The Two Types of Email List Catastrophe

"We ought to be thankful to nature for having made those things which are necessary easy to be discovered; while other things that are difficult to be known are not necessary"Epicurus

If you’re on this site, you’re likely considering the best way to use email marketing and automation in your business. 

You may already be aware of some of the ways it can help you. Some of the stats about the channel are widely known: that email contacts the largest and most active group of internet users, some ~3.9 billion each spending on average 2–3 hours a day in their inboxes. Or, that it’s also the most highly engaged audience online, with average email open rates around double the equivalent expected engagement of an average social media post. 

Maybe you’ve heard about email’s great ROI: with a return on average around ~$51 USD for every dollar spent. When used correctly, the ROI from email dwarfs any alternative, with strategies such as paid search typically yielding in comparison just $2 for every $1 spent. 

This “used correctly” is key. Email marketing must be implemented properly in order to reveal its more advanced benefits. High ROI and engagement are great on their own, but what makes email special goes beyond these basic propositions. Used correctly, email allows direct communication with your market, enabling you to collect and compound your customer data, as well as the endless possibilities of automation. 

Knowing just some of this potential is enough to pique the interest of most small online business owners. Less known are the risks. They seem almost under-discussed in comparison. Yet anyone with experience of email marketing automation will immediately know what I’m referring to. 

Small business owners new to email marketing often find themselves with their revenue suddenly halved, their engagement dwindling to nothing, and their hard-won subscribers shuffling away in quiet exodus. After nearly a decade building email automation for small online businesses, I’ve learned that these types of catastrophes can be grouped into two forms: the Top-Down Cascade and the Bottom-Up Cascade.

The Top-Down Cascade:

The top-down cascade is the consequence of poor foundations. Your email list collapses in on itself. It begins with a drop in the amount of people interacting with your emails. After not too long they start unsubscribing from your emails en masse. Similar to a collapsing ecosystem, your database begins slowly dying. I've written more about the top-down cascade and how I solve it in this article.

The Bottom-Up Cascade:

In the bottom-up cascade, the foundations don't collapse, but are simply pulled out from under you. Maybe you’re banned from the platform you depend on for traffic. Or maybe there was an algorithm change that now penalizes the reach of your posts. In every case, access to your audience is taken away without recourse; your business no longer has legs to stand on. I've written a two-part series about the bottom-up cascade and how to shift your thinking to solve it.

The lessons of both cascades are the same – we need a strategy when it comes to email marketing and automation. It’s the only way to make sure you aren’t exposing yourself to the common risks of the top-down and bottom-up cascades. 

Perhaps more importantly, we also need a strategy to make sure you’re able to access the more sophisticated benefits of email marketing we touched on above. Think about your current email marketing strategy:

  • Are you building goodwill with your subscribers so they stick around long term? 
  • Are you actively collecting data about them so you can personalize their emails? 
  • Are you waking every morning to new sales from automations? 
  • Do you have any automation set up at all?

If this doesn’t describe your situation you don’t need to feel you’re missing out. The truth is, most small online businesses aren’t doing any of these things. And when you look at the state of things, it’s easy to understand why. There are countless individual blog posts, courses and one-off tactics out there for the channel. But there are few comprehensive systems that actually take those elements and place them into a broader context. 

As the cascades above illustrate, the key to a successful email marketing strategy is much more than a sum of independent parts. There are no comprehensive guides out there telling you how to go from beginner to advanced. No blog post will give you insight for how precisely this channel should sit in your broader marketing mix, or how it can uniquely help your business.

My upcoming book Natural Orders intends to solve that gap. It outlines why and how we can address these bottom-up and top-down cascades. In doing so, we can set the proper foundations which will allow you to reap the many unique benefits email marketing automation has to offer. If you're interested, go here to learn more and receive early release updates.

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