Ever get the sneaking suspicion that you could be squeezing more out of your email marketing strategy?
You’re not alone.
Look: we love social media around here, but there’s no denying the sheer power of email. Arguably the last remaining relic of old-school Internet marketing, email has been the go-to solution for brands looking to capture leads, build their lists and monetize subscribers for decades.
And email marketing isn’t losing any steam, either.
According to a recent eMarketer report, email marketing boasts a median ROI of 122%, which is actually four times higher than the likes of social media or paid search.
Although modern brands are indeed laser-focused on turning their social followers into customers, there’s certainly a financial incentive to stick with email.
That said, email marketers shouldn’t ignore the best practices of social media when it comes to their marketing messages.
In fact, the average email marketing strategy could be fine-tuned into something truly special by including one not-so-secret ingredient.
Why Your Email Marketing Strategy Needs User-Generated Content (UGC)
We’ve seen time and time again how user-generated content (UGC) helps brands on Instagram by increasing conversions, building trust and painting posts with a more personal touch.
Why not apply those same principles to your email marketing strategy?
Sure, email marketing already has so many moving pieces. From subject lines to calls-to-action and design, marketers are timid when it comes to switching up their strategies.
Why throw UGC into the mix when there’s already so much to think about?
The answer is simple. UGC has the potential to plug the holes in your marketing strategies when it comes to conversions and click-through rates. Consider some of the most common challenges of email marketers in 2017 according to Campaign Monitor:
- Increasing email engagement rates and encouraging readers to take some sort of action
- Converting subscribers into customers and keeping those subscribers opted-in
- Creating a more personal connection with subscribers
Guess what? User-generated content can help with easing all of these pain points.
Combining UGC and Email Marketing
Listen: you don’t have to trash your current email marketing strategy or start from scratch. With some small tweaks and bit of creativity, you can integrate UGC into your existing and future email campaigns.
Below we’ve broken down some awesome examples of how modern brands are integrating UGC into their email marketing strategies.
Run an Email-Based Hashtag Campaign
Perhaps the easiest way to harness the power of UGC by email is through hashtags.
Here’s a straightforward example of an email-based hashtag campaign from oVertone. This message encourages email subscribers to show off their products through a branded hashtag on Instagram:
And given the tens of thousands of posts on the #OVERTONE tag, there’s no denying that subscribers are taking notice:
As a result, oVertone has plenty of content to choose from for their next regram. Take note that this example uses a company-specific tag (think case, #OVERTONE). If you’re already running a seasonal or time-sensitive campaign, that’s fair game as well.
Here’s some food for thought: just because someone’s bought from you before doesn’t necessarily mean they’re connected to your social feeds.
Don’t assume that your email list already knows about your hashtags. Promoting your hashtag via email can be done in a matter of seconds as displayed by these examples.
Besides, you can’t expect your hashtag to spread if nobody knows about it, right? In short, hashtags are an easy target for integrating UGC into your email marketing strategy.
Show Off Your Products and Customers
Okay, here’s where things get interesting.
Piggybacking on the popularity of hashtag campaigns, savvy brands are showing off their satisfied customers through email. This type of promotion effectively serves as an advertisement for your products and social feeds at the same time.
But in this case, your customers are your ads.
For example, Black Milk Clothing puts their products and customers on display in their marketing emails. They even sweeten the deal offering up a $50 voucher for customers who find themselves in their email lookbook:
This campaign is brilliant because it encourages the creation of UGC and keeps social followers glued to Black Milk’s emails. Again, marketers don’t necessarily need to totally separate their social feeds from their email-based content. This campaign encourages followers to interact with Instagram, email and Facebook accordingly.
The more channels you’re able to engage your customers with, the better.
MeUndies similarly puts their customer photos on display through a hashtag campaign. This humorous example is definitely a far-cry from a traditional marketing message or sales pitch:
These messages and calls-to-action represent a breath of fresh air versus the spam filling your subscribers’ inboxes. That’s the beauty of UGC, though. As long as you’re consistently curating it, you can use it in your advertising campaigns accordingly.
But sometimes if you want a customer photo, you have to ask for it.
For example, ThinkGeek features customer action shots in their weekly email newsletters as part of a contest. Winners are rewarded with $100 in swag and get a spot in the aptly-named Geek Hall of Fame:
This provides further incentive for subscribers to check and see if they’ve been featured. As noted in the giveaways rules, customers must post their photos to various social profiles as part of their entry. And as an added bonus, the winners are immortalized on-site:
Featuring customer and product photos like these might seem like little more than a novelty. However, bear in mind how these types of emails can help solve the most common problems plaguing email marketers:
- Based on the previously noted Campaign Monitor report, social media integration is considered the most effective personalization tactic for email by 28% of marketers
- Satisfied customers are social proof, and social proof is key to retaining customers either through email or social media
- UGC increases conversions by 29% plain and simple: featuring photos from flesh-and-blood followers can help build trust and rapport with your email list
Even so, the benefits of UGC as part of your email marketing strategy don’t stop there.
Turn Social Followers into Loyal Subscribers
Although this may seem like a no-brainer, it’s shocking how many marketers squander their email list because they don’t promote it to their social followers.
Sure, your fans are more likely to buy via Instagram or Facebook than ever. Even so, there’s no reason why those same followers shouldn’t be part of your email list.
Let’s use TOMS as an example of how to effectively encourage social followers to transform into email subscribers. This post funnels followers directly to the brand’s bio:
…which looks something like this:
…and upon clicking through leads us to a product page with following email opt-in form
which results in sleek UGC messages like this one:
Just as you should be using UGC as part of your email marketing strategy, the converse is also true. Marketers must be willing to take their social followers off-site and into an email opt-in.
Learn More About Your Customers
Keep in mind that those willing to provide you with their email address are arguably your hottest leads. Learning from such opt-ins can be incredibly valuable in terms of the type of content they want to see or the products they’d be interested in buying.
Curating feedback from your list is as simple as asking a question.
“What types of products would you like to see in the future?”
“What can we do to create a better buying experience?”
But some brands are taking major steps to use email and UGC to learn more about their customer base.
Take Neutrogena, for example. They’re managing to build up their email list via user-submitted quizzes, a smart social shopping trend that’s becoming more common in the world of ecommerce:
Based on the responses as you progress, the quiz determines which products would be best for you:
This is a brilliant strategy for segmenting quiz-takers via email to eventually present them with product recommendations. In this particular case, Neutrogena provides a choice in their quiz. Either enter their email for a discount or see the products by themselves:
And as predicted, those that take the quiz are provided with products as well as an email coupon:
Obviously what Neutrogena is doing here is rather advanced. This strategy still speaks to the need for brands to uncover creatives ways to encourage more opt-ins. Although we might not think of quizzes as traditional UGC, feedback and commentary from your potential customers is invaluable in its own right.
Email Marketing and UGC Go Hand in Hand
Many marketers make the mistake of treating social content and email as two totally different entities.
By integrating UGC into your email marketing strategy, you get the best of both worlds in terms of your marketing efforts. Not only do you get to double-dip your social content, but also encourage more eyes on your hashtag campaigns and products.
The key takeaway here? Email and social media shouldn’t be totally separated. This is especially true as experimenting with UGC through email is so simple. Again, consider strategies such as…
- Showing off your products through customer photos rather than generic product pictures
- Leveraging unique hashtag that takes your email subscribers and encourages them to become social followers
- Running user-submitted photo contests and promotions exclusive to your email list
Any of these options are easy pickings for brands looking to drive more engagement with their email marketing strategy. Whether your goal is more sales via email or leading customers to your shoppable social feed, UGC and email combined are a powerful combination.
Will UGC Be Part of Your Next Email Campaign?
Just like email, the benefits of user-generated content marketing is well-documented. Expect to see more UGC popping up in your inbox as more and more brands understand the influence of user-generated content when it comes to their emails.
So, how might you integrate user-generated content into your email marketing strategy?
Which of these examples stand out the most to you? Let us know in the comments below.
Brent Barnhart is a freelance content marketer and writer for visual commerce and marketing platform Photoslurp. From tackling the latest buzzwords to teaching marketers how to craft more compelling content, he’s willing to take on just about anything involving the written word.