Issue #029

The case for complexity

I was scrolling through Twitter the other day and came across this tweet from Nabeel:

My initial reaction? That's some strong praise. Thanks Nabeel!

But then I began wrestling with what both he and Dennis were implying:

"Simple is always best. Just log in, send stuff, and sell. Brennan always overcomplicates things."

I've heard this before. Many, many times before.

And you might be surprised to hear that, broadly speaking, I agree.


Most misunderstand the real power of email marketing automation

Before I got into all this email / marketing stuff, I professionally identified as a programmer.

And programmers don't like doing the same thing twice.

So when I moved to the UK last year, my accountant let me know I'd have to start collecting VAT sales tax and sending him a specifically formatted CSV file every quarter that he'd be able to directly upload to the Ireland's VAT MOSS reporting system.

Creating this CSV took maybe... 20 minutes? Download a few reports from our various sales platforms, do a bit of maths, and wrangle it into this CSV template he sent me.

Extrapolated over a year, this would require a little over an hour of time.

I couldn't stand the idea of doing this again and again.

So... I wrote a script (that took more than a year's worth of CSV wrangling time to get right) that I could just run once a quarter and it'd spit out the right CSV in seconds.

(thanks to Ewen for sending me this. found on xkcd.)

Most of us equate "automation" with "saving time".

And a lot of really smart and successful email marketers end up thinking it's ultimately not worth the time.

Especially when you factor in that automation, done wrong, can be a bit like a runaway train. You end up doing all this upfront automation work that's supppppossssedd to save you time in the long run, and it might end up blowing up on you (and sending your subscribers a bunch of unnecessary crap.)

To be honest, they've got a point.

Someone still figuring things out and without a clear cut framework for nurturing and selling to their list should probably put "saving time with automation" on the back-burner.

Log in, send emails, and sell.

But there are two, generally overlooked, reasons that you should be embracing complexity with your email marketing...

The case for complexity

As marketers, it's easy to compare and contrast email performance with something like social media.

But there's a big, big distinction that few talk about.

Email is one-to-one. Social media (like Tweets and FB posts) are one-to-many.

This unlocks an incredible opportunity that, done right, will transform the way you think about email marketing.

When you're just going in and pounding broadcast-after-broadcast email to your list, you're sending one-to-many messages. There's zero difference between this and doing a heavy hitting social media campaign. You to them. Everyone sees the same thing.

Email marketing affords two super powers that you won't get from social media:

#1) Lifecycle messaging

Ever joined an email list, only to realise that you were thrown head first into a giant 2-week long "buy, buy, buy!" sales campaign?

Sucks, doesn't it?

The problem with one-to-many messaging is that you're beholden to whatever marketing calendar the sender has put together. If they decide that the first week of February is going to be when they want people to buy a particular product of theirs, that's all fine and well – but it might not be when you're ready for that product.

Lifecycle marketing done right lets you automatically look for clues.

When someone's probably ready for something you have to offer – either because they've told you (via micro-surveying), behaved in a particular way (maybe they checked out your sales page and bailed?), or because you've now sent them enough nurturing material that directly relates to your product – then you decide to offer it to them over email.

It won't leave you with big, sexy listwide "launch week" spikes on your sales charts. But you will know that every week, like clockwork, the right people are getting promoted the right products. And because they're pitched on their timeline rather than yours, they're more likely to buy from you.

Steady, predictable revenue – all year long.

...But it requires automation & complexity 😀

#2) More relevance = more engagement = more sales

Pre-COVID, I used to spent a lot of time on the road speaking at conferences.

During the day, there'd be a bunch of talks. At night, there'd be some sort of hosted after hours mixer for all the attendees and speakers.

If it was a new conference for me, I'd always ask the organiser to tell me about the average attendee. Based on their feedback, I'd then create the presentation.

Conference talks are one-to-many. You're speaking in front of a large group of people, who each have slightly different reasons and expectations for sitting through your talk. Necessarily, you end up needing to generalise what you say to hopefully appeal and apply to as many people listening as possible.

Now, compare this to engaging with a conference attendee, one-to-one, during an after hours mixer event.

I'd ask them about what they do, why they're here, what they took away from the talks that day, and more. And if we got into what I covered during my earlier talk, I'd rehash much of what I said earlier in a way that directly applied to them and their situation.

This is why individual coaching is often more powerful than just reading a book. The overall gist of what's being said might be the same, but it's much more impactful when it's individually tailored to the person on the receiving end.

Personalisation isn't just about sticking someone's name at the top of an email.

It's about taking various inputs – who are you? what are you hoping to get from me? ... – and using that to send people different messages, different product offers, and so on.

Which leads to more people engaging with what you're sending, because you've done the work to think through, "how do I want to say this thing differently when someone is X? how about when someone is Y? Z...?"

Relatively easily done with modern email software. Impossible to do with Twitter / Facebook / Instagram / etc.

Email marketing's the next best thing to a live, one-on-one conversation.

And when you're just sending out broadcast, one-size-fits-all, "fire at will" emails to your list, you're going to miss the mark.

Sure, you'll get sales. But you're going to often put the impetus on the reader to figure out how what you're saying actually applies to them. And this leads to less engagement and fewer sales.

(note: not no engagement and no sales, but if you take a bit of time to thoroughly think through who you're speaking to and what they need to hear from you, you'll get all the benefits of a ridiculously niched email campaign... without actually needing to ridiculously niche your business.)

More relevance = more engagement = more sales

...But, alas, it requires automation & complexity 😀

The end goal? Reader experience.

I made two cases for complexity above: lifecycle messaging and increased relevance.

Both of which end up achieving the same exact outcome: a better experience for your readers.

People are getting pitched on stuff that makes sense for them.

They're being shown why they should buy from you in a way that aligns with them and their needs.

And, ultimately, we want to buy from companies that are listening to us – even if "listening" just means that they've wired things up in such a way that they're actively doing their best to send you only what makes sense.

I, for one, want to listen better in 2022.

I have a lot of fancy automation and complexity in place that's designed to do just that, but it's always a work in progress.

I'm always learning more about my audience: who are they? what do they want from me? how can I best help them?

And you better believe I'm going to make the most of this incredible resource we call "email marketing" to deliver the right messages, to the right people, at the right time.

I hope you feel the same way, even if you're a few steps behind me on the journey to deliver the right messages. You'll get there 💪