(Originally written May 2018. Updated Nov 2019.)
“How do I grow my email list?"
A lot of people have asked me this question over the years. They hear from many business experts that growing an email list is the most important thing to do in marketing.
Unfortunately, building an email list is the wrong focus. If you talk more deeply with marketing experts, I think they'll agree.
None of us need an email list. What we actually need is an audience who cares about our messages.
It is essential for authentic marketing to switch our mindset from “building an email list” to “building an engaged audience.”
Meeting people where they are
Email list-building was hot in the 2000’s. It was still kind of cool to receive emails from brands you like. Then marketers started to notice that audiences grew tired of being on lists.
Services like Unroll.me (helping you to quickly unsubscribe from email newsletters) became mainstream.
Audiences began to expect brands to meet them where they’re at.
You like surfing Facebook? Great, you’ll see my posts there.
You watch Youtube videos? I've got a channel there.
You prefer podcasts? You can subscribe to my podcast.
If you care about your audience, go to where they are.
Of course, this needs to be balanced with your limited time. I’ve written about this before: Focus your marketing on just the few channels you’d like to become great at. For example, I've decided not to have a podcast at this time, as Facebook and Youtube keep me plenty busy. There are more than enough people in any one channel you choose, e.g. Facebook, Youtube, Medium, Podcasting, etc.
In other words, don't force your audience to give you their email address to get your best free content. Post it where they are hanging out. Make it easier for them to consume and engage with your content… and to share it!
Holding desires ransom with a "free gift"...
Many people find this annoying about marketing:
They build up our desires with a deception of “free”, then hold it for ransom.
We end up paying for that "free gift" by allowing an ongoing barrage of emails of things they want to sell us. The "payment" is steeper than originally looked (“simply submit your email address!”)
We don’t have to be like those marketers.
“But my email list is the only thing I really control!”… is what marketers tell me.
The truth is that nobody is really in control of their email list. So many peers have lamented to me about low open rates. In fact, average email open rates are less than 25%!
Many email campaigns are going into spam folders… and never reaching the intended people.
Here’s the reality:
What can you control, if not your email list?
You control only your behavior: whether your content is authentic, relevant, and consistent.
An engaged audience arises from you being authentic, relevant, and consistent. You build an audience that cares about you.
When your audience cares about you, they will look for you.
On Facebook, they will seek out your posts, in the rhythm they've become accustomed to seeing from you. Their behavior will train the algorithm to show them your posts.
On Youtube, they'll miss you if they don't see your videos in the Recommended stream, and will go to your channel to see what's new. Again, the algorithm will notice this and put you into their Recommended section.
And yes, if they subscribed to your email newsletter, they’ll look forward to it!
So… should we build our email list?
If your audience wants to receive your content via email -- and if you don't mind sending a consistent email newsletter -- then yes, offer it as a service of convenience to your audience.
As I wrote in my blog post “No Lead Magnets”, I do have an email newsletter which I keep as simple as possible, so that it’s sustainable for me to keep it up.
I don’t look at my newsletter as the most important asset in my business and the one channel I can control.
I see the George Kao Email Newsletter as a free service of convenience for my audience. It’s for those who like receiving newsletters, and want to keep up with my latest content via email, rather than having to hunt for my posts on Facebook, Medium, etc.
(If you'd rather charge, you could monetize your email newsletter using a service like substack.)
But here’s the point — I also have followers on Facebook, Youtube, or Medium who aren’t on my email newsletter. I meet them where they’re at.
The Bottom Line? Your Intention.
When it comes to building an audience, release your fears and need for control. Dive into your caring and generosity. Share your truth, love your audience, and they won’t let algorithms get in their way of finding your content.
They will keep looking for you, and be delighted when they see your content.
Share this article with your fellow generous content creators!
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George Kao is a Marketing Coach for small business owners, especially solopreneurs such as Coaches and Mentors. He focuses on ethical & effective ways to grow one's platform and build true livelihood.
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