Email marketing: I was a dreamer

This week in his Power of Connection chat (#PoCchat), on the topic of email marketing, Bobby Umar asked this question: How did you feel when you sent your first e-mail newsletter or announcement?

Old letters and postcards

My first email newsletter didn’t exactly look like this – but it was a long time ago.

How did I feel? Wow! My mind flashed back to the late 1990s and the moment I hit Send on my first email newsletter. I remember feeling this insane hope that my newsletter would be different. That I’d succeed where all those around me were failing. That my recipients would read my newsletter because somehow, magically, they’d recognize that it was a cut above all the others.

You might say I was a dreamer. And undoubtedly I was. But I wasn’t the only one.

Bobby’s question also brought me up short as I recollected how little I knew about content marketing at that time. I didn’t fully understand that my content needed to focus on the reader and not on my products and services. I didn’t understand the importance of developing relationships with my readers before I started lobbing content at them.

It all seems second nature to me now. But, looking back, I can see that I had the keys to this marvelous marketing machine — with barely a clue as to how to run it.

It occurs to me that there are people like that today. In fact, judging from the contents of my inbox, there are a lot of people like that.

So, for their benefit, here are four basics for email marketing:

  1. It’s not about you. I quickly learned, to my surprise, that people didn’t find my products and services as interesting as I did; that they wouldn’t read (and respond to) my emails just because I’d worked so hard to put quality content into them. This first basic principle has a corollary:
  2. It’s about the reader. I did a bit better when I couched things in terms of solving problems that were common to my audience. But I still didn’t have a firm enough grasp on who that audience really was and what problems they were trying to solve. Which leads to the third basic principle:
  3. You have to have a relationship. People will read emails from companies (and, ideally, from individual people) they know. They’ve met you at a trade show. They’ve attended your webinar. They’ve interacted with you on social media. They’ve bought from you in the past. Even then, you can’t ignore the fourth basic principle:
  4. You have to sustain the relationship with something more than just email. Your email marketing has to be part of an overall content strategy. Unless your readers find your content exceptionally valuable (there I go, dreaming again), if email is the only thing they see from you, they’ll soon start to hit Delete when they see your name. (An opt-out option is mandatory, by the way — and it has to actually work.)

Marketing is hard. Email marketing is especially hard, in large part because it has a bad rep. So many people have been doing it so badly for so long. Just because it’s hard, though, doesn’t mean it isn’t worth doing.

What would you add to my four basic principles?

4 thoughts on “Email marketing: I was a dreamer

  1. Mark Baker

    I think “have something to say” should be the first principle of content marketing generally. It seems that so much of it today is just repeating the same old bromides of whatever the field is — content reuse to the point of absurdity.

    Of course, having something to say on the intervals specified by the editorial calendar is not an easy thing, as any blogger will no doubt attest.

      1. Mark Baker

        Well I suppose it depends what you mean by audience. As a writer, my audience is those people who care about the things I have to say. If you have something you want to say because you care about it, I don’t think you would want any other audience.

        But from a commercial point of view, you might decide that you want to attract an audience that has certain commercial properties (a lot of money to spend). So then you try to figure out what they might want to hear, regardless of whether it interests you. And there is certainly a huge amount of this going on in content marketing.

        The problem is, if you are not interested in a subject, can you really figure out what people who are interested in it want to hear? And if so, can you say it well? Maybe. But I think you will always be beaten to the punch by people who are actually interested in the subject and genuinely have something to say about it.

        Maybe the middle way here is to study the subject that the people with money have until you get to the point where you are actually interested in it and have worked in it long enough that you actually have something to say about it. But that does not happen overnight.

        All of which is to say that producing interesting and valuable content is not easy.

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