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How to Write Emails That Your Customers Want to Open – Tarzan Kay
The Agents of Change

How to Write Emails That Your Customers Want to Open – Tarzan Kay

On this podcast we preach hard on a regular basis about the importance of building your email list. But once you start to get those names, how do you keep them on your list? Did you know you could actually make some serious money from your emails? Email marketing wizard, Tarzan Kay, runs successful email marketing campaigns by staying authentic, consistent, and driving meaningful engagement. Don’t be afraid to utilize that email list, it is a golden opportunity for business growth.

Stop worrying about how many people are on your list, and concentrate on engaging those subscribers with compelling, meaningful and authentic material that resonates with them and makes them want to engage with you. Ask a question, start a conversation, and watch your subscribers grow and do business with you.



Rich: My guest today is a master of email marketing and former copywriter for hire, who specializes in fun to read, more addictive than Game of Thrones, email copy. She also helps freelancers attract better clients who will reach deeper into their pockets to pay for top quality services, also using the power of email.

In a previous life she was a music major, and like so many copywriters, did a three year stint in law school in Francais. She found her way to the online space through blogging and social media, “What’s up, overdue credit card bills and low paying clients”. When T money’s not in mob boss mode, she likes to take mid-day dunks in the pool – even at frigid temperatures – stage backyard episodes of ultimate Beast master, and singing show tunes in the shower. Now let’s jump into email marketing with Tarzan Kaye. Tarzan, welcome to the show.

Tarzan: Hey, thanks for having me.

Rich: So what was your instrument of choice back when you were a music major?

Tarzan: Well, I’ve been playing piano since I was three years old. And when I was at music school I played jazz piano and I also sang.

Rich: Oh, fantastic. You’re well-rounded.

Tarzan: I think so.

Rich: Absolutely. And have you had to put your law almost degree – was it a law degree or was it a law almost degree?

Tarzan: It was a law almost degree. I did three years in law school, and then I left right before the end.

Rich: And have you been able to put any of that into practice? Like the way that Jeff Winger does on Community, where there always seems to be some mock trial popping up somewhere?

Tarzan: I wish that I was as funny as he is. I love Community. But no, it was like an expensive investment in figuring out what sort of life I really want and what my values really are.

Rich: What kind of life you didn’t want and what your values weren’t.

Tarzan: Yeah, that’s true too. Yeah, totally. I wasn’t…you know what, the biggest issue with law school, it was interesting and I had fun. I like reading and in law school you read a lot of really great stories and arguments, which are so interesting. But I didn’t feel like the law students that I was studying with were my peers. I always felt like a black sheep and I felt like we didn’t appreciate and want the same things.

Rich: Makes sense. Well, now you’re in the email game and regular listeners to this podcast know how much I believe in email marketing, how critical it is for almost every business and entrepreneur. So I was surprised to hear that you found a lot of people who are afraid of email marketing. Can you share with us, what are they afraid of, and where does this fear stem from?

Tarzan: Oh my gosh. So many fears around email marketing. And it’s scary in the beginning because we’re like, what are people going to say? Maybe they won’t like it. Maybe they’re going to unsubscribe. There’s so much going on there. So much of who am I to take up space in your inbox?

So the type of email marketing that I do and that I teach is entirely permission-based. So I don’t recommend adding someone to your email list that didn’t elect to be on that email list. But what I see is even those who are building an email list with people who voluntarily said, “Yes, I will join your email list”, still there’s a constant issue of, “is this email good enough?” Nobody wants to be annoying. You know, we all have emails in our inbox that you’re like, “Oh, this thing again, unsubscribe”, or “Oh, it’s too many emails from this person.” You know, we all feel those things all the time. You don’t want to be on the receiving end of it.

So there’s a lot there and I think it’s important that you look at it. But the fact that you’re asking those questions, if you know, for your listeners who are like, “yes, I too, I too feel afraid to send email”. The fact that you’re thinking about it suggests you are probably the type of person to send more intentional emails who is conscious about connecting with others. And you know, you just have to know those feelings are going to bubble up and you got to deal with them.

Rich: So one of the first ones you mentioned is, what am I going to say? So people are concerned because they don’t want to start an email newsletter because they don’t know what they’re going to say or what they’re going to share. How do we overcome that?

Tarzan: Well, this is a bit hard to hear, but you overcome that just by writing. You have to start writing. Like, when you’re trying to be a writer or you’re trying to do some writing, it’s not immediately obvious what am I going to write about. Probably the most important rule of email marketing is to be consistent with it. And in the beginning you’re figuring out what does my audience want to hear from me. Oh, they like when I tell stories, okay, I’m going to tell more stories. They don’t like it so much when I just send them discount 10% off emails every day. Those sorts of things it’s usually in the doing of it that you will learn how to do it.

Because one of the beautiful things about email is that it’s actually a really intimate space. So your subscribers, they will reply and they will tell you their own stories. Like if you share something interesting they’re going to want to reply and share their experience with this thing that you’re talking about. So you’ll notice the types of content that generate conversation and the type of content that actually nobody’s, that just sort of comes up crickets.

Rich: So, man, there’s a lot for me emotionally to unpack from that last answer. Because I was wondering like, how do we know what they want when people don’t always respond to you?

Now I will say that I have a pretty big email list for my company website. And it’s only in the recent posts that I’ve had that have been more focused around dealing with COVID that I’ve gotten any sort of a number of emails back and I’m wondering, am I doing it wrong or am I just sharing the content that people are able to digest but doesn’t necessarily engage them in a conversation and is that wrong? Like, can I just be sharing valuable content? Is replying to email the only measurement we should be looking at when it comes to providing information people want?

Tarzan: Well, replies are an excellent metric to track, especially when you’re just starting out. But the other issue, it is hard when you’re starting out. When you don’t have very many people on your email list or very many people say following you on social media, it’s hard to know is this not resonating with people. Or is it just that there aren’t enough eyes on it because actually in the early days, that is usually the problem, or is it there aren’t enough eyes on it. So it takes some time. That’s why you have to be consistent about building relationships and continually putting your stuff in front of other people so you can figure this stuff out.

So that is a really great metric, but also your open rate is a great metric to look at, your click through rate is a great metric to look at if you are doing promotions to your email list, but people aren’t buying the thing that you’re selling. Well then, you probably need to spend some time building relationships or maybe creating a different offer. Maybe that’s not what people want.

So there’s lots of different things to be looking at when you’re doing email marketing, but I would definitely say those replies are the most important part. And when you see a lot of people replying, that’s when you know you’ve definitely hit on something that’s important. And that you’ve got to talk more about that.

Rich: Which is actually one of the reasons why I probably have written more about dealing with the coronavirus, both from a leadership standpoint and emotional standpoint and a marketing standpoint, because I have gotten more replies to those kinds of emails of late. Obviously that’s only going to last so long. I mean, hopefully it will be over by the time this airs. But anyway I’m wondering if you have tactics to not necessarily incentivize people to reply, but to get more replies. Are you asking questions at the end? Are you specifically looking for it or it’s just your tone and your approach to email marketing, getting people to hit reply and talk back to you?

Tarzan: So it’s both. Anytime I share something that feels a little bit controversial or edgy, I know there’s going to be a lot of replies. But absolutely ask questions. If you want to start a conversation, ask a question and reply. Those people that reply are your hottest prospects, they are ready to build a relationship and potentially become a customer. It’s such a great way to create more customers, especially when you’re starting out with email. This is invaluable.

So two things there. Say something that’s worth listening to and that’s interesting going to be interesting to them and they’re going to want to engage if they’ve heard it before they are not going to reply. And then also ask them questions.

Rich: All right. That definitely makes a lot of sense. Definitely something I will try and work into some of my own emails for sure. Now you obviously have your own list. What are you promoting there? What kind of content are you sharing, and I guess what kinds of questions are you asking to engage people to get them to respond?

Tarzan: So I am an online business owner and I teach people, primarily like people who are service online service providers like copywriters or designers or virtual assistants, like people who are providing services, that’s my audience. And also people who are selling information products. So those are my two people and that’s who I’m teaching and who I’m engaging with interacting with.

And one of my strategies for getting people to reply, which also helps me to create new promotional materials, new emails and sales pages and all that stuff, is just by asking them one simple question. Let’s  say I’m getting ready to promote my email program – and I do this all the time – I’ll send in my newsletter emails at the very end I’ll ask them the question, “What’s your number one struggle when it comes to email marketing?” And the words that they are going to give me will not only start conversations, those are all of the objections and difficult challenges I need to address in my promotion.

Rich: So you’re starting a conversation and doing market research within your email, that’s more or less what I’m hearing, correct?

Tarzan: Yeah, absolutely. And sometimes I actually will send them to a survey to ask specific questions. But the easiest, lowest barrier to entry to get that information from your subscribers is just to ask them one question.

Rich: Right. And ask them to just hit ‘reply’ then rather than sending them somewhere else.

Tarzan: Yeah. Exactly.

Rich: You previously shared with me that people stay on your list for years, and I’m guessing you have a really good engagement there. But what tactics do you have to keep them on your list for so long?

Tarzan: Well, it’s not a tactic at all. The biggest reason why people stick around with me for so long is because I’m very real and I share real things, and the marketing copy that I write doesn’t feel like marketing. It feels truthful because it is truthful. And it’s part of my mission, which is to expose where marketing has become disingenuous. So my subscribers know me as someone with a lot of integrity and they also have known me and they see my humanity because I mess up and I say, “I’m sorry”, when I do things that are not okay. So I have built up a lot of trust over the years.

And also another big one is that I tell a lot of stories and I’m funny, it’s one of my gifts. I probably don’t sound funny on this podcast. I am funny when I write emails, it’s like a weird thing. I’m not that funny in life, but I’m funny in writing. And also one of my special gifts is that I can tell stories about hard things and make them sound funny. And people like that, it helps them get through things when we can actually talk about them together and also have a laugh. So I would say that’s one of the bigger reasons that people stick around on my email list for so long.

Rich: You know, it’s interesting as you’re talking, you have a strong personality, and I really love that about you. But what I’m thinking is like, what happens when you are writing emails and you are part of an organization and maybe you have a personality, but the organization may not have a personality or maybe there are multiple people creating content for the company. Is there any way to address those kinds of issues? And I’m going to ask the question that I know a number of my listeners are thinking. “But I’m not funny. And I’m not even that great a writer. How could I possibly create engaging copy?” Do you have any advice for those people out there?

Tarzan: Yes. So you don’t have to be funny. You have to be you. I’m being very much myself and that’s why it works because I’m just openly myself and people find that really refreshing. Maybe you’re not funny and that’s okay. You don’t have to be funny. You just have to be you.

But let’s say you are not a personal brand and you’re writing on behalf of a company. There’s a couple of things going on here. A great company should definitely have some sort of voice guide and know what that company’s voice and personality really is. If the company has not done that work, it’s hard. It’s really hard because you have to make it up. So in some cases you might have the creative freedom to just add whatever personality you want to the emails. And the default is going to be your own personality.

But if you are writing as a company, I get emails from let’s say, Kobo books, right? My e-reader is just sitting in front of me right now. So Kobo books, they’re always going to come from Kobo books and actually they have no personality, probably the company has never thought about their brand personality. So that’s the first thing. Let’s hope that you have thought about brand personality. If you’re sending an email where the ‘from’ name is just the company name in most circumstances, particularly for small businesses, this probably wouldn’t work for Kobo but for small businesses, I would strongly recommend that the ‘from’ name be an actual person like ‘Tarzan from name of company’ that could be the ‘from’ name. And then you can be a person, even though you are engaging on behalf of a company. It definitely works better when the email actually comes from a person. And then you just are speaking in the personality of, hopefully that person is yourself, and you use your own personality.

Rich: I want to just touch on one thing. So I’ve always had an issue with who the email should come from. And certainly there, for example, HubSpot sent me emails for a year. I never opened any because they came from somebody’s name who I had no idea they were from HubSpot. And so I just deleted them without unsubscribing for some reason.

But I think what you’re saying is, if it had come from ‘Ethan from HubSpot’, that would have actually taken care of both issues. I would have known he came from a person and expected a more personal approach, but I also would have recognized the brand name. So I’d been like, oh, Ethan works at HubSpot. And hopefully those two things together would have gotten me to be more open towards opening that email.

Tarzan: Exactly. You got it.

Rich: Alright. So you are doing a lot of course promotion. That’s one of the ways that you generate money, that you have your living. So not everybody though is going to be promoting courses, but we are likely going to be promoting sales, special offers, Agents of Change conferences and other timed events. How do you build momentum for these type of events through email?

Tarzan: Okay. So anytime I’m leading up to a promotion, I like to have a nice long runway. So before my next promotion starts, a program is going to open June 17th. So I I’ve been talking about it basically since the end of my last promotion. I mention it all the time, getting ready to launch my program, email starts on June 17th, here’s what I’m working on.

My content right now is very much about email that’s, this is not the only program I sell, my program is someone else’s program but it’s one of my core offers. And it’s about how to create a digital course. So as soon as this promotion is over, I’m going to switch gears and talk about how to create your own digital course. So across all channels, not just email, the stuff that I post on Instagram when I go on podcasts, I’m going to be talking about creating a digital course and how creating a digital course has been great for my business, my students.

So that is really important, laying that foundation so people know that it’s coming. A lot of people, and this was me for sure, it felt like the biggest joke to launch a product. Like, what does that even mean? It means I send one email and I’m like, “Hey, it’s open”. And everyone’s like, great to see that email now. I don’t know. So, you just have to tell people again and again, and again, to generate excitement about the thing that’s coming. Like, okay, I’m starting to work on this thing. Okay. The thing’s almost ready. Okay. The thing’s going to be released now. Okay. Now it’s ready. You can go buy it. Okay. Now you only have three days left to buy it. And then boom, we’re done.

People need so many touch points, way more than you think. And when promotions fall flat is when there’s no groundwork, that prelaunch runway is just ignored. I put so much emphasis on the beginning of a promotion, even sometimes just the very beginning and the very end. But if you don’t put that work in at the beginning, no amount of work at the end is going to make it take off.

Rich: And during the early stages of that runway, are you pushing the idea to your audience that there will be an ask at the end of the runway? Or is it more like we’re just – in the example you gave creating online course – are you just talking about the benefits of online courses and maybe your call to action is join my email list if you’re talking on a podcast, for example? Is that the way you do it? Or are you letting people know, Hey, if this is exciting to you, stand by because I’m going to be releasing a course?

Tarzan: Both. It’s both. I don’t mention every time, because right now basically everywhere, I’m always talking about email. So if every single email and every single Instagram post and every single podcast was a little bit about email, also my course is opening. Like I mentioned it as often as possible, but in the places where I’m showing up frequently, like email and Instagram, it gets stuck. It’s like, Oh, here she goes again. I’m saving that for when it’s open and I’m promoting it. Then I’m going to be saying every day, “It’s open today. It’s closing in two days. Our bonus is expiring in two days”, or whatever. I’m going to mention it every single time when the thing is actually for sale. But when I’m in the runway, it’s a mix like probably 60% of the time I’m just talking about the subject of my offer. And then the other 40% of the time, I’m like, “Hey, also this thing’s coming”, I’m going to be selling something.

Rich: All right. So as I mentioned earlier, I have been sending out more emails lately in part because of the response, but I’m also noticing that flyte new media is getting a lot more unsubscribes. Which, you know, I get the daily update from Constant Contact. It’s a really solid punch in the gut. When I see 25 people, sometimes even 30 or 40 people unsubscribing after an email goes out how do I keep people from unsubscribing? Or am I thinking about this the wrong way?

Tarzan: Yeah. You got to turn that notification off. Turn the notification off, absolutely do not. Like, I’m not saying don’t look over there because you do want to look at the typical number of unsubscribes every time you send an email. Because you know, if you’re sending out about a certain subject and people are unsubscribing in droves, usually you will also get – if it’s something that’s controversial and people really don’t like – you will also see a lot of email replies where people are like, “Didn’t like this, peace out, unsubscribe”. But unsubscribes are part of being an email marketer. Your email list is a living thing. People don’t join forever. They join, they leave, other people join. We have to be constantly growing the email list because unsubscribes are part of the game. You got to turn off the notifications.

Just make a note of looking at once a month to see if there’s some unusual uptick. If you haven’t emailed your list in a long time and suddenly you’re emailing them again, well then for sure all these people are like, “Oh, this guy, I forgot I was on his email list. Haven’t heard from him in a while, not interested anymore.” So when you’re trying to breathe life into a dying list, it’s normal that the drop off is going to be higher. But as you become consistent with your email with sending regular emails, it should level out.

Rich: All right. And that makes me feel a little bit better. Now don’t take this the wrong way, but you seem to have a quirky creative personality. You referred to yourself as the black sheep. Obviously if we’re just ramping up our email list again, breathing new life into it as you said, or just sending out stuff more often, we’re going to start to lose some of our older subscribers who maybe it’s not appropriate for anymore. Do you have some creative or quirky ideas on how to generate more subscribers that you’re finding effective for your own business?

Tarzan: Yes. I know what works for me, but I think it’s also really important to consider what do you enjoy doing and how do you want to run your business? So most of my list growth comes from paid ads.  I run ads constantly to a free opt in to this free thing, and then you’re going to join my email list. I’ve been running ads consistently for just about a year and a half. And the reason why I’m like that is not the only option. There are free ways to grow your email list, like having a podcast or creating some sort of weekly content for me.

My primary platform where I create my best content is email. So that doesn’t work as a way to get more people on my email list, other than word of mouth. And I have great word of mouth. I will often go on a podcast, like when you go on some influencer’s podcast and they say, “Tarzan’s emails are so good. They’re the only emails I read.” Lots of people are going to join. So I do a lot of visibility in front of other people’s audiences and I run ads. Those are my primary ways of getting more traffic, more subscribers.

Rich: Awesome. And the only thing I would take an objection to is the idea that podcasting is free. I will tell you it’s definitely not free, but I hear what you’re saying.

Tarzan: I was just going to say it’s lower costs, but it’s definitely not free in that the time involved is like so much time. That’s the real cost I have never been willing to pay.

Rich: Yeah. I just do it because I love talking to people and learning about new stuff. So I’m sure that a lot of people now are dying to subscribe to your email newsletter, check out how you are engaging people through email, and want to check out your website and some of your courses. Where can we send them?

Tarzan: So if you go to tarzankay.com, you’ll find many wonderful swipe files and free things and incentives to sign up. And I would say take the free thing – because why not – but really the best if you want to learn how to do email and truly connect with people, come and join my email list and get my weekly newsletters and see what true connection really looks like in this medium. Because it can be beautiful and it can be this thing where you do your most creative work. I really, my hope and part of my mission is to change the way people think about email marketing. It can be something that’s really magical and beautiful. It does not have to be spammy or intrusive. You could be that bright spot in someone’s inbox where they’re like, “Oh my gosh, look, there’s Rich. I’m going to read that one first”.

Rich: That would be a great place to be. Tarzan, this has been awesome. I really appreciate everything you shared with us. And the links of course will be in the show notes. Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your expertise.

Tarzan: Thank you

Show Notes:

Agency Mastermind Application

Tarzan Kay knows how to make some serious money from email marketing. If you want to be one of the cool kids like her, check out her website to learn more about how she does it.

Rich Brooks is the President of flyte new media, a web design & digital marketing agency in Portland, Maine, and founder of the Agents of ChangeHe’s passionate about helping small businesses grow online and has put his 20+ years of experience into the bookThe Lead Machine: The Small Business Guide to Digital Marketing