A few years ago I was watching a baseball game on TV. I can’t remember who was playing but it was on ESPN, though the ads were probably served through my local affiliate. A pod of commercials came on and I glossed it over, probably to check email. But my ears perked up when I noticed that one of the commercials within the pod – for a national brand sports drink – was in Spanish. It was probably the marketer in me who paid attention, not the consumer. I don’t live in a densely Hispanic region so if the ad was served through a local affiliate it was probably soundly ignored by 95% of the audience. But with the 5% who is Hispanic – the ad very likely had their rapt attention. Despite being meaningless to the majority, the ad appealed to more of its audience than most.
As always, there is a correlation in email as well. Instead of trying to be a little bit relevant to everyone, email can also succeed by being irresistible to a few people. In Part 1 of Targeting with Content, I wrote about the use of narrower or niche newsletters to increase relevance among smaller groups. But you can also target from within your existing newsletters so that they work harder with different subscriber profiles, without the need for segmentation. Here are a couple of ways:
Callouts: Use layout and design elements to dedicate real estate within your existing newsletters to a specific segment. If launching an Executive Update newsletter is too resource-intensive, build instead a “Corner Office” copy block in one corner of your primary weekly or monthly newsletter, which features content relevant expressly to the senior executives in your subscriber file.
Speak your segment’s native tongue: Like the Spanish TV commercial, targeted content can sound foreign to some if its arresting enough to its intended audience. To do this, it has to show considerable empathy and appeal strongly to something unique that an audience segment is intensely interested in. The Spanish TV commercial is both an example and an allegory, as speaking a “language” that your target segment is attuned to hear is necessary. For example, if you are trying to reach an audience of programmers and developers who read your primary newsletter, write the section aimed at them in code or a markup language that looks like a mistake to everyone else, but speaks plainly to your techie segment. If you are trying to reach the social media pioneers in your crowd, weave in today’s Twitter trending topics (complete with hashtags) so they know that you share their interest and expertise.
Hide in plain sight: This approach is the exact opposite of the callout (above). Instead of cordoning off a section of a newsletter to aim at a particular segment every time, drop some extremely narrow content right in the middle – particularly if it is for an audience that you do not need to reach on a regular basis and so can’t justify dedicating some ongoing newsletter real estate to them. If the content (and its intended segment) is well-telegraphed with a clear subhead and if the content is authentic in its composition, it will resonate with the part of the audience you want to reach. If it doesn’t, it may mean that your preferred segment is not subscribing, or that you don’t have their attention anywhere in the newsletter. That’s a piece of information as valuable as a click-through.
Will these approaches be meaningless to the majority of your subscribers at whom they are not aimed? Yes, if you do them well. That is part of the objective, in fact – to let go of the need for all of your content to be a little bit relevant to everyone. It isn’t – it can’t possibly be and you probably have the analytics to bear that out. Focus instead on using your own media more narrowly to lift relevance, drive engagement and build anticipation for the next message as well.