In May 2019, Harry Dry posted his first marketing blog post on his website, Marketing Examples. At that moment, he did not have an existing audience and any subscribers on his mailing list. One year later, his list exceeded 19 000 subscribers.
During that first year, he developed a system that made it possible to use the same piece of content on multiple platforms and made sure that as many people as possible would sign up for his newsletter.
He posts the same content in a blog post and as an email to his mailing list. He then creates and posts a Twitter thread. He shares it on Reddit, Hacker News, and Indiehackers. He then goes on to share parts and visuals from the full article on Facebook and Slack groups. Among other platforms.
That one piece of content is spread across multiple platforms online. And they almost all end in the same way: by asking them to sign up for his newsletter if they enjoyed what they just read.
“My strategy is simple. I share my whole article. Then, I politely ask if the reader would like to join my email list.”
– Harry Dry, Marketing Examples
Your mailing list is the backbone of your entire marketing system. It is what makes sure that every lead captured is taken care of and nurtured. It is the communication channel that’s being opened up when someone signs up and the only channel that you fully control (in contrast to social media, your website, your Youtube channel, and so on).
But without content, your mailing list is nothing. There’s no way to Google the content of emails or newsletters. To get people on your mailing list, you need content that people can find. This is consistent, and continuous content creation is so important. Each time you post a tweet, write a blog post or record a Youtube video, you add another way for people to find you and get on your mailing list.
Similarly, creating content without having a way to get as many people as possible on your mailing list is like threading water without a plan for how to get to shore.
The Internet is so fast-paced and constantly changing that you need to grab every person showing the slightest interest in what you have to say by the collar and duct-tape them to their seats as soon as they just happen to open the door an inch to peek into the classroom.
Email marketing is content marketing. Content marketing is email marketing.
One can’t work properly without the other. And you need to plan and build them simultaneously – knowing exactly who you are building it for (your target audience) and why they should be interested (the pain points you help them solve).
With millions of social platforms and information outlets in existence – and more popping up every day – it is getting increasingly tough to choose where to get your quality content fix!
Because of this, people are getting more inclined to pay for quality content – and to have it delivered to them.
Email is as old as the Internet itself.
The mailing list has always been looked at like that super-nerdy friend working with something completely un-cool.
But pulling in major bucks.
Email is not sexy.
But it works big-time when it comes to converting people into paying customers.
Up until a few years ago, having a mailing list was a necessary evil to push your new blog posts – or discounts – to your subscribers. A way to get people to remember that you exist and that you are creating content.
But in recent times, mailing lists are starting to rebel – to become their own content platform.
Newsletters are changing from promoting content to be a platform that houses content.
What’s old is new again.
Substack – a platform helping writers to host and monetize their mailing lists by charging a monthly fee – grew 40% month by month in 2019.
On Substack, the creators can launch and run their own publications and send regular emails to their subscribers.
The newsletter-first business publication Morning Brew is sending a daily email to their almost 2 million subscribers – with no read-more-links to a blog, and no offers to buy stuff. The newsletter is the product (and they monetize it with sponsored content)
The interest for mailing lists with unique, long-form content crafted only for the subscribers is growing – and the companies behind those newsletters are doing things right.
Why a content-first mailing list?
People will forget about you and your startup unless you do something to prevent it.
As quick as you appear in someone’s social media feed, as quick you might disappear.
You don’t own your social media accounts. You are just renting a place there, and your landlord can choose to remodel (or remove a few doors) whenever it suits them.
What works on Twitter or Instagram today might not work tomorrow. You can’t depend on social media traffic – the algorithms can change at any time.
A mailing list, on the other hand, is yours.
No one – except your subscribers and a few tenacious spam filters – can choose whether or not the emails you send should arrive in the inboxes.
If you get permission to keep in touch via email – you will have a golden opportunity to stay in touch – provided you deliver top-quality content.
A newsletter is usually seen as a way to market other things; new blog posts, updates, and offers or discounts.
Their goal is not to get people to read them – they are written to get people to go somewhere else or do something else!
While any mailing list will give some results, having a list with unique content will keep people in the relatively distraction-free environment that the inbox is (at least while you are reading a specific email).
It won’t force them to click to a blog post or link, risking losing their attention to something shinier.
In the world we are living in, filled with distractions, this adds value to both startups and customers.
How to create a successful long-content mailing list
When I started my mailing list back in the mid-2000s, the advice from the email gurus was the same: write as few words as possible, add at least 5 outbound links, get people to click-through to your blog.
What happened since?
The amount of content created every day exploded.
Every time you make someone click away from the tranquil bay of their inbox, you risk losing their focus.
With so much information freely available, we don’t attach to much value to it. A newsletter on the other hand, where you have to be subscribed through a sign-up page to receive the content, can give a much-needed sense of exclusivity.
Here’s how to create a long-form, no-click newsletter that will get you more leads and boost your conversion rates.
Create great content
There’s one rule that can’t be broken when creating an original-content newsletter; the content needs to be top-notch.
Every email needs to deliver massive value to the recipients.
But what someone sees as completely outstanding content, might be the most boring thing to someone else.
This is why you need to be very specific on who you are writing for.
The more niched your audience is, the easier it is to make each email provide value.
There’re two extremes on the content scale: curated content and created content.
“Each week, I use an idea from philosophy to explore what it means for strategy, creativity, and ourselves. I also interview clever folks about once a month about the philosophy behind their work.”
It’s a well-written, thoughtful mail that sparks ideas and action!
These are the two extremes – curated and created. You can mix these in any way you want.
The most ambitious newsletter taking this path is without a doubt Morning Brew. Each day, they send a jam-packed, witty email with the latest business news.
It’s always based on news from the last 24 hours, but with their own personal take on it.
In For The Interested, Josh Spector shares 5 ideas on self-improvement and career growth. Based on existing content, but with his added value.
Which format works best depends on the way your audience likes to indulge content (remember? Know who you are writing for.).
Whatever format you choose, remember one thing; write about what interests your audience – not about you or your startup.
Make it readable
When you are writing an email to get people to click a link (i.e., to get them to stop reading your email and do something else), you don’t have to think about keeping them interested for too long.
But when writing long-form content in an email, you need to craft it for the modern internet person.
With the attention span of a drunk goldfish on cocaine.
Most people are not primed to read long-form content in email format, as they are in, let’s say, a printed book. (This doesn’t go for all audiences. Some will read long-form, simple text without problems – more on that in a second)
One way to keep the interest of your readers longer is to use pattern breaks. What this basically means, is to deliver the content in easily digestible chunks and make it easy to skim.
Morning Brew is doing a great job with this by using:
? Clear headlines
? Eye-catching images and GIF’s
? Bullet points
? Single and short paragraphs
? Statistics and graphs
The same technique is also used in NoCode Coffee. Michael Gill delivers a short introduction that might or might not have anything to do with the rest of the email.
He then continues to share three things from the No Code world; one company, one person, and a project.
The newsletter continues in the same way, with small chunks of information.
If you choose to work with long-format text (think novel-style), use a similar way. Make sure to break the text into paragraphs, use sub-titles, and make use of bold and italic to show the readers where to find the essential parts.
Some people will read each email, top to bottom. Some people will scan and skim, to pick out the parts that seem most interesting to them.
Both ways will give value to the reader, both approaches are just as good.
Getting people to sign-up
One downside of hosting content solely on your newsletter is that Google won’t find it. That means, your content won’t show up in people’s search feeds, like the posts in a blog would. Because of that, people won’t just stumble upon your mailing list.
As always, your newsletter should be a funnel, where you feed people from all your other platforms. Your website, social media platforms, blog, and podcast should all have call-to-actions to subscribe to the newsletter.
Position your newsletter and its content as a next step. If they like what they see on your other platforms, the newsletter becomes an upgrade – a secret (kinda) club. And we love getting access to things not accessible to others.
The Landing Page
Your opt-in page is the entrance to your newsletter. This is where most people will sign up.
Make sure people understand within seconds if it is something for them or not. Yes, your goal is not to get as many people as possible to subscribe, but the right people (I’ll explain why in a second).
Around 50% of every person who downloads it shares it to their followers on Twitter, which will bring more people to download it!
Always add a prewritten text if possible – then people don’t have to think about what to write, they can just click the button. It is, of course, essential that the text you put as default, is something people are willing to share – is it something you can stand behind?
Tyler Denk at Morning Brew saw the largest conversion rates (people who actually signed up after being referred) when sharing through email.
Fighting Banner Blindness
We tend to ignore anything that looks like an ad and is in a place where ads are.
This means that people might read your Please-share text the first few times, but then stop even noticing it.
Make sure you stir the pot regularly. Change the text, move it around in your emails (top, bottom, mid-text) and consider adding (and changing) an image with it.
We are very aware of new things!
Another way is to do referral bursts – short but high-intensity referral sprints where you ask people to share like crazy.
This poses a problem, though. For people to share, they need an incentive. “Helping you” is not enough, unless the main part of your audience consists of your mom and granny.
If you don’t have a system like Morning Brew, where you can keep track of the number of referrals each subscriber brings in, you could do something like this:
Help us get to 2000 subscribers by Friday! Share this link [landing page] with your friends. If we reach 2k before the weekend, I’ll send a free ebook on [something your audience really wants] to everyone on the list.
Make sure to keep people updated on the process by sharing how far you’ve come.
When your mailing list is not promoting your content, but are the content, having a way to monetize it is necessary.
Earning money on your newsletter is not only good for you, but also for the subscribers – that means you can spend more time creating an even better newsletter!
There are several ways to monetize your mailing list:
Substack is a great platform to host and grow your list. If you don’t have a substantial list to start with, offering it for free is a good start.
That way, you can build an audience that you can later ask to join your premium list. Substack is suggesting $5 a month for personal topics, and $10 and up for the professional ones.
Getting Sponsorships for your Newsletter
Thanks to your list being extremely niched (you did follow my advice on that, didn’t you?) getting a sponsor don’t have to be as hard as it sounds.
The amount of subscribers per se doesn’t matter to sponsors. Ten thousand fake email addresses can be subscribed to your list, but it won’t do any good for a sponsor.
What they want (and you need to be able to show this with stats) is an interactive and interested audience.
A billboard by the road is broadcasting to a massive amount of people, and it’ll cost the company paying for it a lot of money. But only a tiny percentage of the people seeing it will be interested in the message.
An email list with a particular niche audience has already sorted out everyone that is not a good fit, and the benefits of the product are highly attractive to almost everyone in that audience.
Having 1000 profoundly engaged subscribers might be enough.
What’s important (to the companies you are approaching) is the opening rates and click-through-rates – this is telling them that people will actually take action.
An opening rate at 25% or more and a click-through-rate around 7% is optimal.