Teaching the New Dog Old Tricks: Applying the Newspaper’s Split Run to Email Marketing

I’ve recently been testing out a new Sunday ritual: Starting the day with a long morning walk (sans phone) and then swinging by my local bodega to pick up a print copy of The New York Times.

A newspaper is what gave me my first real job out of college. Picking one up reminds me of the thrill that was snagging a last-minute interview and managing to file a story just ahead of deadline—or getting the next day’s edition of the paper sent to the printers right before they shut them down.

And, though I know it’s not environmentally friendly, years later I still consider myself a hard-copy loyalist. I can’t help it. I love the actual smell of print. I love being able to hold that day’s news in my hands and know that, if I make it through front to back, I haven’t missed anything in the black hole that is the Internet.

A few Sundays ago, I stumbled upon an edition of “Inside the Times,” a section of the paper that tells ‘the story behind the story,’ titled “Covering All Our Bases.” It reminded me of the importance of knowing—and connecting to—your audience.

The column centered around that weekend’s cover of The Times style magazine and the different figures of contemporary literature featured on it.

“They are ensconced in the wooden shelves and stacks of texts of the Othmer Library at the Brooklyn Historical Society,” Terence McGinley writes. “And they are very well-dressed. But just who exactly you are looking at, well, depends.

“There are four different covers.”

McGinley was explaining the concept of a split run or split copy, where different versions of a print product are distributed throughout the country. Unless there’s a geographic preference, he explains, the idea is to shuffle the different versions and distribute them evenly across all the different print sites.

But in the actual newspaper, split runs occur every day in other ways, like through advertisements and the weather.

“Businesses order customized ads in certain regions to, say, display the phone number of the location nearest a reader,” he explains. “And the weather ‘ear,’ or the brief summary on the upper right corner of the front page, corresponds with the 27 national printing sites The Times uses.”

Why would a reader in California care about the weather in New York?

They don’t.

And if they’re being bombarded with information or content in general that’s not relevant to the issues impacting them most, they’re likely to unsubscribe.

The same applies to email marketing.

In the age of the Internet, people are constantly being bombarded with all types of content. Some, because of algorithms and (somewhat creepy) AI, is more relevant than others. But oftentimes in the case of email marketing, content can feel generic and un-personalized.

If your California-based client sees an email from you on the impact tax reform could have on businesses in the state of New York, it’s likely to illicit at least an eye roll. The second time, maybe an unsubscribe.

Even worse, should your client receive a similar email from your competitor—but a localized version that outlines implications that clearly tie to their business—they could end up reaching out to said competitor for more information.

Enter the split run of email marketing: list segmentation. Though the medium isn’t print, its purpose should still be to provide people insight and impact that’s personal to them. Instead of sending one generic email to your entire content marketing list, segmentation means you break your subscribers into different groups and send each group a different version based on variables like focus industries, location and others.

And it doesn’t have to be overly complicated. While you may not be able to create multiple versions of the actual content piece you’re promoting, you can still customize its accompanying marketing email to clearly highlight how its message impacts your different subscriber segments.

Here are three quick but effective ways to customize your marketing emails:

  1. Quick Insight: Within your marketing email, include one paragraph that you can easily customize according to each of your priority segments. You can make it a ‘Quick Insight’ section with a sentence or two on implications for clients depending on where they’re based, what industries they focus on or other factors.
  2. Subject Line: Create multiple versions of the email subject line to match the different ‘Quick Insights’ you provide.
  3. Local Contact: Include different local company contacts for each segment—to show that you have people on the ground who understand your clients or prospects’ unique market needs.

If you have the marketing automation capabilities to take it a step further, use your email metrics to create and send certain subscribers personalized follow-up content, depending on which links they clicked on most and what they spent the most time reading.

Staying the generic course and not personalizing email content at all is to risk losing your audience.

You also risk relegating all that beautiful content your company spent brainpower and money developing to… you guessed it, the black hole that can be the Internet.

Interested in learning more about creating your own version of the split run?

Connect with Katie
Email: katie@blissintegrated.com
LinkedIn: Katie Perkowski

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