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August 30, 2023

Is B2B Email Marketing Dead?

(Or are you just doing it wrong?)

We hear it repeatedly from B2B clients: email isn’t a viable marketing tool, and they’ve relegated it to the realm of “when we think about it” or “when we’ve got a promotion to announce.” Or it’s been delegated to a marketing intern who stuffs a weekly missive full of company news, product features, and meet-the-employee sections and accepts that low open rates are part of the deal. 

If you’re still wondering about the question we posed in the title, hopefully you’re getting the answer now. We think a lot of companies are just doing it wrong. 

What’s the key differentiator between those emails and the ones clients actually open and read? Start by thinking about the email you actually open and read. For us, it’s Morning Brew, Robinhood Snacks, and The Daily Skimm. (They’re not B2B examples, and in these cases, the email is the product on offer, but there’s a lot to learn about what makes us open and read these day after day.) But before we get into the specifics, let’s consider a few things. 

How Email Used to Work

When email marketing became a thing, the primary objective was to steer readers directly into sales conversations. The approach was staunchly campaign-centric and revolved around performance metrics. These promo emails were heavy with CTAs, heightening the overtly promotional vibe.

For those who actually opened, these emails quickly lost their shine. Most of the time, they just pushed products or promotions, or regurgitated content from previous blog posts – a surefire recipe for reader fatigue.

How Have Things Changed? 

In the best cases, instead of mere product promotions, the new-age B2B email aims to offer immense value. A value-laden email is about establishing your brand as a knowledgeable guide, consistently delivering free insights with creativity and a unique perspective.

If it’s done right, your company’s monthly email might even be something your audience looks forward to. Think of this as crafting the "Costco Insider" for your niche, but tailored for B2B. The content is designed specifically for email, avoiding repurposed material and emphasizing originality.

With this model, Calls to Action (CTAs) are toned down. Way down. These emails are about respecting the user's space and preferred experience within their inbox. Consequently, Click Through Rate (CTR) is not the golden metric anymore. The focus shifts to Open Rate and growing a loyal subscriber base.

Crucial Components of Your Improved B2B Email

Ready to build your next email campaign in a whole new way and see what happens? Here are the key things to keep in mind:

  1. Make it Thematic / Issue-Based: Like editions of a magazine, each email issue revolves around a particular theme, providing depth and relevance.
  1. Include Recurring "Columns" / Sections: Familiar sections in each email give readers something to look forward to and help create a structured reading experience.
  1. Focus on Zero-Click Content Optimization: Recognizing that users may not want to leave their inboxes, optimize your content to provide full value within the email itself.
  1. Try Curation: If you don’t have the bandwidth to generate all-original content, remember that you can point readers to authoritative sources and add a fresh perspective. This is not about reinvention, but smart aggregation.
  1. Practice Product Modesty: Product mentions should be limited (ideally, below 25% of the content). And when products are mentioned, it should be in an informative light, highlighting genuine value. This could be in the form of a unique feature, a customer success story, or an anticipated functionality based on user feedback.
  1. Rethink Your CTA: Instead of relentlessly pushing the product, the call-to-action is about subscribing to the newsletter. It's a gentler, more inviting way to usher prospects into your brand's ecosystem. 

By embracing this new content-focused and value-driven approach, B2B brands can rejuvenate their email marketing strategy, foster genuine connections and achieve sustainable growth.

About the author

Nancy Smay

Nancy is the managing editor and head of content strategy at Notable.

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