Why email newsletter?
Why email altogether?
And why does email annoy me so much?
Last year, I was moved to try a new email provider from the makers of Basecamp. It's called Hey. I like my new email address, [email protected] Those of you who know me really well might wonder whether I really need a new email address. Frankly, no, but I like how it works and here's why: Hey lets me bucket my messages into four groups:
Imbox (not a typo, it’s stands for IMportant and IMmediate messages, not random receipts and newsletters)
The Feed (for the newsletters)
Paper Trail (for the receipts)
Screened Out (for the stuff we can’t seem to unsubscribe from and don’t want to see)
And that's what I use it for. Segmenting.
Now, because of my field of work, I subscribe to quite a few brand and company email newsletters. I thought it smart to unsubscribe from my other emails and redirect my gmail too, so everything would then exist in ‘The Feed’, which as it describes is a rather pleasant and simple scroll, reminiscent of IG but for email.
Guess what happened. In less than a year, my Feed has become so crowded that I can barely go through one day’s worth of emails before shutting down my device and moving away from it. Thankfully, Hey lets me choose to be notified when I want to know about someone sending me communication, so I’ve flagged a couple of publications I particularly like. But the takeaway is this: despite the thought out new system, and the curated way I choose my subscriptions, they are overwhelming me and I cannot and barely even want to poke my nose in the feed.
TOO MUCH CONTENT AND TOO MANY PEOPLE TAKING ADVANTAGE
I do understand that not everyone has read the privacy laws passed called GDPR but I find it particularly aggravating when marketers and brand owners repurpose an old email list for a new business. I received a message yesterday and I have no idea why these people are getting in touch with me. I don’t follow them on Instagram, I don’t recognise them or their brand name. It’s rather vexing and, as it turns out, also illegal. Why are they emailing me then? What do they hope to achieve (PS they sell sustainable cushions)?
A few years back, I was sadly privy to the sale of a customer database by a very indebted entrepreneur to a third party for a small cash sum. It felt silly because not only did it feel wrong to me, but the money was so low! Though this took place about 15 years ago, even then, there were some people ready to take advantage of this kind of precious data. I can just about imagine who bought the customer base and the surprise and annoyance these 5000 people must have felt being contacted by random companies.
That’s a question that emerges for me both when I work on strategy and receive communication from brands and companies in particular. And it's a really important one too.
In a recent coaching workshop, I noticed that a lot of the participants, all of them coaches in training, were struggling with how to connect with clients. The words 'build audience, newsletter, instagram' were used consistently, and in other courses, you'd also hear the rest of the socials being mentioned, including the dreaded 'IG live or Facebook Live'. Though no one used the word ‘funnel’, the question on a lot of minds was: how do I do this, where do I start, what is the most effective way to be doing this?
And I got back to why be doing this in the first place?
Most consultants, agency owners and companies are in the same situation. They are expected to be using these tools. They want to know how to strike the right balance when reaching out to clients and prospects: how often should they message and what should the content should be about? The overwhelming feeling I took away from this was the notion of ‘should’. That’s what we should do, that’s what is expected to become successful at XYZ.
From what I sensed, I wanted to ask the following question: do you even want to do this?
WHERE IS THE JOY?
Then this fascinating idea was brought forward. What if we approached the problem using language that was used 1000 years ago. Or even 100 years ago. No more ‘building audiences, connection, posts or funnel etc’.
Instead, the conversation became centered around:
I’d like people to know about what I have been doing.
I’d like people to discover my work.
I’d like people to read the new piece that I have put out.
I’d like to keep in touch with my clients and see how I can XYZ.
Connecting with a vocabulary that felt more personal, closer to the heart of each of the women in the group, it became easier to also connect the dots between the challenges they faced on the scattered platforms.
The pressure of performing on social media, of serving an audience, lessened when it turned into telling people about 'what I’ve been up to'. A part of me also wants to add that we shouldn’t be everywhere, only where we feel at ease, being on social for the sake of promotion only is very 2015. Or whenever that time that was that all brands jumped on this particular bandwagon, away from TV and print.
Kudos to those in 2021 who dare be outside IG or WeChat - Bottega Veneta comes to mind. Our culture of ‘always on - always sharing’ puts undue pressure on all creators and business owners and it’s time we take a step back and ask why.
This brings to mind an interview I recorded for Out of the Clouds last year, with visual artist Dapper Lou, where he offered some powerful thoughts about how he approaches the use of the social media:
“I literally built my whole career and everything off of social media. And I think if used the right way, it can be an amazing tool. As an artist, you may feel this pressure to produce constantly or to always be working on something, which is not how I work now.
But I think that I'm in a place with social media that I understand it. I don't let it control me, I'm more in control of the medium. I learned that from the way artists post, because I will see someone like Solange or Frank Ocean, they'll post once whenever they feel like it.... People will wait, and then I just kind of adopted that same mentality. I don't have to literally Instagram every single moment. I can wait and make a beautiful story. And for me it works better that way because there's not just constant pressure.”
I recalled this conversation because these feel like inspired words and I enjoyed the borrowing from artists Lou admires. After all, aren’t artists the first to twist around and make what they want out of the mediums they choose to use? In his hands, the same visual platform becomes an elevated and purposeful tool that serves the visual story he is telling. And he uses it at a time that suits him, rather than follow the rules of the algorithm. I’d say this is the result of both experimentation and maturity.
BACK TO REALITY
I am guessing here: most companies have a deep desire to engage with their customers for the sole purpose of conversion. Money first, please buy what we sell. But I don’t find much effort or generosity in attempts to connect. The ones who do it well often never try to sell anything at all. As per my earlier post, they are simply telling a story because they are animated (from the word 'anima', Latin for spirit) to tell you about this thing that they have done or that fascinates or excites them.
As it stands, just wanting to sell something is rarely a profound enough motivation to move clients to purchase. There needs to be something else to the message to build up the interest. And that often builds up over time - unless you are putting out just what someone needs in that instant. Rare but possible.
MINDFUL OF OUR MESSAGING
The other day, I had the pleasure of joining a fellow MMTCP graduate April Davila in a mindful writer’s workshop, where a group of us was guided first into meditation and then into writing exercises. April asked us to imagine the motivations of characters depicted in images pulled at random. She asked us to go at least five why’s deep in order to find the underlying source, the real trigger behind the action undertaken by a character. I found it a fascinating and effective exercise.
I challenge you to put this to the test next time someone near you is putting out an email or a social post or a campaign.
And again why?
Whether before or after this exercise, I wonder if we could establish a list of questions for brands’ email messaging like:
Is it honest?
Is it factual - does it depict the reality?
Is it interesting?
Is it educational?
Is it fun?
Does it match our values?
Does it say something about us that we need to tell our clients, does it have purpose?
Does it support others positively?
If there is not a single yes from the above, I suggest holding off and working on something else.
A FEW EXTRA CONSIDERATIONS
Publish in more than one place: we are all over the place, so consider where your best writing and content should live.
Don’t get too worried about timing: whether that’s time of the day, or how many times. Concentrate on quality first. If what you do is appealing, your clients and readers will find it, enjoy it and (prayer hands) maybe even share it.
Of course, each company should build their own set of criteria, to correspond to their vision and tone of voice. If they haven’t got a clear vision and tone of voice, then that’s another matter - back to square one. We should all do that work first.
There is a caveat: this is not easy. Most of us, myself included, find it hard work to do - especially on our own - because it’s heavy lifting, it requires turning inward, examining our vision, motivations, etc. And then ideally we should try to find what the proof points are in the work we have already put out that tangibly support the values we say we uphold.
WHY EXAMINES INTENTION TOO
I'll give it a go for you:
I am writing this because I feel very keen to explore this topic and I am emailing you so we can maybe have a conversation around this or prompt you to think about this.
Because I hope to make you think deeper about the choices you make in your communication.
Because it is a topic of deep interest for me?
Because I am fascinated about how we function, how we work, and mostly, how we communicate.
Because I know, deep down, that we can do better if we connect to a deeper purpose than making a sale.
This will support businesses to be more successful, because they will find it easier to connect with the right clientele.
Because I like to help people
Because I like to make magic happen.