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Fight for my inbox: Hardy's vs. Countdown

CONTENT MARKETING, Auckland, New Zealand:

I'm on the move, I open my mobile and check my emails. There's 18 unopened emails waiting for me – and that's after I cleared the last batch just two hours ago! My heart sinks at the thought of wading through that lot again, when I have so much to do... I feel an urge to delete en masse.

At first glance there are possibly two or three that are important or urgent because they're from names I recognise. I'll keep them. My next criteria is 'what's interesting?'

My Mail app on the iPhone has 'senders' boldly and prominently displayed, while the subject line is in light grey below that. I look at 'senders' first because it's bolder than the subject line and demands attention. Some of the senders include:

  • NZBusiness Magazine
  • Hardy's Health Stores
  • Sunnynook Countdown
  • Driveline
  • Holiday Houses

My first instinct is to hit the delete button repeatedly. Then I think, actually it's time I unsubscribed from a few of these... NZBusiness survives the cut (Glenn the editor is a good bloke and I like his work), but the next one down is Hardy's Health stores.

There's nothing in the name Hardy's Health Stores to make me want to keep it. Usually health store emails have special offers for various vitamins I don't want.

My eye drops to the subject line, which doesn't exactly grip me either. "Hydrate your way to a happier, healthier you..."

Hmmm, in other words drink more water? At first glance, there really is nothing new there. The message is old, very old.

I delete and unsubscribe because first glance is chance enough.

There's nothing in the Sunnynook Countdown name that makes when want to open the email either. But the subject line is something else:

"Colin, are you sick of wasting food?"

They've used my first name, which I noticed. The use of the word 'sick' presses an emotional button – so far so good – and for some reason the thought about wasting food resonates with me. It has been in the news and it's socially relevant.

I open the email to find that it is about ways to reduce my food waste and save money because Kiwis send 122.147 tonnes of food to landfill every year. The value the content delivers is tips and ideas for dinners that also make great lunches the next day (my wife always saves some dinner over for her lunch the next day, and I think it's a good idea too – less time making lunch, potentially save money instead of buying lunch, and no wastage).

I content is newsworthy, relevant and useful – it tells me something that's new and educational (to me at least).

Not to pick on Hardy's health Stores, because I am a customer and like them and I still like shopping there, however the content was stale and lacked imagination, which to me translates as lack of effort. If you want my time, at least put the effort in to show that you value it.

Business leaders are finally getting the message that it's important to communicate with customers. But just sending emails or texts will dull content does not constitute information, or even very good brand building.

The problem is that there is a glut of content out there at the moment, and most of it is 'off the top of the head' type writing that constitutes stale, rehashed messages. Very few marketing departments are putting real thought into creating content that requires some research.

Too many marketers are happy to go through the motions with 'off the top of the head' stories which lack strategy, relevance and research.

If you don't want to waste your money on marketing destined for the delete button, and which potentially irritates customers, it is important to apply some fresh thinking to your content. Put some effort into coming up with new ideas and information that educates but, most important, make sure it is relevant to your audience's needs, questions, problems and interests, at this time and in this place.

Who would have thought I would ever open an email from a supermarket? I'm not even sure how Countdown got my email address, although I think it's through their loyalty card and I'm fine with that). But their email ticked a number of important boxes:

1. They used my first name;

2. They injected emotion into the message;

3. They offered advice and tips on how to solve the problem;

4. They discussed a theme that isn't overused and tired;

5. The message about food wastage is socially relevant and topical right now;

6. They localised the message by telling me how much food Kiwis waste every year;

Actually creating good content isn't so difficult either. Here's a tip:

I will often call experts (like university professors) on behalf of clients, for comment. News journalists do it all the time, and there's no reason why good content marketing writers (read brand journalists) can't do it too. Experts are influencers and they're always happy to share their knowledge, so long as you tell them how the story will be used and get their sign-off (which of course differs from a news journalism approach).

So no excuse. Develop good content, or no content at all.