This year has forced marketers to throw out all of their old plans and find new ways to engage their audiences online. From virtual wine tasting to white glove delivery service, it might feel like every idea has already been tried.
However, one tactic marketers don’t take advantage of enough is the automated email course, which can provide enduring and relevant content for an audience. Email courses, where customers subscribe to lessons or insights on a specific subject via email, are a sure engagement winner and can be highly customized to fit nearly any business. They can teach people everything from how to create a will to how to get perfect abs or even how to sing opera.
A good online course can be the gift that keeps on giving. Once you create the material, your customers can sign up to take the course whenever they want, at whatever pace they want, creating engagement that feels totally personalized and truly valuable to the subscriber. While many marketing platforms offer the technology to implement an automated course, there are important content, creative and audience elements to keep in mind to capture people’s attention.
Selecting the Perfect Topic
For a course to be successful, it has to be created to specifically meet a need for your audience, which may only be tangential to your actual offering. For example, publisher Penguin Random House has a course called Boss Notes, with different career best practices (like salary negotiation). It’s a topic that many of their target audience cares about, especially at a time when there is a lot of job uncertainty.
In selecting the topic, you must also understand the level of expertise, depth and commitment your audience has in the subject. Professional artists, for instance, wouldn’t be interested in a “how to draw” course, but might be interested in something more advanced like “how to master shadow and light.”
Planning With the Audience in Mind
It’s important to marry what you want to get out of an email course with what the audience value is. If you’re looking for something that translates directly into sales, a course might not be the best bet. Courses are better for building long-term relationships, and so when determining the goals for your course, think about how the course can ultimately drive people toward your long-term goals such as higher lifetime customer value, higher referrals or longer customer tenure.
For example, if people think your course was valuable, they might recommend you to their friends and thus increase your prospect list. You can also make your call-to-action at the end of the course something to keep them engaged, such as inviting them to sign up for a loyalty program or your main email list. Or if there is a product that’s a great fit for your course’s topic, you could make a recommendation, but only if it’s relevant to what they’re learning.
Remember to stick to the promise of the course. A course that’s promotional won’t be successful. People sign up to learn or gain some skill, not to buy. If you create a promotional nurture and try to hoodwink readers into thinking it’s a course, they’ll not only unsubscribe, they’ll think less of your brand.
Make the Content Worth It
While a publishing house like Penguin Random House might not be the first place you think of to hand out negotiating advice, they tapped into their experts to offer real, knowledgeable content. Similarly, professional community Girlboss partnered with BlackRock to offer investment advice in their Money Moves series, which helps people improve their financial literacy.
Within your organization, there might be designers who can share their best practices or weekend warrior athletes who use your products while they train who can add value to your course. Or, if you do partner with another company, think about if there might be a good strategic connection that can even help with branding and promoting your course to maximize its reach.
Remember, there’s room for creativity with this concept — you don’t have to necessarily offer lessons. The most important thing is that your audience has shown an interest in the topic you choose and you can reasonably claim authority in the area.
And take the course yourself to see how it feels. If it goes too fast or if it’s boring or confusing, make appropriate adjustments. For instance, if an email course is long, play around with how to make the information more digestible, such as breaking the text into modules and incorporating graphics.
Build on Your Success
The beauty of adding an online course to your customer engagement plan is that, once the work is done, it will run on its own, spreading value to an audience that recommends it to others, doing your prospecting for you. Make sure to check in with your “alumni” and encourage them to leave comments, post results to social media and suggest improvements. People willing to engage in a whole course are people who can become marketing gold as loyal customers, making the bit of work you have to do now pay off for months (or years) to come.