Email Marketing

The 5 “Ts” of effective email content in marketing

We all know that content marketing can help build your brand, drive customer engagement and increase revenue. But in order to build a truly effective email marketing content strategy, follow the “5 Ts”: Tease, Target, Teach, Test and Track. Take a look at what we learned developing and refining the email content marketing program for Marriott Rewards, then take your own content marketing to the next level!

Program Overview:

The goal of the Marriott Rewards Destinations email program is to provide a service to members by inspiring travel and offering helpful travel tips. Success is defined by customer engagement (in this case, click to open rate) and not just pure revenue, though we’ve found that there is often a correlation between the two – a finding that pleases senior execs and cements the future of the program.

Follow the 5 “Ts”:

1. Tease in your email subject line and headlines

Use your subject line to tease the email content inside, but make sure you can deliver on the promise. There’s a fine line between teasing and clickbait. Clickbait-style subject lines may get a higher open rate at first, but they put your customer relationship at risk if you’re not able to deliver. Our best performing subject line of the Destinations campaign, Re: Your Summer Vacation, yielded an open rate 20% higher than the 12 month average, and teased an email full of tips for planning a great summer getaway.

Once you’ve got your customers to open, it’s time to tease them with your content. Try and find the right balance between having enough copy to entice a click and not so much that they’ve gotten everything they need without a clickthrough. For example, our most engaging email included 4 simple headlines along with clickable CTA buttons that read “Top 10 Beaches”, “Top 10 City Breaks”, “Top 10 Adventures”, etc. and the overall email engagement was over 35% higher than the 12-month average. Sometimes less is more, so resist the urge to over-inform within the email and let your landing pages do the heavy lifting.

example of Marriott email campaign using simple headline teasers to drive clicks

2. Target with personalized messaging

It’s simple, the more personalized a communication is, the better it will perform. So use what you know about your customers and give them content that they are more likely to respond to. In the month of February, we implemented an “Upcoming Trip” module within our regular Destinations email communication that went to everyone who had a stay planned within 30 days from email launch. The idea was to help customers get more from their trip by driving them to content about the destination they would be visiting. And no surprise, they loved it! The Upcoming Trip content that we added to the email template continues to be the biggest engagement driver for everyone who receives it, despite its position further down in the email. Once the initial setup was complete, this became an easily repeatable part of the communication that we now include in every Destinations email. [To learn more about how to elevate your email program with email template systems and sticky content, watch our on-demand webinar.]

Example of targeted, personalized messaging in an email campaign


3. Teach with inspiring tips that increase customer engagement

We all appreciate learning tips and tricks to make our lives easier and that’s where your brand comes in. Maybe you’re not solving world hunger (and if you are, kudos!), but in your own corner of the world, you’re the expert. Want to find a cheap flight? We’ve got you covered. Wondering when the best time to travel to Australia is? Yup, we know that too. As part of a 3-part series on summer travel planning, we dedicated an entire email to travel hacks, which generated 6% higher engagement than the 12-month average.

Using your email as a teaching tool not only increases customer engagement, but also helps build your brand perception and can be used as a viral marketing tool. ‘How’d you know November was the best time to fly to Australia?’ ‘I read it in my Marriott Rewards email.’ Boom.

4. Test different email creative and layouts to drive more clicks

Why pick one subject line or hero image when you can test three? Why choose one layout when you really, really think another one may work better? Yeah, we know, it’s easier not to test, but the beauty of email marketing is that you can learn things in a day that would take direct mail marketers months to learn. So geek out, and get yourself a good test plan – then follow it.

In July, we tested our highest-performing layout to date, a 2-column style with simple imagery, headline and CTA, against a carousel our designers were super excited to try out that was visually interesting and streamlined the content. What we found was that the carousel’s engagement was 9.5% higher while the conversion rate for the 2-pack was 0.9% higher. Even with the lower conversion rate on the carousel, the dramatic increase in clicks made the carousel a clear winner. It pays to keep pushing and testing – and is well worth the extra effort.

5. Track email performance and optimize your content strategy

Okay, this one is a no-brainer, but in a campaign where success should be measured by engagement and not revenue, we feel it is worth repeating. Track, track, track! Not only will you be able to show your improvement over time (or react quickly to remedy a misstep), you will also be able to see exactly what content your audience is engaging with which can inform your decisions. Do your clicks fall off drastically from top to bottom or are your customers reading the whole email? Do they prefer reading about beaches or ski resorts? In Marriott’s case, for example, beaches win. Every. Single. Time.

In the month of January we sent out a travel planner with a recommended destination for each month. The top 4 most clicked articles were all beach destinations with beach imagery and accounted for 55% of all clicks.

Now is a good time to sit down, review where you’re at with your own content marketing program. Take a good long look at what’s worked and what hasn’t, start to form some hypotheses to test over the coming year, plan out your content, and make sure you’ve got the tools to track your success!

Be sure to check out our whitepaper, Kickstarting data-driven creative.

Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published in August 2020 and has been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness in December 2022.

Jen Tabbal
Jen Tabbal
VP Content Marketing

Jen Tabbal, Vice President of Content Marketing for Data Axle, has spent her 20+ year career creating and implementing multi-channel, data-driven content for clients including Marriott International, Hewlett-Packard, Logitech, US Bank, and Discovery Channel - as well as numerous startups, small business and nonprofits.