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How To Quadruple Your Email List in 13 Weeks

A Doz Email Marketing Case Study A regular newsletter is one of the most effective means for reaching out to clients – existing and potential – and demonstrating the value of your brand. Value is the key word here. Not sales, not conversions, and not revenue. Value. A weekly or monthly newsletter allows your business […]

A Doz Email Marketing Case Study

A regular newsletter is one of the most effective means for reaching out to clients – existing and potential – and demonstrating the value of your brand.

Value is the key word here. Not sales, not conversions, and not revenue. Value.

A weekly or monthly newsletter allows your business or brand to reach out and give something away to people who have already connected with you.

You can offer them information, you can offer them practical advice, you can offer them products that they’ll want to use, or links to the products of others that will complement your own offer.

Approached in this way, the possibilities for long-term conversion, sales, and revenue should be clear. While it seems a little unintuitive, by not focusing on converting a customer and pushing them into a sales funnel, the sales will eventually come.

So why doesn’t everyone have an email newsletter?

Well… They do.

Most every business engaged in a sustained digital marketing effort has a newsletter. The signup forms are ubiquitous on websites across all industries and often acts as a gatekeeper to the content that people arrive on a site seeking.

But then why isn’t everyone singing the praises of their newsletter for driving awareness of the value of their brand?

The reason is because most of them don’t succeed.

They end up in spam folders, go unread, or are deleted on arrival in inboxes.

The list of subscribers doesn’t grow, and the newsletter becomes a chore instead of an outreach and branding tool. Eventually the newsletter becomes more of a drain than anything else and you quit – and your subscribers barely notice you’re gone.

To get the most out of your email newsletter you need your list to grow and your audience to expand. You need new readers, motivated readers, and for your own motivation you need to see those subscriber numbers ticking up each week.

I’ll explain exactly how you can do this in just  a sec…

But first, let me tell you how I learned this strategy.

 

In the last 13 weeks I’ve taken our small scale email newsletter here at DOZ to new heights. Since the beginning of 2016 our audience has exploded four times over and we’re on track to meet our mid-year goal of 10x growth.

In other words, we’re not just another marketing company ‘talking the talk’ – we’ve ‘walked the walk’, done the hard yards, and have a proven strategy for blowing up an email list fast.

Our strategy is composed of four different elements and each one has played a part in helping us grow our reach and take our brand to more people.

I’m convinced that if you follow our process you’ll experience the same sort of growth we have and, yes, see the sorts of medium and longer-term benefits that we are starting to experience even just three months in.

Here’s how to do it.

 Tackling a New Market

About ten months ago DOZ launched a new email newsletter we called Marketing Monday.

It was to be a weekly digest of the best in marketing from around the web and a way for our marketing team to share their favorite tips, tricks, and sites with an audience that wanted regular, fresh content.

DOZ already had a regular monthly newsletter for the thousands of experts who work in our marketing ecosystem, and a second newsletter for the people who were generally interested in the company, our work, our trajectory, and our growth.

This newsletter, though, was positioned to be something different.

It wasn’t aimed at people interested in DOZ, but at people interested in marketing. We were proud of our knowledge, proud of the content we curated internally for our marketing team, and we believed we could add value to the wider digital marketing community with a newsletter tailored to their needs.

The very first edition of our new newsletter was sent on 27 July 2015 and looked like this:

Weekly Digest Email Example

Original Weekly Digest Email

It went out to a relatively small number of early subscribers but we got great results with a 63% open rate and an 18% click-through rate.

Our audience might have been small but they were interested – now we just had to find more of them…

Over the next few weeks we built on the success of the first newsletter and managed to double our small audience by the time we sent out newsletter #6.

Our open rate remained high (+50%) and our click rate, too. We were adding value, we were reaching more people, and the newsletter was getting read.

And by the end of 2015, we had sent out 23 newsletters and doubled our subscriber list.

We were happy with the open and click rates that remained high and well ahead of the industry average, and we were happy to have doubled our list twice in around five months.

But we were also at a turning point…

 

An Editorial Change

At the end of 2015 the team member who had been building this newsletter left DOZ and the newsletter was passed on to me. I was set the seemingly unachievable task of growing the audience for the newsletter 10 times by the middle of 2016.

The boss here at DOZ loves a big, hairy, audacious goal and growing a subscriber list 10x in just 26 weeks was the sort of challenge he liked to challenge his team members with.

And so I took over the newsletter and set out to build the sort of list that the boss had asked for – and I did.

Here’s the steps I took…

 

Step One: Refresh

The first thing I decided to do was to change up the layout of the newsletter to make it more engaging. We are in the marketing business, after all, and words aren’t always enough to attract and keep eyeballs.

Here’s what the final email of 2015 looked like:

 

Weekly Digest Email Marketing Example 2

Weekly Digest Email format hasn’t changed in 23 weeks.

 

Not a lot of change between that and the first email we sent and no way to tell that this week’s email is different to the one the week before.

It’s text heavy and while the header image is something I liked and aligns nicely with DOZ’s branding overall, the newsletter wasn’t immediately engaging for readers.

So, I thought it was time for a refresh, the addition of some images, and something to catch the eye of the reader. Adding elements like this is easy with Mailchimp, our preferred email platform, and our newsletter quickly transformed to something more visually appealing:

 

Weekly Digest Email Marketing Example Long Form

Improved Format

 

Note the changes:

  • An image has been added to draw attention to the ‘lead’ link in the newsletter. There’s another one further down the newsletter for another link (more about this in a bit).
  • The ‘Read More’ prompt has been retained but it has moved to the right-hand side of the text. This is easier for readers to identify and encourages clicking.

The newsletter is now more visually appealing and a nicer reading experience for the subscribers.

 

Step 2: Ask for Help

One other thing that the screenshots above demonstrate is that between the standard header image and the first of the links in the newsletter is a short introduction.

This was important in getting our audience to spread our newsletter for us and help us build our subscriber base. Something as simple as:

  • A welcome that puts the email in context (“…it’s the 36th edition of…”)
  • An explanation of what the newsletter is about (for anyone who has not subscribed before
  • A request to pass the email newsletter on to others who might be interested

Every week our newsletter gets forwarded to new readers and some of those new readers sign on as subscribers. Sometimes just giving permission to your audience to share encourages them to do just that.

Step 3: Link Premium Content to the Newsletter

We produce a lot of premium content over at DOZ…

We have eBooks, white papers, slide decks, checklists and more, and our audience loves to read them. It’s a type of content that we love to publish because it is incredibly effective at helping our customers market themselves better andn the past, we had produced the content and made it available for download to the benefit of the audience, but, in reality, little immediate benefit to us.

Now, with an newsletter audience to build, I chose to install a plugin and start exchanging the premium content for an email address.

As we hadn’t done this before I was a little nervous that we might find some push-back from the audience.

After all, if we used to give something away for free and now we’re asking for an email address there’s bound to be some in our audience who might not like the new deal. So I was a little worried but, as it turned out, I didn’t need to be.

We didn’t see any appreciable decrease in downloads and while we did have some people sign on to the list, download an eBook, and then unsubscribe from the list, such occasions were rare. The bump in subscriptions when we rolled this out for our January convinced us to go back and add a similar ssign-upform to our previously published and evergreen premium content.

 

Step 4: Pop Ups and Drop Downs

Like any business that relies on content marketing, you hope that the content published is of the quality required to attract eyeballs and, eventually, customers.

You plan, draft, edit, then publish and – if it’s good enough – it gets some early reads, gets some shares, and then attracts a larger audience.

There will be social media shares, there will be comments on the article, and some people will even drop the author a short email with a word of thanks – really, it happens!

Some of these readers, though, won’t find their way back to your site the next time they are looking for information. You need to give them a reason to come back and inform them about your new content, and what better way to do that then your newsletter?

We’ve already used different pop ups and drop downs to gather email addresses for our general email lists but, beginning in January, we decided to adapt those pop ups and drop downs on the company blog to collect email addresses for the weekly newsletter.

 

It was just a small change, but it helped connect us to the readers and kept them reading our content.

 

Step 5: Social Outreach

The most successful of the major social networks for us has been Twitter. Beginning in January, we committed to making better use of Twitter to support the email newsletter and try and drive deeper engagement.

What we did was rather simple:

  • Every Monday in the hours before the newsletter was sent we’d tweet a reminder that there was still time to get on the distribution list.
  • In the hour after the email went out we would tweet to any company or individual influencer mentioned in that week’s newsletter to let them know that we had featured them.

Usually this would result in a couple of new subscribers on the basis of the reminder tweet. When it came to the tweets we sent to featured authors, we would almost always get some engagement in terms of likes or retweets, and we’d also pick up some additional subscribers through the increased engagement, too.

It’s simple but just telling people we had a newsletter and that we liked their content enough to include them in it proved effective in helping us build our list.

 

The Results

So how has this affected our growth?

Subscribers Growth Graph

In short: our email list has exploded in the best possible sense.

As the chart above demonstrates, we experienced steady growth in our mailing list from the launch of the newsletter right through to the end of 2015.

By the time we sent the last email of the year (Edition 23) we had doubled, and then doubled again the size of our mailing list.

But the special steps that we’ve explained in this post had a marked and almost immediate effect on the growth of the subscriber list.

Within two weeks our mailing list was spiking and we doubled our 2015 list in five weeks, tripled it in another five weeks, and quadrupled it by the end of March.

By the end of April, we fully expect that our list will be five times bigger than it was on the first day of the year.

And what’s more, the boss’s 10x mid-year target is not only in sight but the marketing team is quietly confident we’ll hit and surpass it with a couple of weeks to spare.

 

Final Thoughts

At DOZ, we’ve made some specific strategic changes in the last three months to ensure our slowly-growing newsletter audience would grow – and fast.

Nothing we’ve done is all that difficult and nothing we’ve implemented is out of the reach of most businesses and brands. Yet implemented in combination, the steps in our strategy have helped double, triple, then quadruple our email list in just a few weeks, and we’re on track to increase the size of our list 10x by the end of June.

Case Study: How to grow your SaaS startup to 10,000 paying customers

How Intercom Got $10mil+ in Annual Recuring Revenue Without Splashy Media Coverage, a Sexy Story, or a Famous Founder While companies like Slack have earned praise, press, and huge valuations for their rapid growth, an Irish-born startup called Intercom has been quietly but steadily creating a new category of software. And even though the company is still in the […]

How Intercom Got $10mil+ in Annual Recuring Revenue Without Splashy Media Coverage, a Sexy Story, or a Famous Founder

While companies like Slack have earned praise, press, and huge valuations for their rapid growth, an Irish-born startup called Intercom has been quietly but steadily creating a new category of software.

And even though the company is still in the “early adopter” phase of its market development, its products making in-roads into the low end of Salesforce’s, Marketo’s, and Zendesk’s markets.

In the last 12 months, the company doubled its customer from 5,000 paying customers to 10,000. They’re generating tens of millions of dollars in annual recurring revenue. Most recently, they raised a $50 million dollar venture round.

While this kind of growth is rare for even excellent SaaS products, Intercom’s story offers lessons for every SaaS startup founder and marketer around.

So how can you create, market, and sell a product that catches on and grows?

The key – if there is only one key – turns out to be simple (even though it’s hard): build a product that solves a big, expensive problem that you, yourself deeply understand.

This is exactly what Intercom’s founders did when they built Intercom to solve the problems they, themselves, faced when marketing, selling, and providing support to customers using a half-dozen different tools.

As they built their product, they discovered that a whole lot of other people had a similar set of problems. As Intercom grew, they found more ways to use and expand their offering to address both their own growing pains and the demands of a rapidly-expanding set of customers.

Of course, there’s a lot more to the story, and it can teach all of us a few lessons about how to create successful products.

 

It’s hard to define a new category when you’re the only one in it.

If you’re setting out – as more than a handful of founders have – to build a faster, cheaper, or better designed version of Zendesk, the problem you face is clearly defined: you just have to look at Zendesk, and ensure your product is faster, cheaper, and/or better designed.

Same thing goes for sales software, task management, or any other pre-existing category: you can look at the dominant players in the space and potentially carve out a niche by mimicking their best features and improving on their worst.

But if you’re building a complex, category-defining product, the problem is a lot less constrained.

You can’t simply say “We’re Uber for Salesforce!” and be done with it. You have to define what you’ve built without a clear reference point, and this is almost always incredibly hard.

Indeed, defining the product in clear and compelling terms (i.e. getting your product marketing right) seems to be an ongoing challenge for even founders and marketers of successful, high-growth SaaS startups everywhere. It certainly has been for Intercom.

As Intercom’s founder and CEO, Eoghan McCabe told me in an interview:

When we started out, we didn’t know the full breadth and depth of the competitive landscape. We didn’t frame the whole Intercom vision and the idea around what already existed. We simply started to solve our own problems and took it from there.

Because we weren’t entering a pre-existing product category, we struggled to explain not only what it was to the rest of the world, but even we struggled to understand it ourselves. What is this thing we’re building? Why does it matter? Why are people so excited about it? That was basically the fundamental challenge that touched every component of the business, whether it was on the product side, or the go-to-market side.

And, as even McCabe will admit, even though Intercom’s team has come a long way in understanding what they are creating, they still haven’t completely nailed down the language they use to describe it.

But if you’ve built a compelling SaaS product and are having a hard time distilling its essence, here’s some good news: Clay Christensen, the famous Harvard Business School professor and product marketing mind behind The Innovator’s Dilemma, came up with a framework that can help you.

This framework, lesser known than Christensen’s classic theory of disruption, is known as “Jobs To Be Done.

 

 

How Clay Christensen’s “Jobs To Be Done” framework can help you explain your SaaS product

Christensen’s “Jobs To Be Done” is a product marketing framework that helps you articulate your product’s position and value. It boils down to asking yourself “what ‘jobs’ do my customers ‘hire’ my product to do?”

To make this concrete, let’s say you’ve built a big, beautiful collaborative task and project management application. The job your customers hire that product to do may include:

  • Keeping their teams and themselves focused on the most impactful work
  • Tracking and prioritizing bugs and feature requests
  • Planning a complex marketing campaign
  • Creating repeatable systems and processes that they can delegate to junior people on their team.

Applying “Jobs to be Done” to its full capacity enables founders, product people, and marketers to go beyond demographic-driven “buyer personas” and “user stories” and start to understand the purpose of their products in more concrete terms.

According to Intercom’s McCabe, the “Jobs To Be Done” framework has been invaluable for his team.

Jobs to be Done focuses us on these nuanced problems that arise in people’s lives. If you understand the nuances, you can then understand the specific criteria that the product must have. And then you can focus on building a product that fits those criteria and solves those problems. Anytime we want to build a new product or a new core feature in a product, we’ll actually write out the job to make sure we understand it.”

Now, if you take look at the top of Intercom’s homepage (screenshot below), you’ll see that the headline is a bit murky.Screen Shot 2016-05-11 at 4.56.18 PM

The fuzziness of this headline shows that even with the “Jobs to Be Done” framework in the background, boiling down Intercom’s essence to a single sentence remains a struggle for the company.

But applying the framework has helped Intercom do what few startups are able to do: break its core product into multiple successful products AND launch a new product line that catches on.

 

 

How to split your core product into separate products without losing momentum

Breaking up your core product into separate products can be an intensely risky move. Do it wrong and at best, you piss off your customers. At worst, you lose tons of them. Let’s look at how Intercom did it right:

When Intercom first launched, everything came bundled together. You got all of it–the support, marketing, and product feedback tools–for a price that varied based on the number of active users you had in your database.

But a couple years back, the company broke its core product into three separate products, each one targeting a specific “job” that a given team inside a SaaS company needs to do:

  1. Engage. This is the marketing product, intended to eliminate the need for a full-fledged marketing automation system like Marketo, Pardot, or HubSpot. Engage helps marketing teams on-board new customers and retain old ones by sending automated messages based on their behavior inside an app. The job here is to transform potential customers into actual customers without requiring hands-on contact from a salesperson or customer success team.
  2. Learn. This one is for product teams who need to develop a more sophisticated understanding of their users. It makes it easy for product managers and research teams to send highly-targeted messages to customers, based on what they’ve done (or haven’t done) inside the product. For example, you might use “Learn” to send a message to the 40% of your users who aren’t using that fancy new feature you just launched and ask them why not.
  3. Support. This is a tool for support teams who need to deliver customer support without turning everything and everyone into a “ticket.” Its features include a “Team Inbox” that lets a support team distribute support requests and basic reporting features to track how long responding usually takes.

The benefits of the Jobs To Be Done framework is clear here. Before Intercom implemented the framework, its product was much harder to explain, and perhaps even harder to sell.

 

 

Jobs To Be Done can also help you grow faster

By dividing the product into a set of jobs and then splitting the core offering along the lines those jobs create, Intercom can punt on its core positioning challenge. After all, if the company can sell individual products to the individual teams who will benefit most from using them, they can tell three individual stories, rather than a single unruly one.

And of course, once they’ve made in-roads into a company with one product, it becomes much easier to sell another product to another team. Eventually, the whole company is using Intercom, and paying a lot more money to boot.

This is a version of the “land and expand” enterprise sales strategy, where a sales team sells a specific product to a specific team or division of the company and then uses the opening that product creates to sell across and up the chain.

For Intercom, whose customers tend to be small and mid-sized SaaS companies rather than Fortune 500s, the “land and expand” process requires a bit less sophistication (and fewer salespeople), but the principle is the same.

 

 

Jobs To Be Done can even help you launch new products that catch on

According to research by an entrepreneurship professor at North Carolina State University, about 40% of all new products fail.

We see this all the time in technology, when even our favorite companies put out new products out that fall flat. (See: Twitter’s Moments, Facebook Home, Google Glass, Amazon Fire Phone).

Failed products are a sad way to waste a ton of money, human output, and morale, and while there is a much better, lower-risk way to build and launch new products, very few companies do the necessary legwork.

But in October of 2015, Intercom did what so few companies manage to do: they created and launched a brand new product that caught on and grew fast.

This product, called “Acquire,” is an alternative to the live chat software you put on your website to talk to potential customers. And while Acquire would benefit from more sophisticated ways to capture email addresses and communicate with potential customers, it does the job of converting website visitors into new leads fairly well.

When Intercom launched Acquire, they had around 6,000 paying customers. On the back of the new product, that number rapidly hit 10,000. But as McCabe will tell you, launching a new product that nearly doubled his business wasn’t 100% pure luck.

As he says,

Before we built Acquire, we already had people trying to install Intercom on their marketing sites, even though it wasn’t something that we designed Intercom for. A lot of people made that request. So when we launched it, we had a really high degree of confidence that it was something that people wanted.

By diving deep and investigating the unconventional ways your customers already used your products, you can discover the big gaps in your offering. Equipped with these insights, you can build a new product and be confident that it will have instant appeal.

This sounds simple, but it’s easy to get it wrong: building a new product you know your existing customers will love is far less risky than attempting to concoct something new and compelling from thin air.

Of course, even if you focus on building new products for your existing customers, it’s still easy to slip up. Indeed, McCabe says that when Intercom first released Acquire to the public, the product faced “really aggressive churn.”

It was rocky going, but the team had a clear path to addressing the problems and getting their product right. After all, Intercom’s own product happens to be expressly built for collecting feedback about itself.

 

 

How regular, “expensive” communication with your customers pays huge dividends

This brings it all back around to the beginning: Intercom got started because Eoghan McCabe and his co-founders looked at their 10 years of experience building, marketing, and selling software and concluded that the conventional processes and tools were a disaster.

As he says,

When you think about how humans want to interact, and then you look at how most companies talk to their customers, those two things look very different. They spam them. They treat them like tickets, like statistics. Sales, marketing, and support teams talk across each other so that the customer gets the opposite of a holistic experience. That’s the status quo today: Many different teams in many different apps; no one on the same page about the customer; everyone treating customer like data points and tickets rather than humans.

The solution he and his team came up with was Intercom: an all-in-one tool for communicating with your customers in a far more personal, human way.

The challenge, of course, is one of scale.

When you have tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or even millions of customers, how can you possibly give them the attention necessary to make them feel like you care? And even if you could, should you?

McCabe’s perspective here is instructive, so I’m gonna share a bunch of it.

Every single conversation we have with every one of our customers goes through Intercom. There’s 50-odd people on the sales team talking to people every day. We’ve got our product folks building segments and getting feedback from different groups of our users and customers. Our research team also talks to our customers in Intercom. Our customer support team does too. I even jump in there to see what conversations people are having and talk to customers, too. While other companies try to add efficiencies over time and try and reduce conversations, we are fully committed to increasing the amount of conversations we have with our users, and always being available.

If all of that sounds like an expensive way to engage customers, it is: McCabe intends to grow his sales and support teams to “many hundreds of people in just a couple years.”

But instead of treating personal communication with customers as a cost center that would ideally be automated, Intercom treats it as an investment. Indeed, McCabe sees all of this interactions critical to Intercom’s growth and success.

 

 

Final Thoughts: Your existing customers are actually a goldmine of strategic insights.

When new users are confused about your product and tell you, that’s an opportunity to improve your messaging and your on-boarding. When a feature you just launched isn’t getting traction, talking to customers that haven’t used it is a great way to find out why not.

When you talk to your customers as a matter of practice, you can learn all about the strengths and weaknesses of your product, the accuracy of your marketing messages, and the efficacy of your internal processes.

Yes, communicating with your customers in a more human fashion is expensive.

But you know what else is expensive? Failing to understand your customers, watching tons of them leave, and building products that don’t catch on. 

So what do you think? Are you talking with your customers on a daily basis? Or is your company still considering it a cost instead of an investment? Let me know in the comments below.