Email Marketing is a pillar of digital marketing. Not only is it one of the oldest forms of digital marketing, it has also proven to be the most effective in terms of converting views into revenue. As a marketing professional and/or successful business owner, you probably know this.
Even so, do you really appreciate how valuable email marketing can be for your business? With appreciation comes dedication and a commitment to the time, money, and development necessary to create a strategy that not only delivers results, but also seamlessly integrates with your overall marketing plan.
I’ll give you an incentive to develop your own email marketing strategy. I’ll tell you a story of how a free email newsletter turned into $27 million. It’s the story of The Hustle.
The $27 Million Email Newsletter
If you’re not currently a subscriber to The Hustle (and if you’re not you should be), you’ll find it to be interesting, entertaining, informative, and addicting (almost as much as your morning coffee).
It’s an informative daily email that contains up-to-date information on a variety of industries and topics. The design of each email can be described as “snappy;” you’ll get a quick view of interesting news events, scandals, statistics, trends, and business happenings in a concise format that is both direct and effective.
Better yet, all of it is complemented by a hip, attention-grabbing GIF that showcases the theme and feel of the day’s topic. Combine the stylish layout, consistent delivery, interesting content, and dependable format of The Hustle and you have an email strategy that can entertain 1.5 million people.
In February 2021 the marketing software company Hubspot acquired The Hustle for a reported $27 million (according to Axios). The Hustle proved that it’s possible to organically grow an email list that isn’t just valued by over 1.5 million subscribers, but also the likes of a company worth $22.6 billion.
Just in case you’re wondering how long the process of growing and selling a successful email-based business like The Hustle took, it was less than six years. The newsletter first came out in 2016 with the business content model you see today. If you’ve been email marketing for a while, this should give you some indication of how effective/ineffective your efforts have been.
Do You Have an Email Marketing Strategy?
I’m guessing that you don’t have a strategy, and if you do, it’s vague and was probably set up quite a while ago. Worse, it may not align, or even connect to, your overall marketing strategy.
If you’re unsure of whether or not you actually have an email marketing strategy that’s both defined and connected to your other marketing efforts, just answer these questions:
My current campaign message for this month/quarter/year is __________.
My current email marketing campaign connects to my PPC/Social Media/SEO/Content Marketing campaigns in the following ways: __________.
My most effective 30/60/90 day campaign in terms of ROI was __________.
I know (by heart) my current average Open Rate, Click-Through Rate, Conversion Rate, Unsubscribe Rate, Bounce Rate, List Growth Rate, Share Rate, Revenue per Email, and Revenue per Subscriber. They are __________.
How did you do? If you could answer more than one of these questions in a meaningful way, you’re further along than many business owners. Even in that scenario, there can always be room for improvement, and that’s what we’ll try to establish here.
The Real Reason You Don’t Have an Email Marketing Strategy
You don’t have an email marketing strategy because you don’t think you need one.
For most businesses, email marketing is a support function of another “primary” marketing method. It’s a limited part of a funnel, follow-up method for an incomplete checkout cart, or a quick blast to promote your 24-hour Friday Lightning Sale.
Email marketing is over-simplified as a purely promotional tool (as in something that you only use for discount sales to past customers or newsletter subscribers), but the purpose can be much more extensive than that. Ideally, it should be used for Branding, Traffic, Engagement, Direct Sales, Referrals, Reactivation, Retention, and Acquisition.
Promotional emails should be only one of three types of emails you send, the others being transactional and relational. Further, the process of your customer journey in regards to email marketing should ideally follow eight steps: Awareness, Subscription, Engagement, Conversion, Excitement, Ascension, Advocation, and Promotion.
All of these aspects are well and good, and you’ll find exactly how to execute an email marketing strategy through amazing online email marketing certifications like this one (sorry/not sorry for the unapologetic, shameless plug), but that’s not what this article is about. What we’re here to discuss is your email marketing strategy and how using the example of The Hustle can revolutionize your email marketing forever.
The Five Step Process of Creating an Email Marketing Strategy for the 2020’s
The Hustle is a poster child for email marketing. Not only do they consistently deliver a well executed email marketing strategy, they have proven that an email-first approach is a viable alternative to more traditional marketing methods. This five step process is based on The Hustle’s ongoing example. If you’d like a practical guide to executing the strategy with instructions and how-tos on every aspect, Click Here.
STEP 1: Decide Where Email Marketing Ranks in Your Overall Marketing Strategy
Before you do anything, you need to decide how much time and effort you’re going to dedicate to email marketing in general. If you’d like to know where it stands in The Hustle’s opinion, just check out their homepage:
The answer, of course, is front and center. The homepage of The Hustle clearly indicates their intention with a newsletter CTA simply and immediately stated. The directness is reinforced by a large amount of white space, a mobile platform mock-up of the newsletter itself, a statement regarding their subscriber base (“Trusted by 1.5M_ readers…”), and a carousel of reviews by happy readers. They don’t even have navigation at the header or footer for goodness sake!
If you ranked the marketing methodologies of The Hustle on a 1 to 10 scale of importance, email marketing would be a 10. Where does it rank in your overall marketing strategy?
To figure out where email marketing fits in your marketing priorities, just answer these questions:
- What marketing methods do you use?
- Give each of your marketing methods a rating from 1 to 10 (1 being the lowest importance and 10 being the highest)?
- How much time and money is spent on each method on a monthly basis?
- Does your ranking and resource spend on email marketing reflect your commitment to the method?
STEP 2: Set a Long Term Email Marketing Objective
Many business owners and marketing professionals tend to focus on short-term metrics when it comes to email marketing objectives. You want “x” amount of new subscribers. You want “x” percentage of click-thrus. You want “x” conversion rate. These are all short-term goals and are necessary for ongoing operations, but they can’t contribute to the development of a new email marketing strategy; they can only determine whether it’s working or not.
Your long term marketing objective needs to be broad, captivating, and inspiring for both your company and your audience. You can get the essence of The Hustle’s objective by looking at the first line on their About page:
Here at The Hustle, we tell people (like you) what they need to know.
While the statement is broad and vague, it sets a tone for an email marketing strategy. Let’s break down the statement into its component parts:
- Here at The Hustle – All-encompassing statement for the brand
- we tell people – Clear action phrase simply stating what they do
- (like you) – Qualifier and uplifter for the reader
- what they need to know. – Intriguing authority-building statement
If you boiled down all aspects of an email marketing strategy into a single statement, what would it be? Here are some examples to get you started:
Education Technology Company Newsletter: Keeping families informed of vital education developments.
Ecommerce Apparel Company Newsletter: We’re your daily “add to cart” wishlist source.
Local Restaurant Newsletter: We make you excited for lunch before breakfast.
STEP 3: Decide What Elements Your Primary Email Template Will Contain
While you may have a variety of templates for specific email marketing functions, you should still build an overarching outline for your biggest list. For most companies, that will be your general newsletter. Once you establish this, you can pull or add elements for email segmentation while still keeping a consistent feel.
If you look at The Hustle, their layout contains five primary section types:
- THE BIG IDEA
- ADDITIONAL TOPIC (1 OR MORE)
- “OF THE DAY” (Meme of the Day, Jacket of the Day, Stat of the Day, etc.)
- SHARE THE HUSTLE
Having a consistent layout allows your readers to predict what information they can look forward to and where it will be located. Your goal should be to create the McDonalds of email marketing… no matter how the viewer consumes the information, they’ll know what to expect.
To get started, try to limit your sections to no more than five. You need to create sections that are broad enough to accommodate infinite topics while being specific enough to be engaging and interesting. List out every section you have or could have in a standard email campaign and categorize them into five groups. This should give you the basis of the sections you should be using.
STEP 4: Determine Your Overarching Design Theme
Many people tend to lump design and layout into the same category, but it’s a mistake in terms of strategy. The design, which you can also call the voice, style, tone, feel, etc., needs to reflect your overall marketing strategy, rather than an individual email campaign.
If your brand is quirky, fun, and irreverent, then your email design shouldn’t be minimalistic, somber, and religiously themed. If your long term email marketing objective is, “We provide business owners with secrets big media CAN’T tell you.” then your header topic should never match today’s headlines from MSNBC, CNN, or FOX with a bubbly stock image of a smiling model.
In the case of The Hustle, as evidenced by the screenshot from a recent campaign above, the design combines a casual, cheeky, direct voice with “punchy” (pun intended) graphics that feature bright colors, funny scenarios, and attention grabbing animations.
Your viewer should be able to establish your overall design theme within seconds of opening each email. If there is any ambiguity in this regard, then you’ve failed to clearly define your design. Here are a few questions you should be able to answer.
What three words encapsulate your overarching email marketing design?
If you had to sum up your entire strategy in one picture or graphic, what would it be?
If your standard email campaign was a character from a movie, who or what would it be?
STEP 5: Commit to a Set Execution Period
Just like any plan, your email marketing strategy will need some time to implement, test, and refine. To do all that, it needs a minimum amount of time. Setting a time objective will force you to take the task seriously while also giving you the right mindset needed to execute the process fully.
Again, referring back to the history of The Hustle, Sam Parr started with a list of 300 subscribers in 2015 and relaunched the newsletter in April of 2016, then grew to over 1.5 million subscribers by mid-2021 (about 5 years). That’s an average annual growth rate of almost 300,000 subscribers. While this is an exceptional expansion rate, it didn’t happen overnight and the current subscriber list, while very impressive, isn’t an inconceivable amount of people.
If your company fully committed to an email marketing strategy, what could 10k, 100k, 1M subscribers do for you? Even a fraction of that could have a profound impact on your business.
With that in mind, we recommend committing to a minimum of 90 days to execute a new strategy. In our Email Mastery Certification we outline exactly what implementation will entail, and we recommend you start there.