RelevanceI read a timely report on Marketing Charts this week. It was timely because I was speaking with someone who commented, "we tried email and it doesn't work."

I've heard that "email doesn't work" several times (just like I hear "we've tried paid search and it doesn't work, or just about any other marketing tactic). Perhaps you've even thought the same thing or had your own struggles with email. It's certainly not uncommon.

Another popular criticism of email is "I don't want to spam my prospects or customers."

My conclusion is that people say or think these things because they may have tried email marketing but didn't send something that's relevant to their ideal customer.

A recent study and benchmarking report from Ascend2 concerning email marketing comes to a similar conclusion.

Sending relevant email is important and a top challenge

If you're having trouble writing relevant, compelling email campaigns, you're not alone. Marketers say this is a top priority, but also the most difficult to execute.

If you're going to write a compelling, relevant email campaign, you have to know your customers' needs and directly address those needs.

Most companies don't know how to speak to their ideal customers because they don't know enough about them.

Seems crazy, right? Most marketers don't know enough about their ideal customers to know what their true pain points are. In the marketing department, there's too much focus on demographics and not enough about studying the patterns, habits, needs, etc. of the ideal customer.

Sales people, though, know enough about their ideal customers to write a book on them -- when they should call, what they should say to get a meeting, words to use to elicit a response -- but this information often doesn't find its way back to marketers -- the folks in charge of writing and sending the email campaign.

The Solution, Part 1: Use Customer Personas

Writing detailed customer personas are crucial to the business. As one of our clients pointed out, personas may seem like an academic exercise at first, but having these to refer to as a guide really helps your marketing department write relevant information your ideal customers will want to read.

Take the first step to get customer-facing employees in a room, ask them about the characteristics of your best customers, then figure out if there is more than one "group" that your ideal customers fall into.

The Solution, Part 2: Don't Just Broadcast a Single Message to a Mass Audience

Too many companies make the mistake of sending out a monthly newsletter to their entire list. Very seldom is this relevant to the recipient. Let's really look at this scenario:

A marketer gets the team together to discuss ideas for the monthly newsletter. There's some news about a recent deal or acquisition to include. Maybe there's another press release about a new product. The recipient gets the newsletter with a subject line like "Acme Corporation Monthly Newsletter," and deletes it.

It's not relevant or compelling.

Instead, segment your lists by customer persona and send them information that will actually help them to do business. Give them industry news they can use. Discuss benefits of your product or service to them, addressing their unique pain points. Take a stance on a topic they're interested in. Ask for a reply if they have comments, questions or their own opinions.

Creating relevant, compelling emails doesn't have to be difficult. If you first understand your ideal customer's problems and send them something of value to them, you'll reap the rewards.