By now we’ve all been told time and again about the importance of your email list when it comes to creating your marketing campaigns. But there’s a bit more to it than just shooting off a few emails. Aweber’s Jill Fanslau has helpful and insightful tips and strategies that you can immediately put into action when it comes to your email marketing plan, with proven success.
Rich: My next guest is a content expert who is a unique blend of journalism and marketing experience. Over the past 12+ years she’s written and edited articles for world renowned brands like the National Geographic Society, Men’s Health Magazine, Women’s Health Magazine, Prevention Magazine, and The Huffington Post.
She’s also served as Editor-in-Chief of Men’s Health website with 21 million monthly unique visitors, where she created products and content to improve people’s lives, and executed custom content campaigns for some of the world’s leading brands like BMW, The North Face, and Smart Water.
Now as the content marketing manager for Aweber, one of the world’s leading email marketing and automation platforms, she combines her knowledge of traditional publishing and modern media to create innovative email campaigns and paid digital products. I am very excited to be chatting with Jill Fanslau. Jill, welcome to the show.
Jill: Hey Rich, thanks so much for having me. I’m super excited to be here.
Rich: Awesome. Now I’m curious, you’ve gone through a few different things in your career. How did you get started in email marketing, or what brought you into email marketing?
Jill: That’s a great question. So again I got my journalism degree and went into journalism. But I also graduated college the year that newspapers were declared dead. Which was great, because I just graduated college with a print journalism degree, so I quickly went back to school while working full time at the National Geographic for digital journalism.
But what you learn quickly in the digital journalism field is that you’re also doing content marketing constantly. That’s how you make money, that’s how you make revenue online. It’s not just this old school thought of like magazines where the ad sales team takes care of all of the ads, that’s not our problem, we just need to create quality content that people love.
Now with digital journalism, you’re a marketer, too. You need to get people to your pages, you need to know SEO, you need to be knowing how to drive people there, you need to know what ads are being clicked, you need to know what headlines people are clicking, how to optimize that content. And yes, quality still plays a huge role in that, but marketing also plays a role, too.
So I learned fast, I kind of learned on the job. And before I knew it I was always just doing content marketing. Btu also email is a distribution channel that plays a part with content marketing.
So I’d done a lot of email at Men’s Health. We sent daily, weekly newsletters, we were constantly optimizing the results, custom content campaigns with our partners and our advertisers, as you mentioned – BMW, The North Face, Smart Water – to make sure that we could get as many eyeballs on the content as possible to try and drive traffic back to their site and to try and drive revenue for them as well.
So I quickly learned email marketing as well and coming to Aweber after that was the perfect next step for me. I use email as a distribution channel and now is my chance to kind of jump in and understand every last facet about it and teach it to other people, too.
Rich: So you talk about creating innovative email marketing campaigns, and we’ve talked about content marketing and content creation. How do you develop content marketing ideas for email and other platforms?
Jill: So one of my most favorite things that I’ve done here, just because it was so much fun, like I said at Men’s Health I did a lot of email marketing, but when I got to Aweber and I was looking through all the content that we had and how we talk to our customers and prospects and people in trials, we were using words like, “SOI”, “confirmed opt-in”, “GDPR”, “segmentation”, “behavioral automation”. And I was like, does everyone understand exactly what all these things mean.
Rich: I love email and I think I just got a 33 on your test.
Jill: Yeah! And I was like, I don’t fully understand this stuff, its jargon. So the more I dug into our content the more I realized I don’t think we’re speaking to the masses out there. We say we’re for small business owners and entrepreneurs, that doesn’t mean that they have degrees in email marketing. So let’s teach them the fundamentals, but let’s do it in a way that they can understand. Let’s strip out all the jargon.
So one of the very first email campaigns that I put into place – it’s actually a lead gen magnet, it’s a free course but it’s called, Everyday Email. It’s 30 tips in 30 days. At first I was like, no one’s going to read that many emails, 30 emails over 30 days. People told me to cut it down to 10, but I really wanted to try 30 tips in 30 days. I want to see if I can engage people if we talk to them in the right way.
So I stripped out all the jargon, I stripped out all the mumbo jumbo, and I literally just put together these friendly, quick tips that a person could read between boring meetings or while they microwaved a burrito in their kitchen. And I wanted them to be able to, by the end of the 30 days, to set up a successful email marketing strategy.
So thousands of people enrolled. The entire course, from day one to day thirty, has an average open rate of 44%-65%.
Jill: Yes. And the entire series has a 6% higher lead to trial conversion rate than any other email course that we’ve ever created.
Rich: Now hold on. Because I want to understand why you think it was so successful. Those are great numbers, so what were your immediate takeaways? There’s always the numbers, and then there’s the analytics, the thinking behind the numbers. What do you think made this such a successful ad campaign? Because first of all I love the name, Everyday Email, it certainly goes to the problem that you were addressing.
Jill: So I think a couple of things hit home for a couple of reasons. One being the tone and the voice. Literally, it sounds like the emails came from me. I sat down at my computer every night after work and I wrote these emails like I was writing them to my best friend who knows nothing about email marketing.
Rich: Oh, great point.
Jill: So that was the first thing. In the very first welcome email I tell them to get ready, you’re going to see me in your inbox for the next 30 days – hey, that’s a great thing no matter what my coworkers say. And at the end I’m like, “Respond to this email, let me know if you have any questions”, or, “Tell me what you had for breakfast”, or. “Tell me your favorite movie, mine is The Matrix”.
So you’d be amazed at how many responses we get. People are constantly writing in telling me what they ate for breakfast, how they had breakfast with their grandson and he had Cocoa Puffs they had an omelet. I have learned so much about what movies people like. So I think there’s just that friendliness and that openness. You can have authority but you can do it in a way that still comes across as genuine and real.
And then the entire course has tone, I never drop that tone, I never drop that voice. Everything is quick, everything is friendly, and everything is simple. I’m giving people value without asking for anything in return. And at the end of the 30 days it just makes sense, they know they’ve got these 30 tips in their arsenal now, they know how to get started, an it’s a no brainer for them to sign up for a free trial. We just gave them 30 days of value, why wouldn’t they sign up for a free trial with us.
Rich: That is a good segue. I also think you’ve given them 30 quick wins, and a lot of people talk about that. Like, giving somebody a quick win and shoeing them what you can do with almost no work in it, just imagine what you can accomplish on our platform with our tool and our people.
Jill: Yes. So one thing that I notice a lot of people do with content is they get these very inspirational ideas, but it’s not actionable. And with no action it’s really hard for the reader to implement this.
So whenever I talk to people who are creating content I always give them this example. When I was at Men’s Health there was this little tip at the magazine and I will never forget it. And it all started because an editor wanted to know the perfect amount of milk to put in his cereal every morning. So every morning he’d pour the milk in and he’d say sometimes its too soggy, sometimes there’s not enough, is there the perfect ratio of milk to cereal that by the end of the bowl there will be no milk left but the cereal is still crunchy.
So he went and he found out. He talked to a bunch of food scientists who ran experiments for him in their labs and they came back and said, here it is we figured it out. It is the exact moment when you’re pouring in the milk that the cereal starts to rise and then you stop.
Now that is so actionable and every morning when I pour my kid their bowls of cereal I think about that tip. And that’s what I try to apply to all of our content and all of our education at Aweber. I want people to walk away with a tip that not only they can implement but they want to tell other people about. So that’s another thing that I think this course delivers on is that every day for 30 days you’re getting a tip like that. It’s not something that you need to go investigate more about. It’s not something that you need to go and take 4 more courses or download an eBook or sign up for a Master class. You’re getting it at your fingertips and you can turn around and go do it.
Rich: Well and that particular example that you give, the other nice thing about it is there’s no math. There’s not a complicated formula there. Because I thought it was going to come back to its one cup of cereal that needs to be ¼ cup of milk. No, when you see that top player move, now it’s time to stop pouring. That’s something that anybody can remember.
Jill: Exactly. Yeah.
Rich: And maybe by taking some of our content and turning it into something like that, that’s memorable and it doesn’t require any additional thinking or an additional course, that’s something that’s really going to resonate with people.
Jill: Yeah, and that’s the stuff that goes viral. That’s the perfect tweet. It’s the perfect thing that someone wants to do at a cocktail party to turn around and tell someone about or at a conference when they’re talking to someone in the hallway. Those are the types of things that you should be thinking about when you’re creating content for people. So yeah, that’s just one of the best practices whenever I’m teaching someone about content or trying to shift people’s reasoning behind why they’re doing a 2,000 word article, how to kind of slice and dice it so that it’s much more consumable, and to your point, much more memorable.
Rich: Yeah, absolutely. So one of the debates that we always have here at flyte about sending out emails is whether we should put the entire email – and our client’s ask this question, too – should we put the entire body into the email or the entire article if we’re sharing an article, or if we should just tease that article in the email to get people from the email, from their inbox, to a website. And I’m wondering if you have any sort of research on that or just your own take of when one might work and maybe when the other would work?
Jill: That’s a great question. I think ultimately it depends on what your objective of the email is.
Rich: Ok, so let’s talk about that.
Jill: If you want to get people to your site because you want them to see and advertisement or you want them to download a whitepaper or you want them to do X, then get them to your site. Don’t spend time giving them all the information in an email. Give them a taste of it and then get them to your website.
Now if you’re sending out a newsletter once a month that you just want to be connecting with your audience as a touchpoint for you, you want them to come to your next speaking gig. But if you’ve got this long story that you want to tell them an anecdote, you can do that all in an email. Ann Handley, who is the co-founder of Marketing Profs, she’s an amazing speaker and she sends out a bi-monthly long newsletter – I think it’s over 1,000 words – all in an email. She doesn’t try to sell you on anything, she doesn’t try to get you to go anywhere, she has some curated content in there, but she just wants to tell you a story. Ultimately you just want to open her emails to see what story she’s going to tell that month and you want to hear from her. It creates this relationship with her. She’s not trying to sell you on something.
Eventually she may put a book in front of you that she’s trying to sell, or a summit that she wants you to attend. But again, it’s not like she’s trying to do that in every single email. So I think it just depends on what your objective is and how you’re utilizing the distribution channel.
Rich: That makes a lot of sense. My dad has been writing an email monthly – 9 months of the year – for about 10 years now, and if you printed it up it’s be an 8-16 page dissertation. And it’s hugely successful. People love it, they print it up and walk around with it. But the bottom line is, that would never work for us, we’re just trying to drive traffic to a website. So I think it really does depend on the type of content and your objectives, as you said.
Jill: Exactly. And you might have 7 different emails that you send out a month and they might all have different objectives. You might have a long winded newsletter that you want people to just consume and value and use as a relationship builder. And then you might have other ones where you’re sending them your 3 best podcast episodes this month and you want them to go directly to the podcast episodes and listen to them. You don’t need to give away all of the podcast episodes within that email.
Rich: Oh my god, alright. So a pause, I’ve just got to ask you this question. This is a debate we’ve been having internally, so I figure why not ask you right now. So we have an email list for flyte, and we also have an email list for the podcast, and I’ve noticed that our podcast email open rate goes down over time. Not unsubscribes, just goes down over time. And what I’ve heard from a few people anecdotally is, why would I read your emails if I already subscribe to the podcast? Which is interesting because I totally get that. In fact the email almost just stands to remind people if you haven’t listened to last week’s episode and you want to so you’re new episode will automatically download for you. And I tell people what the episode is about, I try to get them excited about it.
But we’ve talked about doing one of two different things. One is go to a monthly digest where we just talk about here’s what the last 4-5 episodes were about, here’s what who we talked to, so they’re only getting one email a month and they might enjoy that more because they’re not getting as bombarded with it.
And the other one is that we would actually create some additional content outside the podcast so that there is a reason to A) subscribe, and B) actually open and consume that email. Just wondering, as an email marketing expert, if you had any thoughts about either of those approaches?
Jill: Yeah. I mean what I’ve seen some really successful podcast so – because I think that ultimately a lot of people have that same problem – if you’re getting people to subscribe to your podcast and they’re already getting alerts, that’s fantastic. That’s a big hurdle for most people. So if you’re already accomplishing that, then you probably don’t need to be sending out the weekly, “Hey, just a reminder this will download for you”.
I love the idea of a digest of, “Here is who we interviewed last week, here was one of the best tips from the episode, turn in for 5 more”, something like that. I also see – Gary V does this all the time – but he’ll send out the most popular ones from the year before, just to get people into the podcast and re-engaging, and then asking them to share the podcast with other people.
Because again, it’s great that you’ve got people on your list who are already listening, but try to get people on your list who aren’t listening yet. Try to get them to subscribe. So ask your loyal fan base who is subscribing every single week and listening and downloading to bring in more people for you. I mean, that’s the beauty of the email marketing and having a loyal fan base like that, is you can ask them to easily share it with their network. It’s a lot less work for you and they’re bringing in likeminded people who will probably enjoy your show just as much.
— Start part 2 —-
Rich: Good advice. Now, one thing I do notice is that a lot of companies use very well designed, well branded email templates. And then I’ve seen other businesses – often solopreneurs and social media entrepreneurs – write simple emails with no images whatsoever. Do you recommend one over the other, and if so, why?
Jill: So this is a question that we have been seeing all the time recently. And I think it’s because there’s a lot of noise in the industry right now around HTML email templates, which are the ones that you see with images, and logos, and hyperlink texts or buttons, bolded words or italicized words. There are people saying that HTML email templates are bad for deliverability, that they force your emails into spam, you won’t get into the inbox with them.
At Aweber we allow customers to send plain text emails, which are emails that literally have no coding, no HTML in them whatsoever. So there’s no links, no bolded words, no italicized words, it’s just the copy, that’s it, no design. Or, you can use our drag and drop HTML builder to drop in a photo, drop in a link, drop in a button. And I can tell you this right now, we have never seen a drop off in deliverability from HTML emails ever. So we’re dumbfounded that we get these questions all the time like, “Well, I’m not going to use HTML emails because it’s bad. I’m not going to get into the inbox”.
So we actually reached out to a woman named Laura Atkins, and she’s an industry analyst and expert on email deliverability. She is the founding partner of Word to the Wise which is an anti-spam consultancy and software firm. And I’m quoting her, she said “Anyone who tells you plain text emails are most likely to reach the inbox does not understand how email actually works”. There is no data to backup that you should go with plain text over HTML. At the end of the day, what matters is if you’re going to use HTML and you’re going to include images and links, that’s completely fine. The number of links and images in your email does not matter.
What matters is the reputation of the sites that you’re linking to, because spammers link to blacklisted sites. They prefer HTML emails because spammers can link to blacklisted sites there, and that hurts their deliverability. If you are a good email marketer and you are linking your photos and linking your links to reputable sites, you will be absolutely fine.
Rich: That’s interesting.
Jill: Yeah. There’s a place for plain text and there’s a place for HTML, I don’t think that you should be pigeon holed into one or the other. I think it depends on what your business objectives are. If you are an ecommerce platform and you have products you want to sell and you want to show off your products, use HTML and include images to show off your products. If you are just writing something that looks like a regular email to someone and you don’t need images and you don’t need links and you don’t need buttons, send a plain text email, that’s totally fine, too.
Rich: And that’s why I think a lot of those social media entrepreneurs/marketers are doing that, because they’re writing emails that come across as being personal. And the bottom line is you cannot write a personal email that has all your corporate branding on it. Like those are two diametrically opposed things, so maybe it was never about deliverability. Although I certainly heard that before too, maybe it’s more about when it’s been opened, what is the reaction you’re looking for from the people who open that email?
Jill: Right. But you have to remember that the second you put in a hyperlink, or the second you put in a bolded word, or a bullet, or you do any formatting to it, it is no longer a plain text email. So most people are not sending just plain text. You will see bolded words and italicized words, and that makes it HTML at the end of the day. But you’re right, I do think that by sending something that looks like it came from your inbox and not from an email marketing platform in a drag and drop editor, or your email designer worked through the night to get it done, you will have a different connection than if you’re an ecommerce store sending out a promotional email with a coupon at the bottom. I think it just depends on your business model.
Rich: Also, getting back to your thing about not linking off to bad sites, I wonder if also just the number of links in the email make a difference. And I only say this – this is completely anecdotal based on just one person, that person being me – where you’ve got reams of data, and she has even more data, is that years ago, for the high level sponsors of the Agents of Change conference we would include their logo and a link to their website in every single email until I discovered they were all ending up in junk mail when I would test them myself. And we tried all different things, we couldn’t figure it out.
When I finally removed the links from the images of their logos, everything went through fine. And that may have just been Gmail, like I said, not reams of data but I was testing it and sending it to myself. They were all ending up in junk no matter what I did, and then as soon as I broke those links, it went right through.
Jill: I’ve never heard of that happening, at least not through Aweber’s platform, but there might be cases in which that’s happening on other platforms. That’s why it’s important to optimize your emails, right? Like you noticed that. You didn’t just have it on autopilot, you went in, you looked at it, and you were trying to figure out what happened, and it was a simple fix. That’s why I always tell people that yes, you want to add subscribers and grow your list. Yes, you want to send powerful and effective emails. But the third step that everyone should be doing if they want to drive revenue is to analyze and optimize their emails. Looking at every facet of them, and you should be doing that often. But that can’t be a forgotten part of your email strategy.
Rich: So, you earlier kind of dropped a date or idea that kind of let me know how young you are, now I’m going to share a date that will let you know how old I am. I started using email marketing platforms back in 1999 with Topica, a company that you may not have even heard of. But regardless, a lot has changed since then. That was the first platform that you could easily use that had not drag and drop but you could do HTML emails on.
So many tools have been added to platforms like yours; scheduling, split tests, segmentations. What are some of the most effective tools that you feel are really making a difference for entrepreneurs today in 2019?
Jill: Great question. I think I can bucket it into three things. One is automation. You shouldn’t have to be a full time email marketer to use email marketing. You can create a series that runs effectively for you around the clock that you only need to go in and optimize as you go. The thing that I don’t like about automation – and again, this is one of the reasons why I created the Everyday Email course – automation just sounds complicated. There’s behavioral automation, there’s tagging, there’s all these different funnels you can create with it. But it doesn’t have to be.
You can accelerate your growth by using these simple tools, and you can set up a really powerful automated campaign, and you can do it now in like an hour or two, and that’s it. Which is just really fascinating, because automation a few years ago when you look back, it was such a new thing, you had to hire a VA to figure it out for you. And now I swear, at least on Aweber, my nana can go in and figure it out, and she sends an email once a year. So that’s one thing I think everything needs to remember: you don’t need to be a full time email marketer to use email marketing.
Two, I think highly targeted and personalized content. And I’m not just talking about “Hi <first name>”, I’m talking about content that helps accelerate your prospects into customers, and then your customers into fans. So segmenting not only off your sign-up form, but also making sure that those people are being moved through the journey effectively.
I talked to a woman the other day, and she doesn’t use Aweber but she was telling me she started her business in 2010 and she now has a list of 80,000 people. Her list is to pick cool things that she thinks moms and their kids will enjoy, and she sends out a curated newsletter a few times a week. She said in 2010 she could do no wrong. People were opening it left and right, open rates through the roof, click rates through the roof. Now, she has a 4% open rate. And she’s like what happened? Social media isn’t working that great for me and I want to figure out how to get back to email, but I just can’t figure out how to fix my problem. I know I need to clean my list, but I can’t figure it out. So I put my mom hat on and my email marketer hat on and I tried to think, if I was on her list, what is she doing wrong?
I first asked are you segmenting people based off of their needs from you from the newsletters you’re sending? She’s like what do you mean. And I’m like, when I sign up for your newsletter, and I have a baby, I’m only getting baby information from you, right? I’m not getting the adolescent, the toddler, I don’t need that stuff. And she was like no, you would get all of the emails. And I was like okay, well there’s part of your problem because if you send me three emails in a row that have nothing to do with baby pics, I’m not going to open up your content anymore.
And then I was saying okay, segment off your signup form so that people can chooses which newsletter they’re basically getting from you, and this is just simple tagging. So if someone clicks the baby one they get tagged ‘baby’, and then when you send out a newsletter that has baby stuff in it, include the tag #baby and those people will get the baby newsletter. But I was like babies grow up, they become toddlers, how are you allowing people to then get tagged #toddler? She’s like, well, I don’t know. I said at the bottom of every email, you should include, “If this is no longer your child’s age, click below to pick your child’s age now”. And then I could click ‘toddler’, and now on the back end of the ESP, I’m tagged ‘toddler’, I’m not in the baby newsletter anymore.
So again, segmentation allows you to send highly specific, highly targeted content to people that they want to open, and it’s not that difficult. What I love Aweber, too, is that we have 24/7 customer solutions team who, if you spend more than a minute doing anything inside Aweber, just call, chat or email us because they’ll just do it for you.
So I was telling her this, and you could just see she all of these ideas swirling in her head. She already emailed me and was like I’m implementing all these changes, thank you so much. I’m really interested to see, after she purges her lists and does this, what her email open rates are.
Rich: Well it’s gotta go up because it can barely go down. I think what you suggested was brilliant. The only thing I might suggest is instead of saying “Do you have a toddler?”, is ask ‘what year was your child born in?’ And then, you could automatically start segmenting out, people wouldn’t even have to tell you when their kid is getting older because you would just be targeting people with kids born in 2018, 2019 and so forth. The only thing is you’d still want something in there like “Have you had another baby since then?”
Jill: Yes, you would have to allow them to self-select if they have more than one, two, three kids.
Rich: But having a form, a little pull down or something at the bottom of the email is a great idea, I haven’t seen that before.
Jill: Yeah, it’s interactive, and it allows people to create their own journey with you. You’re not having to take the time to create that journey, you’ve created these paths, and they get to pick which one they’re going down.
Rich: So you mentioned right at the beginning, this Everyday Email auto drip campaign, so I know you’re a proponent of auto drip. I think it’s a great idea, but I want to know if you had any tips or suggestions around, you mentioned that you had a really high opt in rate for the next thing which is the free trial or whatever it would be. What recommendations do you have about auto drip campaigns in general, and then specifically about how to wrap them up to get somebody to make a buying decision?
Jill: That’s a really good question. I think there’s a few things, I think that you need to be doing a few things during the automated campaign that really hit home with your subscribers. One being I think that you need to provide them value, because it’s a psychological thing, right? The more value you provide to someone without asking for anything in return, the more they’re going to feel indebted to you.
And I’m not saying you need to write an e-book for every single email you’re sending, I’m just saying provide them value that they can’t get elsewhere. Meaning maybe you have a curated list of content for them because you went and you took the time, pulled all the data together, and you’re sending it to them. Maybe it’s your insight on a new industry trend, just a paragraph or two about it. Maybe it’s your best blog post or your most popular blog post. Whatever it is just be providing them with value.
I think also you need to be talking to their pain point. You need to constantly be bringing up their biggest problem of why they came to you in the first place, and you need to be agitating that a little bit by letting them know, “Hey, you’re coming to me for this, I’m the authority. But here’s why you still need a solution.” I almost call it like rubbing salt in the wound a little bit, make them squirm. And then by the end of your automated series you need to put the solution that they’ve been waiting for in front of them.
So that’s when you finally pitch your product or service. And at this point you’ve provided them value, you’ve been talking to them for multiple days or weeks, and you’re speaking directly to their pain point, the whole problem of why they came to you in the first place.
And I’ll add one more thing to this. Don’t use email as a one-way distribution channel, you should use it as a conversation. So at the bottom of every email I’d include something like a sentiment widget to be like, “Hey, did you like this content, or did you not like this content?” And if they say yes, ask them why. If they say no, ask them why. You can gather so much valuable insight and feedback from just adding a small sentiment widget to the bottom of your email.
There’s also other things that you can do at the end. Send a private question email or a survey and ask for feedback, good or bad. You never know when someone will be like, “Hey, I really loved all this content you sent me but I was missing X, and that’s why I can’t buy your product.” Well if a couple people say they were missing X, then now you know the one email to add into your series, or you know your next product idea, or you know your next blog post idea. So I would just say always make it a conversation even though it’s automated. You don’t want it to just go like a robot without any insight from you or from your customer. Just make it a conversation.
Rich: Awesome. Jill, this has been fantastic. Obviously I asked a lot of questions that I had some concerns about and hopefully a lot of our listeners got as much out of it as I did. Where can we find you online and where can we sing up for Everyday Email?
Jill: Oh yes, I would love for you guys to sign up, it’s aweber.com/everyday-email. I’m excited to be in everyone’s inboxes for 30 days. You can also find me I’m on Twitter @JillFanslau, and then you guys should definitely check out aweber.com.
Rich: Sounds great. Jill, thanks so much for your time today.
Jill: Yeah, thanks Rich, this was a blast. Thanks for having me.
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 20+ years of experience into the book, The Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing.