This is a guest post from MailCharts.
What’s the advice marketers hear most often? “Send more email.”
What’s the consumer’s biggest turnoff about promotional email? Too much of it.
The solution to this situation isn’t just to pull back on sending emails—we can hear the howls of protest from your brand managers at the mere idea of reducing frequency—or to keep emailing until you push your subscribers over the edge and hope you can keep pulling in new subscribers to take their places.
The answer is to send better email—messages that add value to the promotion, that say something more than “Buy this thing.” We call those messages “FYI” emails because they have content designed to inform recipients as well as sell to them.
As stated in this recent Campaign Monitor blog post: “Promotional emails can and should illustrate the value of your product, but they should do so in a thoughtful and organic way.” An FYI email, which can be all informational or a combination of information and promotion, is an elegant way to achieve that goal.
3 ways “FYI” emails bridge the gap in frequency expectations
No matter how much they like your messages, your customers aren’t in the market for what you have to sell every day. FYI emails give you relevant reasons to stay in the inbox and stay on your customers’ radars until they’re ready to buy again.
Consider these three points about FYI emails.
1. FYI emails are geared to help customers, which makes them more useful and valuable.
Here are just a few ways you can use FYI emails to help customers:
- Answer customer questions about your products and services
- Suggest more uses for your product or new ways to use a service
- Offer solutions to common issues or list tactics to head off problems
- Explain how to buy a complex or high-ticket product or why to buy one product/service over another. This move can also help you reduce complaints and increase retention.
- Introduce key behind-the-scenes people to highlight their expertise and build authority and personal interest in your company.
2. FYI emails don’t replace promotional emails.
Instead, they allow you to send more email—or to maintain frequency with less risk of attrition—because you are offering more value and greater relevance.
When you ask people what they want in their emails, the top answer is always “offers and savings.” Maybe that’s what’s on their minds. Or, maybe that’s what you have conditioned them to expect because it’s what you promise them at opt-in.
FYI emails have a specific purpose in your email program. They aren’t just chatty fillers between promotional emails.
Here’s an example: If you use customer journey mapping, you can plot points on the journey where an FYI email can help keep your customers on the right path, whether your goal is to drive first or repeat purchases, to avoid churn or bring them back from inactivity or attrition.
The goal is to drive conversion through information, not just by pitching a discount or incentive.
3. FYI emails align with your marketing goals and strategy.
In a consumer setting, these emails borrow their structure from the nurturing or drip emails that are a standard part of B2B content marketing, especially for products or services that have a long consideration cycle. But this B2B practice is also a perfect template for your B2C efforts.
Suppose your brand goal is to make more money. Your marketing strategy to achieve it might be to shorten the time between consideration and purchase, to retain more customers, or to bring back more customers from inactivity. An FYI email is a perfect tactic to carry out those strategies.
Here are examples:
- Reduce consideration time: Use the email to answer questions, offer buying advice, or compare different products or service levels.
- Retain customers: Introduce new products or suggest new ways to use the product or service. Highlight improvements or upgrades.
- Reactivate: Restate your brand’s unique benefits or highlight improvements or upgrades.
How to get started with FYI emails
Spend some time figuring out what your customers would want to see in these emails. You might already have much of the background in other places around your company.
Ask your customer-service or support staff what kinds of questions or complaints they get. Check with your buyers or product managers for guidance about making the best purchasing decisions. Talk to your web team to get insights into shoppers’ browsing habits, such as where they access FAQ pages before shopping or where they’re most likely to bounce away from the site.
You don’t have to drop out a promotion entirely from an FYI email. For example, an email with a sizing guide for jeans or athletic shoes should link to new products in those categories.
If your marketing plan calls for adding a discount for a new product, go ahead and add that, too. The information in the email helps your customer buy smarter, and the discount is the incentive that might push them to conversion more readily than a straight promotion might.
Figure out cadence: If you are a high-frequency sender (5+ emails weekly), try replacing one of those emails (weekly or bi-weekly depending on your plan and resources). A low- to-medium-frequency sender could test the effect of adding one FYI email to the regular message stream.
Always test the effect.
FYI emails can work well for some brands and never move the needle for others. Loyal customers might respond to them more than customers who shop your brand when they can’t find what they want somewhere else. And they might not have any effect on customers who have tuned out completely
But you won’t know until you try it—and then test to find a change.
We’ve collected a number of examples from the MailCharts database. See what you think and which new approaches might help you connect with your customers.
5 FYI emails you can try out right away
This list begins with emails that are almost exclusively information-oriented and then progress to a nearly 50-50 mix of informational and promotional emails. All examples are from the MailCharts database.
1. Sender: Campaign Monitor
Subject line: Looking to boost productivity & improve the customer journey?
We’re beginning with Campaign Monitor, and not just because they were kind enough to give us space in the blog to talk about email practices. Campaign Monitor’s informative emails are well respected among knowledgeable email marketers, including the company’s fiercest competitors.
This lead-nurturing email focuses on broad digital marketing education, from marketing automation to SEO and (surprise!) lead nurturing.
All of these topics connect back to specific services in Campaign Monitor’s portfolio, but it’s a subtle nudge rather than a direct request for a sale or even a sales call or demo.
2. Sender: Kona Bicycle Company
Subject line: Kona Newsletter: Finding Freedom with Jim Brown
Many outdoors-oriented brands excel at FYI emails because they understand that the experience with the product is a key selling point, not just the equipment itself or the price. Kona takes two approaches to using information-driven emails instead of straight promotional messages. We cover both here.
This email is almost exclusively informational and focuses on a Kona user who has a compelling story that would appeal to the rugged individuals that make up Kona’s market.
Most of Kona’s bikes are in the low to mid four figures, so their buyers likely aren’t in the market too often, and their prospects might need a lot of information before they make up their minds to buy.
A post like this would draw interest and tell a story, keeping the bike brand top of mind until the decision to buy is triggered.
3. Sender: Kona Bicycle Company
Subject line: The Electric Ute: Take it E-asy!
This approach by Kona is slightly more promotional but the informational approach still dominates the email, which highlights the brand’s e-bike.
The message features the bike’s utility by showing it in real-life situations that vary from an urban mom’s daily errands to a rugged run on a twisty mountain trail. Can you spot the few lines of promotional copy?
4. Sender: Hallmark
Subject line: Decorated, deviled, hidden and more
Seasonal events and holidays drive Hallmark’s cadence and frequency. According to its frequency calendar (a feature for every brand in the MailCharts database), the brand sent 6 to 7 emails weekly in the run-up to Valentine’s Day, then drops to weekly/biweekly sends in quieter weeks.
So, Hallmark has plenty of bandwidth to drop in a magazine-style FYI email loaded with lifestyle-oriented topics among its promotion-driven emails.
That makes this FYI email stand out even more. The topics—food, crafts, family fun—are tangentially related to Hallmark’s brands but they don’t promote specific products. All the promotional material is sequestered at the bottom of the card.
5. Sender: Fast Growing Trees
Subject line: Hey! Check out what’s happening at FGT this month!
Horticulture brands like Fast Growing Trees are ripe for FYI emails because they can serve both the master gardeners who need high-level tips and the newbies who need plenty of guidance to avoid killing their tender new plants. (Who knew over-watering was a thing?)
All of the articles included in this email lead to product pages where readers can buy the featured trees, but the email uses information to guide the click decision rather than a price, time limit, or incentive. The email also includes promotional content, but, as with the Hallmark email, it’s corralled at the end of the email.
6. Sender: Deus Ex Machina
Subject line: Featured Artist: Paul McNeil Skateboards
This skateboard company knows their most devoted customers are interested in the artists who design their boards as well as the mechanics that go into it. This email is a great example. It’s packed with content like a video, an artist bio, and a unique playlist. It gives skaters something to click on and buy, but the FYI content dominates the message.
7. Sender: The Candle Lab
Subject line: Our favorite ways to reuse candle jars
This Ohio-based candle company’s FYI email is the most promotion-oriented of all the emails featured in this collection. It looks informational, but what’s the real goal of this message?
The subject line, hero image, and CTA button lead you to think it aims to encourage readers to watch the video of store employees reusing their empty candle jars. But the secondary offer that goes with it—a $1 credit on every returned jar toward a purchase—is intended to build foot traffic and sales. It’s a subtle combination of FYI elements with a relevant promotion.
How we got here
Almost as soon as person-to-person email took off in the late 1980s and early 1990s, smart marketers discovered email could connect them directly with their customers and prospects without paying for printing, postage, ad space or commercial time.
Consumers loved getting coupons and other offers delivered directly from their favorite brands right to their computers. No more overloaded mailboxes! But you know what happened next: spam, fraud and blacklisting took the shine off email.
Dark days for email: Consumers went from complaining about junk mail to objecting to junk email and overloaded inboxes. Spammers and fraudsters polluted the channel. ISPs, blacklist operators and governments made the inbox harder to reach. Email’s future as a marketing channel looked bleak.
Why email still rules: Fast-forward about 15 years, and we’re still here. Consumers still complain about too much email, but they also continue to prefer email over other commercial channels for promotional messages, despite recent fluctuations in engagement metrics like opens and clicks.
What happened? Many marketers have gotten smarter about how they use email. They give consumers more control over email content. They use testing to find out what works and employ data and automation to create near-1:1 messaging.
Email content has evolved, too. More marketers are either adding value-driven content to their promotional emails or swapping out at least one promotional email for an “FYI” message. And that brings us to the reasons why you should consider it, too.