A better email marketing framework for 2018

(I’m jumpstarting my 2018 resolutions by getting in the habit of publishing a daily post here on Medium. What will I write about? Topics too in-depth for Twitter and too irrelevant for the Double Your Freelancing or RightMessage blogs.)

Email marketing is a big deal.

Ask anyone who sells courses, books, or even software what their most-valuable marketing asset is and the response is most likely, “my list.”

Most creators follow a tried-and-true formula for selling via their list. It goes something like this:

  1. Get lots of new subscribers (through blog opt-ins, joint venture webinars, paid channels leading to email squeeze pages, etc.)
  2. Send your entire subscriber-base daily/weekly/whenever-you-feel-inspired email newsletter.
  3. When you have a new product to sell, or want to relaunch an old product, pause your newsletter and send heavy-hitting pitch emails.

When analyzed, there’s a sound psychological reason for following this playbook: create trust, then sell.

The idea is that by sending a lot of free and (hopefully) useful articles, guides, stories, podcasts, and more, the reader ends up trusting both the judgement and perspective of the sender.

But it doesn’t end there.

Done right, the reader also internalizes: “If the free content is this great, anything they offer with a price attached to it must be so much better!” This applies to self-study courses, “teach the theory, offer the turnkey” software, and consulting or coaching.

Once the creator is ready to make some money (“monetize”) her list, she stops sending nurturing emails and starts heavily sending emails promoting whatever it is she’s offering.

Who buys? Anyone who trusts the creator enough to risk their money and time on whatever it is she’s selling.

But there’s a catch... The majority of people getting her sales emails probably aren’t ready to buy. Life, budget, current focus, and a whole host of other excuses (sometimes real, often not) disqualify them from being ready to buy.

So how does the creator combat the “I’m not ready” objection?

Urgency.

Maybe she makes the product only available for a limited time. “I’m not sure when I’ll next make this available again!” This forces the subscriber to make a rushed decision. And the result of that decision is often a sale, but not a success, since the purchaser will often forget & neglect what they just bought.

The root of the problem is that the nurturing and the pitch is centered around her timeline (the creator), rather than her customers’.

Imagine you sign up for somebody’s list.

They’re loquacious, so they send daily emails.

You’re thrown head first into a rushing torrent of information. Whatever the creator happens to think of and send today is what ends up in your inbox. Email after email is sent to you, and since these newsletters often contextually build on previous newsletters, there’s a strong chance that you’ll churn out because you’re listening in on a conversation that was started long before you arrived.

But what if you don’t churn out and unsubscribe? Sooner or later, something is going to be pitched. The daily emails will turn into sales emails. The cart will open. You’ll be asked to part with your money.

Rinse and repeat.

This is the current state of email marketing for the majority of independent creators in 2017.

I’d like to see this changed in 2018.

It’s bad for subscribers, and it limits earning potential.

When you’re taking a shotgun approach to nurturing and sales, you’re losing money. Why? What you’re offering (whether free or paid) doesn’t necessarily align with the needs of your subscribers.

What’s the alternative?

Thoughtful email marketing.

#1: Rather than dumping new subscribers directly into your daily/weekly/whatever newsletter, onboard them first

Acclimate them with you, your perspective, the content that makes sense for them to read first, and so on. Provide new subscribers with a “Forward” to start with.

#2: While you’re at it, ditch the newsletter entirely

Unless you’re reporting actual news or temporal updates, should you even send a newsletter?

Curate your content. Front-load your best material, and line it up in a way that makes sense for somebody who’s new to your list. Lead them. Your subscribers are often most engaged when they first join your list, so give them an amazing first-run experience.

#3: Ask people what they want (or, better yet, infer based on activity)

People have different reasons for deciding to follow your content. Find out what those are, and send people down different curated pathways based on what you know about them.

Not sure how to segment your subscribers? A simple P.S. at the end of your first email can do the trick:

P.S. Hey! I want to make sure I send you exactly what you’re looking for from me. Can you reply with a sentence or two telling me: 1) who you are and 2) the #1 thing you’re hoping joining my list will help you with.

This will give you an idea of the demographics of people who are joining your list, along with the reason they’re willing to share their time and attention with you — and what they expect to get in return.

Over time, you’ll be able to automatically segment subscribers based on the lead magnets they opt-in to, the content they’re reading, trigger links they click, and other behavioral cues.

And then you’ll be able to send subscribers down curated pathways based on who they are and want they want, allowing you to personalize the kind and cadence of content someone receives based on who they are.

#4: Sell only when someone is ready to buy

Sometimes it might make sense to pitch everyone on the same thing at once.

If you’re running a seasonal sale or launching a brand new product, promoting to everyone sounds like the right thing to do–right?

But what if someone joined your list a few days before you’ve announced your latest product?

  1. Do they sufficiently trust you yet? Have you proved to them that you’re able to deliver something valuable to them? (Probably not.)
  2. That’s great that you’ve created something new, but are they ready for it? Have you prepared them yet to become a customer? (Nope.)

As a creator, you need to be thinking about how you can turn subscribers into would-be customers.

This means that the curated pathways you’ve created have a single end: To prepare someone to buy from you.

What you’re looking for are the right signals that show that somebody is sufficiently engaged with what you’re sending, and (ideally) doing something with the information.

By specifying an engagement threshold, you can continue sending out no-pitch educational sequences until somebody has signaled to you that they’re ready for the pitch (the product that relates to the track they’re on.)

And once they’ve hit that threshold? Put them through a related pitch sequence.


A “them-focused” approach to email marketing

The framework I laid out above is exactly how I’ve setup the marketing backend for Double Your Freelancing.

2017 has been our best year yet. Profits are higher than ever, but I spent very little time working in the actual business this year. (Most of my time has been spent building RightMessage.)

I used to think that I had to remain on the hamster wheel of content creation in order to continue to justify doing a big promotion.

And I also used to think that a weekly, live newsletter was a requirement for keeping your list warm and building up sufficient trust with your audience.

But, at least for us, the correlation between content creation and success (both for our subscribers and our bank account) just isn’t as strong as I used to think it was.

What our subscribers really want is just to be helped.

And that means not sending the same content to everyone, but to send specific content based on how people are engaging with us.

Our subscribers sometimes also want even more help, and are willing to pay for it.

So rather than recklessly hammering the list with promotional emails to keep the business afloat, we have a laser-focused approach to sales. We typically only promote to someone when they’ve reached a particular category engagement threshold. (The exception was for our annual Black Friday sale, which was still heavily personalized based on engagement.)

You can do this too.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be sharing an in-depth overview of how to strategize and implement thoughtful, personalized, and relevant marketing systems in your own business.

I’ll also be writing about how we’re growing RightMessage, the challenges of running two companies simultaneously, along with whatever else I find interesting.

I’d love for you to follow along.