Why your mailing list is your most powerful asset

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Believe it or not, your mailing list is your most powerful asset. I’ve yet to met a marketer yet who would argue the opposite.

Vin Clancy says ‘For every month your mailing list isn’t being used, you lose 10% of its value’ Still today this is an essential piece of marketing.

Gone are the days when people buy list of emails to spam (that really used to happen but is now illegal!). Gone also are the days when you can just add people to your mailing list because you feel like it. The proper way of building a list these days consists of leaving it up to the user to decide if they want to be on your list or not.

People who sign up for mailing lists now, generally want to be on them. When I ran Living in Luzern, we had a very clear message in each email which said ‘If you no longer want to receive emails from LiL, please feel free to unsubscribe at any time.’ At the end of the day, we didn’t want a bunch of people on our mailing list who didn’t want to be there.

We also had a policy of never adding anyone to the mailing list unless we emailed them first to explain that we had added them and that they were free to leave anytime. So many companies ignore this step and just add people without asking. I don’t know about you, but that really frustrates me, especially when I’ve ticked that I don’t want to be on a subscription list and yet still find myself on one!

What qualifies as a successful email marketing campaign?

If you have set up a social enterprise in the past 5 years, it is highly likely that you’ll be using MailChimp for your newsletter. A lot of organisations use it because it is free for up to 2,000 subscribers. MailChimp is also very attractive because of it’s vast integration directory which easily syncs subscriber emails from your website with your newsletter database.

Because MailChimp has been in the email marketing game for a while, they know how important statistics are. Their software tracks open rates (how many people open your newsletter) and click through rates (how many people click on a link from your newsletter) across industries. To see how your newsletter is doing, you can compare your stats to the stats they’ve compiled. For example, according to MailChimp, the Non Profit industry has an average open rate of 24.88% and an average click through rate of 2.81%.

One of my absolute favourite things about digital marketing is that it is MEASURABLE. You know instantly if what you are doing is working or not. Because of statistics, you’re able to track what is interesting to people and what isn’t relevant to them. This helps you to serve your clients and customers in a much more efficient way than you ever could have in the past.

Despite having statistics available, very few companies actually bother to look at them. This is a real shame because it is free information that is easily accessible! How can you improve anything you are doing if you don’t know what to improve?
Remember those open and click through rates I told you about earlier? They are based on mailing lists of over 1,000 people. When I left Living in Luzern, our mailing list was nearly up to 800 people and was classified as a Non Profit. Our average newsletter was opened 46-51% of the time and we had an average click through rate of about 22%. What was the secret to our success? The content we were writing about was relevant to readers and we delivered it to them in a way that was enticing enough to be clicked on.

Even though I knew I could get really good results for my own organisation, I didn’t know if I could help others to achieve the same open and click through rates. Before launching Made with Joy, I worked as a freelance digital marketer. While freelancing, I got to test out my mailing list theories on several different accounts. Clients wanted me to do two things for them. The first was grow their mailing list and the second was to deliver a good open rate and click through rate.

How to grow your mailing list

Growing your list can be challenging, especially when you are just starting out. Most people begin by adding all their friends and family. This is a great way to get started, but eventually, if you want to survive beyond your first year, you will need people on your list who don’t know you. How will you grow your business otherwise? Below are a couple tips to growing your mailing list:

Tip #1: Make sure that there is a clear ‘call to action’ button or form on your website which encourages people to sign up. Let them know what they will be receiving and how frequently they will receive it. It is extremely easy to integrate a signup form on your website, don’t miss this simple opportunity to grow your list.

Tip #2: Consider a pop up. While they aren’t popular, they do work. I made a bet with one of my clients (and won) that I could get 100 people on his mailing list in a month if he let me put a pop up on his site. Another client started her mailing list off with 15 friends and by adding a popup, was able to grow her list to over 225 legitimate readers in a sort period of time. Many of the new additions were people who she didn’t know personally but who had the potential to become clients.

Tip #3: If you add people to your mailing list, tell them you are doing it! It is ok to add people to your mailing list who you think would be interested in reading what you have to say. MailChimp has a neat feature that allows you to send an email out to people on a list who’ve been added since your last newsletter was sent. This is a valuable feature because you can create a standard email before you send them a newsletter that tells people you’ve added them but also encourages them to unsubscribe themselves if they don’t want to receive your newsletter. If the information you will be sending them is truly relevant to them, it will be rare that they will unsubscribe – at least this way,you’ve done the right thing by informing them first! People you might add this way could be clients or customers who have already worked with you or people you have met at a networking event that you may be able to help.

Increasing your open rate and click through rate

Now to the task of increasing your open rate and click through rate. In Mailchimp, your campaigns page should give this information next to the title of each newsletter you’ve written. It is fair to say that the larger the list, the lower your open rates and click rates are likely to be, that said, you should be aiming to beat your industry open rates and click through rates. Here are a few tips to help you accomplish this:
Tip #1: Segment your list. I can’t tell you how many organisations lump everyone together in a single category. The reality is that most organisations cater to more than one type of client or customer. For example, at Living in Luzern, we had some people who had children and others who didn’t. Our newsletters telling people about upcoming children’s activities weren’t relevant to single adults or couples without children. By segmenting our list, we were able to send different messages to different types of people. Don’t go crazy with segmentation, but if you can clearly define different segments of your mailing list (volunteers vs. service users, for example), then take that extra step and segment them!

Tip #2: Abridge your newsletter content, making use of ‘Read more’ links. Doing this gives subscribers a taste of the things you want them to read, but ultimately forces them to have to care enough about what you’ve written to click through to finish reading the post. If people click through from your newsletter to your site, it will tell you if you are on the right track with your content and based on which content your subscribers click on, it will tell you what topics they value most.

Tip #3: Always ask yourself this question: What action do I want people to do once they’ve read my newsletter? The answer is your CTA (Call to Action) and should generally involve some sort of button. A good example of this is Cultivate, another one of our favourite clients. Cultivate is a social enterprise that sells local, ethical and delicious food at various stops around Oxford. When we started working with them, they wanted to streamline their newsletter and make it an easier weekly process on the admin side but also result in more people taking an interest in shopping at their stops. Cultivate implemented the following four things to their newsletter which have been highly successful in saving them time and providing worthwhile content to their newsletter subscribers:

1. Vegetables are seasonal, so this gives Cultivate a new talking point every week. At the top of each newsletter they have a gorgeous image of an ‘in season’ vegetable and a short blurb about which local farm it has come from.

2. Below it, they’ve added a big green button that says ‘Find Your Nearest Stop’. This button links directly to a page on their website that tells the potential shopper where and when they can find their Cultivate stop.

3. Because Cultivate have built up a huge collection of recipes, often submitted by their readers and local restaurants, they use their newsletter to share new and different ways their ‘in season’ vegetables can be cooked or baked. Each recipe has a picture and a big green button encouraging the reader to click through to the recipe which is published on the Cultivate website.

4. Lastly, Cultivate has spent a lot of time and effort curating a calendar with a list of events that people interested in local, organic and delicious food might also be interested in. Their final section of the newsletter is a snapshot of the upcoming events with a link directly back to the calendar on their website.

By analysing their click maps (a feature in MailChimp that visually shows you what parts of your newsletter are being clicked on), Cultivate will easily be able to see which of the four sections of their site gets clicked on the most. If they find certain sections aren’t being clicked on at all, then they can re-evaluate whether or not they should keep putting effort into those sections.

Tip #4: Keep a clean list. It might sound counter intuitive to remove people from your mailing list, however, statistically speaking, you can look into your subscriber list and see who has never opened a single email that you’ve ever sent them. You can remove them outright or you can send them a personalised email asking if they are receiving your newsletters. Many people now use gmail and a couple years ago when they launched their inbox tabs, MailChimp newsletters suddenly disappeared out of the inbox tab and relocated to the Promotions tab. It may be that people want to read your newsletter, but they simply aren’t seeing it. A personal email will get to the bottom of the issue and it may ignite a conversation you weren’t expecting!

Tip #5: Resend your emails to people who didn’t open them the first time around on a different day or time. This is a little trick that a client taught me believe it or not! He had worked out that he could get an extra 25% of his readers to open his newsletter if he simply resent it to the people who didn’t open it the first time. It is a little cheeky, but it works!

HOT TOPIC QUESTION: A question I get a lot is ‘How often should I be emailing my list?’ In this day and age, many companies exploit the fact that you won’t open every email they send and so will send so many that you occasionally give up and open one. While this approach works, I personally believe it is a bad long term strategy. Our sector is a lot about personal relationships and not about a quick sale, unless you have a burning desire to make people mad or new and relevant information to distill on a daily basis a weekly, monthly or quarterly newsletter will suffice.

To be honest, the bigger mistake that people make is not sending one consistently. It is very easy to get caught up in all the various bits and bobs of our day to day tasks that sending a monthly newsletter becomes too much of a burden. My opinion is that you should either do one and stick to a schedule or not do one at all. Inconsistency will not help your business or your brand.

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