How to Create Compelling Content using the VENT Methodology

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It’s getting harder and harder to stand out in the inbox. Mail providers and fledgling startups are churning out new tools aimed at managing the volume of email that people receive—and subscribers are snapping them up. Meanwhile, the email industry continues to beat the relevance drum, pounding it into our heads that we need to be relevant to our audience, that sending relevant emails is the only way to rise above the noise, that relevant content is the golden ticket to email marketing success. But what, exactly, does it mean to be relevant? How can you tell if your content—and your emails—have relevance to your audience? The answer lies in the VENT methodology.

The VENT methodology is the brainchild of Zachary Hanz, email marketing manager at Sprout Social. He’s been using it in his day-to-day life and presented the concept at Litmus Live. On an average day, Zachary said he receives about 53 automated emails across his work and private accounts. Across those 53 messages, he counted 24 issues with preview text, 21 problems with image blocking optimization and 7 personalization fails. He blamed these mistakes on email marketers getting busy, comfortable and complacent. He said,

We let these mistakes slip by, making it that much easier for potential customers to write us off. We need to rewire ourselves, the process by which we get things done, and the way we strategize. We need to make sure everything we put out there to our audience is Valuable, Engaging, Necessary, and True.

And thus the VENT methodology was born.


Zachary demands that every email Sprout Social sends must pass the VENT test—it must be valuable, engaging, necessary and true. If the proposed content of the email doesn’t meet all four criteria, Zachary says you shouldn’t send it. He offered up several examples, A/B tests, and questions to help determine if your emails pass the VENT test:


  • Is the content valuable at this stage of your subscriber’s relationship with you?
  • Is this content valuable to the specific group of subscribers you’re sending it to?
  • Is this content valuable for the use case?

In his presentation, Zachary shared a subject line test that was used to test whether or not naming specific product features was valuable to top-level funnel subscribers. He used the product name in the subject line “Is your team using Tasks?” and tested this against a more general “How to collaborate & keep yourself organized.” The latter performed better since this audience had limited interactions with the Sprout Social brand and wasn’t familiar with the feature named “Tasks”.


  • Is the content conversational?
  • Does it inspire interaction?
  • Is it eye-catching?
  • Do you have a clear call-to-action (CTA)?

Zachary pointed out that sounding friendly and personable often involves breaking a few grammar rules, and reinforced the value of being conversational in your copywriting. He also shared a great example of how he keeps content at Sprout Social engaging. Creating an animated GIF that demos new features available in their iPhone and iPad app—instead of including a dry, formal list—is not only engaging but also just plain cool.


Rather than telling subscribers, he was showing them how it worked.


  • Did you trim the fat and remove all of the content fluff?
  • Does all of the content add to the goal of the email?

Only include content that is absolutely necessary to achieve the objective of the message. Streamlined, focused content keeps your subscriber’s eyes on the prize—and prevents you from writing copy that might not get read, so you’re saving time and adding value.


  • Does the content match the voice of your brand?
  • Is the content actually true and not just marketing hype?

Building trust with subscribers is the ultimate goal of following the VENT method. Every time you send a message that’s VENT-tested-and-approved, you reinforce confidence and faith in your brand. But for each email that isn’t valuable, engaging, necessary, and true, you lose a bit of that trust. Eventually that lack of trust may manifest itself as a mountain of deleted and ignored emails, unsubscribes, or spam complaints.


We covered the VENT method, along with four additional strategies for creating relevant, data-driven and high-performance emails in our “Know Your Audience” webinar. Watch the recorded version below.


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