This is not SPAM.

Since this blog has been pretty social media-heavy so far, I thought I’d change tack and talk about another online PR tactic today: email communication.

I admit it–I’m a bit of a cynic when it comes to email marketing/direct email/whatever you want to call it. I have signed up for heaps of email lists (generally because I was required to or to get some sort of incentive), but in nearly every instance I end up exercising my right to unsubscribe. I hate when my email inbox is filled not with notes from people I care about, but with email after email wanting me to part with my hard-earned money in one way or another.

I don’t think I’m in the minority here: people are resistant to marketing and communications delivered in email form. People hate spam, and despite the fact that emails sent to recipients who have signed up to receive those emails do not qualify as spam, they are often regarded as such. Blogger Scott Cohen points out: “The bottom line, from a customer perspective, is this: Spam is unwanted email.

I wonder how the makers of Spam feel about their product name being used for something so universally despised?

Since email communication is a legitimate public relations tactic, I couldn’t help but wonder how public relations professionals can create email communications that are not perceived as spam. In other words, how to create email that is wanted by your target publics?

The answer, it seems, lies in sending email that delivers value to the recipient in one way or another–whether that be financial value (a discount, a voucher, etc.) or informational value (information that is relevant, appropriate, and interesting to the person receiving it).

Enter Content Marketing, which is a new concept to me (at least in name) but apparently has been a mainstay of PR practice for a while now:

Marketers have long been great at creating new terms for things. Content marketing is now among them and refers to a new kind of marketing that’s apparently really cool and revolutionary and is being applied by really smart marketers. There are even content-marketing gurus, summits, and whole books on the topic.

The thing is, the highly effective strategy of creating informational content that’s valuable to prospects and customers has been with us for decades.

What’s new(ish), this Marketing Prof article continues, is the online application of the concept: using the Internet as a highly efficient way of distributing said valuable informational content.

Intrigued by this strategy, I did some reading about it, and the article I found most illuminating was a post from PR Newswire’s Beyond PR blog, titled “3 Basic Perceptions of Content You Should Have For Successful Marketing“. These perceptions are:

  • Content As Food - “You have to create/share content people actually want. Think of content as food for the mind. People want to be fed good content.” This quote is from Buzzshift co-founder Eddy Badrina, who also pointed out that PR professionals needn’t necessarily create or commission original content for distribution; other options include contributed content (“which can be attained from guest bloggers) and curated content (“which you do not own but you can add context to when you share”). What is important to the recipient isn’t who created it, but whether it has value.
  • Content As Opportunity -The opportunity here is to “engage” with your publics and build relationships (which is of course what PR is all about). “If you post an intriguing and informative blog or video your audience will comment,” says Brett Relander, co-founder of Tactical Marketing Labs. “They become engaged and you have the opportunity to respond and add strength to that relationship.” Guest blogging is an additional opportunity that involves “tapping” new audiences and “lead[ing] them back to where you might engage them further”.
  • Content As a Service - Information should “teach, illustrate, and inform,” according to Adrian Parker. “It should be word-of-mouth worthy. Hence it is a service you are providing to your audience”. Adrian also suggests “not [looking] at content life in a straight line. Think of it in a cycle: distribute, post, and repurpose.”

Content of this kind–that which keeps the needs and wants of the public in mind–would   be gladly received by most members of email lists. Of course, understanding one’s target publics is as important here as ever, since knowing and understanding what is of value to your publics is a prerequisite to delivering that value.

In short, if you want your emails to get opened and read, make sure you consistently send emails offering valuable content that informs without necessarily attempting to explicitly promote or sell. Blog posts, newsletters, videos, podcasts–the options for content delivery are endless and increasing by the day. And of course, your emails should make it easy for recipients to connect to your website and social media accounts, where they (hopefully) should find more great, valuable content.

To read about some smart ways of incorporating social media with email marketing and social media strategies, check out this Mashable article.

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