winter / 2015

The magazine of branded content
Juliet Stott
an effective e-marketing campaign
Juliet Stott
Feb 10, 2016

The gold award from The Content Council’s prestigious Pearl Award’s most effective email program 2015 went to Ameriprise Financial. Its VP of Content & Employment Marketing, Susan Hilt-Lagos, oversaw an email program that increased open rates, click through rates and business leads.

Her secret? She says it all data-driven, coming down to the insights her team has on their target audience.

Susan’s top ten includes:


Set clear objectives: Determine what you want your email program to accomplish. Invest in creating the channel. You won’t see success overnight. Your KPIs will depend on what you need the program to do and how you’re using it in the sales funnel.


Build a platform that is scalable, structured and easy to use: This makes it easier to publish and distribute content. Find a vendor that will give all your users a seamless experience. Make sure the platform you use will deliver a good experience across all emails and browsers from Outlook, Yahoo or Gmail.


Research your target audience: Find out the topics that will resonate with them, what they’ll find useful and then create your content approach and calendar to meet those needs. Regularly conduct research with your target audience so you keep up to date with what motivates them and continue to create content they’ll value.


Ensure topics are broad enough to appeal to the majority of your audience: Niche content, applying to a small set of people, can be woven in for those who want to go deeper.


Branded, original content is more effective than curated: Telling your brand’s story and relaying your value proposition happens most effectively with original content, but the topics must be timely, useful and relevant so they address the user’s needs. Mix up the content you create by including videos, infographics, articles, quizzes, listicles and other elements to give the user a better branded experience.


Compelling subject lines are crucial to increasing open rates: Listicles, such as 3 ways, 5 tips, have higher open rates and help to capture the consumer’s interest more readily. But before you send your email to a wider list, test the subject line with a community of users that represent your target audience. You might have a very compelling subject line but if it doesn’t connect to the content in the email itself, you can hurt your click-through rates. It’s important that you have your subject line, your teaser and your article written so they work together as a unit.


Email templates need to be visual: Use fewer words and include more graphics to simplify and streamline the reading process for the user. Use responsively designed templates so readers have a seamless experience on any device.


Adopt a test and learn plan: Since not everyone has a platform that allows for A/B testing, have a ‘Test & Learn’ plan where you identify what works and doesn’t to optimize results over time. Use the data and insights you gather to find different ways/actions you can take with your content.


Track click-through rates, open rates and variables: Determine which articles get the most clicks. Compare response and open rates from prospects vs existing subscribers. Vary times/days of week you send your content initially, to see which days/time have higher engagement.


Create champions within the organization for the work you’re doing: It’s really important to share your plan with your key business partners within the organization – that way they can contribute their thinking and it will improve the quality of your program.

NOTE: It’s worth repeating that you should always remember email marketing takes time and requires patience. You might not see instant results.

Susan Hilt-Lagos is a member of The Content Council’s Brand Advisory Board, a think tank of seasoned and innovative brand marketers that advise members on how to devise, implement and measure content marketing strategies and practice. If you are interested in joining the board or becoming a member of The Content Council contact Gemma Rainer.