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 and delivers insight, tools and tips marketers and entrepreneurs in the trenches in twenty five minutes or less. In some respects, newsletters are the Roddy Danger Field of the digital marketing world. They get no respect. They're widely used by BDB companies to engage and convert customers, but they're not seen as sex. They get 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 newsletter will put a marketing sparky. It's great to have you and we've been going back and forth on Linkedin for a while and it's have yet to actually talk to someone on my podcast about newsletters. So I'm really excited about the opportunity to get into excited to I think this is a fun topic because so many people like to proclaim that email is dead. Then they realize that email is responsible for a high percentage of conversions and of something that's almost more important is in nurturing relationships. So I've had a lot of interesting conversations in the past woo six eight months with different newsletter editors, and a percentage of him are marketers who have had a lot of success with their newsletters, but is because they are doing it in a different way. Then I'm like, a lot of times there's a best practice right send a weekly newsletter or send a monthly newsletter, and then that best practice gets like twisted and soiled and like it turns into something less savory than it once was. So the newsletter actually takes on this new definition and it's email asking someone to convert. So you do the opposite of that with marketing spark, and I think that's how we connected in the first place. But the marketers who are doing this well are treating their newsletter like it is a an editorial stop these letter, which I love because my background is in journalism, and we've seen this shift, or the beginnings of a shift that will just become more prevalent, from marketing teams like embracing content marketing, like making sure that you have content up there, that that engages to re engineering your mindset or your team's structure to perform the way of newsroom or a media group performs, and so the focus then becomes on providing content, whether you're writing it or curating it, that it's sole intention is to support your audience and their success. So the marketers who do this best, I think, are the ones who are putting informative, educational content in 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 trend that I'm seeing. So No, you're going to give me the basket opposite answer. But our newsletters, I'm glamorous, or are they? Are they simply understated or they are they misunderstood, because I think the reality is that newsletters have been around for a long time. As marketers, we probably take them for granted because they're part of our arsenals, just like a blog or a website or social media. Maybe we start to dismiss the effectiveness of the newsletter or the fact that newsletters can be sexy, they can be compelling any yet they have this stigma, I suppose you could call it, of being kind of old hat, because they're not a new tactic. But if you think about marketing and it's primary goal is to create awareness and then take that awareness 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 one to one me to you. I'm sending this, excuse me, this email to you and scales it as a one too many. As long this you don't treat it like it's one too many. You kind of have to use the content in a way where I'm sending this specifically to you, my target ICP yes, they they don't seem to be as sexy, every five or ten 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 the hustle, or why business insider thought morning brew was a great acquisition. Those newsletters, their editors had created an audience and a relationship with that audience that they hope to take advantage of. Glad you mentioned that, because when hub spot bought the hustle, my first impression was that it was more like what like? Why would a software company by a popular newsletter? And I didn't really see the connection between the two, because Hubsbota is enterprise software and the hustle is all over the place. Their content is compelling and engaging and really interesting. In fact, it's really good journalism when you think about it. So why do you think hub spot made the move? And then, more important, what does that suggest as a trend in terms of future acquisitions or software companies? BB SOFTWARE COMPANIES BUYING NEWSLETTERS? Are we is this the tip of the iceberg? As far as you're concerted, their approach is the fast paced way to read to an audience that has already been nurtured into its existing state. 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 the hustle has like a community. It's built around a mindset and so it's what it's also doing is fueling a lot of business ideas and and keeping people tuned in to to the state of an industry they're they're interested in. So house spots challenge, and any challenge to a marketing team that is trying to act like a media company, is to not twist what a media company does into Promo, Promo, Promo. They have to deliver information in the way that the 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 been growing for years and has the audience you want to reach. But the trick is not to like we one time. We bought a house that was built in one thousand eight hundred and twenty three and it had like a servant staircase off the kitchen that was a winder staircase and we wanted it on the national historic register. Right. But the second you go in, if you are contemplating like Hey, we should get rid of that staircase to make the kitchen bigger, you start to hurt the architectural integrity and then you are no longer eligible for the tax benefits of being on the National Register because you have now harmed the architectural integrity. If you take that metaphor and you adapt it to editorial newsletter, that's ASSASS company has acquired. That's their challenge is not to disrupt or harm the integrity of the publication. I have two schools of thought when it comes to Housebot. One is that it's going to be very hard for Husbot to keep its hands off the hustle because you know that they're going to 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 realms of value added, insightful content that they don't even expect. A lot of the readers even buy how spot going down the road. So it's sort of the two headed beast when you think about how house spot operates. But I think you're right. I think it's going to be extremely tempting for hub spot to try to insert yourself into the hustle conversation. My advice to hub spot would be to back off. Let the hustle stay the hustle, use a really light touch as you go forward and then you'll be able to rout the benefits and then start to win over the community, because if they go too fast 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 in a way that makes them no longer want to be in that audience, because that's that's newsletter subscriptions right. It Hits...

Your inbox too many times with messaging that you don't like. There's this magic unsubscribe and poof it's no longer part of your daily or weekly reading session. So I liked that from the press release they expressed an intention to preserve that integrity and that delivery methodology. I am going to watch and see, I think we all are, and see how they treat that and then there's can be lessons learned for the rest of us as we as we watch things unfold right now. You mentioned something earlier about email going in sort of ways. Maybe every five years or every ten years something gets new and interesting. So I'm interesting given what's happened with the Hustle on Hob spot and given what we've seen last year as far as sort of 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 you see changes? Do you see trends happening? Do you the way that companies to be companies are using newsletters? Changes? Okay, so I want to bring up two things. Number One, I think a lot of marketing teams are looking at their newsletter that they have just been a cycle of sending because they've always sent, and starting to think, oh, how can I overhaul this to be more more user centric right, like how can what I send really help the recipient and earn me that next contractor a new one in the process? Like so it becomes a part of a success strategy with, especially with 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 really niched down to a topic or industry that a company would be interested in advertising to. Those newsletters are getting advertisements from big companies. So it's a two sided 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 see a lot of affiliate things going on and that we will see marketing teams upgrading their newsletter or rethinking the content strategy and trying to figure out how to make it 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 industry newsletter, is that if your marketing team is let's say you, you don't have the bandwidth even to write a blog...

...a week or a blog a day about industry best practices or trends or things that are going on in your ICPs world. But if you are daily immersing in that ICPs world by collecting links and reading the stories they should be reading, you are more even if you don't publish that as a newsletter, you are more in tune with who you are trying to sell to. One of things I want to talk to you about is just an edit editorial approach to the editorial approach to newsletters. So there are some newsletters that are opinion pieces or insight and there are others that are simply created content. Do you have a preference? Is it depending on the audience and just curious about how companies and individual should well have be to be 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 terms of the best editorial Rogo? I think you could be successful with many models right. You could have a pure curation model, you could have a pure this 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 kind of what you do. I would call that a hybrid. But I guess I was wondering whether company should simply provide insight and their own opinions and their own 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 exercise about I think the mix is is my favorite approach. But I think before I say go do both, what I should really say is go research your ICP. What do they read, what did they like to read, and then figure out how to not just copycat that, because if I already get a 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 just finished 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 world and your ICP can only consume so much. So you need to figure out how to define what it means to win... their industry and then to give that 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 of your newsletter, right. And so I wrote just today, or I published just today, that, like, you can't be one of forty newsletters that is sending out the same links and expect to win. You've got to carve out a spot for yourself and figure out, like, not just how to be like what they like, but how to deliver away for them to win, and give that parentheses or context or bookends, like make own that and then bring that into your newsletter so that it's not just another newsletter that's like other newsletters, but it is the one I can't live without because I depend on 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 own consumption 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't find 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 good practice, is best practices for newsletters, but maybe we can flip things on their 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 be too conversion focused or product focus. So, from your perspective and you look at a lot of newsletters and talk to a lot of newsletter creators, what are the big mistakes that BEDB companies should have? What? Too much promotional content, not enough editorial. And the reason I say flip this and make this like ninety and ten or at the worst eight twenty, is that you use the editorial content to earn the right to be promotional and you are likely not just sending a newsletter, you might also be sending promotional like only newsletter. I mean not newsletters, but emails. Right like. So you may have an a blast or a series when you're launching a product or something that you'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 want is the thing that will keep them less annoyed by the promotional blasts. Right when you start, like launching or you have a course or something, and you're going to start the week before the course sending those reminders to convert on the course. Like maybe it's a minimal...

...part of your newsletter, but you've got a sale sequence. Right. We all do things like this. It helps 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 is assuming that the audience cares a lot about your company and what's happening in your company. And so we just hired so and so here's his CV. Like now, maybe a Qa with this guy, like maybe, like if there's some reason that his knowledge is going to help me when in life, like maybe I would read a q and a, but I don't want and then I don't want to have to feel guilty that I don't want to read the Bio 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 have trouble, and so they tend to reduce the number of times they send their news letter out based on the fact that they only publish four blogs a month or less than that, and so they want to have plenty of stuff to use in that newsletter and they're not bringing in third party curated links to supplement that. I think bringing in links is a great way to test whether a topic resonates with your audience, like Hey, let's create this story about this see if it gets any action. Then we can know if we might want to pursue that further from our own brand perspective in the blog. So that's another thing is not having like a strong point of view or perspective, just being kind of like we're for everyone, we don't discid like we don't have a strong opinion about this. Like a brand with a strong opinion is more memorable and relatable. And then another practice that I kind of it just gives me like the chalk boord screech kind of sound when I see it, like I have that feeling like the great, you're fine, like when you see it. Is this some super formal language? Email is like a letter, like you'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 from a person, you're sending it from a brand. People like get in this weird mindset where they write like super corporate, like dearest mark, or you 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 done is you have built distance between the brand and the recipient. So the closer you can get to them, the better.

So use used you right, like you talk, like be have a tone and a personality in the newsletter. So so those are some of the big ones. And then I think one really awful one is when people they forget that email is like a mobile app 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's one paragraph, like you got to break this thing up, and so he created 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 are okay in in emails. They are easier to digest in that way. And that kind of takes us back to a story brand mindset of how many reading calories, how many mental calories is my audience willing to burn when they get this? Like what can I ask from them? And the easier it is and the better the formatting. And then I think one last thing would be like 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 some builders that you don't even realize or keeping getting you eclipped in Gmail, which I never do, by the way. I never get clipped. What that does is that hides your unsubscribed so you have now made it harder for people who like there are people who don't understand how to see the rest of your email. They exist and then they mark you as spam because they cannot figure out how to unsubscribe from it. It's a thing. I think those are some of the worst of the word. So one final question. Where can people learn more about you? You want to find me, specifically, go to linked inner opt in weekly. If you want to learn more about some focus 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 being sexy and glamorous, but it is sort of one of the workhorses of the digital marketing landscapes. So I really appreciate your tips and your advice and if anybody's looking for advice on how to write a better newsletter, subscribe to opt in weekly. Well, thanks for listening to another episode of marketing spark. If you enjoyed the conversation, leave a review and subscribe by Itunes, spotify or your favorite podcast APP for show notes of today's conversation and information about actually visit marketing spark dotcom blog. If you'd like information about how it helped me to be SASS companies as a fractional Cmostchick,...

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

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