What Do Subscribers Expect from You?

Consistency is something that we all lean on, from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep. When my alarm clock goes off, I hit the snooze button and it consistently reminds me to get up exactly 10 minutes later. I turn the left-hand knob on my shower, and hot water comes out of the faucet. If my alarm doesn’t go off again after I hit the snooze button or if my faucet won’t give me hot water, it throws me off. It doesn’t necessarily ruin my day, of course, but it does remind me how reliant we are on routine and how disruptions in that routine aren’t usually welcome. And just what does this have to do with your newsletter?

Consistency is something that we all lean on, from the time we wake up to the time we go to sleep. When my alarm clock goes off, I hit the snooze button and it consistently reminds me to get up exactly 10 minutes later. I turn the left-hand knob on my shower, and hot water comes out of the faucet.

If my alarm doesn’t go off again after I hit the snooze button or if my faucet won’t give me hot water, it throws me off. It doesn’t necessarily ruin my day, of course, but it does remind me how reliant we are on routine and how disruptions in that routine aren’t usually welcome.

And just what does this have to do with your email marketing campaigns?

You’ve done a great job getting subscribers to your site, generating signups to your list and putting great content in your newsletters, but maybe your open rates aren’t where you’d like, or you’re seeing an increase in your unsubscribe rate.

You’ve looked at your messages, and you’re still providing the great content in the messages that you always have. So why isn’t the response where it should be?

Maybe you’re not making yourself part of your subscribers’ routine.

There are several things you can do to build consistency into your newsletters, and in doing so, build your subscribers’ expectations and get them into the habit of anticipating, opening and reading your newsletter:

Format Your From Line and Subject Lines Consistently

Once subscribers have gotten your initial message and the first issue or two of your newsletter, they form an expectation of what your messages look like in their inbox. Future messages that follow this format are more likely to stand out when they scan the dozens or hundreds of messages in their inbox.

The best way to build in consistency is by sending each message with the same from line. This, along with the subject line, is the first thing subscribers see.

You can build consistency into the subject line itself, too, but don’t make it boring… after all, you want people to get excited about what’s in the email!

Many email marketers develop a “voice” that shines through in their subject lines and makes them different and compelling, yet unmistakably “theirs.” Others use tags such as [Justin’s Totally Sweet Newsletter] and place those at the end of their subject lines.

Brand Your Messages, At The Top

Whether you use a logo, your company name, your website URL, or your own name as your brand, get it in front of your subscribers, at the beginning of your message!



Justin’s Totally Sweet Marketing Newsletter:
What Do Your Subscribers Expect From You?
August 1st, 2006


You’ll notice that I put a URL in the headline. As Marc noted in an earlier post, you can put online versions of your newsletter issues on your site, and give links to those online versions in your messages.

This is a great idea because it can drive subscribers back to your site, where they may sign up for another one of your newsletters, purchase one of your products, or click on an AdSense ad on your site – and there’s certainly nothing bad about them doing any of that!

Format Your Message Body Consistently

Now that you’ve gotten your subscribers to open your messages through consistent subjects and message beginnings, you’ll want to provide readers with a consistent format.

Readers scan email for the information they deem relevant. When your subscribers are familiar with the format of your messages, they’re better able to scan your mailings and find the information they want.

If they’re not able to find the information they want easily, they’re less likely to read future issues and more likely to unsubscribe.

Stick To Your Schedule

Build expectations for when your messages will arrive. If you’re offering subscribers a weekly newsletter, send it weekly.

By doing this you will be building anticipation that will foster relationships and lifetime readers.

Consistency with your newsletter can make you as much a part of your subscribers’ routine as my snooze button is a part of mine.


  1. Maryann Diorio

    8/3/2006 11:06 am

    Great tips, Justin! A woman I highly respect once said, “In consistency lies the power”. How true! Thanks for the reminder.

    BTW, this blog is great!

  2. Sandy Simon

    8/3/2006 5:04 pm

    This newsletter is really helping ~ please keep it up. I am learning a lot.

    Many thanks

  3. Steve Elliott

    8/4/2006 4:33 am

    On the consistency theme I also think it very iomportant to be consistently ‘on topic’ with every message sent, seems to me that it’s real important to stick to the topic the subscriber originally signed up for, keeping the message relevant is No1 in my book 🙂

  4. Paul E. Watts

    8/4/2006 5:34 pm

    Excellent BLOG Justin! And you’re so right about being consistent. Although I no longer have to use an alarm clock (thankfully!) I have always realised the relevance of consistency. Your subscribers get to know you, respect and trust you. People like to buy from people they like. Incidentally, the reason I no longer need an alam clock is because I no longer have to go work and to a great extent that’s thanks to Aweber where I can build relationships consistently even when I’m sleeping!

  5. Mashubi Rochell

    8/4/2006 9:21 pm

    Thank you Justin, I appreciate your article, which helped me to see what I’m doing in a new light. I haven’t thought of it consciously before, but it’s true … those people who have gained my trust over the years online, were all consistent in their e-mails to me, and yes, they did become a part of my routine! Thank you for reminding me of exactly how it is that we build relationships through our e-mail lists.

  6. Jim Cockrum

    8/8/2006 11:19 pm

    I warn budding ezine writers not to let a mailing list go stale. I wonder if you have any research on spam complaints going up after a certain period of “dormancy”?

    I usually tell folks that they should contact the list at least once per month MINIMUM and not to be afraid of over mailing if they are giving the customers what they signed up for.

    Interestingly I once surveyed my list and asked how often they wanted to be contacted via email from me. I gave them the choice of:

    every 3 days
    7 days
    two weeks
    or “as often as you have good info”

    70%+ picked the last option.

  7. Arun Kumar

    8/9/2006 1:58 am

    Just reminds me my mistake with my old website. I just lost interest and stopped my newsletters and the website “died” a natural death. This blog just reminded me of that and not to make the same mistake again. Thanks

  8. Tom Kulzer

    8/9/2006 12:32 pm


    I don’t have any specific numbers about complaint rates going up based on dormancy, but I can tell you from experience that it definitely happens. I’ll look into pulling some actual numbers for a follow up post.

  9. Sue Melin

    8/11/2006 5:42 am

    I think it’s important to actually *have* some content–far too many of the newsletters I receive or nothing more than the following
    Part 1
    Blah blah blah I’m so excited
    Prt 2
    Blah blah so and so has really got this innovative idea
    Prt 3
    check out his site at http://www.blahblahboring. blink
    Clearly, consistency is important, but content is more so.

  10. Mubita C. Nawa

    8/23/2006 12:36 pm

    This is so true. My news letter goes our weekly on the same day at the same time and minute each week. I am bound to delivering consisitently and every time I do not, I feel bad.

    Also, I have noticed that my subscribers want me to stick to the subject they signed up for. One or two times I have put a subject matter that is different and the open rates in that particular letter where aweful.

    Thanks for the reminder.

  11. Thomas Annerino

    8/23/2006 3:54 pm

    I really like the tip about Brand Your Messages, At The Top. I will be trying this out in my future emailings.

    I wonder if this would work with the subject line.

  12. Justin Premick

    8/24/2006 6:19 am


    You can certainly apply the branding tip to your subject line. We do this here at AWeber with our blog update emails. The subject lines all start with:

    [AWeber Blog]

    followed by the title of the post.

    This isn’t the only possible approach you can take, of course, but it’s one that I’ve seen a number of senders use. The important thing is to be consistent with your subjects so that your subscribers learn to seek out your messages in their inboxes.

  13. Manny C. Lourenco

    8/27/2006 7:29 pm

    Great posting here Justin and look forward to seeing Tom’s numbers on complaint rates going up based on dormancy — in life or business if the energy flows are not flowing then death will occur. Manny

  14. Ken Ralston

    9/4/2006 9:03 am


    Thanks for the good information, I’m sure it’s all very relevant and true.

    I do have an issue though when it comes to ‘subscriber expectations’ (the words that attracted me to your article) and more pertinently the advice one tends to hear regarding such:

    There are two kinds of marketers:

    Group1 – Marketers who market to other marketers ( perhaps you and certainly Aweber and, my guess is, many if not most, subscribers to this blog – marketing consultants and such.)

    Group2 – Marketers who market to end users ( for example, me, a guy who manufactures and markets a few products to a relatively small niche of just ‘ordinary people’.)

    I suspect the ‘subscriber expectations’ are rather different for the two groups. Although your article is pertinent in both cases, not all ‘subscriber expectations’ are. For example, the number of communications one receives in a given period of time.

    As Sue Melvin alluded to in her Aug 11 post. We marketers will tolerate a lot of “blah, blah, blahs” and even week to week redundant “blah blah blahs” in the hopes there will be a gem among the dirt clods, so to speak. (Because occasionally there is.)

    I might be able to get away with one “blah” to my subscribers but it better never happen again else they jump my ship like a sailor who just got shore leave (unlike the sailors though, my subscribers won’t be back). Not only that they don’t leave via the ‘unsubscribe link’ in my email, they hit the ‘report as spam button’ on the browser. Ouch!

    Anyway I think Sue is more than just a little correct with her ‘blahs’ vs ‘content’ comment and I also wonder if “less isn’t in reality more” in the Group 2 world, where ‘ordinary people’ live???? In other words, content, content, content but not very often (certainly not weekly).

    Sorry for all the blah, blah, blah but I am talking to group 1 people here, so it’s ok, right? 😉

  15. Justin Premick

    9/5/2006 6:00 pm


    You bring up an excellent point: subscriber expectations vary, and you want to make sure that your messages, and the timing of them, are appropriate to those expectations.

    If over time your subscribers have made their expectations clear, then you already have something to shoot for (and, of course, exceed). If they haven’t already set that target in front of you, then you have to set it yourself.

    I’m not at all advocating the sending of “dirt clods” to fulfill a self-imposed obligation to yourself and your subscribers to send something to them each week. I agree that it messages that lack useful content can be counterproductive.

    It’s up to you to set expectations, and if you set the expectation that you’re going to send out a weekly newsletter jam-packed with great content, it’s up to you to hold up your end of the bargain. If you don’t, your subscribers will let you know.

    My post uses a newsletter as an example, and I did that because many of our customers send one, so it’s a relevant example. You can just as easily apply the concepts to other types of opt-in subscribers and campaigns as well.

    Example: if you’re offering to keep subscribers informed on the latest “insider” developments in the U.S. political races, your messages aren’t going to go out every Thursday at 4:45PM. That’s fine; they shouldn’t. They should go out when you have something new to report.

    Whatever it is that you’re going to be sending to your subscribers, tailor their expectations accordingly.

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  17. Angela Chen Shui

    1/9/2007 3:16 pm


    Sorry to be so late but just saw this via link in Happy New Year 2007 newsletter! 😉

    EXCELLENT post.. thanks! I especially got the point re branding at the top.. I do that already but have been wanting to try something like that with the email notification my online newsletter is available. I’ll implement late January.

    Thanks again

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  22. Michael

    5/19/2009 10:31 am

    Dear Justin,

    I am glad that you emphasied on exactly what subscribers are looking for whenever they open their in boxes.

    I am a typical example of Consistency, and like you rightly say in the begining of your statement ‘Consistency is something that we all lean on’.

    There are several things I look forward to whenever I open my inbox but consistency of any sender to my box is what has endeared me to very few.

    Exactly what you thought in this issue will really
    build subscribers’ expectations and get them into the habit of anticipating, opening and reading Online Marketers newsletter.

    Thanks for this great and uncommon revelation. More grease to your elbow.


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