Smart Insights is famous for offering expert, practical and actionable advice on digital marketing so I was very excited to have had the pleasure of chatting to Robert Allen, Editor at Smart Insights this week.

We discussed all things digital marketing and you’ll find some of the highlights below. He offers tips on writing excellent email copy, engaging a community and much more so be sure to grab a pen and paper: you don’t want to miss any of his exclusive tips!

Rob, as editor at Smart Insights, you write on all manner of topics related to digital marketing. Do you have a favourite area or topic? What do you love most about digital marketing?

Great question. There are a lot of areas I find really interesting, SEO especially. I’ve been researching machine learning a lot recently which I’ve found fascinating, but I think what I love most of all is the big picture strategy stuff: taking a step back and thinking about the fundamental principles and then applying that to objectives and working out a strategy. It’s why I’ve written at length about marketing models and criticised the ‘tactification’ of marketing, where marketers forget to strategize properly and instead focus on tactics.

How did you start out in digital marketing?

I started off by volunteering to run a charity’s digital marketing company while I was an undergrad at university. I learned on the job and then helped to market several other projects. Once I graduated, I went straight to work for a small marketing consultancy which grew fivefold whilst I was there. I learned loads about social media marketing, SEO, email marketing and content marketing there.

When I saw that Smart Insights was looking for someone to run their blog, I jumped at the chance to be at the cutting edge of digital marketing thought leadership, and I’ve been there ever since!

As an editor and someone who has had great success in contributing to creating a community and keeping that community engaged, how important would you say engagement is as part of a digital strategy?

Engagement is absolutely essential but it’s the final part of a bigger puzzle. We always use the RACE framework when planning our digital marketing. For those unfamiliar with it, it stands for Reach, Act, Convert, Engage. Engagement isn’t about getting new readers, it’s about retaining existing ones and bringing them back time and time again.

The key to engagement is being useful- you have to provide your audience with what they want. We publish four articles a day and try to keep our readers up to date with all the latest developments in marketing. We surveyed our readers and found out that what they really wanted was a place to get just the essential updates so they could stop wasting time looking through multiple sites for all the major developments. That’s why we created our ‘What’s Hot’ section to show readers just the key platform developments from each month.

Do you agree that writing excellent copy is essential to engaging an audience?

Absolutely and it’s important to realise that excellent copy is an art that can always be improved upon. I’m passionate about writing, and spend hours and hours on evenings and weekends reading the work of the best in the biz.

You can learn so much from the writing styles of great writers. Scott Alexander’s writing has taught me so much about explaining complex concepts in simple language, whilst I love Mark Ritson and Bob Hoffman’s punchy and pithy style.

What advice would you offer someone just starting out with email marketing?

Test. It’s that simple. No one really knows what will work and what won’t. Sometimes you work hard coming up with a brilliantly compelling newsletter, and the test finds that’s a simple bullet point list beats it. Similarly, sometimes descriptive subject lines work, whilst for other audiences it’s best to try something unusual. For example, we once tested an email with the subject ‘Something for lunch?’. The email gave them the usual selection of Smart Insights articles we always send out, but we positioned it as something to read over lunch. The open and click rate was more than double the norm! Don’t be afraid to try all sorts of different ideas, just make sure you test them and then apply the lessons learned.

What 3 tips would you give someone for making their email copy more effective?

  1. It’s always tempting to use industry-speak and buzzwords to try to sound knowledgeable, but I think it’s better to stick to Einstein’s famous dictum that you should ‘always make everything as simple as it can be, and no simpler’. So, if you really need to use an industry term to explain something then by all means use it but, wherever possible, use simple and easy-to-understand language.
  2. Think about the objective first and work backward. What is it that you want your audience to do? Do you just want them to click on a link? Then use compelling calls to action and keep it as brief as possible. If you want to entice and inform then use questions to draw people in.
  3. Repeat it aloud. Often people write in overly dense sentences when a simpler, punchier style would be more engaging. I’m as guilty of this as anyone else. I love a good comma.

You’ll find that when saying it aloud, you’ll add pauses and finish sentences at natural points.

Have you seen a blog article that made you think “wow! what a great idea?”

All the time! I don’t spend hours a day reading blogs for nothing!

A great example is when I came across this economics paper from 1970. It’s called ‘the market for lemons’ and I spotted it when reading an economics blog. It made me realise a fundamental principle about how Google’s content ranking algorithm has to work.

The paper’s author went on to win a Nobel prize. I’m still working on that one.

How do you see the role of email evolving alongside other digital channels, social media, or even artificial intelligence?

Email remains one of the most effective of all marketing channels. I don’t see that position being threatened by new tech developments, quite the contrary. Machine learning and AI hold the possibility of incredibly tailored personalisation, which can be applied to email marketing better than most other channels.

What do you think will be big in email in 2017?

I’ve already mentioned the growing ability of marketers to use machine learning and AI to achieve incredible levels of personalisation. I think the big trends in email this year will be about using the growing power of these technologies in tandem with big data. These will allow the sending of highly relevant offers tailored to individual customers.

Thank you for so  many excellent tips and insights, Rob!

I’m sure this post has left you with plenty of food for thought. Be sure to apply these tips to your digital and email marketing strategies and keep your eyes peeled for more articles packed full of practical advice.

You can help others learn more too by sharing on social media and spreading the word. And, if you have any questions for us, just leave a comment below and we’ll get back to you.