Some people say that email marketing is already a channel from the past whilst others say that it is still one of the greatest and more lucrative marketing channels out there.
Regardless of your stance, email marketing should be a core pillar of your marketing strategy and always being iterated on. It’s rare that we’ve seen a brand at any reasonable scale not using email marketing to drive more revenue.
With email marketing, you are communicating directly with people who have either bought from you (retention) or are going to buy from you (acquisition), and both want to hear what you have to say.
They want a (perceived) direct line of communication with your business.
Sure, some of these people will lose interest in your message and may even get annoyed that you’re contacting them, but that's all part of the game.
If you do your job right, you will capture the interest of the right people, drive loyalty, and maybe even encourage a sale.
"If you do your job right"…
… this is where things can become tricky, that's why I’ve decided to interview 4 practitioners, full-time internet creators, on how they use email marketing to keep their business running.
Ed Latimore (Website), former Heavyweight boxer, author, course creator, and a master joker on Twitter. His books, blog articles, and courses are all about self-improvement and personal branding, but not in a cheesy guru way.
Tomi Mester (Twitter) aka the Data Science guy. He writes on his blog data36, creates free tutorials on Youtube, and creates courses about Data Science for people that are starting to learn about the subject.
Joshua Lisec (Twitter), THE ghostwriter. He wrote 64 books so far. Besides writing books for his clients, Joshua creates courses about persuasive writing and marketing. If you read something from him, you will know that he is the real deal.
Corey Haines (Twitter). Marketer, and full-time creator. Podcaster, has a few courses on marketing, community manager -- SwipeFiles -- and a few newsletters. When does he sleep? I don't know, but his content is lit.
Being a marketer in the last few years means that we have already heard the meme about email being on its last legs. Before asking our 4 marketers how they use email as a channel, I had to ask if they use it at all in their businesses.
Ed Latimore is one of those that believed that email was dead, but he had a change of heart after seeing the power of one single email when compared with social media posts. I will let him explain this further.
Ed: Believe it or not, I used to believe this as well. That’s because I entered the e-commerce space on the back of my social media accounts. You can have tremendous success selling via those channels and they are relatively simple to set up. As a result of my success and confirmation bias, I also used to think that email is dead.
However, I had an experience where someone paid me to promote to my email list of 25,000. I got as many clicks on that one email as I did by sending out 16 tweets. I had 130k followers at the time. So, despite having 5x as many followers as I did subscribers, I got 16x worth the return. So email is still effective.
It’s done great for me, as signing up to my email list means that you trust my opinion and enjoy my content more than if you were just following me on social media. If marketers understood this better, then they’d make better use of both channels rather than shunning one in favor of the one they’re most comfortable with.
For Joshua, things are more pragmatic, he uses emails to keep people informed about new products and to nurture prospects. Nothing crazy.
Joshua: I use email for keeping up with customers; they are the first to hear about new products and special offers. I also use email to warm up prospects who've expressed interest in my services. The whole "blast a new free newsletter email at subscribers once a week for years" tactic though . . . NGMI.
For Tomi, email is what keeps his business alive. And in his case, we should probably be talking about the death of social media instead.
Tomi: 95% of my sales are closed by email marketing. Lead generation happens via SEO and branding. Social media channels contribute practically zero to my business... So it's safe to say that -- for my business at least -- social media is dead!
Corey seems to agree with Tomi on the importance of email for any business, and he reaches the same conclusion as Ed's about its effectiveness when compared with social media.
Corey: Email is the single most valuable channel for my business. While my largest audience is on Twitter, it doesn't get the most engagement or drive the most sales.
I like to think of channels in terms of owned, rented, and borrowed platforms. Borrowing platforms means collaborating with others. Rented platforms mean large social networks. Owned platforms mean open standard web technology.
As Naval says, building your audience on a rented platform is building an elaborate castle on sand. Email is a direct line of communication with your audience, which will never go away and never lose its importance.
It comes with no surprise that all of the creators think that writing well is one of the major attributes you need to be successful in email marketing. Joshua and Tomi have similar methods to write their emails, as you will see.
Ed: They (marketers) need to learn how to write. I don’t just mean in terms of technical execution, but storytelling. Facts tell but stories sell. The stories don’t need to be elaborate, but they need to teach a lesson or deliver value. If you can do that with a story, then your emails will be much more impactful and successful.
The other thing people need to do is, automation and test subject lines. These determine if your email is read in the first place because they determine if people will open your email in the first place.
Joshua: Imagine you are writing for one person, not some generic audience of customers. And be specific about who your one person is. Then everyone will feel like you wrote the email for them.
Tomi: It depends on the business. Of course, copywriting is a major one. I'm not good with sales copywriting, so my "trick" is that first I draft an email in my Gmail account as I was sending it to a friend of mine who also happens to be an aspiring data scientist (my target audience).
With that, I can keep my emails honest, friendly, natural and I can also show my excitement when I release something new. Or... well, I hope so. (As I said, I'm not a pro.) Once, I'm done, I copy-paste that to my newsletter software, re-write it the day after and send it out to my list.
The other thing that is a major skill or key feature in email marketing (at my business) is systems and automation. I have 4 different subscription forms and welcome drips... all these channels are into a 6-month email drip. Everything is automated. It's simple automation but it works well. I mean, even if it's simple, figuring it out took months... and optimizing it will probably take years.
Corey Haines: First of all, to be successful with email, you have to be someone with a reputation for sending good emails. No growth hack or clever subject line can match the power of a strong personal brand.
Second, you need to be able to think holistically about what experiences you want to deliver to readers to give them content at the right time and in the right way.
Third, you need to be a prolific content creator. Email should be an ongoing relationship with your audience, which requires consistency and quality of output.
Okay, learn to write well. Create good content. Remember to re-write until you get it right, test your subjects lines, create automation, and make sure you serve the right content at the right time. Got it.
But how do you maintain it profitable?
I know it has a lot to do with how you set up your funnel as well, but first, let's take a look at the mindset they use to make money with email.
Ed: I just make sure that I send emails about things not related to selling. I view the emails as a relationship space. They aren’t always long or detailed, but I want people to feel like they have a relationship with me and get value from the list. If I give value, they will spend money.
Joshua: "If you buy from me, I will email you." It's as simple as that.
Tomi: I have around 10.000 subscribers. Sometimes, I have to clean my email list to manage my email marketing software costs.
I tag everyone who enrolled in one of my courses, so they don't get the same pitch twice. But other than that, I don't use any of these fancy segmentation methods or A/B tests -- with 10000 subscribers, I don't think it will move the needle.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of A/B testing and I use it on projects where I can work with bigger numbers.
Corey: I create segments based on different content people want to receive and then use Smart Subscriber as an email preference center to allow subscribers to choose what they do and don't want to receive from me.
This way, I don't get as many unsubscriptions altogether.
I follow Brennan Dunn's advice to rely on custom attributes that are updated with automations rather than tags, which can quickly become outdated. I also use double opt-in to reduce the amount of spam. And to increase deliverability and my sender reputation, I often ask for replies in the welcome series or other promotions.
I bet this is one of the sections that you were eager to read. So I will spare you an intro, and show you their playbooks. And if you are looking for a step-by-step guide, Tomi’s got you.
But one thing that you should retain is how simple their funnel is, there's no need for fanciness, simplicity will give you the results you need.
Ed: I will often promote a sentence from an upcoming newsletter and drive traffic to my email list from social media.
I also have pop-ups set up to capture emails on my website, which generates about 1000 organic clicks per day. When it comes to growing your email list, you have to constantly try to get people to see and click on your link.
I’ve used free guides and courses to entice people to sign up. Also, for anything you sell, it’s important to collect the email address of the customers as well.
Joshua: YouTube and Twitter are my top two channels for lead generation. People interested in my services then visit my website, and retargeting ads follow them around if they don't book a call.
Tomi: This is how my funnel works.
STEP 1) SEO --» people find me on Google and read an article on my blog.
STEP 2) They subscribe to my newsletter and download one of my PDFs or get access to a free video course (How to Become a Data Scientist)
STEP 3) They start to get my emails where ~80% of the emails focus purely on giving value (without any sales)
STEP 4) Every 5 emails or so, they get a pitch about my 6-week course (The Junior Data Scientist's First Month)
STEP 5) If they like the pitch, they subscribe to the waitlist of my 6-week course -- this is a new drip focusing on the course
STEP 6) When I open registration for the course, I email them again... (it's a 4-day registration period with 10 automated emails -- that's 2.5 emails/day on average.
STEP 7) ~10% of them will eventually enroll in the course and (hopefully) enjoy it a lot.
I intentionally try to keep everything simple -- that's why I mostly use only one marketing channel (SEO) and also why most of my income comes from one single course (the 6-week course).
Corey Haines: Going back to my owned, rented, and borrowed platform framework... my funnel starts with borrowed platforms like podcast interviews, blog posts, collaborations, and mentions around the web. From there, people usually come to my Twitter. And from Twitter, and send folks directly to my newsletter. From the newsletter, I send them to the paid membership.
Creators need the right tools to make email marketing more effective so let’s see what specific features Ed, Corey, Tomi, and Joshua want in their platform of choice. You’ll see through reading that Bento has all of them.
Ed: I need to be able to track and tag how a person got into my email list. That’s the most important thing.
It’d also be nice if I could somehow see if they read the entire email. But that’s just a wish list.
The most important thing is to know how people got on your list so you can measure the effectiveness of your channels and efforts.
Joshua: I like to be able to email customers of specific products without emailing customers who've bought other specific products. Most software has simple tags/segment features like this.
Tomi: For me the key features are: ability to send emails that land in the inbox and not in spam and preferably not in the promotions folder either; Of course, I need the ability to set up a simple drip and some automation, but other than that, I prefer simple tools that just work.
(That's also a critique on email marketing software that "develop" their tools and add unneeded features without thinking -- messing up their nice and simple solutions.)
Corey: One of the best features that have been historically missing from a lot of platforms is the ability to track referrals. This is why I love and use SparkLoop. Besides that, the email editor is one of the most core pieces of functionality and should be a focal point for development.
This is just for fun, nobody can be sure about the future but everybody has a… let's call it vision. Yes, a vision. So, let's find out what is their vision for email marketing’s future.
Ed: I think SMS marketing is going to be the new thing—especially now that we can click on links through texts on smartphones. SMS has nearly a 100% open rate. That’s very difficult to beat.
Joshua: Machine learning will make it easier to send eerily personalized emails to hyper-specific tags and segments.
Tomi: I hope it won't change a lot. I mean it's an email, right? It's an invention that's intended to be simple. So it should stay simple.
Corey: I think email will continue to become part of the core stack of every business, and will better integrate with other adjacent tools to sync data, properties, and statuses of subscribers.
Email marketing is not a monster so you don't need to be afraid of it. As you could see, these creators keep things simple. Some segmentation, automation, and so on, but they don't rely on technology to make email work for their business.
They rely on good writing, on the ability to tell great stories, on giving value first, and on having a simple system.
And they all agree on one thing: other channels are useful to bring people into your email list, but it is inside their email list that the real engagement and marketing power are unleashed.