Building An Email List Still Matters...But Don't Stop There

  Email Marketing
Derek Kinzer
Derek Kinzer

10.30.2018 | 8 min read

Please excuse this quick stroll down memory lane:

Email marketing is where it all began for me. It was the “gateway” to the digital marketing and all things growth hacking world. Learning how to write seductive sales copy and how to analyze the data behind what human behaviors resulted in an “open” or “click” quickly became the “sweet-spot”. This was what I lived for. The early success I saw confirmed that I was on the right career path — and you would be correct in assuming that I was a rookie on my high-horse….

Then I sent a promotional email with a broken link to 2 million people!

Why the backstory?

We’ve all been there (props to anyone who’s sent a typo to a bigger database). Marketing gurus and rookies alike, there’s always more to learn, and that lesson can come from anyone at any time. So, let’s dive in!

Email. I don’t need to sit here and convince you that email is still relevant, do I? For the skeptics and/or data nerds reading, humor me for a second. Please?

Question: How many emails (roughly) are sent per day?

Answer: If you guessed anything less than 200 billion, you’re wrong. In this Radicati Group’s study, they found that in 2015 approximately 205 BILLION emails. Not sure what the rate of email inflation is these days, but it’s likely safe to say that the amount has continued to increase!

So, can we agree that email communication is still relevant?

Great! Shall we move on?

Your email list (a.k.a. Contact database, subscribers, anyone, as long as they have an email address) is an essential lever contributing to the success of your marketing machine. Oh yeah, make sure you have permission from them first.

There are four sections in this post covering standard email best practices, growth hacks, a little secret sauce, and—of course, why not mention the most popular two letters of the year—“AI” (artificial intelligence).

In this post, we’ll dig into:

  • How to build your email list (if you aren’t already).
  • Strategies to activate your email list.
  • Nurture emails (prospecting, lead nurturing, and post-sale)
  • Email AI tools that make you look like a wizard.

How to build (and/or grow) your email list

Before we get into how to build your email list, let it be known that purchasing a list of emails/database/contacts, or whatever these used-data salesmen (see what I did there?) are calling it these days, is a BAD IDEA. Buying an email list rarely pays off, and no one wants to be flagged or blacklisted.

Start Now

If you haven’t already, start an email list right now. Just like investing, start early and watch the magic of compounding interest! Don’t worry about not having a “strategy” for the list, we’ll get there.

Start with people that you know. Previous customers, colleagues, and any prospect’s business card you can find in your desk junk drawer. If you don’t have an email tool or CRM, consider platforms like Hubspot, Active Campaign, MailChimp, Sendgrid, Drip, or Convertkit.

Pro tip: need a cool email signature? Build an awesome one with this free tool by Hubspot.

Build a Blog

Lay out the content ideas and categories that you desire to write about and get to work. Developing a blog with quality content has an incredible value. Consider writing about your customers’ biggest frustrations, educational content, industry reports, the list goes on. Jump into the conversation that’s taking place online, and create original content. The blog isn’t limited to the sole function of collecting emails either. Each post you publish is like a marketing soldier helping to attract more visitors. The more soldiers, the bigger the army, and the bigger the army… well, you get it. There are long-term SEO benefits to building your blog, but we won’t get into that right now.

Here’s the point:

Your blog will attract new visitors to your website, and with the right calls-to-action, you can incentivize visitors to subscribe and receive content updates, newsletters, promotions and/or “insider information”.

Pro Tip: Here are 10 call-to-action ideas to get you started, and if you’re still struggling to get visitors to convert try these CTA optimization tips.

Add “Opt-in” Incentive

If you’re like me, you’re a bit tired of giving away your information in a web form. Likely, you have a “junk” email address that you use so that you aren’t bothered by the parade of emails you seek to avoid, or you dismiss the offer altogether. With that in mind, if there’s something I truly want to read or download, I use my primary email address.

Creating a lead magnet is a great way to solve this problem. Offer something of value (ebook, guide, checklist, white-paper etc.) in exchange for the visitor's information. That seems like a fair trade!

lead flow

Another option that would fall into this category is creating lead flows, or “pop-ups”. Hubspot has a great starter lead flow functionality, but there are other tools like OptinMonster that give you more freedom to design “exit-intent” pop-ups, announcement bars, and reporting. For those eCommerce folks out there, offering a discount on the first purchase in exchange for their email works like a charm. Again, the idea isn’t to overcrowd your content with click-bait. Developing “value first” lead flow strategy is more tasteful and will benefit you more in long-run.

Remember this:

  • Focus on building a quality list.
  • Set expectations and deliver what you promise (i.e. not to SPAM them).
  • It takes time to do this organically from the ground up.

Now that you’re off and running with an email list building strategy, let’s talk activation.

Email strategies to activate your email list

Activating your email list is the means by which you will start seeing an ROI on your email marketing. ROI is a good thing, remember? Now, there’s a direct line of communication with potential customers.

For the record, is it fair to say you most likely don’t enjoy getting SPAM phone calls every day from unknown numbers? Why then, treat your email list the same way? Instead, engage your list, provide value, and stay consistent.

Consider these strategies to activate your list:

Email Newsletter

Ideally, you’re able to come up with something more creative than “newsletter”, but this term gets us on the same page. An email newsletter is a dynamic way to communicate to your email list, especially if you’re posting relevant content consistently. Set expectations about what the newsletter is or is not as soon as possible, and then determine the frequency you’ll send.

Your reason to “reach out” with a newsletter should first be to provide value to your constituents. Gary Vaynerchuk has a long list of things he’s known for, and one of my favorite mantras he continues to reiterate is “jab, jab, jab, right hook” and “the one who provides value, wins”. It’s true. Consider the 80/20 rule for your monthly newsletter. 80% of the newsletter is providing value to the reader while 20% is reserved for a “promotion” or direct offer. Gary would argue and say the 99/1 rule, but you get the picture.

Give Value to your customers

My personal favorite, “What a Day” by Crooked Media is a political newsletter that drops in my inbox at the end of every day. No need to get bi-partisan on this! The hilarious candor, template design, and relevant information check all of my boxes for making a great email newsletter.

Need some newsletter inspiration? Here are 15 newsletters that are killing it.

Here are a few email promotion ideas and hacks:

  • New Product Release: “We just launched something new, would you like to be in our beta program? Your feedback would be very helpful!” Don’t be surprised if they end up buying or sharing it with colleagues.
  • Post-Script Hook: After the valediction in your email, add a “PS:” line that subtly promotes a new lead magnet, blog post, or transitional CTA that offers the reader a little more.
  • Email Signature Share: Adding a share link in your email signature gives the reader an easy way to pass it along to someone else who then could subscribe!
  • Cross Promote: Similar to Amazon’s, “recommended for you”, is there a product or service that current customers may find of value?
  • Referral Promotion: Offer your loyal customers an exclusive deal when a friend signs up.
  • Humble Brag: If your company has received an award or achieved a milestone, consider sending a company announcement. Just make sure it points back to how much you value the people receiving it. If done right, it will provide social proof to those who are still on the fence about you.

*Reminder: If you haven’t sent an email to your database yet, don’t start with a sales promotion. Set expectations for the newsletter, and start providing value (jab, jab, jab, right hook).

List Segmentation

Let’s assume that you have a sizable email database, but they are all in one giant list in your CRM. Likely, there are customers, prospects, old contacts, and a few “colleagues” that forced their card into your hand at happy-hour. Knowing that there are several types of contacts in your database, would you send them all the same marketing email?

For example (true story), back in my email marketing days, we would kick out promotions as often as we could offering the “we NEVER do this” type of deals. Let’s just say, when you don’t segment your list appropriately, you end up sending a promotional email to current customers who did not receive that same promotion. That wasn’t a fun day.

Here are a few ways that you can start segmenting your list so that you can send them the appropriate emails:

  • Industry
  • Buyer Persona
  • Lifecycle Stage (lead, marketing qualified, sales qualified)
  • Customers

Don’t be afraid to get granular with your segmentation as you grow your list. The more targeted you can become with your email messaging and content offerings, the better your results will be.

Nurture emails (prospecting, lead nurture, and post-sale)

This is arguably the most important and effective type of email marketing. Nurture emails are much more than automating your follow-up process. Take advantage a giant opportunity to engage early and consistently. The goal of sequences like these changes depending on the stage of the one receiving.

These three categories are a great place to start with nurture emails:

  1. New Inbound Leads (marketing)
  2. Prospects (sales)
  3. Post Sale (customer delight)

A key to a successful nurture campaign is determining a goal. For example, a goal for an inbound lead could be for them to provide additional contact information by way of downloading another asset. For prospects, the first goal could be to schedule an appointment, or to purchase something. Once you have a goal set you will have a greater chance of developing a successful nurture sequence.

If you’re still unsure about how to get started here’s a simple 5-email automated sequence to try:

  1. Thank you for downloading + delivery of content asset
  2. Problem + Solution — identify a problem, empathize and provide your solution.
  3. Testimonial — no one wants to read your bragging about yourself. Let someone else do it.
  4. Overcome an objection — what’s the friction they have? Locate and overcome.
  5. Transactional Email — Illustrate what success looks like and book an appointment, offer another asset, or something that moves them along in the buyer's journey.

You’ll have to tweak your sequence based on the stages mentioned above, but your undertone of providing value first will keep your brand name at the top of their mind as they continue to receive consistent and valuable communication.

*Here are some tips to move prospects through the buyer's journey.

Marketing Funnel Strategy

Marketing AI tools you should try

This wouldn’t be a blog post if we didn’t mention AI, right?

All jokes aside, Marketing AI is growing fast and there are a lot of tools that can be extremely effective that don’t require any mad-scientist prerequisites. Testing new technology is something we get an opportunity to do quite a bit. We’ve had some great experiences with some and not so much with others.

First, before you start signing up for free-trials left and right or getting into a black-hole of research, take a look at the Marketing Artificial Intelligence Institute. This has become our top resource for everything marketing AI. They’ve recently launched a new tool that allows you to explore and rate dozens of AI use cases, and get personalized recommendations for AI-powered vendors. This assessment helped us tremendously. Try it here!

Email Send Optimization: Seventh Sense

You don’t need to send another “Email Blast” again. With Seventh Sense, you’re sending one email at a time to your entire list, delivering over a span of 3-5 days (you can adjust this) based on when they are most likely to open the email. It sounds crazy, but our results don’t lie!

This technology analyzes your data to the point where it can predict when you’ll open an email, based on your contact engagement and contact history. Here’s a more comprehensive look at how Seventh Sense has been a game changer for us.

Sale and marketing funnel

Email Subject Lines: Phrasee

Put your subject line copy to the test and compete with Phrasee, the email subject line generator. Their deep learning algorithms mixed with language generation is scary. In a good way. See for yourself!

There are plenty of Marketing AI tools out there that you can start trying, these are just a few in the realm of email marketing that we like!

So, If you build it will they will come?

As much as I’d like to steal from one of the best baseball film monologues (notice I didn’t say “arguably”...) in Field of Dreams and say, “people will come, people will come” I won’t be able to make such a guarantee for you.

Here’s what we do know. Email isn’t going anywhere, but with all of the noise, push notifications, and alerts pinging at once today, it’s more important now than ever to have a strategy in place for success.

marketing strategy c