to Leave: I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but make sure you follow all the best practices for e-mail solicitation. Make it easy to unsubscribe (one-click is best), or allow your customers to subscribe to specific e-mail lists (men’s health instead of health; skin care instead of beauty; new products instead of all updates). It prevents people from labeling you as a spammer, but it’s also good customer service and helps in delivering messages that are of value to the recipient.

But you still have all this other great information just waiting to be shared with all your customers, right? What are you to do with it? The answer? Let your customers come and get it.

If you have a news and information section where you publish regular updates, articles, and/or blogs, then you’ll want to consider establishing an RSS feed. Chances are your content management system for your Web site already has something in place, but if it doesn’t here’s a quick primer on setting up an RSS feed (Please note, there are a number of guides out there that can help you get started.) Then promote your RSS feed to your customers. Encourage them to sign up and stay informed.

An RSS feed’s greatest advantage is that, after you set it up, it involves no extra work. You publish and your RSS feed is automatically updated. And the information is automatically delivered to your RSS feed’s subscribers, so that they can read it in their aggregator.

True, RSS feeds aren’t as popular as they once were. In many ways, Twitter and Facebook have taken some of the content aggregation steam out of RSS feeds. But for immediate content delivery, there are few tools better, cheaper, or easier.

Again, it comes down to knowing your audience – and providing quality content. If you’re regularly posting updates and you have a clientele that’s actively interested in receiving them, then an RSS feed may be right for you. But there’s no point in doing it if nobody’s interested. There are RSS tools that let you know how many subscribers you have, so it’s up to you to determine what your critical mass is. It may behoove you to put that content in a monthly newsletter or on your social media pages.

In the end, it all comes down to providing the right content to the right people in the way that best suits them. That’s not just good customer service – it’s just good business. On-line or off, that’s what matters most. 

Questions Answered

How do I use e-mail to market my business?

What does an RSS feed do?

What are ways that I can reach my customers?

How can I effectively use e-mail marketing?

How do I target the right audience through e-mail?

How can I avoid spamming my customers?



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