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How to Build Anticipation into Your Marketing Campaigns – Reese Spykerman
The Agents of Change

Email marketing is a powerful way to keep your audience engaged with your business and build brand awareness. But it can also create “email fatigue” among those receiving them over time. So what’s the best way to grab your customer’s attention AND keep them wanting more? According to Reese Spykerman, the answer is Anticipation Emails. Try encouraging your audience to countdown to the launch of a new product with you, or even  tease them with a bit of intrigue – just don’t give away too much!

Rich: Do you wish your website and emails brought in more consistent sales without so much time and effort on your part? Today’s guest is here to help. She is a business and e-commerce optimization expert who has spent more than 15 years working closely with entrepreneurs and brands on their online marketing. Today she helps businesses scale sustainably, by streamlining their marketing activities and their business processes.

After living in Malaysia of all places for seven years, she returned to her home of Northern Michigan, where she lives with her husband and 4lb. Morkie dog. She’s an uber introvert, lover of Detroit style pizza, and is obsessed with the TV show, 12 Monkeys. Let’s talk about how we can build desire in our audience through anticipation emails with Reese Spykerman. Reese, welcome to the podcast.

Reese: Rich, thank you so much for having the on. This is going to be an amazing conversation, because you’ve got so much to say about this I know, too, about building anticipation. So let’s do this!

Rich: Well, now I’m anticipating what I’m going to say because I feel unprepared because you’re the expert. But we’ll start with this. A lot of people are familiar with New York style pizza, or the abomination they call Chicago deep dish. Please, no hate mail. But maybe not Detroit style pizza. So what makes a pizza Detroit style?

Reese: Okay. I am not an expert at the background of Detroit style pizza, so someone may school me, but here is what I understand of it. I think back in the thirties there were people who made their pizza in a 9” by 9” square cake pan. And I can’t remember the reason why, but what happened is this pizza got made in this pan and it led to what’s called a 4-square type pizza. And when they do it right, and when it’s done right today, the edges of the pizza just get that really burnt umami cheese. And so instead of just being like one kind of soft, normal crust, you’ve got this beautifully caramelized edge across all four corners of the pizza. And the crust has an amazing crunch. So that’s the deal with Detroit style pizza. You gotta try it sometime, it’s life changing.

Rich: Interesting. And it sounds like what you’re talking about, but maybe we’ll link to the Wikipedia page just in case anybody wants to double check. All right, today we’re going to be talking about anticipation emails. How would you define this phrase?

Reese: Okay. Anticipation emails. It’s instead of gosh, you have a new product or service that you’ve just brought into your business, and on the day of you’re like, “Hey, we’ve got this thing.” That’s what a lot of people do. What if instead, ahead of that happening, you primed your audience, your buyers, your customers, with a series of emails that basically are saying, “There is something cool coming”, “We’ve got a new collection we’re launching”, or “there’s a new business service that everyone’s been asking us for and it’s coming around the corner.” And that way, instead of people feeling that sense of, “Oh, well, okay.” You’re going to basically build an emotional hype within them, get them excited about what’s coming around the corner.” And we see corporations do this, and media and entertainment do it all the time while we’re talking about say a new album coming out or a new movie coming out. Apple does it with a new product coming out. So why can’t we do this as small business owners in our business?

Rich: Absolutely. And I’m a huge Marvel fan, and we’re recording this a couple of days after the Super Bowl, there was a big commercial for Dr. Strange. Which is not the first Dr. Strange commercial they’ve done, they had teasers for the second one, they keep on adding more and more. If they just opened up on a Friday afternoon and said, okay, the new Dr. Strange movie is here, I think a lot of people would be underwhelmed and wonder why there wasn’t more buildup to this. So it makes a lot of sense what you’re saying here in terms of getting people to get excited about it.

Reese: Yeah. And Rich, it gets them talking too, right. You’re going to go talk to your friend and be like, “Did you see that clip in the Superbowl commercial?” And that just heightens this excitement.

Rich: Absolutely. So I know that you have a background in e-commerce, but in my opinion, this would work just as well for lead generation sites, and really any business. What type of things might different businesses be launching where they should start thinking about an anticipation campaign?

Reese: That’s a great question. I’d love to start out with thinking about an event such as your digital marketing conference, that I know you hold every year. And if you have an event like this, or Rich, you can take this and roll with it. What if you started building anticipation about the speaker lineup without revealing who they are right away, rather than just having the sign-up page that’s like, “Hey, here’s our list of 20 speakers”, its “You are not going to believe who we’re going to have this year. This person after 20 years discovered X, Y, and Z”, and you get people thinking. iI’s almost like a puzzle for them to solve. So you could start this, I think your conference is usually in September, you could start this in July. Rich, you could even, or anyone else running an event, maybe people who buy tickets early, if you do early purchases, they get in on the reveal before other people. Or maybe they get extra little cookies and nuggets about what’s going to be in the conference that people don’t get unless they buy that early ticket. So that’s what you could do if you have an event.

Or let’s say you are going to be adding a new service to your offering. Let’s go with accountants, for example. You’re an accountant, and like my accountant recently just changed over the way I do bookkeeping. So he’s got some new system that he claims is going to make it so I don’t have to work so much and scramble at the last minute. Well, I love that. He just told me about it, but what he could have done instead is send me some emails or maybe go on social media and say, “We hear you. We know you’re tired of having to scramble at the last minute to do your quarterlies. We have got something cooking up that was made just for you.” And he’s going to increase how I perceive the value of the service if he does that. Or you might even do postcard campaigns and mailers to your customer list. Why not get out of the digital realm and disrupt things and bring it into the physical in-person realm? Or you could tie it with scarcity.

So my father-in-law in Malaysia loves the McRib. It only comes out, I don’t know, once a year. So could you, if you have a service offer, I don’t know, say you’re a real estate agent. And once a year you do something amazing in your real estate that people love. Maybe you have a party. Don’t hold it at the same time every year and start building anticipation ahead of time about when might it come. So there’s so many different ways to think about this. But what are you normally doing in your business or what might you be bringing into your business as a product or service? And instead of just laying it on the table, like here it is, think backward. What could I do to build some hype around this and get people bought in and excited early on?

Rich: Reese, can you speak to, I guess the psychology of anticipation? Why is this effective on people?

Reese: I think for a few reasons, and some of them are contextual with what we’ve been going through in the past couple of years. So I’ll talk about that first. I think we are in a time right now where in particular people need and want things to look forward to in their lives. Your conference, back to that, is a really good example. Something that they might look forward to returning, to coming back to. Something to break off them having, being at home all the time, for example, or constantly just bingeing Netflix. When we build anticipation, we bring a little delight into their life that they may have been missing for the past couple of years. But that goes beyond the past couple of years.

People need reasons to get excited, right? You mentioned you’re a Marvel fan, and the effect would have been different if the new Dr. Strange movie just launched on Friday without any anticipation built around it. This helps you as a fan buy in even mor psychologically, to your fandom. And it just solidifies your desire around this. And so, anticipation is just an extraordinarily powerful psychological mover. In fact, there’s some studies – and I don’t have them to site – but I know I’ve read about them that sometimes people value the anticipation and build up even more than the actual thing. Think about people who are dating, romancing each other. Sometimes what’s really exciting isn’t the first kiss, but everything that comes before that. When will it happened, what’s it going to be like? We get all kinds of frenzy in our nervous system and our body is just thinking about this. When you build anticipation in your marketing, you’re tapping into that same psychological phenomenon.

Rich: It is interesting. So we put so much emphasis on the actual event, or product, the experience itself, when so much of it is actually the anticipation before, and then also the memories afterwards. So I definitely see that anticipation is part of the final package and gets people starting, almost like Pavlov’s dogs, starting to drool when they see it.

So Reese, we have something we want to launch – whether it’s a product, a service or event – how do we then craft the emails to build anticipation? Is there a formula that we should be following?

Reese: That’s a really good question. And I don’t think there’s one cut and dry answer. I’ll tell you first what I tend to do with the people I work with, with product-based businesses. And then we can kind of unwrap a couple of different scenarios. Especially when we’re talking about a smaller, more indie business, not billions of dollar corporations, I like to work backwards from the timeline of about two weeks. So if we know the product launch date is going to be March 1st, we work backward from there for about two weeks. And depending on the audience size and the email open rate, I like to look at those metrics, in general let’s say you send in the neighborhood of maybe three or four emails to build this up. And the first one I like to have be just really quite vague. Like “something new is coming”, or “we’ve been working on something new”, that’s just kind of subject lines we work with. And it’s, “In a couple of weeks, we’re going to be revealing a new product we think you’ll love. Stay tuned to your inbox.” So it’s very short, it’s really a tease.

Then the next one might be something along the lines of, “We told you something’s coming. If you want to get access before anyone else does, click here.” And what I like to do with that, and this can work for service businesses, too, you build this early interest list. And maybe the day before the official public launch, you send these people special early access to the new thing, the product, the service, and you are making them feel special. You’re honoring them for signing on and saying, “Hey, I’m an early bird. I want to be in on this.”  

Then maybe a week or so, or a few days before, you can do something. Like one of my clients, we had them actually set their clock. And these people set their alarms. You know, “Be on the lookout at 10:00 AM. The new collection is launching.” And in that email, we might so show some snapshots of in this case, it was pieces of jewelry. So if you have a product, you can start to really reveal some of what it is going to be. If you have a service, maybe you start to reveal some of the features or outcomes that service could provide without giving away the whole farm. Then on launch day, it’s like it’s here. You’ve been waiting for it. We’ve been talking about it. It’s finally time. So this cadence is kind of a buildup, we’re leading to a crescendo of sorts. And then on the big day is when we say it’s here, it’s not a surprise. And it also doesn’t have that feeling like falling flat, feeling that you were talking about. If they just launched the Dr. Strange movie on a Friday and the people who’ve been waiting and who indicated they have early interest, they’re going to do, like what happened for one of my clients, which is they hop on the website and 50% of your products sell in a few hours. This doesn’t happen for everyone, but if you do this right, they literally are setting their clocks waiting for this. It’s phenomenal to watch. It’s pretty cool.

Rich: Okay. So let’s talk subject lines, because you kind of touched on them a little bit. What should we be thinking as we try and craft the perfect subject line for these emails?

Reese: Oooh, alright. I like to plan out my subject lines and the whole campaign so that I understand, all right, these are the four or five subject lines I’m going to be using. And that way I know I’m not being overly redundant or kind of stepping over myself with the subject lines. But if you think about what I just talked about where you start with a vague tease, and then you lead to more and more details. I think the initial, you need to provoke curiosity with these subject lines. That’s one of the really critical parts here. And so what’s going to make people curious enough to open it. And subject lines, Rich, they get tricky because people are becoming a little bit dulled on marketing messages. And so I think you’ve always kind of stay one step ahead of things with subject lines. Do the unexpected, but really I have seen some great results with lines like, “You won’t believe what’s coming” or “We’ve been cooking something up for you” or “You’re going to want to get in on this.”

So what happens with those sorts of subject lines is we are not giving it away. And so also often I will see subject lines, whether it’s from a product or service business, that kind of give away the farm in the subject line like, “Our new ABC collection is coming”. Well, people have no reason to open, but when we use words like this, “You’re going to want to get in on this”, or “You won’t believe what’s coming”, people open that email because it’s a puzzle in their brain that they need to have solved. And they’re going to open the email just to know what you mean by this or these or it’s coming. So that’s one of the most important things is when we’re building this anticipation in an email, or even if you’re doing stuff on social media, don’t give away the farm. Maintain that tension of curiosity with the subject lines that you use.

Rich: And you’re doing a lot of these emails. Just curious as some of the things that you’re saying. I’ve seen similar stuff coming into my inbox, and I’m noticing that marketers and companies are using a lot more emojis in the subject line these days. Just curious if you have a strong feeling one way or the other?

Reese: I like them, but I think there’s a fine line where they’re starting to get over done. And so my take on things is if I’m seeing a trend in market, so for example, a lot of people will go on Instagram and say, look at trending reels and then do that. I actually think that’s a problem because you aren’t standing out. So if I see a trend with subject lines, I might actually split test, for example, riding that train. And with a B test that does something completely different and doesn’t use those emojis. Especially if that’s what we’re seeing a lot. And that’s where I then let the data guide you, instead of this is what I’m seeing marketers doing, I should jump on this bandwagon, too What might work for them may not work for your audience. We really need to think about what does our audience respond to, instead of what does marketer A say I should do.

Rich: Okay, so I’m glad you brought this up, because I was curious to know about your approach to A/B split testing. When you’re doing these email campaigns, what are you looking to test and to discover?

Reese: Subject lines is probably the lowest hanging fruit that I will test and discover. And what I personally like to do, whether it’s in my own work or for my clients, is I start to make a spreadsheet. The bigger your audience, the better your data sets going to be. But that doesn’t mean even with a smaller set you can’t get good and info. And then I like to look for patterns. So for example, I might see in a client’s marketing that clearly the word ‘you’, while it may work for everyone else’s subject lines really well, for this particular market is not working. And then I might distill down in the pattern, am I seeing any trend here on what their audience seems to be responding to? What does their community really like?

So I think that’s really important. It’s just kind of start doing some human pattern analysis. There are people that want to do this in an automated way. I personally like to get granular and look at it and let my brain do the analytical work in the background. The other thing I like to just have in emails is, this is really important, a lot of people will send out HTML emails with these very fancy designs, all kinds of graphics. What happens if you split test that against the same email that’s just more of a friendly text message totally stripped down, not a lot of graphics, no branding, no logo at top. Do you see increases, for example, in your click rate, do you see increases in the open rate? Because those HTML emails that people spend so much time on oftentimes may go right to the promotions box because of all the images. Or people may open it and you don’t have heavy click rates because it looks like an ad to them. Or they have images turned off and they aren’t even seeing what you’re saying. So I really love to split test text email messages against the same message in more of that designed HTML look and get an idea over time, what is my audience response.

Rich: That’s really, I feel like you’re kind of looking at my questions before I ask them. Because my next question was going to be about the fact you have this background in graphic design, and what is your feeling about using visuals when it comes to email? So if you’ve just answered that question completely, we can move on, but if you’ve got more to say, I’d love to hear it.

Reese: I have a little bit more to say. So it may surprise people that yes, my background is in design. I love graphic design. And then I think that there are times that we need to step way back and leave design in the other room. And I personally am one of those people that tends to not like heavily designed emails, because I want it to feel very personal. I think more people are more likely to resonate with that, but again, it’s market dependent. However, even in my old emails, I will pop in animated gifs on occasion. I really like doing that. I don’t overdo it because I don’t want to tire my audience with it, but I think any business can use these. They’re fun. They’re unexpected. They really can bring delight to people.

Or here’s an example, you could have a text-based email. It’s not HTML, but two-thirds of the way down let’s say it’s your product reveal day or your service reveal day. It’s the day of the launch. Your event is here. Why not have a graphic you’ve created for that event that you show after a few paragraphs of text. And one tip I would love to give people if it helps them is, when you are using an image like that, I would make the image linkable to something if you are having a call to action you want them to do. Because a lot of times people will click images. And so if you have an image there and they tap it on their phone, or they click it on desktop and it doesn’t take them anywhere, it’s a missed opportunity. So think about where could that image take them, and you could surprise them. It’s an opportunity to completely surprise someone with the outcome. Or you could take it to whatever your primary call to action is, like sign up for this event or enroll in our new service.

Rich: Okay. So we’ve talked about this anticipation, and there’s nothing worse than really anticipating an event and having it fall flat. So how can we ensure that the reveal pays off, that we haven’t oversold the anticipation?

Reese: Well, this is one where I’m hoping you and I can have a bit of a conversation, because I’m with you. The payoff needs to be good. And what I’m thinking is you work from the end first, and it helps to do this with much of what you do in business. Where’s the end and then work backwards. What’s your reveal? Then I think you need to make sure the height that you build up isn’t excessive for the reveal. So for example, if we think about a new service that a business might be bringing, let’s say it’s a marketing agency and they have a new piece of software they’re very excited about. Well, you don’t want people thinking that your big reveal is going to be we’re having an event and Beyonce is going to be featured at the concert. Not that you would be teasing that specific thing, but you don’t want it to feel that way. And Rich, I would really love to know your take on this, because I’m a little stumped on how do you not over promise here?

Rich: Well, I mean, I hopefully would think about what is the real impact on someone’s life. So if I’ve got a product and I think, well, this will make marketer’s lives 10% easier, I would still go with something with anticipation. But like you said, I’m not going to say, “This is going to change marketing as you know it.” So it might be something, and I guess that’s maybe part of it, is just not thinking that anticipation marketing is the cure to what ails you, but rather it’s a way to get people excited and buy into something that you have. And I guess you just have to match up the level of anticipation, and the number of emails, and the undescribed promises that you’re putting out there, and make sure that it matches up with what people are actually going to get.

Now the bottom line is, as we’ve discussed, the anticipation makes the product better. I would probably still like the Dr. Strange movie, but if there’s something else in there, if there’s something that I may or may not enjoy that I don’t have a built-in love for the way I do for Marvel products, some of the anticipation is going to make me really excited about it, curious about it, wanting it. But if you go too far, then when I see it I may be like, meh.

There’s always that balance we often talk about. I just got a quote for re-doing the attic in my house, and in my mind I’m thinking $20,000-$30,000, with the cost of lumber these days, $40,000, is that what I’m getting into. And the guy came back and was $14,000. I’m like, oh my God, do it today. But if in my mind was thinking $6,000 to $8,000 or even $10,000, and he said 1$4,000, I’d be oh my God, that’s so expensive. So sometimes, we don’t want to set the bar so high that we get people overly excited only to let them down. So I think you really do have to figure it out. What is the value to that person? And yes, anticipation will increase the value to that person, but only to a degree. And at a certain point, it almost has a reverse effect.

Reese: I love everything you said because it got me thinking, it’s really important that you leave some juicy tidbits for the actual reveal. And what I mean is, have you ever been scrolling through Hulu or Netflix and you watch a trailer and you can just kind of tell from the trailer they just gave away all the good parts. Like I could just watch this trailer and I don’t need to watch the movie because I have strong doubts that there’s… Or it’s not so much that you think that, but you watch say that movie or show and you think that it was all in the trailer. Everything was in the trailer.

Rich: Yeah. I’ve had both of those experiences.

Reese: So in the same way, you don’t want to make the equivalent of the movie trailer where all your amazing fight scenes are in that, and by the time people come to watch the big show, there’s nothing left to delight them in that moment. And so bottom-line is, don’t over-give on the anticipation. Always leave something behind to have in the actual event or service or product. But also, don’t over-hype your stuff. It is not about building a false hype. It is, as you said Rich, building excitement within people, giving them something to look forward to. But doing it in a way that’s really an integrity for your product or service.

Rich: Yeah. At the end of the day, you can’t oversell this, because you could end up doing more damage than you would have if you hadn’t done any sort of buildup at all. So it does take a little nuancing there. And I agree with you, holding that one ace up your sleeve. So if people are maybe a little bit underwhelmed, you can say, ah, yes, but did you know it also folded out into a transformer? Whatever it might be. So having that last thing could be what saves you from maybe disappointing people and then turning them off.

So we talked about the reveal. Let’s talk about the post reveal. How do you keep interest going, or do you even need to, after they’ve seen it all?

Reese: Again, I think their context really matters here. What is it that you’re revealing? If we’re talking about an event, I keep going back to your event. During the event itself, you’ve probably seen on social media, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, people talking about it while they’re in it. They’ll do things like tweet out maybe something that someone at the event said. And so that is a way to keep that excitement going and stretched out while you’re in the middle of that particular event.

When we are talking about a product or service, I think it gets a little trickier. But there’s no reason why then you can’t change the psychology in what you’re tapping into. And instead of anticipation is feelings of pride of ownership or excitement. I just got this thing. People, when they really love something, if you encourage them to share it and they do, you’re tapping into that whole social proof wisdom of the crowd thing. So then there’s this thing going on where let’s say you go to see the Dr. Strange movie. I read about it on your Twitter feed or somewhere else you’ve posted it. I respect you so I think, well, if he liked it, I wasn’t thinking about it, but now I am. So you want to kind of play into that social proof part. And I think that starting to ask your audience to help continue the excitement, continue the buy in for you, is one of the best ways to keep those positive feelings around your service, your product, your event.

Rich: Yeah, I’m thinking about, they don’t do this anymore, but when I was younger, they would do after like the first week or two of a movie being out, they would interview moviegoers in front of the movie poster and be like, “Oh my God, it was the most amazing movie ever saw this. I laughed, I cried”, those sorts of things. And so I guess you could use some of that. And again, I think it depends on what is your goal after you’ve had the big reveal? Is it to bring in more people to buy it, or is it to make people happy with their purchase? And I guess it could be both, certainly could be both. And so based on that, do you want to use social proof to get other people to try it, even if they kind of avoided the anticipation side of it? Or do you want to make sure people don’t get buyer’s remorse, that they’re excited? Maybe there’s things that they haven’t uncovered about the software that they just purchased from you. Tips, tricks, those sorts of things. So they’re really getting the most out of the product and they feel like it was a worthwhile investment. So those are some things I can think about as well, that might continue on and post anticipation, post reveal,

Reese: Yeah. Validate their decision.  

Rich: Yeah, absolutely. I’m curious to know, because you’ve done this in a lot of different industries and over time, are there instances that you’ve discovered where anticipation is either more or less effective, like times of the year to go after, or times of the year to avoid as an example?

Reese: So let’s talk first about times to avoid. You might want to avoid product launches around Black Friday. And the main reason why, and I could go either way on this, I’ve seen people do it successfully. But it’s really important to consider the amount of noise that you’re up against in general, and those competing psychological factors that are going on in people. They have all this pent-up tension around buying for Christmas. You’re up against many different psychological movers in people, especially in the west. So if you’re trying to build anticipation then, it might just be too much for people. So that’s first.

And you might also, we can’t time things to world events. I mean, good Lord something happens tomorrow, it’s the zombie apocalypse, we really can’t do a lot about it. But if the Olympics are coming, we’re in the Olympics right now, consider the context of your audience. Maybe you have a software for people who are sports betters. It might make sense for you to time a new update to your software, a new version of it, around the Olympics. So that’s where again, you could look at what’s going on in the world that are more planned events, and think about does it make sense for me to coincide something going on in my business? A new software update, a new service I’m offering, a new product I’m offering. Could I ride the wave of people’s interest in that very narrow, specific topic? So that would be where maybe you leverage what’s going on with people psychologically, and you are running a parallel marketing plan with anticipation with that particular event.

Rich: All right. This has been great Reese, I’m sure that people want to learn more about you and see if there might be ways that they could work with you. Where can we send them online?

Reese: I would love it if they enjoyed this and they want to hear what I have to say about all kinds of things like website optimization, I can’t even think of what else off the top of my head, I got a whole variety of topics on my media page. It’s at designbyreese.com/media. Go there, check out the other podcasts that I have been on, and this one will be on there too, if you want to catch the replay. And then if you want to reach out after that, you can go on my main website and sign up for my email list. I’ve got a free website fixes guide for you, if that interests you. But I’d love to hear from you.

Rich: Awesome. Great. And we’ll help those links in the show notes. Reese, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much for stopping by.

Reese: Thanks, Rich. I loved it.

Show Notes: 

Reese Spykerman uses her magical content wand to help businesses sell more product and scale faster using her proven methods. Check her out online, and be sure to grab a copy of her FREE sales & conversion tips!

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.