Email Marketing May Not be Sexy But it Works: Ashley Guttuso


In some respects, newsletters are the Rodney Dangerfield of the digital marketing world; they get no respect.

They’re widely used by B2B companies to engage and convert customers but they’re not seen as sexy. 

To get some insight into the world of newsletters, I saw down with Ashley Guttuso, Director of Marketing at Simple Focus Software and the author of the Opt-in Weekly newsletter. 

We talked about:

- Best practices and mistakes to avoid

- HubSpot's acquisition of The Hustle

- How and when to use curated content within newsletters.

You're listening to marketing spark podcast anddelivers insight, tools and tips marketers and entrepreneurs in the trenches in twenty fiveminutes or less. In some respects, newsletters are the Roddy Danger Field ofthe digital marketing world. They get no respect. They're widely used by BDBcompanies to engage and convert customers, but they're not seen as sex. Theyget some insight into the world of newsletters. I'm talking to Actley could too,director marketing at simple focus software and the author of the often weekly newsletterwill put a marketing sparky. It's great to have you and we've been goingback and forth on Linkedin for a while and it's have yet to actually talkto someone on my podcast about newsletters. So I'm really excited about the opportunityto get into excited to I think this is a fun topic because so manypeople like to proclaim that email is dead. Then they realize that email is responsiblefor a high percentage of conversions and of something that's almost more important isin nurturing relationships. So I've had a lot of interesting conversations in the pastwoo six eight months with different newsletter editors, and a percentage of him are marketerswho have had a lot of success with their newsletters, but is becausethey are doing it in a different way. Then I'm like, a lot oftimes there's a best practice right send a weekly newsletter or send a monthlynewsletter, and then that best practice gets like twisted and soiled and like itturns into something less savory than it once was. So the newsletter actually takeson this new definition and it's email asking someone to convert. So you dothe opposite of that with marketing spark, and I think that's how we connectedin the first place. But the marketers who are doing this well are treatingtheir newsletter like it is a an editorial stop these letter, which I lovebecause my background is in journalism, and we've seen this shift, or thebeginnings of a shift that will just become more prevalent, from marketing teams likeembracing content marketing, like making sure that you have content up there, thatthat engages to re engineering your mindset or your team's structure to perform the wayof newsroom or a media group performs, and so the focus then becomes onproviding content, whether you're writing it or curating it, that it's sole intentionis to support your audience and their success. So the marketers who do this best, I think, are the ones who are putting informative, educational contentin front of their readership and then sprinkling and like almost like an eight,twenty or ninety ten percent ratio of editorial... promotional. So that's the trendthat I'm seeing. So No, you're going to give me the basket oppositeanswer. But our newsletters, I'm glamorous, or are they? Are they simplyunderstated or they are they misunderstood, because I think the reality is thatnewsletters have been around for a long time. As marketers, we probably take themfor granted because they're part of our arsenals, just like a blog ora website or social media. Maybe we start to dismiss the effectiveness of thenewsletter or the fact that newsletters can be sexy, they can be compelling anyyet they have this stigma, I suppose you could call it, of beingkind of old hat, because they're not a new tactic. But if youthink about marketing and it's primary goal is to create awareness and then take thatawareness and form a relationship, a connection between the brand and the consumer,then it's a wonderful vehicle to deliver that intimate message, because email takes oneto one me to you. I'm sending this, excuse me, this emailto you and scales it as a one too many. As long this youdon't treat it like it's one too many. You kind of have to use thecontent in a way where I'm sending this specifically to you, my targetICP yes, they they don't seem to be as sexy, every five orten years they have another resurgence and they're the new great thing to do,and I think that you would find that that's why hub spot just bought thehustle, or why business insider thought morning brew was a great acquisition. Thosenewsletters, their editors had created an audience and a relationship with that audience thatthey hope to take advantage of. Glad you mentioned that, because when hubspot bought the hustle, my first impression was that it was more like whatlike? Why would a software company by a popular newsletter? And I didn'treally see the connection between the two, because Hubsbota is enterprise software and thehustle is all over the place. Their content is compelling and engaging and reallyinteresting. In fact, it's really good journalism when you think about it.So why do you think hub spot made the move? And then, moreimportant, what does that suggest as a trend in terms of future acquisitions orsoftware companies? BB SOFTWARE COMPANIES BUYING NEWSLETTERS? Are we is this the tip ofthe iceberg? As far as you're concerted, their approach is the fastpaced way to read to an audience that has already been nurtured into its existingstate. Their challenge will be to keep the content the same as it is, but to work the hub spot brand...

...into it right, because that thehustle has like a community. It's built around a mindset and so it's whatit's also doing is fueling a lot of business ideas and and keeping people tunedin to to the state of an industry they're they're interested in. So housespots challenge, and any challenge to a marketing team that is trying to actlike a media company, is to not twist what a media company does intoPromo, Promo, Promo. They have to deliver information in the way thatthe audience wants to receive it. So you can do that from scratch.Or if you're funded, you can go by the exact newsletter that has beengrowing for years and has the audience you want to reach. But the trickis not to like we one time. We bought a house that was builtin one thousand eight hundred and twenty three and it had like a servant staircaseoff the kitchen that was a winder staircase and we wanted it on the nationalhistoric register. Right. But the second you go in, if you arecontemplating like Hey, we should get rid of that staircase to make the kitchenbigger, you start to hurt the architectural integrity and then you are no longereligible for the tax benefits of being on the National Register because you have nowharmed the architectural integrity. If you take that metaphor and you adapt it toeditorial newsletter, that's ASSASS company has acquired. That's their challenge is not to disruptor harm the integrity of the publication. I have two schools of thought whenit comes to Housebot. One is that it's going to be very hardfor Husbot to keep its hands off the hustle because you know that they're goingto want to somehow imprint their brand and their brand message into that media entity. But in the other hand, hubbs but has a reputation of creating realmsof value added, insightful content that they don't even expect. A lot ofthe readers even buy how spot going down the road. So it's sort ofthe two headed beast when you think about how house spot operates. But Ithink you're right. I think it's going to be extremely tempting for hub spotto try to insert yourself into the hustle conversation. My advice to hub spotwould be to back off. Let the hustle stay the hustle, use areally light touch as you go forward and then you'll be able to rout thebenefits and then start to win over the community, because if they go toofast or they make two big moves, then the community will push right.So the intention would be to serve the existing audience, not change things ina way that makes them no longer want to be in that audience, becausethat's that's newsletter subscriptions right. It Hits...

Your inbox too many times with messagingthat you don't like. There's this magic unsubscribe and poof it's no longer partof your daily or weekly reading session. So I liked that from the pressrelease they expressed an intention to preserve that integrity and that delivery methodology. Iam going to watch and see, I think we all are, and seehow they treat that and then there's can be lessons learned for the rest ofus as we as we watch things unfold right now. You mentioned something earlierabout email going in sort of ways. Maybe every five years or every tenyears something gets new and interesting. So I'm interesting given what's happened with theHustle on Hob spot and given what we've seen last year as far as sortof this new digital marketing landscape, the fact that we're not going to conferences, what's the state of the of newsletters within this marketing landscape? Do yousee changes? Do you see trends happening? Do you the way that companies tobe companies are using newsletters? Changes? Okay, so I want to bringup two things. Number One, I think a lot of marketing teamsare looking at their newsletter that they have just been a cycle of sending becausethey've always sent, and starting to think, oh, how can I overhaul thisto be more more user centric right, like how can what I send reallyhelp the recipient and earn me that next contractor a new one in theprocess? Like so it becomes a part of a success strategy with, especiallywith SASS, if you're subscribe to their newsletter and your subscribe to their software. But then another thing that I have seen is independent newsletters like morning group, like the Hustle, a lot of these smaller independent newsletters that are reallyniched down to a topic or industry that a company would be interested in advertisingto. Those newsletters are getting advertisements from big companies. So it's a twosided play. I've seen a TREF's like advertising in small, Seo Niche newsletters. So there's kind of a myriad of opportunities and I think we will seea lot of affiliate things going on and that we will see marketing teams upgradingtheir newsletter or rethinking the content strategy and trying to figure out how to makeit different. I think you and I talked about a long time ago,and this is applicable probably with the hustle as well as any other niche industrynewsletter, is that if your marketing team is let's say you, you don'thave the bandwidth even to write a blog...

...a week or a blog a dayabout industry best practices or trends or things that are going on in your ICPsworld. But if you are daily immersing in that ICPs world by collecting linksand reading the stories they should be reading, you are more even if you don'tpublish that as a newsletter, you are more in tune with who youare trying to sell to. One of things I want to talk to youabout is just an edit editorial approach to the editorial approach to newsletters. Sothere are some newsletters that are opinion pieces or insight and there are others thatare simply created content. Do you have a preference? Is it depending onthe audience and just curious about how companies and individual should well have be tobe companies, should approach a newsletter because you want to serve your audience,you want to give them relevant content, but you also want to engage,age, attract convert. So how do you what's the balancing act in termsof the best editorial Rogo? I think you could be successful with many modelsright. You could have a pure curation model, you could have a purethis is the message from the CEO once a week, once a month,fortnightly whatever, or you could have a hybrid model that uses original content,a lot of context for the links you're bringing in. I think that's kindof what you do. I would call that a hybrid. But I guessI was wondering whether company should simply provide insight and their own opinions and theirown views of the world, or whether they should also bring in curated content, third party content that serves the needs and a trusts of their customers.And then how do you, how do you fit in that whole conversion exerciseabout I think the mix is is my favorite approach. But I think beforeI say go do both, what I should really say is go research yourICP. What do they read, what did they like to read, andthen figure out how to not just copycat that, because if I already geta curated newsletter about content strategy or Seo, I don't want five of those.And so I feel like it's appropriate right now to mention that I justfinished Marcus Andrews narrative design course over on product marketing alliance and it's phenomenal.I'll give him that plug. But what the message that he drives home,is that there's so much noise. There is so much noise in the worldand your ICP can only consume so much. So you need to figure out howto define what it means to win... their industry and then to givethat game a name and then for that new game, that new playbook,to be a part of your marketing, and I think it's a part ofyour newsletter, right. And so I wrote just today, or I publishedjust today, that, like, you can't be one of forty newsletters thatis sending out the same links and expect to win. You've got to carveout a spot for yourself and figure out, like, not just how to belike what they like, but how to deliver away for them to win, and give that parentheses or context or bookends, like make own that andthen bring that into your newsletter so that it's not just another newsletter that's likeother newsletters, but it is the one I can't live without because I dependon it to win in my my workplace or in my life. Like,I can totally see where you're coming from because when I look at my ownconsumption of newsletters, and, like you, I subscribe to a lot of newsletters. Morning Brew, Marketing Brew are the ones that I look forward to. The Click is another one that I really like. As a marketer,I want you to bring me unique, interesting, compelling content that I wouldn'tfind elsewhere, and you bring it. You bring it all to me,and that's what makes the value of a newsletter. So we've talked about goodpractice, is best practices for newsletters, but maybe we can flip things ontheir head and talk about the mistakes that companies make with newsletters. Yes,you know, I would suspect that the biggest culprit is they try to betoo conversion focused or product focus. So, from your perspective and you look ata lot of newsletters and talk to a lot of newsletter creators, whatare the big mistakes that BEDB companies should have? What? Too much promotionalcontent, not enough editorial. And the reason I say flip this and makethis like ninety and ten or at the worst eight twenty, is that youuse the editorial content to earn the right to be promotional and you are likelynot just sending a newsletter, you might also be sending promotional like only newsletter. I mean not newsletters, but emails. Right like. So you may havean a blast or a series when you're launching a product or something thatyou're doing. So if you were doing that in addition to your newsletter,the newsletter, and it's on repeat, quality delivery of things they always wantis the thing that will keep them less annoyed by the promotional blasts. Rightwhen you start, like launching or you have a course or something, andyou're going to start the week before the course sending those reminders to convert onthe course. Like maybe it's a minimal...

...part of your newsletter, but you'vegot a sale sequence. Right. We all do things like this. Ithelps if when I get those promotional emails and I'm not going to convert,it helps that I don't subscribe. Like the the newsletter keeps me hanging on. So maybe at some point, of course, I do convert on right, so you haven't lost me completely. Another worst practice that I see isassuming that the audience cares a lot about your company and what's happening in yourcompany. And so we just hired so and so here's his CV. Likenow, maybe a Qa with this guy, like maybe, like if there's somereason that his knowledge is going to help me when in life, likemaybe I would read a q and a, but I don't want and then Idon't want to have to feel guilty that I don't want to read theBio or the thing right. So attempting to publish all their own content.That that's not a hard thing for a large team, but small teams havetrouble, and so they tend to reduce the number of times they send theirnews letter out based on the fact that they only publish four blogs a monthor less than that, and so they want to have plenty of stuff touse in that newsletter and they're not bringing in third party curated links to supplementthat. I think bringing in links is a great way to test whether atopic resonates with your audience, like Hey, let's create this story about this seeif it gets any action. Then we can know if we might wantto pursue that further from our own brand perspective in the blog. So that'sanother thing is not having like a strong point of view or perspective, justbeing kind of like we're for everyone, we don't discid like we don't havea strong opinion about this. Like a brand with a strong opinion is morememorable and relatable. And then another practice that I kind of it just givesme like the chalk boord screech kind of sound when I see it, likeI have that feeling like the great, you're fine, like when you seeit. Is this some super formal language? Email is like a letter, likeyou've seen your friends emails right, like I thought you would like this. How you doing? Whatever it's somehow, especially if you're not sending it froma person, you're sending it from a brand. People like get inthis weird mindset where they write like super corporate, like dearest mark, oryou know, we hope, think you've been well or, you know,der valued customer, and like Super Elevate and formalize the language, right,and once you chanse that, you have kind of like what you have doneis you have built distance between the brand and the recipient. So the closeryou can get to them, the better.

So use used you right, likeyou talk, like be have a tone and a personality in the newsletter. So so those are some of the big ones. And then I thinkone really awful one is when people they forget that email is like a mobileapp and they write everything and design everything to look great on desktop, right, but not to be consumed in an email on your phone. Excuse me. And so, like, I know it's it's kind of feels wrong.And my CEO and I got back and forth on this because I told him, like he did a linkedin post the other day and I was like it'sone paragraph, like you got to break this thing up, and so hecreated a pose that made fun of how we write for different channels or whatever. You if your coffee block is longer than the screen on the phone,like you need to break that up. Like one and two sentence paragraphs areokay in in emails. They are easier to digest in that way. Andthat kind of takes us back to a story brand mindset of how many readingcalories, how many mental calories is my audience willing to burn when they getthis? Like what can I ask from them? And the easier it isand the better the formatting. And then I think one last thing would belike not not testing deliverability and not testing like if it's clipped in Gmail,because there's a lot of under the iceberg kind of stuff going on in somebuilders that you don't even realize or keeping getting you eclipped in Gmail, whichI never do, by the way. I never get clipped. What thatdoes is that hides your unsubscribed so you have now made it harder for peoplewho like there are people who don't understand how to see the rest of youremail. They exist and then they mark you as spam because they cannot figureout how to unsubscribe from it. It's a thing. I think those aresome of the worst of the word. So one final question. Where canpeople learn more about you? You want to find me, specifically, goto linked inner opt in weekly. If you want to learn more about somefocus software, the links to some of those brands are in my linkedin bio. Well, thanks actually for all your insight about newsletters and email marketing.It's, as I said, doesn't probably get a lot of attention as beingsexy and glamorous, but it is sort of one of the workhorses of thedigital marketing landscapes. So I really appreciate your tips and your advice and ifanybody's looking for advice on how to write a better newsletter, subscribe to optin weekly. Well, thanks for listening to another episode of marketing spark.If you enjoyed the conversation, leave a review and subscribe by Itunes, spotifyor your favorite podcast APP for show notes of today's conversation and information about actuallyvisit marketing spark dotcom blog. If you'd like information about how it helped meto be SASS companies as a fractional Cmostchick,...

...advisor and coach, send an emailto mark at marketing spark dotcom. I'll talk to you next.

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