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Email marketing (1 of 3): Start spreading the news

October 19, 2015

Part 1: For beginners

Photo: Toms Baugis (CC)

Photo: Toms Baugis (CC)

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Email marketing is one of the best ways to build and maintain a great customer base. But for one reason or another, companies are reluctant to use this effective tool as part of a marketing strategy.

They are pulled to the bells and whistles of social media, or let their personal annoyances at email newsletters dissuade them.


Two millennial entrepreneurs built the Skimm, a daily email newsletter with bullet point news, and amassed 1.5 million subscribers in 3 years. Your brand should be sharing as much interesting news as possible on a regular schedule.

They didn’t reinvent the mass email — but they did infuse their product with style and a distinct voice.

I want you to accomplish two tasks at the beginner level: collecting email addresses and sending the first email.

Collecting email addresses is super easy. Sign up with a mailing list provider. I recommend MailChimp, which is quick to set up and sponsors my annual Y’all Connect conference.

Have your Web developer take the code snippet from MailChimp to install on your website. This will create a form so visitors can subscribe. Don’t worry about getting their name and address and blood type: The more blanks they have to fill out, the less likely they are to click Subscribe.

(We’ll talk about incentives and bribes and pop-up forms in Part 3.)

Use a simple call to action: “Subscribe to our free weekly newsletter for the latest …”

Do not dump your customer database into your email newsletter subscriber list. Absolutely do not do this. You want to play by the rules, specifically the CAN-SPAM Act, which means allowing every single person to opt in to your list. Can you imagine just how many spam emails you’d receive if every company you’d ever spent a dollar with decided to add you to all their mailing lists?!

Put a link to subscribe in your email signature. On your business cards. On your brochures. In Facebook ads. On your product packaging.

At events, have a signup sheet for people to fill out, or have a fishbowl to collect business cards with clear signage on the intent.

Some companies have been collecting email addresses for years without sending a single email. Talk about wasted effort.

It took me months to send the first email, and it went to 39 people. I had to start somewhere.

Now, my emails go to nearly 40 times as many subscribers. I’ve sent out more than 400 weekly newsletters, with another 100 coming in the next 12 months.

I had to start somewhere. You have to start somewhere.

(If it’s been awhile since you sent an email, get on that right now.)

Once you get a few subscribers, start writing that first email.

Make it personal. Make it intimate. Write it to me and only me.

(I’m still working on this myself.)

This is your opportunity to talk to your customers and fans like real live human beings. Many companies worry about “spamming” their customers. The ones who feel spammed will stop reading and eventually unsubscribe. That is a very good outcome. (On occasion, I’ll invite subscribers to unsubscribe.)

I want to reach people that want to hear from me and learn more about communications. If that’s not their thing, no worries.

The best emails (and voicemails, texts, calls, letters, DMs, etc.) come from people and brands about which we are most passionate. You already know which of your hundreds of daily emails you open right away, regardless of subject line, and which ones you might skim or ignore. Make your weekly or monthly email as compelling as your favorites.

Many of your subscribers will be reading your emails from their phone screens. Make sure the mobile experience is a good one.

Send yourself a test copy. Check the links, check the spelling, check the subject line, check the date. (Trust me, I’ve screwed up all of those things and more.)

All that’s left is to send it to your list. And repeat the process the next day/week/month.

You are now on your way to building a great mailing list and expanding your marketing to one of your best customer groups.

Parts 2 and 3 coming soon, with more action steps at the intermediate and advanced levels.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

• • •

I hope you’ll look at my newsletter info in action
in my free weekly email …


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