Content vs Promotional Email Marketing Campaigns

Content and Promotional Campaigns are equally important for businesses to grow. However, maintaining a balance between the two is what it all gets down to!

Robbie Fitzwater
Updated on

For eCommerce marketers and business owners, the buildup to and the holiday season can be rather intimidating. So much of this planning falls squarely on the email marketer, who is responsible for building anticipation, building a list, and converting that list when it matters most.

The strategy needed for e-commerce email marketers and businesses in this window is completely different than the strategy for the rest of the year.

Things can get a bit chaotic, and everyone is focused on how to maximize their email marketing during this season. And with the clock ticking until the holidays, there is no better time to start planning than now.

1669345200

  days

  hours  minutes  seconds

until

Black Friday

Needless to say, we’ve seen plenty of mistakes leading up to and during Black Friday/Cyber Monday, so we wanted to help you avoid them!

We laid out some of the most common holiday mistakes we see made in holiday email marketing strategy so that you may avoid them and give you a smooth roadmap to follow!

What we’ll cover:

  1. Content vs. promotional campaigns in marketing
    1. What is a content campaign?
    2. How to incorporate content emails into your email marketing?
    3. What is a promotional campaign?
  2. How do content and promotional campaigns work together?
  3. How do we measure success?
  4. Conclusion

When asked about the difference between content and promotional campaigns, we tend to lean heavily towards content and believe in finding a sweet spot between both where we can share a lot of engaging, informative, and educational content with our audiences via campaigns because we’re big believers that email is an effective content distribution channel that can work no less well than any other marketing channel you use. 

And today, we’re going to talk you through our reasoning behind this and share with you the ways you can use it to get in front and engage with your audience. 

Without any further ado, let’s dive into it!

How to use content vs. promotional email campaigns in your marketing

Content campaigns are a series of emails that are aimed to provide value to our audience by telling them more than what they actually asked for, offering them value and perspective, and engaging with them with informative content. 

On the other hand, promotional campaigns are mainly concerned with promoting a product, announcing a sale, or an event that’s going to be a bit more transactional, with the purpose of selling or pushing them into making a purchase. 

But if we do one or the other too much, we will not be able to yield desired business results or outcomes. So ideally, we should be building ourselves up for both to find that sweet spot for our brand and business, where both content and promotional campaigns complement and supplement each other, enabling us to drive a lot more revenue. Because, at the end of the day, if we’re not driving revenue, we’re not doing our job.

In a nutshell, that’s our perspective on the “content vs. promotional campaign” debate, and we want to walk you through our process of making this content-promotional mix to help you find the right cadence for each.

So, let’s have a look at it in detail.

What is a content campaign?

For e-commerce businesses content campaign is what allows you to add value beyond the transaction. It gives you an opportunity to communicate with them, educate and inform them without having to offer a discount or promotion. 

Usually, what we see is groups start off with the strategy of initiating their email marketing with a plan that looks something like this;

  • Week 1, we’ll offer 10% off
  • Week 2, we’ll offer 15% off
  • Week 3, we’ll offer 20% off
  • Week 4, we’ll offer 25% off

And then what? That’s a race to the bottom with no benefit in the long run; it’s not a strategy; in fact, it’s just a way of escalating!

So, it’s bad because you’re essentially burning out your audience and training them to expect discounts and promotions. Whereas what we should ideally be doing is using our emails and our content as a way of reaching our audience, adding value to them, and giving ourselves an at-bat during any time. 

We know that you might have multiple or some type of replenishable product to offer depending on your business type and what category you fit into, but we also know that you shouldn’t be just offering those products to them in the way I explained earlier. 

Instead, it would help more if you communicate with them, keep them informed and educated in-between those repurchase cycles so that when they actually do need to make that second purchase, we’re on the top of their mind and have differentiated ourselves to be the experts in that category. So naturally, their next step is to purchase from us.

Also, with content campaigns, another goal should be the monetization of content that we’re building for other purposes. Because if we are able to do that well in time, we can drive $5000 – $10,000 in a campaign email by adding value beyond the transaction and giving people a reason to come back to our site. And if it all works out well, you can automate it and recycle it later on as well.

If you want to have a deeper look into that process, we have another blog post about it with me ranting about content monetization. So feel free to check that out!

So, all in all, the main goal is to communicate and bring people to our site, and once they’re back, our other marketing automations come into play. 

For example, we may have automations running off of browse abandonment, and once they get back to viewing a product, we’ll have hooks on them, which gives us a chance to continue that conversation further. 

That’s also why when someone asks me, “so should I link to my YouTube page from the email?” I always say No! Embed that YouTube video in a blog post and then link it back there because you want them back on your site without getting distracted or lost.

So, that’s how our marketing ecosystem works together to keep them engaged.

For some businesses that have a certain level of expertise, we recommend using it in a unique way to humanize yourself and your team to separate and differentiate yourselves as an expert in that space. For instance, I always talk about how you can’t out-scale Amazon but out-human it. 

It’s because it lacks a human face or human touch, but you can give that to your audience and become the trusted resource they pick when they need to make another purchase. 

So, we’ll be on the top of their minds; they have been opening our emails consistently for the whole last year, and when they need something, they’ll circle back around and again find us there to assist them. 

We tend to look at these in two different buckets. 

  1. Some of the content that we share might be more evergreen. For example, we have a group that sells equestrian riding boots, so for their audience, we share content related to leather care which is something that can be useful to them all year round. Hence, it’s not seasonal and can be used at any given time. 
  2. On the other hand, we have some content that fits more into the contextual bucket. For example, content on how to stay warm while riding in winter would only be useful to those living in colder areas. Like, if I’m residing in the southern states of America, a piece of content like that won’t match my intent at all. Therefore, we should ideally be trying to line up the right message at the right time for the right person.

So, when we’re doing this, these content emails can be used to bring some value back to us too by keeping our audience engaged and ideally driving a sale as well.  

Pro Tip: These can work as a trojan horse for selling products with relevancy to a customer’s journey with you. For example, adding something to a post-purchase sequence or introducing a complimentary product that supplements the content you’re sharing. 

The reason why I call it a trojan horse is that first, you add value, then ask for purchase as you’ve rightly earned the opportunity to do so. 

Also, thinking about that content, we want to be using it with the goal of increasing the average order value of our repeat customers. 

For instance, if you educate and inform your audience about your products or a specific category, the next time they need to make a purchase, they might be interested in getting a larger bundle or an upgraded version now that they are aware of the value your product offers. 

You can also use that content to automate at different stages of that customer life cycle, which we really love doing, especially a post-purchase sequence. Like, if I’m buying a pair of leather boots or some leather item, a piece of content around how to keep it clean and make it last longer would be pretty relevant for me. This would not only add value beyond the transaction but also improve the post-purchase experience and separate you from everyone else because, again, Amazon doesn’t do that!

Similarly, we have some groups in the coffee space. So, after someone purchases a coffee for the time, we go about this like, “Heyy, how do you like to brew your coffee? What level of grinding is going to be appropriate for you? How to grind coffee?” etc. So, as you can see, all of these are going to be useful in helping them get the most out of the product. 

We also think about this in terms of like, Hey, how do we use this content in the way we’re using content on social where we’re using it to engage people over a long period of time? 

Anybody who has worked in social for a long time knows that if we’re doing too much warm, fuzzy content, we’re not going to have a business outcome, and similarly if we’re going overboard with selling content, we’ll still not be able to drive desired results. Therefore, maintaining a balance is the key.

Sometimes we’ll need more “bottom of the funnel content” that’s deeply engaging and less hard-hitting than the one mainly built for SEO. That kind of content makes those interactions really human, especially when we’re sending those on a consistent basis; the audience starts to build a relationship with the author of that post/content. For example, we have clients who, after receiving emails from specific authors, go like, “Hey, can I talk to Lizzie or Hey, can I talk to Michelle?” because those are people they feel they know in person after consistently being in communication with them.

And honestly, that’s the GOAL; that’s how we want to be separating ourselves and positioning ourselves as experts.

How to incorporate content emails into your email marketing?

Generally, the easiest way for you to get into the rhythm of this is to put that content into what we call the hygiene, hub, and hero model. 

Hygiene refers to the stuff we do on a daily basis, whereas hub is about what we do every week, while hero is something we do every once a year, so it requires a bit more firepower behind. For example, events like Black Friday/Cyber Monday fall into the hero category for eCommerce businesses. 

So, for hero events, we tend to have a consistent drum beat, where we keep our audience engaged and train them to expect something big coming up soon with a piece of content every once a week. This enables us to learn how engaged they are and do we need to do further to keep their attention.

And another thing I wanted to mention here is the concept of top-of-the-funnel content versus the bottom of the funnel. 

Now suppose the top-of-the-funnel content is like having broccoli, which would be good for a couple of times, but it won’t make you excited after a week. Similarly, if you have too much dessert, eventually, your stomach will start hurting. S0 finding balance is what’s necessary here. 

What is a promotional campaign?

Promotional campaigns are the type of campaigns that communicate a new product release, a sale, or a promotion of a specific product. 

Those are going to be something that we don’t want to use too often because that would feel highly one-dimensional, and we may also commoditize our business because when everything is a sale, in reality, nothing is a sale. And we don’t want to do that because it would come out as a really bad strategy for long-term growth. 

And it happens quite often with people when they’re scratching their head over what to send this week, and then they’re like, Heyy, I need to send something, but I don’t know what to send, and then they make the same “10% off, 15% off,20% off” mistake we joked about earlier. However, if we use these strategically, they can provide a great way of driving a larger amount of sales in a given window and a good amount of volume around a specific product release. 

Especially using these promotional campaigns in conjunction with content can help heaps with making sure that we’re driving revenue, making sales, and yet keeping our audience engaged and not burning them out by being so one-dimensional. 

Therefore, while working with our clients, we always tell them that if we are going to have a promotion or a sale, we’ll do that only once every six or eight weeks. With this strategy, our audience will neither burn out nor expect a sale every now and then. They’ll be trained that we don’t do this every other day and will be waiting for when we do it. For example, in the US, when people see Black Friday/ Cyber Monday approaching soon, they stop buying toilet paper way earlier in October because they want to avail the upcoming deals. 

How do content and promotional email campaigns work together?

What we ideally want to do here is find a sweet spot where both the content and promotional campaigns can be connected and used together because that’s how we think there’ll be a lot of value added. 

And for doing that, our first focus is on giving them enough value that’ll eventually earn us the right to ask. Or another way to look at this is that content is the lead into the joke, and promotion is the punchline. And we need to lead into that joke really well to give it some context, make it funnier and add sense to the punchline. On the contrary, if there are just punchlines after punchlines without any context, it won’t work for any more than one time. 

In all, without a storytelling component, no one will want to come back to us or engage with us!

So, to get these to work together and keep our audience engaged, we need to start with knowing when they’ll purchase from us and what segments would do that sooner than others so that we can keep sending them fresh and relevant content, ensuring they don’t tune out.

For example, let’s say we’re sending out an email on Thursday, and by the end of that week, we have a promotion coming up as well; we can tee them up by offering an incentive to join our VIP list and gain early access – the main goal is to have them on board with an engaging piece of content, have their attention and their piggyback off of it. 

Also, that piece of content has to be engaging enough, it can be something that has worked well before, and we can recycle it to get mass attention before kicking off the broad-level promotion so that we have most of them back on our site. You can also incorporate some user-generated content or behind-the-scenes stuff into your promotional campaigns that’ll make you sound more authentic and human.

And once we have introduced that sale or promotion, a follow-up like “Heyy, this is your last chance!” would also be a nice way to stay in touch. Then, moving forward, once that promotion stage is over, we get back to our old routine of adding value beyond the transaction, and then again, after 6 or 8 weeks, we’ll be in a position to offer another incentive.

However, this works differently for different businesses, so you’ll have to go through a little bit of experimenting there, like how much is too much? How much is too much? What level of content saturation are we going to hit before people just start checking out and don’t open our emails? Those are all going to be things you need to answer for yourself.

How do we measure success of your email campaigns?

We measure success in terms of, like, Hey, how well is this driving revenue? If our automations and campaigns are bringing back revenue, it’s great. But if not, we might need to refocus and shift.

And thinking about this, revenue from repeat purchasers is what we should be mainly looking at. Because if we try to drive that value from new customers, we’ll have to sacrifice a huge margin – something we don’t want to do out of the gate (except for every once in a while). 

Then another metric we’d like to look at is the average order value from our repeat purchasers, the revenue from which will generally be higher than that from first-time purchasers. The main reason is that they know you better; they trust you more than the newcomers since you’ve kept them informed and engaged, and therefore, they are willing to invest more, for example, buy larger bundles from you.

Another way to measure our success in this is by looking at how many people are paying heed to our content. How many of them are opening and clicking on it? How many of them are getting redirected to our site and viewing us as thought leaders? That’s a time-taking process, though. 

However, businesses that have done a good job of separating themselves from the rest and have won the hearts and minds of their audience by giving more of human touch, as we discussed earlier, will have a much easier time doing that. 

So, if you’ve been in that commodity space for a little too long, if you have been really one-dimensional until now, it’s high time you start working on getting your audience out of that state where they start seeing you as a differentiated service/product provider. 

In a nutshell, those are some ways of measuring how well you are doing, month after month. 

Conclusion

I would again emphasize that maintaining a balance is the key. Being too structural and promotional might burn the audience out and prove to be an unsustainable strategy in the long run because it’ll make us sacrifice too much margin. Therefore, adding value constantly is crucial to have them keep coming back and purchasing from you. 

To sum it up, I hope this article helps you understand the importance of content and promotional campaigns and how we need to incorporate both of them into our marketing mix for long-term gains.

If you guys have any suggestions, please let us know. We always love receiving feedback!

Leave a Reply