The 3 Golden Rules of Email Marketing

When working with new clients at Symbios Growth Automation, I’ll often discover that they’ve been going about their email marketing strategy in a way that almost guarantees poor results.

I’ve been thinking about these common mistakes for a while, and what I’ve found is that these mistakes usually fall under what I can see as three broad categories of error. I’ve found that if you just follow a few simple guidelines, you can probably avoid these mistakes that frustrate so many business owners who are new to email marketing.

So I’ve put together three golden rules for anyone out there with an email list who isn’t quite sure what to do with it.

These will give you a ten-thousand-foot view of what a good email marketing strategy is all about. They will serve as guiding heuristics you can refer to each time you make a key decision about how to send emails. And I’m certain they’ll keep you on the right track.

By ignoring these rules, you run the risk of tanking your deliverability (ending up on the wrong side of a 20% open rate) and your audience unsubscribing faster than you can replace them, with those who do stay slowly losing trust for you and growing to resent you. They definitely won’t buy anything.

I’m confident that if you follow these three golden rules, you’ll have a better grasp of email marketing strategy than 90% of businesses sending emails.

You’ll create an incredible asset that will pay dividends for years to come. One that enables dealflow, generates sales, and allows you to automate and scale like nothing else, to truly ‘own’ your audience and get granular data insights that platforms outside of email simply don’t provide.

Just remember these three golden rules:

1. Nobody Cares About You

One of the biggest mistakes I see people making with email marketing is not delivering enough value before sending offers for their product or service.

People don’t sign up to your list to receive marketing material.
People sign up to your list because they think you have some insight, knowledge, or other form of value that can benefit them.

Remember: Nobody cares about you.

They don’t care about your business or what you’ve ‘been up to.’ Don’t waste your time sending ‘company updates’ or ‘newsletters’ that do nothing to add value to your audience’s life.

People want value and they want it now — and it’s the only certain way to get people to pay attention to you. Definitely don’t ask for your audience’s money until you’ve delivered a lot of upfront value.

Think about it — if you have even a small ~10,000 person audience, that’s like talking to a small stadium full of people every time you hit the ‘send’ button. Would you plug your product or service to 10,000 strangers before introducing yourself or trying to engage their interest in some way?

Imagine going to a conference and the keynote speaker walked on stage and just started listing features and benefits of their service. Don’t do it to your subscribers.

A good rule of thumb is to send at least two emails that provide direct tangible value to your audience before you ask them to buy something. Even more value upfront will create even better results.

If you consistently create a lot of value for people, they’ll eventually begin to know, like, and trust you enough to transact with you.

Nobody cares about you, and your email list is not about you. It’s 100% about creating value for your audience.

If you’re just starting out, before you send anything via email, ask yourself, “Does this email educate, entertain, or enlighten my readers?”

If the answer is no or you have to think about it for too long, put it away and send something that does.

2. Build Awareness

Although you’ll be spending time creating value for your audience, that doesn’t mean it’s a sunk cost.

If you’ve spent time correctly positioning and defining the audience that comprises your email list, the content you’re using to educate, entertain, or enlighten should be tangentially related to your service. (For example, a gardening tools ecommerce store may have 80% of their emails educating their audience on how to be better gardeners.)

Being the authority that delivers this free education, entertainment, or enlightenment also means you control the narrative journey your readers undertake.

If your marketing strategy is well informed, you’ll improve your reader’s state of awareness about your product or service. This can only be done by first providing value that educates, entertains, or enlightens.

Schwartz’s Five Levels of Awareness should be your key guide to thinking about how to engage with your audience. Move your audience from unaware to directly aware of what you do over a long-term timeline of value-laden communication.

Email is a long term play.

This person is in your audience and you’re looking to slowly build a relationship that will last for years. Always deliver value upfront while occasionally dropping hints about the commerce exchange you can provide — but only once they’ve indicated that they’re ready to know about it.

Imagine you’re the garden supplies store we used as an example earlier. If someone subscribes to your list because they read something you wrote elsewhere about being a better gardener, it’s because they want more of your educational, entertaining, and enlightening content.

Only once they indicate that they might be interested in, for example, building a retaining wall (maybe they read three retaining wall articles in a row?), only then should you think about letting them know you can sell them products to help them do so.

Adding someone who doesn’t even know what their problem is to your email list and then bombarding them with offers is a great way to scare away a potential buyer.

Helping them discover what their problem is and introducing your service only when doing so will also create value.

3. Keep It Clean

If you don’t regularly reassess your deliverability and list health, you won’t be able to create any value because people won’t receive your emails.

The biggest indicator of an unhealthy email list is poor open rates. If you’ve got an audience you’ve built naturally (that is, they’re all individuals who have chosen to optin to your email list), you should regularly be getting open rates above 20%.

Anything below that means your deliverability is shot or your audience is unengaged (and probably hates you). The former is relatively straightforward to fix, but the latter takes considerably longer.

The biggest reason for poor engagement is because you’ve created an abusive relationship with your audience by not following the two rules prior to this one.

I regularly get open rates well above ~60-70%, even for direct sales emails, because I follow the two rules I mentioned.

It doesn’t matter what Mailchimp or other email benchmark reports tell you about what is a ‘good’ open rate. You need to be getting a consistent 20% open rate as a minimum benchmark. Otherwise, you’re doing something wrong and your list is unhealthy.

Questions to Keep You on Track:

  1. Before you send anything, ask yourself, “Does this email educate, entertain, or enlighten my readers?” If the answer is no or you have to think about it for too long, put it away and send something that does. Alternatively, ask yourself, “Did I send at least two no-strings-attached value emails before sending this email about myself or my service?”
  2. Are you guiding your readers on a journey with your content? Help them discover what their problem is and introduce your service only when doing so will also create value.
  3. Are you consistently getting above 20% open rates for your emails? If no, you have either a deliverability or an engagement problem. Refer back to rules one and two or seek to improve your deliverability.