Humanize Your Brand with Better Email Marketing – Alyson Lex

Email marketing is a cost-effective way for businesses to directly connect with customers, increase brand awareness, drive website traffic, and boost sales. It also provides valuable insights into customer behavior and preferences. But how can we make sure they’re interested enough to open our emails? Alyson Lex is here to share her strategies for creating emails that get attention. 

Rich: My guest today has over 15 years’ experience as a direct response copywriter. From her start as the Director of Marketing at Glazer-Kennedy’s Insider Circle working and writing for Dan Kennedy and Bill Glazer, to her private business helping hundreds of coaches, authors, and speakers, to her podcast helping you market your business and put good into the world, she lives and breathes effective marketing that works without selling your soul. Today we’re going to be talking everything about email marketing with Alyson Lex. Alyson, welcome to the podcast. 

Alyson: Thank you so much for having me. And I’ll tell you, it’s a little bit of a shock to my system every time I hear 15 years of experience. Like my life is now measured in things containing decades or spanning decades, and that’s a hard thing to hear sometimes. 

Rich: Allison, just wait till you get to my age and you have employees who are younger than your company. That is a real inflection point. So I’ll just leave it there. It’s like when I’m on Reddit or Imgur and I start seeing memes from people in their thirties about how much it hurts to get out of bed in the morning. I’m like, are you even kidding me? I was bouncing outta bed in my thirties, now I feel the pain. But anyway. 

Alyson: I know, I know. 

Rich: But we’ll leave it at, you are experienced, and you’ve got lots of experience in this particular marketplace. So email marketing doesn’t seem to get the buzz or the attention these days that say social media or even SEO does. Why do you feel that is?  

Alyson: A lot of times I believe that business owners and influencers, content creators, however you want to position the person, they see their social following as their audience and their list. And while that is true, it’s also not true. Because I could sit here and talk about 35 bajillion different reasons that only communicating with your people on social media is not a great idea.  

The one that we hear all the time is, you don’t own that. They can change the rules on you at any time. They can shut you down at any time. They can get banned at any time. At the time we’re recording this, there’s this talk of a TikTok ban, right? And every creator on that platform that has amassed a significant following is freaking out, even if they’re not showing it. Because now what are they going to do? So that’s the reason that you hear the most. 

But I like to look at the psychology of it as well. When you have somebody that follows you on social media, you’re showing up where they are and you’re delivering valuable content to them, and that’s awesome. But you’re not asking them to take a step toward you in the relationship. If you think of it as you’re on either side of the room, you take a step, you ask them to take a step. You take a step, you ask them to take a step, until eventually you meet in the middle, which is the sale. If you’re just consistently delivering value to them on the platform where they already are, they’re not walking toward the middle of the room. You’re no closer to a sale on their end.  

Whereas if they sign up for something valuable from you, get in open and engage with your email marketing or your email content and then take those continued steps cross platform, they’re taking steps across that room to you closer and closer to the sale. So the psychology of it is, it’s a give and take relationship now, and we’re taking this kind of to the next level.  

Rich: Okay. It feels to me that although in some ways email marketing has remained fairly static over the last 15 years say, it has evolved. And I’m just wondering if you have any thoughts on what the role of email marketing is today, either compared to where it was before or just where you think it is today. 

Alyson: Much like with any new marketing channel, any new technique or strategy or what have you that comes out, the first bit of it is like the wild west. All you have to do is be there and it’s profitable. Eventually, then it gets inundated. I’ve heard, “marketers ruin everything”. We totally do. It becomes inundated. And then that’s really when you need to start connecting with people on a person-to-person level. So it used to be that you could send an email and it would make money, and then our inboxes got crowded and people began either not checking or really curating who they allow into that space in their lives.  

Knowing which person you have in your audience is actually really important. Do they not check it, or are they allowing you into a really valuable space? Or maybe it’s you have a mix of both on there, but it is very valuable when it comes to, again, increasing that relationship. Your social media, your public stuff, your blogs, your YouTube, things that we call ‘ungated’, right? They can consume it without giving you any information. Ungated content that is clearly for the masses.  

But when it comes to email, you have the opportunity to be a little more personal, a little more vulnerable. You have the opportunity to understand them and show them that a little bit more because hopefully, you’ve done your research on who is coming onto your email list and how. And so you can really have a more personal conversation, even though it’s still going out to multiple people at once. 

Rich: All right. Makes sense. There’s a lot to talk about in email marketing in my opinion. But since you have so much experience as a direct response copywriter, I want to focus on the actual creation of the emails themselves. What are some considerations that we should have while crafting an email, especially as we think about how difficult it is to create a valuable piece of content? 

Alyson: Absolutely. So knowing your audience and knowing where they are in their journey is always going to be step one for any copy you create, but especially email. You may find that speaking to someone who is two months into their time with you is going to be vastly different than speaking to someone who’s two minutes into their time with you. 

If that’s the case, then email segmentation and sending different messages to different portions of your list is going to be important. Also, looking at their experiences with you. You’re going to send different messages to people who, for instance, have attended an event. And we did the Glazier Kennedy all the time. We had a list of people who attended events in the past, people who have never attended an event. The messaging was different because the people who went, they know how great they were. The objection is different. It’s a smaller hurdle, it’s different messaging. So really understanding who it’s going to is going to be step number one every single time. 

Beyond that, my podcast co-host actually talks about your email list as a living, breathing almost person for your business. Understanding what they like, and what this living, breathing person in your business, what they respond to. I remember I wrote, I was like, oh Jenny, I’m going to write an email for your list. No problem. It’s going to convert. A little bit of ego going on here. And it bombed. They hated me because I didn’t write it the way they needed to be written to.  

And we can talk about how to figure all that out. And it really is, again, about research. It’s the unsexiest part of copywriting there is. We have a lot of really unsexy work that leads to really exciting numbers and results. But understanding the language that they use and the real problems that they have, and then how can you help solve that for them.  

One of the things that I like to put in my emails is, when I think about it is one thing that they might be struggling with today. Maybe they’re struggling to get a headline out the door. Cool. How can I help them do that? Two-minute fix. Not even a five- or 10-minute fix, like a lead magnet. A two-minute fix. What can I do to help them take a micro step forward toward their goal today? I’m going to send that content.  And that kind of thing, you are just helping them a little bit and then putting a call to action for them to seek more help. Whether that’s cross platform, again, back to your socials or your podcast or your blog, whether that’s booking a call, reading a LinkedIn article, watching a video, downloading a thing, buying a product, whatever. I’ve helped you take a micro step. Here’s a bigger step. That’s a really good way to format an email.  

Rich: You say, ‘know where your audience is’, and that’s the kind of advice I hear a lot. And I’m certainly not making fun of you for giving sound advice. But can we dig a little bit deeper on that? Because I feel that so many people, myself included, say we should segment our list, but they never do and send out the same message to everybody.  

So even if it is unsexy, what are some of the steps you take to write to where the audience is? And also, to understand where that’s coming from. And then also how are you segmenting your list in a way that makes sense for you?  

Alyson: For sure. There are a couple of ways to segment. I want to start there because then we can talk about the first part of your question, second. There are a couple of different ways to segment. The first and most common way is how they got onto your list in the first place. Because if I have a lead magnet about headlines and a lead magnet about hiring a copywriter and a lead magnet about an email sequence, they’re all looking to solve different problems. And maybe I’ll have one person who has all. And so I know that they have all three of these.  

So how did they get onto your list? That’s going to be your first point of segmentation and that’s going to help you begin to understand potentially where they are. And I’m going to speak to people who don’t do Google UTMs and Facebook ads and all the behind the scenes tracking, we are just talking about they hit a landing page, they got tagged in your system, and that’s the info we have. So if they’ve downloaded every freebie that I have and they’re registering for all my free webinars and they’re doing all this, I know they’ve been doing their research. They are checking me out hard. I know now I can make the conclusion that they’re a little further along in that – I really hate this phrase – but the “know and trust process.” It’s so overused. But they’re further along in that process than somebody who just downloaded a lead magnet PDF, right?  

I also know that if somebody saw me on a summit or a stage speaking and got one of my things, because I created a special little tag or landing page for them, I know that they too are a little further along in that process. Maybe not as the one who downloaded everything, but definitely more than somebody who just got a PDF. So what they came in for, the problem that they wanted solved with their lead magnet. How they found me, the traffic source. Those are two really huge pieces of information and it’s actually very helpful.  

The other piece of information, again, with no high-tech tracking links, did they come organically through my website, or did they come through a landing page? Google search traffic is traditionally a more purchase ready source of traffic because they’re searching for a solution to their problem, versus social media and other interruption-based marketing. Which is, hey, stop your scroll and do this instead. So if I can figure out, okay, they found me through search, they found me by looking for X, Y, Z. I know they’re more sales ready.  

So you can kind of come to some conclusions that way. And just taking a look at your tags and your data, seeing these people have been on my list for a super long time and they’re engaging with the majority of my stuff. Cool. Or, these people have been on my list since I started my business and they’ve never opened an email. You really can begin looking at the data that you already have.  

Okay, so then the second way to segment, and I promise I’m going to try and make this short, but, I like to do what I call the biggest problem segmentation email. And this utilizes technology that I know my preferred email platform – which is Active Campaign – has. Others probably do as well, I’m sure. And that is one click tagging. So if they click an email, they get tagged in the backend without having to do anything. I will say, “Hey, I’m doing a roundup of my best pieces of content, and I wanted to make sure that you got access to all of them. Pick four.  

Each one of those pieces of content should solve a different problem that your audience typically faces.” How do I hire a copywriter? How do I get started on sales pages? What does long form copy, work anyway, whatever, right? The ones they click are the problems they want solved. I’m not going to click to read an article on something I don’t care about. And so now I’m like, oh wow, I have these four main problems and my audience is now self-selecting. The link does go to a really high value piece of content. They get what you’re promising them, you get data. And you can begin marketing to that.  

Rich: What I like about that approach also is, I’ve made the mistake – and I certainly see it out there – where we ask so many questions up front to segment our list, and people don’t want to answer a lot of questions when they’re just getting to know you. Where if they’ve started to receive, whether it’s a drip campaign or started to receive regular email newsletters from you and then you pose that question, they might be more open to answering it. You built up a little bit more trust. 

You also answered a question I was about to ask you, but I’ll ask it anyways because I want more than one answer. I’m sure there are people who just heard what you said, and they’re just nodding their heads saying yes, of course that’s what I need to do. And other people were like, is that magic, how do you even find out that information about how people found you?  I wanted to ask you what platforms you’re using for this. You mentioned Active Campaign. I’m wondering for people who maybe have more of an email forward tool like a MailChimp or like a Constant Contact, and I’m not saying that you need to be an expert in all of these, but what is the minimum level of an email tool that we can use and gather some of this information so we can start doing some segmenting, in your opinion?  

Alyson: Yeah, so I’m definitely not an expert in all of the platforms. I’m not even an expert in Active Campaign. My VA handles most of it for me, I love him so much, he’s the best. But what you want to do, and it depends on where you’re putting your landing pages and your opt-ins. So I use ClickFunnels personally, and I like the conversions that I get from there, and I like that I can build a page quickly.  

It’s not much for me to either create a new ClickFunnels, just clone the page, right? It’s the same thing. And now I can tag it differently. It’s got maybe the same first tag, but I add in a lead source tag. So you can do it at the landing page level, and that’s usually where I think your best bet is going to be without using all of those high-tech things that, trust me, I would not… I know how to put a Facebook tracking pixel on a ClickFunnels page, and that is the extent. Beyond that I’m going to break something, so I don’t touch it. It doesn’t have to be complicated to be effective.  

And frankly, you can always ask people you get on a sales call, “Hey, how did you find me?” I do that all the time. How did you find me? Oh, I heard you on Rich’s podcast. Cool. And I write it down and I send Rich a thank you note. That’s how it goes. I get, oh, your name came up at a conference. That doesn’t give me enough information, but totally makes me want to know more. So that’s like low tech, low difficulty stuff works. So if you clone a page and just make another link and add a different tag so you can see that this was the Agents of Change podcast, download lead magnet, doesn’t matter, then you know it came from a podcast. So don’t overcomplicate it. Just make a copy of your landing page. 

Rich: So if we are going to do these things, and I guess my next question would be, if I’m segmenting my list because they’re at different points in the customer journey, are you then implementing an auto drip campaign for those different segments? Or are you just writing multiple emails for your list each month and then sending out the appropriate point, or the sending it out to the right person at the right time? I did a terrible job explaining that, but you’re nodding your head, you understand where I’m coming from.  

Alyson: I do. And you could do it both ways, but it does seem kind of a lot to write multiple different emails. It’s very possible, I have a client that I’m doing some work for right now, and his audience he knows I’ve got these different segments. They’re in different industries. They all need the same thing, but they think they need something different. So I know that at the beginning we’re going to create a few different emails for each industry. We’re going to teach them, hey, you’re not that different. You do need all this X, Y, Z stuff, and we’re going to bring them into one sequence.  

So you may need to speak to them differently at the start and bring them together. You may need to break them apart at some point. It may be that you have a weekly newsletter roundup email, and that goes out on Thursdays. But on Mondays you send maybe a marketing email and it’s short and sweet. It doesn’t have all the content, that’s for Thursdays, but hey, I want to help you solve X, Y, Z problem, how can I help you today? Something simple.  

Again, don’t overcomplicate it if you don’t have to. It’s really easy to get starstruck by these huge whiteboard videos that we see of these funnels with 83,000 different moving parts and arrows going from here to there. And we think, my gosh, that must work. Simple works, too. Start simple. You can always add in, right? So I like to speak to them very differently. More at the beginning when they first join me based on where they’re coming from, the problem that they want solved, that sort of thing. Indoctrinate or introduce them to the way that I do things. Very customized. Here’s what you can expect from me. I’m not going to send you a bajillion emails, but I’m also going to send, there might be stuff you already know and stuff that is too much for you. That’s fine. What are they responding to?  

It’s really important to look at the numbers. My email list, I love my email list. They hit reply. I don’t even ask them to, they love to reply to me and tell me how they’re doing. Thank you for that data. Not everybody’s list does that, that’s okay. But if they do, what’s making them do that? Really dig in and think, what am I doing that’s making them act the way they’re acting.  

Rich: Alyson, it sounds like you’re sending out a lot of emails. I should say, compared to other business, you’re sending out a lot of emails it sounds like. I’m curious to know how many emails a week do you generally send out to your list? 

Because I know, sometimes I struggle with clients to get them to send out a monthly newsletter. And quite honestly, when we get busy, I struggle to send out our own monthly newsletter. So just wondering.  

Alyson: Oh yeah, no. I’m talking about stuff I’m writing for clients. If you want to look at my business. Let’s don’t do that. I tell my people that I will send an email once every seven to ten days-ish, heavy on the ish. But that’s my personality, and my people love that. There have been times where I’ve ignored them and I send them sales emails, and they don’t leave. I don’t understand. But that’s what I’ve built from the start. You can’t just start doing that. It’s what have you been doing that they’re reacting to in a positive way? Keep doing that. If they’re reacting negatively, stop doing that. If I send too many, they start leaving.  

Rich: Okay, you’ve mentioned a few different styles of emails. So I think if someone’s listening now and they’re like, I definitely need to up my email marketing game what type of email styles or types are there? And can you just list off a few and maybe when they would be appropriate? I’m thinking things like informational versus sales versus whatever.  

Alyson: Absolutely. So I like to follow a, I don’t want to say 80/20, we’ll call it like 70/30 rule on information to sales. So I like to go information heavy, but I do a soft call to action at the end of every email. So if I’m sending content – learn this, here’s a tip, try this to get ahead – the educational content, ask them to do something at the end of the email. And I listed it off earlier, right? Read this blog post, watch this video, connect on social. Always, every email should have an ask. We don’t want to train them to just take. Remember, we’re asking them to walk to the middle of the room. If they read that blog post, they’re taking a little step. 

So that’s your content. That’s going to be likely the bulk. And that can be just straight email, right? I’m going to write like a story, almost like a little mini blog post in your inbox. That can be newsletter style with a little blurb and then a link here. And I like that because it’s easier to get out. And “where’s Allison”, and that kind of thing. It can be a mix of both. It can be almost a blog post teaser. So the five things that I’ve learned about X, Y, Z, here’s the first one in email, go here to read the other four. Those are your informational.  

And then you have your marketing and sales. And this is where it’s, sign up for the sales webinar, register for this summit, book a sales call, buy my thing. Those are very targeted. Your informational emails don’t have to be as targeted. Your newsletters, as I call them, don’t have to be as targeted. You are marketing your sales emails, especially when it’s to like book a call or buy my thing. That’s where the segmentation really helps. That’s where you’re digging into their pain point. You’re showing them how you can solve their problem, how they don’t have to stress because they have you on their side, they’re not alone in feeling the way that they’re feeling, you’ve got them covered, you get them. All of the copywriting stuff that I could talk about for three days straight, that all goes in those marketing emails. 

And I like to save those for specific campaigns, for specific times. So we might set up a call sequence for three months after somebody joins my list. Time to go ahead and book a call. That’s an auto-responder that triggers at a time. I don’t touch it. I set it and forget it. But I’m not doing that the entire time that they’re with me for the majority of the time they’re getting that information. It might be 60/40 some days, 70/30 others, 80/20 next week, whatever. But for the most part, they’re getting more information with those light calls to action. And then they’re hit with some marketing now and then.  

Rich: So what’s interesting about you is you’re writing your own newsletter, which is obviously coming from Alyson Lax, a human being on this planet, with you my reader, thank you so much for being here. But you’re also writing for companies. You said businesses, but I assume that these are companies where it may not be an individual person. 

So as you shift between these two jobs, what are some of the tips that a newsletter from a company can use to succeed? Because we all know that we can make a human connection if it’s just Rich Brooks writing you or Alyson Lex writing you, it’s tougher if it’s flyte new media writing you or The Agents of Change writing you. So what are some of the things that you would tell businesses are like, our emails are boring because we’re just a generic business? 

Alyson: You actually touched on it. So I had to think about it for a second to figure out how to say it. But you touched on it, and it’s that human connection. Because behind all of those businesses, what is there? People.  

And so I had a client, and he was the face of his company, but it was a company, and his dog was the marketing dog and would always have a little segment in the newsletter. That’s very humanizing. Animalizing, whatever, right? It connects people. Because you begin to look for that dog. Having a marketing intern write something, an employee showcase, Kelly from Accounting’s favorite recipe she made last week at the potluck, and it was gone in minutes. Whatever. There’s no reason not to share the behind the scenes of your organization and have fun with it. Maybe Paul in the front office is an amazing cookie guy and pictures of people eating Paul’s cookies once a week. It doesn’t matter.  

Rich: Humanize your brand, is what I’m hearing.  

Alyson: Humanize your brand. And what’s funny is, I’ve done a lot of research and work and collaborations with direct mail newsletters. And the same thing with direct mail newsletters holds true with email newsletters. It’s not about your organization, because people don’t care. Now, I want to see the fun stuff. I want to see Kelly’s potluck cobbler recipe or Paul’s cookies, and I want to see the stray office cat. But what can you do for me? And so maybe you have somebody in your organization that does a really great YouTube video tutorial on how to use your widget. Highlight that. It doesn’t have to be nameless and faceless.  

Rich: I’m thinking back to probably the biggest open rate that we got in the past two years was actually an apology email. Which obviously marketers use the apology, oops, I forgot to put in the right link, all the time. But we actually did screw up. And so what I did is I created a little video with our hedgehog and said, “As an apology, here’s my hedgehog.” And people loved it. I actually think I want to really pimp out the hedgehog, but that’s a different story. 

Alyson: I have six cats, that number has gone down, unfortunately. But if they would cooperate, I would pimp them out more. But they don’t want to be on camera.  

Rich: Yeah, this one doesn’t either, but I know how to hold him. Alright, so I want to ask you, I wasn’t planning asking this question, but I’m just going to be up upfront. Our Agents of Change email newsletter, I would say at this point in its history, absolutely sucks. All I do every week is I send out, “Hey, maybe you’ve been struggling with emails. Your emails aren’t being read, they’re not getting any traction. Don’t worry. This week we’ve got Alison Lex on, she’s going to teach everything you need to know to succeed at email marketing”, your photo is in there, we’ve got your best quote – which I think is going to be, “Every email needs an ask”. I’m almost sure that’s the one I want to use. And that’s it. And as we ramp up for our annual conference, which is another sell that we’re going to have to do. But also just to make it so that our email newsletter isn’t just, here’s this week’s podcast. Because I’ve heard from people, I’m already subscribed to the podcast, so why do I need to get an email from you telling me that? What would you do different, Alyson Lex, to make The Agents of Change newsletter suck less? 

Alyson: So the first thing that I would think about is there are opportunities to embed gifs in emails.  

Rich: Thank you for pronouncing that correctly.   

Alyson: Yes. It’s not jraphics, it’s graphics 

Rich: I didn’t get you a birthday jift… 

Alyson: You didn’t get me a jift? Why? Yeah, exactly. That’s okay. You have until October. So you could take, especially if you have a very animated guest, you could take a video and turn it into a gif. Just go on Giphy, G I P H Y, turn it into a gif, embed it in the email.  

You can also do video in emails. That’s tech I don’t have, but record a commercial with your guest. “Hey, Alison Lex and I just want to let you know I am so excited for you to check out this episode because I clearly had a ton of coffee, I talked way too much about email, and answered some really tough questions. I’m super excited for you to check it out.”  

Rich: Boom, that’s going to be it right there.  

Alyson: There it is. Yeah. Grab that clip. Put it in the email. Now it’s a multimedia thing. Check out this episode. Also, if they’re listening to you, they like you, so where else can they find you? Are you on any other podcasts? Are you speaking on any other stages? Cool. Share that with them. Can you give away Kelly from Accounting’s recipe for the cobbler. Or what book are you reading? What would you want to know about somebody you follow, right? If somebody that you follow in respect said, “Hey, you know what? I’m reading this brand-new book. I’m super excited to check it out.” One that’s on my list is called, Lifting Heavy Things. It’s about mental healing through weightlifting, because I’m a weightlifter. And I’m excited because it ties in my own personal development journey and my passion, which is picking up heavy stuff. 

And I’m excited to read that. I would love to know that. How else am I going to get book recommendations? Again, you can add yourself in there. And then, yes, I’m going to need pictures of the hedgehog.  

Rich: I will make sure they go over. I’m also now thinking about like I’m terrible at it, but I’ve gotten into woodworking, and I could literally show my shop, or I could show what I’m working on that week. And of course I can talk about books and comics and video games and all the nerdy stuff that I love. This has been incredibly helpful. I feel like I’ve gotten my money’s worth out of this podcast.  

Alyson: You know what? I really hope that everybody listening feels the same exact way.  

Rich: Excellent. This has been fantastic. I really enjoyed our conversation today. Before I let you go, if people are looking for a copywriter, copywriting tips, or they just want to learn more about you and weightlifting, where can we send them online?  

Alyson: Absolutely. So this is a brand-new page I actually am building it before and after the recording of this interview. But you can head over to alysonlex.com/aoc and that’ll take you over to a brand-new page with all my resources, my lead magnets, links to my stuff. Connect with me on social, book a call if you want. All of it.  

Rich: Fantastic. Alyson, thank you so much for the help you gave me, and for all the help you gave everybody else listening today. 

Alyson: Thanks for having me. This was great. 

Show Notes:  

Alyson Lex knows how to create extraordinary copy that gets attention, whether it’s website copy, emails, newsletters, funnels… she’s got you covered. Head on over to her website to see how she’s helped countless businesses get more attention with their copy.  

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of Change. He’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 25+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.