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The secret marketing weapon hiding in plain sight


I’m a news junkie from way back… from when I was a kid, really.

I chalk this up to my Mom.  She was a voracious reader, and she rubbed off on me.

It’s no surprise, then, that my nose was buried in a TIME magazine during grade eight geography class in 1974.  The Watergate noose was tightening around Nixon’s presidency, and (nerd alert) I was keeping up with the latest.  Except I was soon busted – my TIME was confiscated and I was told to pay attention to the glaciology.

Most of my paper route money back then went to paying for subscriptions to TIME and Sports Illustrated.  Later, Rolling Stone joined the fold.  Combined, they kept me in the loop on news, sports, music and pop culture.  They took me to faraway places with their words and pictures.  And they ultimately stoked my passion for writing, which continues to this day.

Years later, I’ve come to appreciate that what I treasured as much as anything was their consistency.  Those mags showed up, without fail, in the mailbox every week.  They created an expectation… made a promise to me… and always delivered.   The anticipation of SI arriving on Thursdays after school was magic.

And that’s what great content does.

It creates trust with the audience by making a promise, and consistently delivering.

Now, the glory days of print are dwindling, replaced by digital content that shows up on our phones, tablets and computers with immediacy at any hour of the day.  But the same principles still apply:  the expectation, the promise, the delivery.  And the consistent follow-through.

Smart brands (especially the small and medium players that lack the deep pockets of bigger companies) are learning to leverage this magic with their customers, users, members, donors, students… anyone they serve.  It’s an ideal way to build a connection, because trust is created when we say we’re going to do something, and then do it.  Over and over again.

And the real hit is this:  by creating and deepening this trust over time, we can help predispose our prospect to purchase… and our customer to re-purchase.

So what’s the secret marketing weapon?

Would you believe… e-mail?

Hear me out.

  • It’s reliable.  E-mail has been around for years.  It’s not disappearing anytime soon.  E-mail shows up and stays in a certain location – our in-box – where we spend time every day.  Even my 93-year-old Dad uses e-mail.  He writes them, reads them, keeps them, shares them.  E-mail is foundational.
  • E-mail is cheap and fast.  There are no paper or production costs.  No postage or envelopes.  No mailing hassles.   E-mail is cheaper, faster, and easier to change on-the-fly.  Yes, The New York Times still publishes a print edition once a day, but it also sends digital content to our phones every hour.
  • It connects. E-mail can produce an immediate response.  Sure, it might be ‘delete.’  But our audiences can also open it, read it, share it, even reply to it… right away.  E-mail is an instant connector in a way print can never be.



If e-mail is such a great weapon, how do we best use it?

One smart way is an e-newsletter or blog.  It’s a way to deliver help and support to your audience without expecting anything in return.  (And you can do this no matter what business you’re in, no matter who you serve, and regardless of your size.)

But there are also some practical “rules” that good e-newsletters follow.

1.    They offer help, not hype.

They get opened and shared – mostly because they don’t try to sell anything.  They give.  My rules for my own e-newsletter are:  (1) to offer help in the form of knowledge, insights, or perspective… even in some small way  (2) to never try to sell anything, even remotely (3) to always remember the first two rules.  If we can do this well – and do it repeatedly – then over time we earn the right to get shared.  So our message spreads.

2.    They have a cadence.

We associate “trust” with the events and stories and interactions that happen again and again, consistently.  So, whatever your schedule – daily (like Seth Godin), weekly, monthly, whatever… stick to it.  Your cadence is your opportunity to create an expectation, to deliver on it, and to earn trust.

3.    They tell stories.

Newsletters that offer a little bit of personality or personal information remind subscribers that there’s a person on the other end, not just e-mails from some corporate monolith.  We’re real.  For businesses, this can be as simple as sharing your own unique view, how you see things.   That’s personal too.

4.    They look good.

E-mail is powerful because in-boxes are for reading, quickly and easily. There are no distractions, no ads or popups.   But, to me, your e-newsletter also needs to look pleasing to the eye – and invite reading.  It needs a basic level of design, not much more.  I use Mail Chimp because it’s easy, even for a tech luddite like me, and it’s free (unless your list is huge, then you pay a nominal fee).  It’s all you need to look good, professional, and not over-do it.  Simple, easy, elegant.

The lesson learned for me?  

Often, our best marketing weapon can be the one right under our noses, hidden in plain sight, without us even seeing it.

To me, that’s e-mail.

If we can use e-mail to create and share practical and useful insights that truly help our audiences without trying to sell them anything… and if we create the expectation we’ll do this regularly and consistently… and if we actually follow through and do it reliably… then over time we’ll earn their trust.

And we will ultimately benefit.

So what about you?

  1. Are you helping, not hyping?
  2. Are you earning trust?
  3. Are you deploying your secret marketing weapon?