A mailing list is something everyone should be trying to build, no matter if you’re a dancer, filmmaker, musician, theatre maker or photographer. According to the Content Marketing Institute, 9 out of 10 digital marketers use email to distribute their content.
A mailing list is important for you as a creative professional/aspiring professional because it gives you direct access to a qualified audience of people who are interested in you and your work. It also gives you control over both your audience’s contact details and the way in which you communicate with them, rather than relying on third parties, such as Facebook.
In this blog we’ll jump into more detail on the key benefit of building your mailing list, discover ways you can get started, look at best practices and finally, learn ways of continuing to build your audience.
The Benefit of Having a Mailing List
Owning Your Audience
As any regular Instagrammer will be aware, being at the mercy of third party algorithm updates or regulation changes can cause havoc with your marketing strategy. From one day to the next these all-powerful algorithms might start promoting a content format you don’t use or alter how your content is shown to your audience, resulting in a dramatic reduction in your ability to reach your audience. On the other hand, communicating using email means you’ll stay in control of your audience’s data and the messaging format.
How to Get Started
Choosing an Email Marketing Service
When choosing an email marketing service, you want a service that allows you:
- To easily create customisable emails for your brand.
- Most services have templates and a drag and drop function, but you’ll want to research a few options to see which style fits you best.
- Send bulk emails with personalisations.
- Adding personalisations, such as a customer’s name, can greatly improve engagement.
- Send automated emails.
- There will always be key moments where you’ll want an email to send automatically, for example, sending a welcome email after someone signs up, or a purchase confirmation email.
- Easily manage your contact list and use analytics to track performance.
- You may want to manage contacts differently depending on how they’ve interacted with you in the past, while performance analytics help you improve your engagement by showing you what messaging and content formats work best for your audience, as well as what times of the day or days of the week they’re most likely to engage with certain types of content.
Here are some reputable email marketing services to get you started:
Tiny Letter (a stripped-down version of MailChimp)
Substack (which allows you to monetise your newsletter via a tiered membership)
After choosing the right service for you and creating your account, you’ll need to design your sign-up form. A sign-up form can exist in several formats, for example, embedded on your website, or as a single-purpose landing page hosted by your email provider, which you can link to from social channels. The single-purpose option is useful as your target audience is less likely to be distracted from taking the desired action of joining to your list.
Do consider the information you want to collect: what information is useful to you or could be useful down the line. Having more information about an audience can lead to a more tailored marketing campaign, but bear in mind that the more information you ask for, the less willing people are to give it, and . In most cases, a first name, location and email address will suffice.
On-boarding Your Audience
On-boarding is the process your audience goes through right after subscribing. Your audience will be most excited and receptive when they’ve just signed up, so this is a great time to follow up with key information. A ‘welcome email’ is probably the most crucial part of this process as it’s your first point of contact with a new subscriber and research has shown it often has significantly higher engagement than any other emails.
Firstly, you’ll want to make sure that your welcome email is automated to send as soon as someone signs up. Secondly, according to Jessie Scoullar from Wicksteed Works - an agency specialising in direct-to-fan email marketing - there are three key things you might cover in this email:
- Acknowledge the new subscriber.
- It can be a bit confusing when you’ve submitted your email for a newsletter and don’t receive any confirmation. So avoid that confusion with a simple welcome email. What’s more, by signing up, you’ve entered a new phase of your relationship with an audience member. Celebrate it!
- Set expectations.
- You want to let your new subscriber know how you plan to communicate with them through this channel. For example, is it going to be exclusive content? Will it be a round-up of things you’re into that month? Will it be longer form content?). You might also indicate how often you plan on sending emails. Keeping your audience happy and engaged is often down to setting and then meeting (or better yet, exceeding) expectations.
- Provide orientation.
- Alongside a mailing list, you may have an online store, you probably have social media, maybe a website, perhaps even a physical location; use the welcome to point people towards those places. Also, if you have any upcoming events, promotions or releases then this email is a great place to mention those. However, keep in mind, if anything is time-sensitive then you will need to remember to update it.
If you have a lot of information to share, you might want to split the welcome email up into a sequence. Make sure to mention when the other parts will arrive in the first email and remember that the first one is the most important.
Once you have your onboarding process set up make sure to test it yourself! If you can, ask others to test it too, so you can see if what you want to communicate is actually being communicated.
Re-engage inactive subscribers
After a while, you may want to set up an automated email that contacts inactive subscribers. This email can either try to get them to re-engaged with your emails or unsubscribe. If you don’t get any response, it’s best to unsubscribe them as it keeps your list trim, keeps costs down and improves performance.
Building Your Mailing List
Offering incentives is a good way to build your mailing list with audiences on other platforms, such as your website or through social media. With incentives you want to show the benefits of joining or demonstrate some form of value exchange, i.e. “access this song for free when you sign up”. Jessie from Wicksteed Works says that there are three main ways of offering incentives when it comes to email marketing:
- Intangibles: promise of afuture benefit
- Telling your audience that joining your mailing list will give them access to the best news before anyone else, exclusive content or early access. As this doesn’t cost anything, you’ll want to regularly vary the messaging to see what works.
- Instant gratification: promise of a benefit now
- As the name suggests, this is something your audience receives immediately in return for signing up, such as a discount code, or access to some exclusive content. Instant gratification incentives are usually digital goods; these have a low cost to reproduce and distribute, yet should be perceived as high value to your audience. They should also be scalable, in that it takes no more effort to deliver one than it would to deliver one thousand.
- Tangibles: a chance to win
- This might be a physical reward; it could be an exclusive product or tickets to a gig. As this can be quite costly (both in terms of time and money), you’ll want to use this in a limited and strategic way. For example, if you want to drive audience engagement before a big announcement, you could offer one of these tangibles as a prize draw incentive.
Because of the value it offers in terms of direct access to your audience, you’ll want to prioritise your mailing list within your overall communication strategy. It’s important to consider how you will use your other channels to leverage calls-to-action towards your sign-up form. You might also make use of any real-life opportunities to acquire new subscribers. Another consideration is how you might segment your list, for example your superfans may want to hear from you more regularly.
As part of this ongoing strategy, you’ll want to pay attention to the performance of your newsletters. One way to do this is your click rates, which measure how many people click on a link. This will help you to understand how your content is being received. Obviously, you will need to include a link and a CTA to invite people to click the link.
It is never too late to start building a mailing list and never too soon either. And while it can feel like it takes a lot of effort for little reward early on, once you have it set up with automations, templates and processes in place to create the emails each time, it will start paying dividends once you’re ready to monetise your creative output. What’s more, it’s a tool that won’t suddenly be reshaped with one swift algorithm update or taken away with regulation changes.