How to Use Email Marketing to Build Meaningful Relationships
By Kristen Dunleavy March 31, 2016
The following is a guest post written by Ryan Robinson, an entrepreneur and writer who teaches people how to start meaningful, self-employed careers at ryrob.com. If you’re looking to start a business while working your day job, check out his upcoming online course, The Launch While Working Formula.
Since it’s inception, email marketing has catapulted into becoming the primary method by which most businesses generate a substantial portion of their revenue.
In fact, a few of my products are only available for purchase if you’re in my email community. To me, email marketing represents so much more than just a revenue driver for my business.
There’s already an incredible amount of resources out there about how to use email marketing for growing your email list and bringing in revenue. But not much is said about how you can use your email marketing to actually build more meaningful relationships with your subscribers. Relationships that are beyond just transactional.
In a world of increasing personalization and growing consumer demand for experiences that are custom-tailored to their exact wants and needs, both brands and individual business owners have a lot to learn about how to use their email marketing to create a reputation that’s built on something deeper than dollar signs.
Personalization in email marketing
Each week, I get anywhere from twenty to a hundred replies to my weekly updates and personalized autoresponders. While no doubt time consuming, choosing to create email content that directly calls my audience to action, engages me with many of my subscribers on a one-on-one basis.
I use a very simple principle employed by all great conversationalists, to get my subscribers to share with me – ask people to talk about themselves. This alone has had a dramatically positive impact on both the engagement and revenue on my website, ryrob.com.
Here’s an example of my primary autoresponder that new subscribers receive when they download one of my pieces of content, sign up for a waiting list, or for my weekly email updates on starting a profitable side business.
The subject line is simply, “Hello from Ryan.”
It’s short, to the point, shows my personality, and calls all of my new subscribers to one specific action. I ask each and every new person who joins my community to reply with their #1 question they want answered about starting a business while keeping their day jobs, which is often the reason they discovered me in the first place.
I get anywhere from 40-100 new subscribers on an average day. Since my autoresponders are so focused and personalized, about 10% of these new subscribers reply to them, which sets in motion a lot of one-on-one relationships with members of my community.
The open rate on my autoresponders hold steady at above 70%, which is almost unheard of in email marketing, especially for an email that really isn’t essential to open in the first place.
Through these exchanges, people share very personal stories, struggles, failures, ask highly detailed questions, and give updates on their progress as time goes on. I reply to every single one of them. It often takes me a week or two (or longer), but I make it a point to reciprocate the vulnerability they show, in taking the time to write me personally.
Vulnerability in email marketing
Beyond just my autoresponders, I extend my deep personalization and vulnerability into my weekly email broadcasts.
Each week, I share with my community something I wrote either on my blog, for a publication, or brand that I’m working with. All of my broadcasts start out with a personal story, transition into a critical lesson I learned in business (usually the hard way), and end with asking my community to read the related post & take a specific action either in the comments or by replying to my broadcast.
Here’s an example of a reply I received from a recent broadcast, where I shared the story and lessons learned, from my biggest failure as an entrepreneur.
This has become a winning formula for me.
Because my community knows I care about them personally, the open rates of my weekly broadcasts stay well above 30% with click rates around 10%.
The vulnerability I show through storytelling in my email marketing helps me establish deeper connections than if I were to simply deliver a bland RSS-template email each week with a new blog post.
Translating personalization and vulnerability into revenue
This approach isn’t for those who are looking to turn a quick profit on their email list. It’s an investment you’re making in your business, that over time pays off in great dividends.
Vulnerability and personalization always start the conversation. However, you’ll need to deliver on the value you’re promising, time and time again.
Over time, this is what allows me to warm up my audience, build long term relationships, and establish a platform of trust based on the genuine value and personal insights I provide through content like my detailed breakdown of the best tools for starting an online business.
After the foundation of trust is established, occasionally, I offer something deeper than everything else I cover for free on my site.
This is usually in the form of a course or activity that’s transformational enough to charge for, and if it’s relevant to a segment of my audience, I’ve already provided enough value to them, that their decision to buy isn’t impeded by a lack of confidence in me. They’re already sold on me as a person, which makes the decision to buy something I’ve created for them, much easier.
The first online course I created on Writing a Winning Freelance Proposal last year, was launched directly to a small segment of my email list that signed up for the waiting list to purchase this course once it became available, just over 400 people in total.
In the first week the course launched, 28 of my subscribers purchased the course, a 7% conversion to purchase rate at a relatively high price point of $129.
It’s no coincidence that most of the members of my community who end up purchasing a paid product of mine are those whom I’ve had one-on-one email exchanges with prior to purchase.
5 steps to using email marketing to build meaningful relationships
1. Provide value
Email marketing helps grow my business in several ways.
Instead of viewing your email list as a means to make money for your business, think about it as a vehicle to provide value to your subscribers. The amount of value you provide to your subscribers is particularly important when you’re just getting started with building your brand, because you don’t automatically command their trust. You have to work for it.
Ask yourself how you can provide such an insane amount of free value to your subscribers on a regular basis, that once you do offer a paid product, they are jumping at the opportunity to pay for more.
Take for example, my 9,000 word post about the best business ideas. It’s one of the largest organic traffic drivers to my website, and because it’s incredibly detailed, it converts into the most new subscribers for me each day.
Start with these simple, yet often overlooked questions to deliver more value to your subscribers, the way they want to receive it:
- What do my subscribers want to know about most?
- What do others charge for, that I could provide for free?
- Which content medium is easiest for my subscribers to consume?
From a revenue perspective, my email list serves as the primary, and often the sole channel, through which I offer paid products and consultation sessions.
My subscribers are the people who know me best. The people who I’ve built trust-based relationships with. Ultimately, they’re the people most likely to value and pay for my services.
2. Be personal
All things being equal, people will always prefer personalized products and services. You need to write like you’re speaking to the individual person at the receiving end of your email.
With that in mind, I recommend adopting a very conversational tone with your email marketing. Having a style of conversation that shows your personality and differentiates you from the corporate sounding marketing emails will help you build the foundation for stronger long-term relationships.
Use first name personalization whenever possible. How much more likely are you to open an email that starts with addressing you by first name, compared to a more generic-sounding email that’s more clearly designed to sell you something?
Regularly ask what pain points your audience has, and you’ll get valuable feedback about future offerings you can create. Take time to read their responses and reply as much as possible. This will significantly help deepen your personal connection and nurture relationships that’ll strengthen over time.
3. Be vulnerable
Become a storyteller with your email marketing.
Share things that make you uncomfortable. Bring your subscribers closer to you, by getting them personally invested in your journey. If you can get them to care about you and your mission, you’ve already won half of the battle.
Ask yourself these questions to determine how you can effectively convey your vulnerability with your email marketing:
- Which experiences that I’ve had could my subscribers benefit from hearing about?
- What lessons have I learned that can be translated into meaningful advice for my subscribers?
- Which of these experiences and stories can naturally relate back to the core offerings of my business?
4. Use intelligent autoresponders
Having a full-time business, or even one you’re just running on the side, takes an enormous toll on your time and energy.
Autoresponders, customizable email messages that follow a preset deliverability sequence, help you build one-on-one relationships with your subscribers.
In my experience, autoresponders provide my audience with more meaningful and individualized experiences. This in turn, helps build stronger connections, deeper engagement, and higher conversion rates.
Make sure your autoresponders meet the following criteria:
- They’re customized based on signup source.
- They’re personalized and address subscribers by name.
- They have one (and only one) simple call-to-action and encourage engagement.
- They set the right expectations for what’s to come in future emails and updates.
- They convey the personality of your brand.
5. Stay in touch regularly
Think about the truly great marketing emails you receive. You don’t want to unsubscribe, and in fact you probably want more.
Your goal is to keep your subscribers always wanting more, and give them a clear expectation as to when they’ll be receiving more. Choose a regular cadence that you can realistically commit to for sending great email updates to your community.
I personally send weekly emails, so that I’m regularly appearing in my subscriber’s inbox. I want to stay very top of mind, so that they don’t forget who I am and the value I regularly provide in their lives.
But, it’s easy to bite off more than you can chew in this department.
Start with evaluating how often you can produce new content that your audience will be interested in. You absolutely need a call-to-action in your emails, because it trains your audience that they’re supposed to take action every time they open your emails. So, if you can only commit to publishing a new blog post, video, quiz, or something else, once a month, it makes sense to have an email frequency of once a month.
The only thing worse than not staying in frequent contact with your subscribers, is wasting their time with too many emails that don’t provide genuine value.
Build your email community the right way
The relationships I carefully build through my email marketing, are always meant to reach far into the future.
I gladly sacrifice the dollar today for the opportunity to show how helpful I can be with free content, and eventually offer a much more premium solution that digs deeper into helping my audience achieve their bigger goals. That’s exactly what I’m doing with my upcoming course, The Launch While Working Formula.
If you hope to eventually generate revenue from your email list, you have to provide value first. It’s as simple as that. If you aren’t willing to provide that free value, your subscribers will seek it out elsewhere.