All marketers would like to think that subscribers experience a warm, fuzzy feeling inside when they see an email from them. In reality, many such messages evoke a sigh of exasperation, followed by a cursory skim at best, or a click of the “unsubscribe” link at worst.
Why does it happen?
Fickleness, small attention spans, impossible standards – excuses abound for why marketers don’t feel bound to follow email marketing’s best practices.
But the truth is, nowadays people have the luxury to choose from an almost infinite number of products and services. No wonder they have zero tolerance for bad practices or mediocrity!
To survive, your content marketing has to evolve past the point of “good enough” into “indispensable.” The time has come to take a long hard look at what you might be doing wrong – and instead do what the best email newsletters are doing right.
What prevents your readers from gleefully devouring each new email? Let’s find out.
Reason#1: Offering Information Instead of Solutions
As a rule, people don’t subscribe to your email list because of an intense interest in what you sell. Chances are, they simply find your content somewhat useful, or entertaining, or both. It is your job to give prospects more reasons to care, and to care enough that in time they become paying customers.
To do this, you have to focus on providing incredible value for free. However, a “free report” of mediocre quality with no actionable advice (followed by email after email of sales pitches) won’t cut it. Readers will see through the ruse, and flee your spammy sales sequence like a bat out of hell.
Instead, show prospects that you are ready to improve their lives without asking for anything in return. Employ the “give give give sell” model. Give them mini-courses and free goodies; give them actionable information they won’t find anywhere else for free; give them so much useful content it makes them giddy.
And just as your subscribers are reeling from the positive change achieved by following your advice, tell them in no uncertain terms, “You think that was good? You ain’t seen nothing yet!” That’s when you roll out your paid stuff; that’s when they beg you to take their money.
Who does it right: One good example is Carol Tice from Make a Living Writing. She used to offer first-time subscribers a 21-week course on marketing for freelance writers. Just let that sink in.
21 weeks’ worth (!) of solid content, geared towards solving specific problems: how to sell, where to get clients, how to self-promote etc. Now she gives away something that’s arguably even better – a tear-down of the most common commercial writers’ problems from 17 acclaimed professionals in the field.
Reason#2: Not Interacting with Subscribers
There are two kinds of selling, and they don’t contain the words “hard” and “soft”. There’s selling what your subscribers want, and there’s selling your assumptions about what your audience wants. You can probably guess which one is more likely to succeed!
Don’t be satisfied with just throwing content and products at your subscribers, no matter how awesome you think your content and products are. Instead, ask them about what they want to see in their inbox.
Encourage them to share the problems that keep them from changing for the better. Find out what information they want badly enough that they’ll pay for it. And, use their replies to supercharge your sales copy!
As a result, you get free market research and better sales figures in the future, and your prospects get better content and better products. As a bonus, audience engagement goes through the roof.
So go ahead and make your newsletter a two-way communication. One way to better interact with your subscribers is to use calls to action more often. Many marketers only use calls to action for sales, yet there are so many other useful applications!
Invite subscribers to fill out surveys, encourage them to ask questions directly, spur discussions on social media, and refer friends with similar interests (or problems).
Your list doesn’t start out active and engaged. You create that energy and interaction – one amazing email at a time.
Who does it right: Steve Kamb of Nerd Fitness fame. By promoting and encouraging tireless interaction with subscribers, Steve has built a super-engaged community of like-minded people.
Community is the bedrock of his business model, and he would never have managed such a feat by simply spoon-feeding content to his audience.
Reason#3: Neglecting Useful Feedback
There is no shortage of excellent content out there – but people unsubscribe anyway. The truth is that being excellent is not the same as being indispensable. Whoever provides the most benefit to subscribers, wins the email marketing best practices game by staying ahead of the competition.
We have already discussed two ways to do that – solving problems and making calls to action. Asking for feedback and, most importantly, incorporating it into your content marketing, is another strategy that is as effective as it is undervalued.
Pay attention to how your readers react to what you do. They may tell you that a particular topic doesn’t interest them, or that your emails are too salesy or – even worse – that your emails are uninteresting.
Yes, there will always be people who complain just for the hell of it. Those people are easy to spot and brush off. They wouldn’t buy from you anyway. They are not the people you want to focus on.
However, in contrast, when a long-time subscriber with respectable open and click-through rates says something is wrong, they might be on to something. Measured, specific criticism is worth paying attention to. So listen and react to the feedback provided by the people on whom your business depends.
Who does it right: Sean D’Souza from Psychotactics. Famous for having a tight and super-responsive audience, Sean is an expert at using testimonials and user feedback to supercharge his marketing. He has an entire course dedicated specifically to this topic!
Reason #4: Trying to Please Everyone
You don’t want as many people as possible on your list. You want as many engaged people as possible. A super-responsive list of 2,000 subscribers is far superior to a 200,000 list of tire-kickers and freeloaders.
Always cater to the most active segment of your mailing list. Don’t get hung up on people who never read the content. Disregard those who give it a skim, shrug their shoulders and forget about it once the browser tab is closed.
In fact, tell them to unsubscribe! Some will leave; others will be left with something to ponder.
There is no need to retain inactive subscribers, or to encourage passive consumption of content. If you do these things you will end up with a poorly-optimized list, wondering why conversions are so bad.
Striving to please everyone, repeat customers and non-paying lurkers alike, is not a marketing strategy – so stop pursuing it!
Who does it right: Tim Ferriss, the “4-hour-everything” guy. Fun fact – he hadn’t sent a single organized email to his 200,000+ subscribers until very recently!
Do you know what people saw immediately upon opening his first message? The option to unsubscribe – because, quote, “I know it has been a while since I last contacted you”.
Tim knows that it’s never about the numbers, it’s about engagement. And so the first thing he does is show the disinterested subscribers a way out.
Reason #5: Not Holding Subscribers Accountable
There’s this quaint notion in email marketing that readers shouldn’t be under any obligation to do, well, anything. Isn’t it funny how you must do gut-busting research, writing and testing to bring them the best content? Your subscribers, on the other hand, are free to read it, sigh “I wish I could do that” – and ignore the lot.
Hold your subscribers accountable. Make your subscribers apply what you teach them and tell you about the results.
Show people that you are invested in their continued success. Let them know how confident you are in the quality of advice you give. If you didn’t slack off when creating the content, why should they get the easy way out by not applying it?
The end goal of this strategy is two-fold.
If your content is as good as you claim, holding subscribers accountable for applying it is going to provide you with killer testimonials, and give your subscribers a compelling reason to make a purchase.
And if your content doesn’t deliver, you will have a chance to make it better, instead of staring blankly at plummeting metrics and wondering what you did wrong.
Even mediocre advice will yield positive results if consistently acted upon. Assuming you’ve worked hard to fix the previous mistakes, your content could be amazing.
Encourage readers to take action; it will make all the difference.
Who does it right: Ramit Sethi from I Will Teach You to Be Rich. This is the site, with the world’s scammiest title, that puts out world-class content, and most of it for free. The catch is, Ramit will make you follow up and tell him how you used his advice, and the results you achieved.
Holding his subscribers accountable, he gets increased subscriber engagement and greater likelihood of sales. People improve their lives, knowing that his content works. Everybody wins through the magic of accountability.
Reason#6: Abusing Subscriber Goodwill
On the Web, consumer trust can be scarce, perhaps because of the stereotype of marketers and salespeople as money-grabbing sleazebags. It is assumed these money grabbers are lurking in the dark corners of the digital world, sharpening their sales pitches, and just waiting to pounce on the unsuspecting.
You can’t afford to undermine the trust you have built with your subscribers. Even though it took you months and months to develop this relationship, make no mistake – one mishap is all it will take to demolish it.
So don’t waste readers’ time. Don’t abuse your subscribers by giving them low-quality content they could quickly find for themselves using Google. Keep your content relevant; keep it helpful; deliver on every promise you make.
And most importantly, don’t expose your subscribers to questionable products just to make a profit. All this will lead them to stop trusting you. And once it happens, good luck trying to sell something again.
Who does it right: Every marketer worth their salt (duh).
The Money is In Your Relationship With Your Subscribers
The worn-out mantra “the money is in the list” doesn’t tell the whole truth. The list could be a thousand people, or a hundred thousand. The money is in your relationship with subscribers, no matter how many there might be. To be profitable, your relationship must be based on mutual trust.
You achieve this by listening to your audience, helping them overcome their biggest problems, and showing active interest in their success. Prove that you are worth their time and their money, and you will see massive earnings – even with a modest list.
What other engaging email marketing best practices do you think are neglected by the majority of online marketers? Let me know in the comments below!