I have been hearing a lot of talk recently about building email lists. For a long time, building email lists was “THE” way to market online. Then they died off a bit in the general conversations. But they are now making a comeback to being “one of the best ways to market”. But why is it? I want to challenge your assumptions and get you thinking whether you are using the right medium…
Think about it this way – I could write articles for my email list and add it to the autoresponder sequence every few days, or I could post the articles to my blog. Either way, people who have subscribed to my email list or to my RSS feed would get that article.
What would be the incentive for someone to join your email list if the same information was posted to your blog and which they could access in many different ways through Feedburner (a free RSS syndication service)? Using Feedburner, they get the choice (SO important in today’s market) of how your content is delivered to them.
After thinking about this long and hard (and continuing to do so…), it seems there is merit in both. Where RSS and email cross over, in my opinion, RSS is superior, for reasons I will explain below.
Gone are the AOL days when people were so excited to get an email that they enabled a “you’ve got mail” sound to play every time someone emailed them. I don’t know about you, but I get up to a hundred emails (not including spam) every day. Unless I’m getting great content from being on a list (as opposed to “sell, sell, sell”), chances are that I will unsubscribe from that list.
An email list comes into its own when you have a great autoresponder sequence (something like Eben Pagan aka “David D’Angelo” Double Your Dating newsletter) where the content will always be relevant and you are trying to take the subscriber on a journey. If you have a “how to” newsletter on carpentry, you probably don’t want to be telling people how to make a dovetail join until you have made sure they understand how to use their tools. This, in my opinion, is where an email list can’t be matched by RSS.
There are so many options to syndicate your feed through RSS, using a service such as Feedburner (my personal favourite). People can still get email notification of your posts (which can be full text or just a snippet), but using the same service, they could have your feed displayed in their sidebar on their desktop (if they are running Microsoft Vista), they could set their myYahoo homepage to display the feed or they could put it on their Facebook profile (among MANY other ways).
If you are writing top quality content, people who are interested in the topics you write about will want to hear more. I’m subscribed to a number of key player’s feeds, such as Jack Humphrey, Brad Fallon (among others). They just keep coming out with excellent, thought provoking content. When they promote a product, they make sure it will help people first (and has their FULL endorsement) and they keep the promotions to a minimum.
Another benefit of posting to a blog is that search engines LOVE regularly updated blogs. Even if the effort you spent writing articles achieved the same results using an email list or RSS, with RSS you have the added benefit of having great quality content being available to the whole world, setting yourself up as an authority so everyone can see, not just your list. Why spend your precious time on one strategy (email list) if it is not going to be as effective as another (RSS)?
You might say “but what about selling?” Selling to your list is best done as a review of a product or service. You wouldn’t EVER hard sell something to your friends, so why would you do that to your list? That’s what your list is – friends of yours who trust what you have to say. John Reese wrote an excellent article recently about how important transparency is in today’s business practice. If your sales message can’t be shown to the world, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. Think how you would sell to a close friend – “hey, I just found this, I know you’re looking for a, b and c and I knew this would help you because of x, y and z. Check it out.”
Of course, the one major exception to the above is when you have people on an exclusive priority list for, say, a product launch. You might have some exclusive information for them and if your product is great, many people will want to be the first to know so they can get any priority bonuses. Email lists are usually better for this if you want to give some people a headstart over the rest of the world and your supply is short, though I think RSS could be used just as well – even if you setup a special blog (eg a blog on a subdirectory) which gave people updates on how your product development, etc was going.
I suggest that email lists should only be used when you want to take people on a journey or you feel the need to introduce exclusivity. That is what they are best at doing.
It will take a paradigm shift for many marketers to shift their priority to RSS, but I believe that in the future you will see a lot more people promoting their RSS feeds over their email lists.