Email is like a digital Swiss Army knife. Sure, the actual tool has what you expect: knives that stay sharp for years. But the add-on tools, like a bottle opener, screwdriver and tweezers, help you survive everything from a battlefield to a picnic. (Thanks, corkscrew!) Email also does just what you expect: It sends important messages to your subscribers and customers. When you plug in an amazing collection of tools, you extend email’s utility and reach way beyond the inbox, creating cross-channel experiences and bringing scattered audiences together. 

You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Below are six ways email can add power, connection, utility, discovery, information and value. These cross-channel experiences giving recipients more reasons to open (and reopen) your emails and buy from you instead of a competitor.

1. Add the people’s voice 

Bring in fresh content and outside voices from your social channels to give your emails added impact and inject the human touch that makes a standard campaign email more like a conversation than a sales pitch.

Besides boosting your email messages, your social channels get exposed to a new audience and the repurposed content gets a second life in email. Win-win for everybody.

2. Offer event reminders

Everybody needs a little nudge, whether it’s to show up at a major real-world game, concert or store opening or to head online to a virtual event. You can’t rely on your customers to keep opening your email to find out when and where they have to be.

An add-to-calendar function is perfect for cross-channel experiences. With just a tap or click, your customers can add your event to their calendar apps. Then, just before “go” time, they’ll get a calendar or email reminder about your event. Smooth!

3. Tap to text

People used to say that SMS and text would kill email. Turns out they link up beautifully on messages that are more effective delivered via text. A tap-to-text function lets customers reading your email on a mobile device tap a link, which automatically populates a text message with offers or other content.

Your desk-bound customers aren’t left out, either. A tap-to-text function should include device detection, which can deliver a message with instructions for joining the text program to readers on desktop or laptop browsers.

4. Create audio experiences

Email delivers more brand-building value when it can keep recipients in the message as long as possible while also giving them something to do while they’re there. Create a custom branded Spotify music playlist to promote an event and embed the live feed in your email. 

Bonus: Allow your subscribers to share your playlist with friends to gain viral exposure to untapped audiences.

5. Ask for opinions

Everybody has one (or many). Knowing what’s on your customers’ minds these days can help you tap into the zeitgeist and shape your content and message focus. You can do this two ways:

6. Show a video

It worked for your exhausted high-school teachers, and it works in today’s red-hot video climate. Adding video to email raises response and conversion rates, and new technology and email standards mean more subscribers will be able to see the video instead of a static image.

Retailers, see what you can do

Download our retail playbook for step-by-step suggestions on how you can deliver hyper-relevance, capitalize on the multichannel experience and then surprise and delight your subscribers and customers with cross-channel experiences that bring them back to your message again and again. 

A lot of marketers would categorize email as the cozy sweater to social media’s black dress. While not as sexy as some newer channels, for years, email has taken the top spot in marketing ROI, and in a 2019 Econsultancy survey, respondents still picked email as the most effective marketing channel, with social media ranking only fifth.

But, why compare email and social media when they actually work better combined? Social media content, in particular, is a great resource for spicing up email, especially now, when marketers are looking for fresh content to use in their online communications. With a treasure trove of fan photos, reviews, and video clips, social media can help subscribers get inspired, connect to other fans, and engage in new channels.

Authentic Social Content When Marketers Need it Most

In the early days of the pandemic, many advertisers quickly put together serious (often too serious) campaigns pledging their solidarity with their customers. Memes were shared widely that mashed up these stock-photo-heavy commercials featuring empty beaches, empty streets, nurses, doctors and family embracing. These relatively generic messages didn’t resonate nearly as well as ads that were pulled together from real user content on social media. Oreo in particular was smart about encouraging people to post their videos, which they quickly turned into a commercial.

It doesn’t need to be a prime time commercial to highlight social media content, brands can use social content in good email campaigns to resonate with customers just as effectively. Social content breaks through the stagnant feelings people have of the generic imagery they’ve been seeing lately. And with so many companies limited from shooting new content by social distancing, it can be the catalyst to variety and creativity.

‘Wichcraft, the high-end sandwich chain, features social posts of customers eating their food outside in their “simplest of pleasures” email campaign that encourages some fresh air time at lunch. BistroMD pulls in their real-time Instagram social feed featuring healthy meals customers receive as part of their plan, as well as success stories and a variety of nutrition topics.

New Ideas For Old Fans

It might feel safe to simply reuse old images or pull from a stock photo library, but it’s actually a bigger risk than incorporating UGC. The IAB notes that numerous studies indicate that authenticity is key for people to trust brands and that UGC is among the top-rated content online. Right now, many consumers are changing their shopping habits, and loyalty is at risk. Jumping ahead of the pack and embracing a chance to connect authentically with UGC is a good way to keep old customers engaged and to inspire new customers to keep coming back.

Don’t leave all the best images on Pinterest – pull them into an email template for immediate engagement. Create an evergreen element to your newsletter that highlights recent five-star reviews, or images from Instagram with more than 100 likes.

Furniture retailers Made.com created a campaign in April called “Stay Grounded,” which included an Instagram-based hub of photos from customers’ own homes. The imagery is the perfect mix of inspiration and authenticity and fits nicely into a newsletter campaign that encourages subscribers to vote on their favorite images. TrustedHousesitters features real-time Instagram photos in their conversion emails to engage with potential members, particularly Housesitters. Potential customers are typically drawn to the inspirational pictures of pets and homes within email campaigns, alongside educational messaging about house sitting and TrustedHousesitters as a whole.

More Feel-Good Engagement

Part of the value of authentic content is that it can lift people’s spirits during a stressful time. From weight loss clinics featuring real-life success stories to a roundup of funny pet videos, authentic content can make people feel good when marketers are unsure what exactly they can say directly without sounding out of touch.

Some brands are creating their own events to get their customers engaged. Taubman Centers brings fun to the inbox with Spotify playlists. GrubHub is offering discounts to people that sign up for virtual concerts on their own YouTube channel, promoting the event in email newsletters. The best clips can be used in email as playback to get people to check out what they might have missed.

With a record number of people online, doing a record number of things online, UGC and social media in general, has become an even bigger source of information, communication and entertainment for people. Brands should make sure to spread the love. There’s no reason for social media to be separated from the traditional creative-driven channels like brand advertising and email. The two, when put together well, can enhance authenticity and drive customer loyalty.

This article originally appeared on Advertising Week 360.

Great email marketing isn’t a one-way street. It’s a two-way conversation between your brand and your customers, held in the privacy of the inbox. You’re probably great at holding up your end of the conversation, but where’s your customer’s voice in your messages? You can make it heard when you add customer content, like reviews, ratings, winning entries, customer images, social media comments and images.

Top 10 reasons to add customer content to your emails

There are myriad reasons why user-generated content can help you create more engaging, more effective email. Consider these as just a good starting point:

  1. Win-win: Show your customers that you value their commentary and contributions. That builds brand engagement and equity. 
  2. Community: Customer content can build community among customers with similar interests and promote your social media channels.
  3. Social proof: Reviews and ratings from peers give them the guidance and support they need to buy more confidently.
  4. Inspiration: Images and how-tos pulled from your social media, user groups or content entries show customers what other people do with your products.
  5. Partner up: Customers share the content-creation workload with you.
  6. Instant influence: Build up a market quickly for new products by sharing them with loyalty program VIPs or high-profile followers and then spotlight their comments or ratings in email. 
  7. Variety: Customer content helps you vary your message. People aren’t in the market every time you email them. Customer content can keep them interested until they’re ready to buy.
  8. Face time: Customer content humanizes your emails. If your brand is one of many in their consideration sets, having emails with a human connection can help you move to the front of the pack.
  9. Trust: Ratings, reviews, endorsements and proof of use helps build trust in your brand.
  10. Rewards: Customer content can be an easy and inexpensive way to spotlight your most engaged and influential customers.

How to find and include customer content 

Start with your user groups and social media channels like Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter. Look at review platforms like Bazaarvoice, Qualtrics and Medallia for a steady source of customer content. But the best source is the same as it ever was – your pool of customers. Just ask them!

Automating your customer content curation

The best part is that including more UGC doesn’t have to mean a lot of extra work for your creatives and coders. In fact, it can even save you time and effort; crowdsourcing content can mean your team spends less time brainstorming and producing it themselves.

One simple way to streamline customer content curation is the implementation of an automated feed that sweeps up customer content from your website, social media channels and independent sources and then serves it in dynamic content modules in each email.  

It takes some advance work to set up rules to filter out irrelevant or unwanted content, as we explained in a recent blog about adding user reviews to emails. Once you get those in place, you just need to keep an eye on the feed and adjust it as needed.

3 Rs of customer content use

1. Keep it real. Today’s hyper-aware consumers can spot fake sentiment in a flash – and they’ll hold your brand’s feet to the virtual fire if your message strays too far from your brand identity.

2. Keep it reliable. Reviews are popular because people love to express their opinions. Many customers refuse to buy unrated products. But consumers also are getting more worried about fake reviews. A BrightLocal study found 92% of consumers ages 18-34 said they spotted fake reviews, compared with 59% of older consumers (54+). 

3. Keep it relevant. Automating a social media feed cuts your email prep time, but you must keep an eye on it to make sure the selections you include are relevant to the brand and support your email’s objectives.

3 brands doing it right

It’s not hard to find good examples of brands that have figured out how to feature customer content in their emails. That’s good because it means brands are finally seeing the value of letting their customers do their marketing for them.

But it also means that including customer content is becoming a differentiator among brands. In other words, if your customers don’t see themselves now in your messaging, they might go find a brand that does.

Below are three uses of customer content:

1. The Body Shop

This promotional email shows how to use customer content to sell a product. It draws a direct line from the product to a related customer review to the buy button. The review softens the hard sell but can still nudge customers into acting. 

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2. PetSmart

This email makes us feel warm and happy all over; and not just because PetSmart achieves an entire cat-carrier full of goals with this email:

Besides, it’s packed top to bottom with kitty and doggy pictures. What’s not to love?

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3. TripAdvisor

Reviews and ratings are standard fare for travel companies, but they’re also an area where customers are becoming skeptical about fake reviews. TripAdvisor addresses that by adding a human touch, incorporating a real headshot of each featured reviewer to add authenticity to each commentary.

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Want to see more? MailCharts curated a group of consumer emails featuring 15 premier brands at the top of their game. Each incorporates customer content differently to achieve different goals. Check it out for even more inspiration!

Now that we’ve fully moved into the Roaring Twenties Redux, let’s leave one marketing myth behind: that social media is killing email as a core communications channel. Instead, the channel starting to feel the heat from social is – surprise – search engines! Fortunately for marketers looking for a way to fill the gap, the inbox can provide a surprising and effective way to continue reaching consumers right at the moment they’re looking to buy.

Granted, Google and its 90% share of the search market isn’t going away anytime soon. Amazon, the half of the major search duopoly, now claims around 50% of new product searches. 

But consumers are spending more time in social media – an average 2 hours and 11 minutes a day in 2019. So, it’s not hard to grasp that more than 25% of product searches, especially those looking for recommendations and reviews, are happening in social media channels instead of search engines and other sources. That figure increases steadily the younger the audience gets, so this is especially big news for brands looking to target younger generations.

Embedded live social feeds direct shoppers to the right place with the right message

Email marketers can jump on this growing preference for social searching by integrating live social feeds within email messages to give customers a heads-up on what everybody else either searches for or recommends. That could include feeds from sites typically considered well beneath the ‘social network’ umbrella like Twitter and Facebook, but also content pulled from sites that aggregate user-contributed reviews and comments (think Yelp, BazaarVoice, or even Glassdoor!).

Brand and retail sites rank in the low single digits as a consumer’s first choice for product searches. A dynamic content platform that seamlessly embeds live feeds from social channels into your emails and elsewhere can deliver more curious shoppers directly to your site or desired landing page.

Social proof reassures shoppers, drives email activity

Increasing site visits and sales is one benefit of adding social media feeds to your emails. But building trust is another important byproduct of adding a social feed to your emails.

Your customers want to be confident that they’re buying the right products from the right brands and getting a fair deal. So, they seek proof that if other people have bought and recommended a certain product or service, it must be right. 

They find it in Facebook recommendations, Pinterest pins and customer reviews, ratings and recommendations. Using “social proof” in this manner is a powerful and time-honored marketing tactic to boost conversions from risk-averse consumers; and it can work in email, too.

Adding a live feed from a product review and recommendation service, such as Bazaarvoice, can also benefit your email performance. Just check out this awesome example from Flight Centre:

“Adding reviews from real customers who’ve used your product is a great way to increase your email click-through rate,” Campaign Monitor wrote when describing how clients add social proof to their emails via a social feed. 

“By showing customer reviews in their campaigns, Franklin Rd reassures potential listeners that clicking through and checking out the albums is worth their time. This element of social proof, combined with other information and visuals like the album cover, increases the chances that people will click through and drives conversions.”

Getting started with live social feeds

Adding live social feeds to your emails can be more complicated than you might thing. You want to be able to trust that the content they pull in is authentic and positive – even great products and brands can get the odd negative review. Make sure to use a tool capable of filtering content that matches with the mission of your message and campaign. Want to see how easy it can be? We’d love to show you how easy it is to get started!

Content really is king today. For proof, consider that marketing teams and companies that embrace the right content marketing approach tend to succeed on many levels.

First, these companies distinguish themselves as true thought leaders and stand apart with their ability to provide the very latest news and information. At the same time, they do a great job of giving their audience a steady flow of helpful content that informs, educates, and guides them toward the right decision.

(Sidebar: It is important to note that successful content marketing strategies are not overly promotional or salesy. The same can be said for the best email marketing campaigns, which is a topic we recently covered in a blog article that showed how helping customers and prospects can improve your bottom line.)

But let’s face it. Asking busy marketing teams to constantly churn out high-quality, creative, and relevant content just isn’t realistic. Many companies don’t have full-time content professionals yet, which probably means that their employees have other responsibilities beside content creation. Expecting busy marketers to write a good blog or two “whenever they have downtime,” only leads to decreases in content frequency and quality.

Curating content can help

Fortunately, there is good news. Content curation—the process of finding great content and delivering it in a way that is meaningful and adds value—overcomes these challenges. Using curated content from third-party sources also helps minimize the amount of self-promotion (“me-speak”) brands tend to do, helping to draw consumers in. More, it also enables marketing teams to efficiently maintain their cadence of fresh new content, leading to increased engagement and loyalty.

Yet many companies may believe that curating content presents the same challenge as creating content: namely, that the process will still take too long, especially if employees must now scour the web each day/week in search of new ideas.

Better use of social content

Many leading content curation tools and platforms address this concern by simplifying the process of discovering user-generated content at scale. Marketing teams can search for content or influencers based on hashtags, engagement rates, and other variables. Then, they can creatively publish this content to their own channels, including their website and social media sites.

For example, a retail brand might search for a hashtag related to its clothing to find great photos of influencers wearing its latest fashions and other user-generated content. This content can then be used to create galleries of product imagery, complete with product information and cross-selling offers or promotions.

Curated content in email marketing

Curated content marketing can be delivered in email, too, a strategic approach that is recommended by Forrester Research. In its research report, Empowered Customers Inspire Email Innovation: Your Best Subscribers Will Help You Do More with Email, Forrester advocates co-creating content with your best customers to help you innovate. Examples include instructional videos, input on new store locations, user-submitted photos, game-playing stories, and more.

Liveclicker now offers powerful integrations with leading content curation platforms, Olapic and Curalate within our RealTime Email platform. Liveclicker customers can combine real-time email personalization technology with these integrated solutions to develop and deploy extremely innovative emails that feature user-generated social content.

Not only does this become a unique way to engage consumers and promote products, but using curated social content is enabling today’s innovators to increase brand awareness, email performance, conversions, and sales.

Stay tuned for more information on our social content curation integrations, or as always, visit our website or contact us for more specific details.

Much of digital marketing is about trying to break through the noise and stand out in the crowd. Content marketing – creating content that consumers want to engage with – is a significant focus in B2C industries, but it doesn’t stop there. Offering valuable content is just as important for B2B marketers, and finding effective ways to grab the attention of potential and current clients can have a big impact on your bottom line.

But just because we know it’s important doesn’t mean we do it effectively. The struggle to connect – really connect – with our audiences is a pain point for many organizations, and customizing the ways we communicate to best fit our brands and the people we’re trying to reach isn’t an easy task.

Liveclicker’s LiveSocial experience – now featuring the ability to add real-time LinkedIn posts, as well as Twitter, Facebook and Instragram, right into your emails – makes sharing the excellent content you’re producing simple, and enables you to amplify your social messages while engaging your audience and connecting with their networks. Now, drawing attention to your brand, spreading your message, and generating quality leads can be as easy as one, two three. Let’s review.

Step One: Create Valuable Content

By now, most companies have realized that content marketing is one of the most effective ways of grabbing prospective clients’ attention. Where marketers fall short, however, is creating content that’s actually valuable to consumers. If we’re all “content marketing,” it takes something special to stand out from the crowd. Many pieces of content are just thinly veiled product marketing campaigns. Taking the selling points of your product and formatting them like a blog isn’t engaging or helpful to the consumer, and it won’t be an effective tool for lead generation.

Consider this: The average customer makes it more than halfway through the buying process – about 70% of the way – without ever contacting a sales representative. Imagine that. Potential customers are doing their due diligence before ever contacting a member of your team. What kinds of information are they going to find? Will it be valuable, engaging, and relevant? Will it have actionable steps they can take to grow their business or skills? Will it position your brand as the expert they need to consult, or your product as the solution to one of their pain points? Showing your company’s value through blogging, social media, or other forms of storytelling is incredibly effective – if there’s also something in it for the consumer.

Step Two: Spread your Message

Producing stellar content is just the first step. Once you create it, how are people going to find it? Research by Google and Millward Brown Digital found that 71% of B2B researchers start their search with generic terms. Therefore, focusing on keywords, SEO, and being the answer to people’s questions is key, along with making your content accessible in more places. Enter social media.

LinkedIn is, without a doubt, the most valuable social network for professionals. According to research from HubSpot, LinkedIn is 277% more effective at lead generation than Facebook and Twitter. LinkedIn users are often high-level decision-makers, with 91% of executives ranking LinkedIn as their go-to for professionally relevant content. Nearly half of all B2B consumers research vendors by looking at their LinkedIn profile. There’s a huge opportunity for companies to leverage the power of LinkedIn to spread their message and generate quality leads.

Step Three: Keep Credibility at the Forefront

For consumers, it’s not just about finding the content. It’s also about trusting the source. That’s where the true power of social media comes in. A study by LinkedIn revealed that 44% of B2B consumers found potential vendors by looking at shared connections on LinkedIn. People are more likely to engage with content shared by someone they trust than with a brand they aren’t familiar with, and more likely to trust the opinions or reviews of a friend than they are the curated message of a brand. Crafting your message and putting it in a place where your biggest fans can easily access and share it allows you to control what’s being said about your brand while taking advantage of the trust those people have gained within their networks.

Step Four: Bring it all Together with RealTime Email

At Liveclicker, this is on the forefront of our minds, and that’s why we’re excited that RealTime Email empowers you to embed a live feed from your LinkedIn profile right in your email marketing messages, making it easier than ever for your recipients to access and share the quality content you’re producing. For prospect newsletters, for example, you’re giving potential clients direct access to your best content, making it easier for you to control the message of your brand and the information they may find about your solutions.

By giving your clients easy access to your up-to-date LinkedIn feed and its social sharing options you’re able to not only strengthen engagement with them, but also leverage their networks. It’s a win-win for everyone involved, and that’s the purpose of content marketing.

If you’d like to learn more about Liveclicker’s LiveSocial experience in email, please let us know!