A BIG Guide To Email Marketing

Posted by in Email Marketing Strategy

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Email marketing uses technology, but involves humans.

The smallest email list has 2 people – the publisher who sends email, and the subscriber who receives it.

Both are humans. And have one overwhelming question:

“What’s In It For ME?”

The key to success in email marketing is finding an answer that keeps both sides happy.

A Bit of Perspective

I started with email marketing in 1996. That’s 18 years ago. I have sent more than 8 million emails over the period. And made many serious mistakes. Learned many hard lessons. Studied many great marketers.

All this is just to say I’m no novice or nut-case who is spewing out his fancy and fantasy about how email marketing should be in an ideal world, or my own brand of ‘effective email marketing’.

Some years back, I put out a free report called ‘4 Dimensional Internet Marketing’. In it, I distilled down the vast range of money-making avenues on the Internet into ONLY THREE models that cover everything.

At its core, Internet marketing is simple. And so is email marketing.

Yes, Email Marketing Is Simple

Even here, there are no more than 3 core models of email marketing:

  • content publishing
  • direct response
  • lead generation

Everything else is detail. I’ll explain each model a little.

In the content publishing model, an email marketer strives to build a list and cultivate a relationship with it through publishing useful or interesting or entertaining content by email.  Revenue models are indirect, and come from advertising, branding or from a related business the email marketer runs.

In the direct response model, an email marketer’s primary goal is to get a subscriber to take action.  Click. Read. Buy. Donate. Visit. Call. Write. Whatever.  And the actions are rewarded by a monetary or other advantage.

In the lead generation model, the email marketer’s role is mainly as a list builder.  By placing opt-in forms in the path of targeted traffic, a list is built which is monetized by selling, sharing, renting or leasing the ‘leads’.

Not surprisingly, the style of email marketing that works for each model is different.

The Responsivity – Relationship Continuum

There are two areas about which many experienced email marketers are often at loggerheads…

  • responsiveness of audiences
  • relationship with email list subscribers

It will become clear that it is not an ‘either/or’ situation, but instead a continuum, with different models of email marketing needing unique approaches when you realize that:

  • Lead generation does NOT need responsiveness OR relationship building. The ‘subscribers’ are merely ‘leads’ to be passed on.
  • Direct response email marketing needs responsiveness to be effective, and a relationship with subscribers is secondary.
  • Content publishing, because it depends on indirect revenue systems, needs relationships mainly to sustain readership and to maintain list size.

Of course, these 3 models are seldom clearly demarcated and defined in practice, with considerable overlap being the norm. And that mix governs how far along the relationship-responsiveness continuum each email marketer wants (or needs) to travel.

The Spectrum Explained

If all I’ve said so far sounds abstract and theoretical, let me share some typical case studies that may make things clearer.

Email marketer A has a content publishing style of email marketing. He sends out one issue after another, each loaded with content that keeps his audience engaged, involved – and subscribed.

Whenever he runs paid ads, they are kept distinct from editorial content. Yet subscribers, who have a relationship with the publisher, respond to the ads often enough to justify the price advertisers pay him to run those ads. A win-win situation.

Variations on this theme may be…

  • a ‘pure content’ ezine publisher who never runs an ad – but instead builds up a brand or gains mindshare for his business, generating revenues from this subtle ‘back-end’ sales system.
  • a publisher who runs content issues separately from a solo-ad mailing for which advertisers pay premium pricing.
  • a publisher who weaves pre-selling affiliate promotions into ‘content’ itself.

Email marketer B belongs to the direct response school. She loads up an autoresponder sequence with a series of emails, each one promoting a related affiliate program or product/service she sells.

Every click on a link inside an email takes a subscriber to a sales page – and the only options are to buy or not buy.

When enough people buy, the model is validated. The profits are used to generate enough new subscribers to counter the attrition rate when worn-out subscribers, tired of repetitive sales pitches, ask to be unsubscribed.

Of course, a direct response email marketer may be more subtle and less ‘in your face’ with this approach, and may

  • give away a free report, ebook or multi-part course that pre-sells a subscriber on a program, product or service which is then offered for sale.
  • invite a subscriber to visit a website – and only there monetize that visit through ad clicks, direct sales, or other methods.
  • mix and match content with sales promotions to keep audience engagement higher and responsiveness better.

Email marketer C is a lead generator. She concentrates entirely on the opt-in process, with very little effort or thought being devoted to the after-care of an opt-in subscriber.

Her focus is to get as many opt-in forms as possible out there in front of targeted traffic, make a compelling invitation to sign up to a list, and then finding buyers who want those leads and are willing to pay for it.

With all this background knowledge, it’s time to look at some misunderstood or overlooked elements of email marketing that are relevant today and in the future… and see how to weave email marketing best practices into our chosen models to achieve massive success in what some perceive as a failing medium of online communication.

Email Marketing Cost – “But isn’t it free to send email?”

This is the most obvious, frequently asked and (to an e-publisher) very exasperating question.

Because, honestly, the answer is “Yes”.

But that “Yes” is qualified differently for practitioners of each model.

A lead generator doesn’t really care about what happens AFTER the opt-in, because it’s somebody else’s problem. A content publisher also agrees, because having a bigger list means more revenue.

But a direct response email marketer objects strongly to having unresponsive subscribers – because to him, there is indeed a ‘cost’ involved.


Let’s say you have 2 choices:

Let’s also assume that on average, it ‘costs’ you 1.5 minutes per year to handle each subscribers’ needs, and that each customer earns you $100 a year.

Your LARGE list will get you a response rate of 1% (2000 responders). If you can get even 5% to become customers, you’ll have 100 buyers out of this list.

You earn (100 * $100) = $10,000

Your SMALL list, on the other hand, will get you a much higher response rate of 4% (80 responders). With the same conversion ratio, you’ll have 3.2 customers.

You earn (3.2 * $100) = $320

Now I can see you scratching your head, puzzled. Surely making $10,000 is better than $320.

Bear with me for just a moment longer…

Let’s look at the ‘other side’ of the equation – the amount of time you’ll have to spend ‘servicing’ your lists.

Your LARGE list will ‘cost’ you (200,000 * 1.5) = 300,000 minutes (or 5,000 hours)

Your SMALL list will ‘cost’ you (2,000 * 1.5) = 3,000 minutes (or 50 hours)

Your “income per hour” of time you work will be:

Large list: $10,000 / 5000 = $2.00 per hour

Small list: $320 / 50 = $6.40 per hour

That’s right…

You earn 3 TIMES as much for your time with a small list than you can with a large list!

And a huge list involves considerable resources like time and money to maintain. When analyzed from that angle, it’s obvious that smaller, targeted lists are more profitable!

Now, this course is quite a few years old. And a shift in the email marketing scene (as well as legislation like CAN-SPAM) has made it ever more important to ensure not only ‘permission’ but ‘desire’ on the part of your subscriber to receive your emails.

What do I mean?

Just this.

Increasingly, even some legitimate opt-in subscribers are inclined to hit the ‘This is SPAM’ button to delete your emails, not because they think it is spam, but because THEY THINK it is easier than to follow your unsubscribe process.

And to complicate this further, many email service providers and ISPs are looking at another metric – subscriber interest in receiving your emails.

Worse, if they aren’t already doing it, they just might end up penalizing email marketers who send out a large proportion of emails that remain unopened or automatically ‘junked’.

What this means is when a significant part of your audience does not keep on showing that they are eagerly looking forward to hearing from you, their apathy might end up in a blanket punishment of your ezine/email messages.

And that will keep them out of the hands of even the segment of your list that still wants to hear from you!

That is a Bad Thing!

And chances of it happening are greater with a larger list, which by necessity is less targeted and more ‘general’ than with smaller, intensely focused ‘niche’ lists.

So, yes, for a direct response email marketer, there IS a cost attached to sending free emails!

And then, there’s another bugbear…

The Entitlement Mentality

An email marketer thinks:

“They are so lucky to be on MY list!”

And a subscriber thinks:

“They are so lucky to have ME on their list”

So both start posturing in a way that spells doom for email marketing.

Like any association or relationship, when one side feels entitled to something the other side does not consider an integral part of the deal, one or both are going to be hurt, feel offended, or lose out.

Neither attitude is right.

Email marketing and being on a free email list is essentially a two-way deal.

As an email marketer, you give something of value to a subscriber so they will trust you, like you, do business with you, follow your instructions and in other ways act in a manner that you derive an advantage from.

As a subscriber, you receive something useful, interesting or helpful – and hopefully that instills in you a sense of reciprocity or thankfulness that leads you to develop trust in the email marketer.

Both sides benefit. And in proportion to the benefit, they behave in a certain manner in the future.

As long as a benefit is perceived and received, the association continues. When it is lost, there is attrition or apathy – a subscriber either leaves the list, or just becomes inactive.

And unless an expectation is explicitly voiced and mutually agreed upon at the time of opting-in, that is the only equation that the ‘relationship’ is to be based upon.

It’s All a Question of Mindset

In a recent discussion about email marketing, one participant said:

“I never sign up to a list thinking “how can I support this person’s business,” but the opposite is also true; I never sign up thinking, “I refuse to buy something from this person, I’ll just take what I can get for free.”

And experienced e-publisher Nick Usborne says:

“Our subscribers owe us nothing. As publishers we are very fortunate to have their attention and should strive to earn that attention with every email and newsletter we send out.”

Interesting, isn’t it?

Not all subscribers will feel the way the first commentor does.

And not all publishers will agree with the viewpoint Nick proposes.

Yet, the important thing is that you can keep your list open exclusively to (or segment it by) people with a certain mindset.

If you are a generous, giving, value-providing publisher, you do NOT want a greedy, grasping subscriber with an entitlement mentality.

And if you are an open-minded, fair and receptive subscriber who is willing to evaluate a publisher’s skills, expertise and judgement, so that you’ll be open to recommendations – and even advertising or selling – on their part, you do NOT want to be on a list run by a publisher who ravishes and raids her subscribers like they were one, big, collective loose-stringed wallet!

A nicely adjusted subscriber-publisher relationship is mutually enjoyable, profitable, and most important – FUN!

So how can you work towards creating ’email marketing nirvana’?

Squeeze page verbiage

A squeeze page, or name capture page, or subscribe page is one where a subscriber adds him/herself to a mailing list by typing in name, email address and maybe some other details into a web form and clicking a button.

The layout and structure of a compelling ‘squeeze page’ is a matter of design, technical and marketing skill. Testing on many levels is involved until a page with great conversion is found.

But an often ignored element of the opt-in process is the phrasing and words used to define expectations of a new subscriber.

Often, it is a desperate grab for a contact address – making wild promises to secure it.

And a hapless subscriber who joins the list quite naturally gasps when first hit with a deluge of marketing messages – and reacts appropriately.

The clueless email marketer then wonders why response is so dismal – and often tries to fix it by getting even more desperate, urgent and intrusive in the marketing approach.

What if…

  • we begin with mutual respect, for both subscriber and publisher?
  • we start with a plan to provide value – both ways?
  • we choose to be honest, upfront and explicit in the approach?
  • we live up to the promise – ethically and faithfully?
  • we put value higher than profits, people ahead of technology?

It just might reinvent email marketing, and make it as effective, efficient and enjoyable as it once was.

But then, I’ve always been called a dreamer!

Hope you learned something about email marketing from this post. If you did, please share your biggest take-away by leaving a comment – and help spread the word by telling a friend about it.

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