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How to create a B2B email strategy (that supports your overall content strategy)
Author : Stephanie Joy Hubbard
Posted : 20 / 10 / 22
In today’s world, our attention is a commodity. We have all kinds of messages constantly competing for it every day. But what makes some communications cut through and others fall flat? I’ll let you in on the secret: it’s about the power of the message. And how quick and easy it is to grasp that message.
When it comes to business to business (B2B) communication, email is usually one of the primary formats. And with good reason. But email is limited in its ability to communicate in an exciting and engaging way, so as B2B marketers, we have to get creative.
This article is about strategy and planning – the thinking you need to do before you start writing B2B marketing emails. (When you’re ready for the next step, this article will help you write B2B marketing emails that people love to open.)
Strategy is an informed opinion about how to win. It requires you to have a clear understanding of a situation, a goal, and a way to achieve the goal.
When creating a B2B email strategy, it’s crucial to plan your communications with your business’s overall content strategy in mind. You’ll have two main considerations to focus on for your email strategy: the creative considerations and the technical considerations.
The creative element of email strategy involves thinking about the ways you’ll engage your readers – the hook you use to capture their attention and the story that keeps them captivated.
The technical element of your email strategy relates to delivery and optimisation – the format you use to make the content easy to consume and the analytics you use to iterate and get better.
This article is split into these two main sections to help you cover all bases and make your B2B emails as powerful as possible.
Creativity can make topics that might not otherwise seem interesting, well, interesting. Sometimes it merges topics that usually don’t belong together in new and novel ways. In simple terms, creativity is ideas. Your ideas are what will help you create B2B marketing emails that cut through.
There are many kinds of B2B marketing emails, each with a different purpose. For example, there are outreach emails (often called cold emails) that are trying to raise awareness of your offering or product, generate a lead and start a channel of communication. There are re-engagement emails that are trying to re-establish communication or generate repeat sales. Then there are emails encouraging sign-ups to events and webinars, email newsletters, and just straight-up sales emails showcasing products.
But regardless of each email’s individual purpose, the important thing to remember is that it must show clearly what the benefit is to the reader if they engage with the email. Why should they care enough to open it? As you work on this, look at all your comms as a whole and work out how your marketing emails support and fit into the overall story you’re telling as a brand.
A lot of the ideas side of a brand’s content comes from its higher purpose. A brand’s higher purpose is sometimes referred to as ‘the why’ – the reason why your brand exists at all. The idea that we should ‘start with why’ comes from leadership expert Simon Sinek, who gave one of the most popular TED Talks of all time. In his talk, Sinek explains that the ‘why’ is probably the most important message that an organisation or individual can communicate because it’s what inspires others into action.
The functional and commercial reason a business exists could be to sell training courses. But the higher purpose it exists for is to help people communicate better – and, in doing so, to achieve better results with whatever they do.
Using the ‘start with why’ approach means explaining your purpose and the reason you exist and behave as you do. This is usually the most human and primal part of your brand or business and likely to cut through to your customers.
In his talk, Sinek outlines a model called the ‘Golden Circle’. This shows that to influence the behaviour of your customers, you have to communicate purpose before anything about what you actually do or sell. The reason being, if you can communicate a feeling or a quality, this is more powerful than simply offering a product in its pure form.
The image below shows the Golden Circle model and the part of the brain that brand purpose appeals to:
Click image to enlarge in new tab / Image from Smart Insights.
Golden circle labelled ‘why’ inside a larger circle labelled ‘how’, inside a still-larger circle labelled ‘what’.
A separate circle labelled ‘limbic brain’ inside a larger circle labelled ‘neocortex’.
The limbic brain is related to trust. It controls behaviour and decision making.
The ‘why’ and ‘how’ appeal to the limbic brain. Your ‘why’ is your purpose, your motivation and what you believe. The ‘how’ is your process: the actions you take to realise your ‘why’.
The neocortex is your rational brain. It controls senses, spatial reasoning, analytical thinking and language.
The ‘what’ is your result: what you do. It is the result of the ‘why’, the proof of it. The ‘what’ appeals to the neocortex, and results in rationalisation and communication.
Great leaders communicate from the inside out, starting with the ‘why’ and appealing to the limbic brain. Doing this results in ‘gut’ feelings and loyalty.
The creative part of your strategy should be the ideas for how to express your purpose in your B2B marketing emails.
Here are a few creative methods to come up with these ideas.
To work out the overall story your brand is telling and to get a refreshed perspective on your brand’s value, take a holistic look at your brand collateral and communications.
First, gather any brand documents or playbooks you have, read through, and note what the core ‘why’ is. If it’s not explicitly mentioned, work it out by asking ‘why?’ so many times that you can’t go any further.
For example: ‘We sell writing-training programmes’ → ‘Why?’ → ‘Because we recognise businesses want to empower their people to write better at work’ → ‘Why?’ → ‘Because there are so many different channels of communication now, and it’s part of everyone’s jobs’ → ‘Why do you do it, though?’ → ‘Because we’re experts who are passionate about communication’ → ‘Why?’ → ‘Because ultimately, transparent communication is an essential tool for a better world.’
Next, do a content audit. Make a list of the different touchpoints that customers have with your brand. For example: email, social channels, face-to-face meetings, presentations, your website and so on. Then go through the recent content you’ve distributed on these channels and try to take a customer-first view of them. Your aim should be to map out the overall customer journey and get a better understanding of the story you’re telling as a brand.
Ask yourself these questions:
Doing this should give you a better understanding of the content world in which your B2B emails will live. It will also help you spot areas where you could support or improve the brand story.
An important part of creating B2B marketing emails that make an impact is understanding the audience.
A great way to ensure you align your emails with your audience’s needs is to create profiles for each audience type you have and keep them close when creating your emails.
Whenever you’re writing an email for a particular group, refer to their profile to keep them front of mind. This will help you to avoid only writing what you want to say rather than considering what they want to hear.
Knowing all the different touchpoints that a customer has means you can create a cohesive story and always be thinking about their onward journey. That means the action you want the reader to take after they’ve read your email.
To keep your readers within your content ecosystem, create an omnichannel approach to your email strategy by linking and directing readers to different touchpoints. Doing this also keeps each piece of communication clear and concise. You won’t need to overload customers with too much information at once, because you can link out to somewhere that they can find out more.
Always have in mind what the call to action (CTA) is for each email – what you want the reader to do and where you want them to go next. Being clear about what your CTA is will help you write and format your email. For more on writing effective CTAs, read our article ‘How to write an irresistible email CTA (with examples)‘.
Let’s look at an example of how you might put this into practice.
You need to send an email inviting customers to join an event. There’s a lot of information to communicate about the topic of the event, the benefits of attending, how to register and logistics.
The temptation is to put all this information into the first email. But this would be off-putting and difficult to digest for the reader.
Instead, plan to send a short series of emails, and make the first email you send all about ‘the why’. The email should have a hook to capture attention and be short, sweet and enticing. Use the inverted pyramid model to create the hook and write an arresting subject line.
Plan how the reader will gather more detailed information about the event via different touchpoints the further through the customer journey they go. Give each email and other touchpoint a distinct purpose so you can map and plan your entire communication strategy for the event.
Here’s how that might look:
Touchpoint 1: Email
What’s happening? An exciting, hooky email to invite people to the event. Include the story of why this event exists and clearly describe the benefits of attending.
CTA: Visit the website to register
Touchpoint 2: Website
What’s happening? Clear, functional registration instructions and registration form.
CTA: Complete the form and click submit
Touchpoint 3: Email
What’s happening? An email reaffirming the customer’s decision, confirming registration, and providing details about logistics and any other crucial information they need to know. Offer any further articles or links that might be relevant like blog posts/video or round-up content from the last event.
CTA: Click on the relevant links
Touchpoint 4: Email
What’s happening? An email that further reaffirms the customer’s choice to attend by offering tips on how to get the most out of the event, plus further stories, teasers or creative content to build excitement.
Touchpoint 5: Email
What’s happening? An event round-up containing video from the event, blog post articles and links to any other resources to extend the customer experience. Perhaps ask them to register for the next event or to share with a colleague or friend.
CTA: Click on and engage with content, articles or registration page within the email
For a more detailed look at creating an omnichannel approach, check out our article ‘A beginner’s guide to omnichannel content strategy’.
At this point, you’ve looked at all the content your business is publishing and established what the higher purpose is. Now you can get more granular, by defining a purpose for each of the different types of B2B emails you send.
Write down all the different types (outreach, re-engagement, newsletter etc) and capture a simple strategy in this format:
TO (action you require)
BY (your strategy here)
For example, a business selling leadership coaching services might write this as a strategy for their inspirational email newsletters:
GET senior decision makers
TO keep us top of mind when they need leadership coaching for themselves or their people
BY showing we’re the no. 1 experts by consistently providing them with high-quality and actionable content that helps their leaders perform better every day.
Doing this and reviewing your strategies often will help you stay aligned to your overall goals as a business and keep your different email types focused.
Another great and simple way to define a purpose or overarching strategy for your emails is to write a FROM and TO statement to capture your vision.
For example, if you notice that there’s not much planning going into your B2B emails and it’s all quite salesy and reactive to your promotions, you might put:
FROM sending reactive, overly salesy and unimaginative emails
TO creating human-to-human emails worth opening – that make our readers’ days a little better
It might seem like a lofty ambition, but just having a vision to refer to can help you (and whoever else is writing and creating emails) stay on track.
After you’ve worked out the why and what, another important factor of your email strategy is how.
How you communicate with your audience is a huge part of how engaged they’ll be and ultimately how likely they’ll be to buy from you.
There are two parts to the how: the tone of voice you use and the format of your emails.
Your tone of voice is crucial to expressing your brand’s purpose and identity. You may have a defined brand tone of voice already.
But it’s also crucial to understand the way your audience likes to be communicated with by your particular kind of business. You might need to do some research around this.
By considering your tone of voice and researching how your audience is likely to prefer their emails, you’ll have a killer recipe for cut-through B2B email success.
To understand how your audience likes to be communicated with, conduct a little landscape and competitive analysis:
For a closer look into what goes into making a brilliant brand tone of voice, read our article ‘How to create a brand tone of voice guide (that people will actually use)’.
After you’ve explored the creative side of creating your email strategy, there are a few technical aspects to consider to ensure your emails look great too. You’ll also need to make sure you’re measuring and optimising continually to assess if your strategy is working and to keep improving.
If you always optimise email for mobile, you can’t go far wrong, since a lot of people will be reading their emails on their phone. Because so many of us work on desktop computers to create emails, we often forget to check how an email will look on another device – it’s a common mistake.
Here are a few important factors that’ll help you optimise your emails for people viewing them on any device – mobile, desktop or tablet:
In order to give your email strategy purpose and direction, ask yourself, ‘What is the goal of our B2B email marketing?’ There may be a different goal for each type of email you send, so you might need to ask yourself this a few times.
Note down these goals, then decide what KPI (key performance indicator) or metric you could use to monitor and measure how well you’re doing against them. To do this, look at what metrics are offered by your email provider in the analytics section.
Here’s a list of common email goals and the metrics you could use to measure them:
Goal: I want more people to open my emails
Metric: Open rate (the percentage of people who opened the email you sent)
This is a good metric to look at if you want to increase awareness of your product or brand. However, an isolated open rate isn’t that useful. It’s important to look at this metric comparatively. Test new subject lines and content topics and compare open rates year on year, month on month or week on week to monitor if your strategy is working.
Goal: I want to drive traffic to our website
Metric: Click-through rate (the percentage of people who clicked the link in the email you sent)
This metric is key for monitoring engagement and pushing people into your content ecosystem. Your click-through rate is a great indication that you were persuasive enough in your email to prompt an action from the reader. This is an excellent sign your email was engaging, your CTA well-chosen and that people wanted to know more about your offering or content.
Goal: I want more sales/sign-ups/enquiries
Metric: Conversion rate (the percentage of people who clicked the link and completed a desired action, like filling out a form or buying a product)
This is one of the easiest ways to monitor the ROI of your email marketing. It allows you to see how many leads (or sales) you’re generating with your emails. It’s worth noting that if you’re a business with a long buying cycle, this metric might be lower than a business that’s easier to impulse-buy from. But if your goal is to generate leads, then conversion rates show you how successful your marketing emails are at converting your mailing list into sales leads.
The back-end analytics available to you will vary slightly depending on the email provider you use. However, most providers will show you these basic metrics:
To optimise your email strategy, it’s key to look at metrics comparatively, rather than simply the isolated figures. For example, an open rate of 10% doesn’t really tell you anything about how successful your email marketing is, unless you compare it to another email or another time period. Doing this gives you a strategic view and you can optimise based on what you learn.
Here’s a simple way to get a strategic view of your B2B email marketing:
When you’re making decisions about email optimisation, make sure you stay closely aligned to your overall content goals – whether that’s lead generation, relationship nurturing or sales. Keep yourself focused on the outcome you’re trying to achieve. It can be easy to lose sight of the big picture when you’re caught up in the fine detail.
What makes a great B2B email marketing strategy? Equal parts creativity, data and measurement – and aligning it with your overall content strategy. Get the how-to here, via @EmphasisWriting Click To Tweet
Once you really understand your audience and the creative and technical considerations, and you’ve worked out the purpose for each of your B2B emails, it’s a great idea to summarise your strategy in a document. Share the document with your team. This will help to:
Strategy should be simple and so should your strategy document. Here’s what your summary document should include:
Share or present your strategy in whatever format feels right for you and your business. Whether you’re sharing or presenting the strategy document via email or in person, a universal rule is to keep it short and sweet to avoid losing people’s attention. Stick to a simple storytelling structure and try to keep it to around five slides or two-to-three pages. You can always include detail and workings out in an appendix.
If you’re presenting, you can read more about presenting a social media strategy here: the same advice will apply.
Pro tip: Make your strategy document findable. This could mean putting it in a shared drive or pinning it in Slack – just choose a place where all team members can access it easily at any time. That way they’re more likely to remember and use it.
I hope this article is useful for you as you kick off your B2B email strategy journey. The main thing to remember is that B2B emails should also be H2H: human-to-human. If you create marketing and sales emails with authenticity, warmth and personality, you’re likely to get better results.
By taking a human approach to your email strategy and looking at your messaging and communications from a holistic and omnichannel perspective, you can create a cohesive and engaging experience for your customers.
When you’re ready, here’s a template for writing those B2B emails. And check out the companion article as a follow-on from this one. It’ll help you turn your strategy into action.
And if you’re looking for more hands-on help to train your team to write engaging marketing emails, get in touch for a chat about how we can help.
Image credit: Monster Ztudio / Shutterstock
Stephanie is a senior content consultant who advises clients on all areas of their digital content – from social media and influencers to big creative campaigns. Her background is in social media and marketing, having previously been head of marketing for fashion brand American Apparel, as well as working for start-up social media app HeyHub.
Stephanie shares her expertise in making an impact online as a guest author on the Emphasis blog.
Posted by: Stephanie Joy Hubbard
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