Be honest. Do you even do email marketing?
If you’re reading this article, you probably run some sort of business (dare I say, startup), and you’re probably collecting emails in one way or another. Most startups use emails only to send reminders and updates.
How many startups actually say hello to their subscribers?
For some reason, most people believe that the #1 purpose of a newsletter is to be useful. I get all kinds of updates, curations, and articles in my inbox, but only a couple give me something to look forward to.
The ones that do that have one thing in common: personality.
If you think about the word “newsletter”, it obviously suggests some kind of news thrown in there. (Unfortunately, the letters part is secondary.)
I’ll tell you a story only my parents know about.
I used to write tons of letters when I was a teenager.
I would write five letters, mail them on the day, and on any given day I would receive at least three. I had friends from all over the country (Bulgaria).
Maybe I was overcompensating because my actual friends could be counted on one hand, or I was simply trying to reach further than most could.
In any case, I was enjoying this little secret of mine.
You see, any letter you ever received was specifically written for you. Newsletters, on the other hand, are sent to hundreds and thousands of people, which kills their special factor. To fix that, you just have to be yourself and write as if you’re talking to a friend.
Why am I suggesting such madness? Because I am craving it.
Perhaps it’s presumptuous to say that everybody else should want the same. Just think about it, though. How many times have you fallen in love with the idea of something or someone? I bet you then subscribed to their newsletter and patiently awaited something on that same day.
It didn’t come. Maybe all you got was a stupid update.
I’ve gotten updates as well as reminders as well as coupons as well as articles… everything else barred from actual human connection. I think most startups don’t realize the power they’re yielding. They have the key to unlock growth & build a fanbase (inbound is big!), but for some reason they’re more preoccupied with press releases and funding.
What does email call for?
Asking this question can be very beneficial.
For example, what do you do when you’re sending a newsletter? What I do is picture a conversation between me and the person. If it’s a group of people, I imagine a room full of those people, and I’m the one talking. When I’m done, I ask questions and imagine people’s answers.
Maybe that’s crazy, but I do it so that my tone would match the occasion. Riddle me this: Do you wear crazy colors to a conference? Do you laugh at a funeral? Of course not. Same principle goes for transactions.
While blogging hints at thought leadership and social media demands connection, email calls for conversation.
And you know what starts conversations? Humor.
Humor is a huge part of being human (they kind of sound the same, don’t they?). Humor lightens up the mood and it shakes people out of their shells making them want to open up to you.
This is why the best — and worst — first-liners are jokes. ;)
Case in point: I signed up for Paperfold (coincidentally, their goal is to make email feel like letters used to feel) because I connected to one of the founders, Eva Liparova, on social media, and I thought, “gee, that girl is fun”. You know what? It showed in the newsletter. Check it:
I just cost you time. And here I am. Forever and always. In your inbox. Alwaaaaaays. Cue Aerosmith. Yeah THAT guy. Stunning daughter. What a dude… Hold on wasn’t that Bon Jovi? Oh yeah it was. Well, I’ve been around since the 80s. Seen some serious shoulder pads and shell suits. Try saying that quickly. Actually don’t. Life’s too short. Giraffes. They’re not short. But they’re full of life. And lovely. Just like your inbox should be.
That’s only a part of it. It included an image of people hanging upside down in the subway. And the best part is what they got in response.
When you put people at ease, they’re more willing to share crazy shit.
By offering people a glimpse into your personality, you connect with them on a deeper level. I feel much more connected to the concept of Paperfold after reading this silly email than I have felt for startups who have been sending me news and updates regularly. I can follow the updates and read the startup blogs, but I don’t know what the founders are thinking.
Who the founders are, as people.
I don’t always see what’s happening under the hood either, which is why I admire startups like Makeshift, who write about their journey and published their quarterly goals for the entire industry to see.
Transparency is a breath of fresh air. So is authenticity.
In fact, I’ll change my earlier order of “extra personality in my emails” to “extra personality in everything”. Watch this video:
If the girl wasn’t so honest and adorable, you wouldn’t have checked out her project. (Admit it, you did.) It’s simple: she’s goofy and she has a vision. It’s like seeing puppies trying to climb over one another.
(Sorry for comparing you to puppies, Yve, you’re awesome!)
Those are the people I follow and admire: the idiots, strangers and heroes, who are not afraid to be themselves.
How much proof do you need?
I had to include this section for the skeptics. (I know, I am one.)
First of all, I did a little experiment a couple of weeks ago. I asked my subscribers what their favorite newsletter was. A few people gave me the same answer: BetaBrand. Apparently these guys are fun.
Just saying all this shit doesn’t make it true, so let’s look at the data.
- I send a “newsletter” every week to 200+ people.
- It includes personal stories, updates, and life hacks.
- The industry average is 14.4% opens. My average is 48.9%.
Granted, I get a couple of unsubscribes per week, but I figure this is normal. After all, what are the chances that every subscriber connects with my words? Zero. (Losing 2 people & gaining 20 is still pretty damn good.)
If you’re still not convinced, do a little experiment yourself!
I keep hearing A/B test this, A/B test that, so it must be goddamn effective. I know startups A/B test their emails, their websites, and even their titles, so why not test my hypothesis with an A/B test for personality?
Split your mailing list in two random groups. (If you have unlocked A/B testing on MailChimp like I did, this makes it easier.) Add bits of personality to the first one and zero personality to the second.
Click send. See what happens. Report your results!
At the end of the day, there’s only so much we can assume, test, and experiment. Pick and choose your battles. If email marketing is one of your priorities (like it is for me: I like to call it one of the three Marketeers), then you owe it to yourself and your business to act accordingly.
Authenticity. Transparency. Personality.
These things are vital when you’re establishing your brand. I know you’re reading a lot of shit that says you’re supposed to do things like everybody else. Please. There is no rule book that says “only send formal and useful emails”. If there were, I’d call bullshit on it, and do my thing anyway.
There’s no rule that you can’t publish your company finances either. If there was, would Buffer still have done what they did? Yeah, they would. Because the reward outweighs the risk of being perceived as “odd”.
It’s all about perception. Are you the kind of person who favors the group of similar objects or the odd man out? I favor things that bring difference into the world. Growing up, people around me would bully me because I did things differently. I kept doing them my way, and I am glad for it.