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Email Works Best When You Stress Quality Over Quantity

Newsletters are a growing trend. Subscription requests arrive every other day. Say yes to too many, and risk information overload from unknown businesses.


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James L Katzaman

6 months ago | 8 min read
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People simply want help from those they know and trust

Photo by Bench Accounting on Unsplash

Newsletters are a growing trend. Subscription requests arrive every other day. Say yes to one and another, and risk information overload.

Email marketing — with good intent — threatens to overwhelm readers who companies really want to attract and convert into customers.

Tom Reid typifies those who want to get out the word about how they can serve clients while not adding to the email and newsletter deluge.

Founder and chief executive officer of Certified Contract Solutions, he has written five books on contracting and leadership development. His expertise is government contracts and business operations.

“Despite its size, government contracting is extremely bureaucratic and highly regulated — and profitable,” he said. “We lead you through the labyrinth to successful outcomes.”

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To promote his business, Reid entered the world of email marketing with trepidation, taking cues from competitors and his own subscriptions.

“I am constantly searching out new newsletters, and constantly removing myself from many subscriptions,” he said. “I don’t have any favorites. Most seem to serve as bad examples. I try hard to not copy those mistakes when I write my own newsletter.”

Reid talked with marketers Ivana Taylor and Iva Ignjatovic about the merits of newsletters in particular and email marketing in general.

Taylor owns DIYMarketers, “committed to helping small business owners get out of overwhelm.” Ignjatovic is a marketing, strategy and business consultant. Both of them are wading through an ever greater wave of online pitches.

Not Aimed at Recipients

“LinkedIn especially drives me crazy,” Taylor said. “I get notifications for newsletters and events and more. It’s hard to keep them straight.

“My favorite newsletter comes from AppSumo.com because they always feature cool tools on sales,” she said. “Yet, so many newsletters are way too focused on the sender and not enough on my interests.”

Despite her frustrations, Taylor gives publishers credit.

“It’s hard to create a newsletter that really captures an audience’s interest,” she said. “I read very few of them. The emails I read the most are often from tools and services that I subscribe to that help me improve my use of the software.”

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The inbox boom is based on solid statistics. Optin Monster has found that 60 percent of consumers state that they have made a purchase due to a promotional email.

“I don’t read as many newsletters as I would like,” Ignjatovic said. “I’m subscribed to many newsletters, but I almost always read those from Heidi Cohen, Pam Didner, Ann Handley and Kathryn Lang.

“Having a newsletter outside a space or tool that you can’t control or analyze doesn’t look appealing to me,” she said.

One guideline for email marketing is to use content themes. Ask yourself what type of information your customers would want to know from you. In other words, create your best content with your audience in mind.

The ability to do email marketing is not a given. For instance, because the financial industry is highly regulated, email marketing would come under advertising, which means getting approval from compliance. That is more than daunting to think about.

Alternative to Face to Face

In other trades, reaching out via email is the next best alternative.

“With the professional conferences still shut down — or at best virtual with no networking opportunities — email marketing is my primary client outreach tool,” Reid said.

Fortunately for Taylor, she has options.

“I wouldn’t say that email marketing is a big part of my strategy,” she said. “I am looking for better ways to build relationships with my contact list.

“Email lists can be so powerful,” Taylor said. “A better name would be ‘buyers list.’ It also would be helpful to know what information your people want.”

Much as she likes it, Taylor cannot claim the “buyers list” moniker.

“A client called it that,” she said. “It’s so much more descriptive and keeps you focused on sending good content.”

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Although not pursuing it on her own, Ignjatovic is “heavily invested in email marketing for other businesses. I can see how email marketing doesn’t work for every business and every industry.”

Email marketing is worthless without a subscribers list.

“I grow my list most often by referrals and sign-up pages embedded in my websites,” Reid said. “It’s not as organic, large or growing to the degree I would prefer.”

Taylor has come to rely on list building by using a quiz and events.

“It’s better to have a smaller, more responsive list than a large list that ignores you,” she said. “The real size of your list is how many of those listed actually engage with you.

“My goal is to really get to know the people who subscribe to things,” Taylor said. “I’m more interested in building relationships.”

Tool to Acquire Customers

That concurs with findings by customer engagement platform Emarsys. It states that 81 percent of small and medium-sized businesses still rely on email as a driver for customer acquisition. Plus, 80 percent use email for customer retention.

Of course, email marketing will fall short if no one knows about it.

“One of the things that I suggest is to inform people that there is a newsletter,” Ignjatovic said. “Share relevant content and make the application section — call to action — on the website prominent. Users also should have more control over content.”

Generally, email has evolved over the last five years.

“Email marketing has gotten much more sophisticated,” Taylor said. “List size will become less important while list engagement will become more important.”

As evidence, VirtuDesk has published insights from marketers and chief executive officers on upcoming marketing trends.

“From one side it became much easier to use email marketing,” Ignjatovic said. “On the other hand, it’s difficult to stand out.”

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The object for email marketing is to build strong relationships.

“If done properly, email marketing builds relationships as a reliable source of current and pertinent information,” Reid said. “It also alerts your team of upcoming events that may be useful for them or those they know.

“When soliciting business, give before you ask to get,” he said. “This rule is probably the most violated one with social media marketing as well.”

Ignoring Relationships

Taylor contends that many marketers fail on this premise.

“The way most people do email marketing, they don’t create relationships,” she said. “Too many people send info only they care about. We should treat the email list like a contact list for back-and-forth communication.

“This is why it’s so hard to do email well,” Taylor said. “You really need to have a good system for tracking and creating customer journeys.”

As for what consumers really want to know, digital marketing and customer acquisition firm Fluent Inc. states that 42 percent of people subscribe to an email list to know about saving and discounts.

“First of all, walk the talk,” Ignjatovic said. “Deliver on your email promises. Get to know your subscribers. Don’t wait to provide value. Provide it right away.”

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Inspiration for email content comes from assorted sources.

“I stay abreast of other newsletters, news stories, topical discussions and latest publications,” Reid said. “I have an immense file with both newsletter and email ‘fodder.’ I don’t tend to lack inspiration. I lack time and motivation to write.”

Taylor gains motivation from recipients.

“I find inspiration for email content from the people on my email list,” she said. “I work hard to connect and communicate with them one on one.

“I also know that you can even repurpose that content and give credit,” Taylor said. “That can be useful info for your subscribers.”

Attention-getting content could include powerful examples of how customers use products — or even a “success story.”

Seek Ideas and Testimonials

Those “use cases” would be bundled into strategies that lead the way to more business and profits.

“I look for businesses that are at the top of their game,” Ignjatovic said. “Then I sign up for their emails. There are also many other places to find the intersections of ideas. Testimonials are very powerful.”

Emails can go far and wide, yet yield nothing if no one opens them.

“My biggest tip is to stop ‘pushing’ information and start opening up conversations,” Taylor said. “Write to a single person. Open a back-and-forth dialog.”

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Engagements can start and stop in little more than a blink of an eye. Enterprise marketing and email automation software company Upland Adestra states that 68 to 79 percent of customers will delete emails within three seconds if emails are not optimized for mobile.

“Use interesting, relevant and straightforward subject lines,” Ignjatovic said. “However, if that’s all you have, recipients will never open another email. The more important thing is to keep them reading the next one — or the 100th newsletter.”

People usually decline to open newsletters from businesses they know nothing about.

Indeed, Reid noted that spam filters can prevent recipients from ever seeing a newsletter at all.

“Too many newsletters are like holding a meeting that could have been an email,” he said. “The best data I have seen suggests that the quality of the headline will have the greatest impact on opening the newsletter.”

Rise Above Mundane

To that end, one of Reid’s latest installments features the Top 3 non-resolutions for outstanding contract managers.

“Most newsletters are pablum,” Taylor said. “They don’t offer me anything. Sending a newsletter isn’t always what you should be sending in an email.”

Familiarity is key to igniting engagement.

“Subscribers must know at least something about that business,” Ignjatovic said. “Most of the time they are too busy to get newsletters open. Send a follow-up email. Don’t make it promotional and sale-sy.

“I was sending emails, many of which were blocked,” she said. “People will use filters even more to prevent unknown senders from reaching them.”

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Plus, there is that information overload.

“People are stretched,” Ignjatovic said. “They don’t have time to read everything — even if they would want to. They are very focused on what is known to them.”

Business owners are also busy. Outsourcing email marketing might be an option.

“Some of my email activities are outsourced,” Reid said. “That and web development and maintenance are the only two things I currently outsource.

“I trust no one with my content,” he said. “Besides, as a thought leader I have to be the one expressing the thoughts.”

Taylor likewise declines to outsource.

“I’ve considered it, but decided against it until I figure out exactly how I want to communicate with my email list,” she said.

“There is one thing I did with a client,” Taylor said. “If you have existing content or researched articles, you can forward that to writers. They can use it to create emails. That’s a really good way to maintain content quality.”

Steer Away From Autopilot

In any event, outsourcing should not be submit and forget.

“Know what you want to outsource and why,” Ignjatovic said. “Perhaps you want to outsource the tech side but not the content side.”

Future marketing will tend to emphasize quality over quantity.

“I plan to do ‘more’ — as in more than today — but better email marketing,” Taylor said. “I have no intention of bombarding people with emails. Instead, I want to have conversations.”

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Ignjatovic also intends to “up” her game.

“Doing more is a good way to get in touch with the audience — and very effective,” she said. “Besides, I can do newsletters on Twitter and LinkedIn as well. I don’t need a website.”

Reid plans to sponsor more events.

“The marketing has to ramp up for that,” he said. “Lots of new stuff is happening in leadership development.”

To not miss anything, his Leadership Newsletter is open for subscriptions.

About The Author

Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services and worked in public affairs for the Air Force and federal government. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

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Jim Katzaman is a manager at Largo Financial Services and worked in public affairs for the Air Force and federal government. You can connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.


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