Email is among the most flexible and versatile tools in the marketer’s repertoire. However, it often gets relegated to just a few use cases: event and product promotion, transactional confirmations, content distribution, and several others.

It makes sense; after all, email is really good for those missions. But it’s too frequently overlooked as a prime way to start meaningful discussions that evolve into engagement and loyalty.

twitter “#Email is overlooked as a way to start convos that evolve into #engagement & #loyalty,” says @MMtwopointfive CLICK TO TWEET

The new front in the war for customers’ attention and favor has shifted to the customer experience. 9 in 10 companies now say they “compete primarily on the basis of customer experience.”

When subscribers feel heard and are engaged on a personal level, they’ll be more likely to return. But just like “real life,” starting a conversation via email can be easier said than done. Fortunately, marketers have plenty of email marketing tools at their disposal to break the ice and begin a dialogue.

Start with Your Best Pickup Line

If you want to develop lasting, ongoing conversations with your audience, it’s best to start them as early as possible. For email marketers, that usually means the welcome email.

A welcome email or series of emails is your best opportunity to set the tone for your subscriber relationship. These messages often have 4x the open rate and 5x the click-through rate of other marketing emails. After all, your subscriber has just volunteered their contact information and agreed to get emails from you. They’re primed for engagement — strike while the iron’s hot!

Pack your welcome emails with plenty of personalization and ways for openers to respond. This can give you valuable information to tailor future content and offers, and conditions subscribers to keep opening future messages.

Related Content: Are You An Email Marketing Power User? How to Step Up Your Game: Elliot Ross [Podcast]

Chuck E. Cheese’s invites openers to continue engaging by downloading their app, managing their rewards account, and following on social. Their email also dynamically populates the address and contact information of the nearest or preferred brand location, so new subscribers can directly call and ask questions or book an event.

Related Content: Email Personalization: Automating Email Content at Scale – Matt Hayes [Podcast]

Replace or Support Your Message with Video

Need to have a really important, impactful conversation with subscribers? Copy and design can go a long way, but sometimes a more lively, more human medium is more effective for getting a must-see message across.

In some situations, video may be the ideal channel for your needs, especially if you’re trying to elicit an emotional response, generate buzz and excitement, or broach a sensitive subject.

Marketers have been taking advantage of the power of digital video for a long time. But historically they haven’t been able to transfer the life, vibrancy, and sound of video to email.

Fortunately, that trend is changing. Creative technology has opened the door to embedding real video directly into your emails. And just like video is great for kicking off discussions on your website, social channels, blogs, paid ads and more, it’s equally effective for beginning dialogue in email.

Humana used video to great effect to support an email bringing up a very important (and potentially sensitive) topic. By leading with a video featuring a kind and caring medical professional, the insurer was able to bring up breast cancer in a softer, more empathetic manner than simple text or images could achieve.

Ask Questions with Embedded Polls

Want to hear what your subscribers think? Ask them!

Pointed questions are a great way to kick off a discussion. But you probably don’t want a flood of individual replies piling into your inbox. It’s not scalable, and you’ll have a hard time turning the responses into meaningful data.

Instead, consider embedding a simple poll into your emails to see what your audience really thinks. Using a poll inside an email has several advantages over sending a link to a web-based poll. It keeps your subscribers within the email experience you’ve carefully designed and minimizes click-through attrition. Plus it makes it easy to attribute responses to specific user profiles tied to a particular email.

Some best practices for using embedded email surveys:

  • Limit your inquiries to one or two per email. You can always follow up with more questions in future messages.
  • Offer an incentive. Give people a reason to respond, like a special offer or an improved experience.
  • Consider displaying live survey results to subscribers once they’ve answered. People love seeing how their responses compare to others’ and showing the poll results of a large audience helps build a sense of community.
twitter “When embedding #email surveys, limit inquiries to 1-2, & offer an incentive to complete it,” says @MMtwopointfive CLICK TO TWEET

Request (and Show Off) User-Generated Content

How about making your subscribers the star of the show?

It’s much easier to get responses and submissions from subscribers when it means they get to be in the spotlight. Soliciting and featuring UGC is one of the simplest ways to earn engagement, build community, and get customers excited to interact with your brand.

American Eagle Outfitters offers phenomenal inspiration for incorporating UGC within marketing content. The clothing brand invites customers to submit their best photos and videos styling AEO products and features recent community submissions in their emails. One campaign moves the conversation to social channels, where the brand can be more immediately responsive and interactive.

Final Thoughts

Boosting email engagement is a key area of focus. Since email is the primary channel for most high-performing e-commerce brands, the competition to win in the inbox has never been higher. Use engaging pickup lines, personalization, interactive video, polls, and user-generated content to help achieve that goal.

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