I Quit

by Mack Collier

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One of my goals for this year was to launch a newsletter.  Consistently, I had heard from marketers I trust that they were seeing great traction from their newsletters.  Then Chris Brogan said that the engagement level he was seeing from his newsletter was far better than what he was seeing on his blog.

That clinched it for me, and I launched the Think Like a Rock Star newsletter in February.  The goal was simple, I wanted to leverage the newsletter as a way to get new work leads.  My plan was to publish the newsletter once a week, all original content.  The format was that I would create original content for the newsletter, focused on how companies can better create and cultivate fans.  And I would end each newsletter issue with a reminder of one or two relevant ways that subscribers can work with me.  My thinking was that I would give subscribers valuable and original content, and then a sales pitch at the end.

The results?  They stink.  So far after 10 months I have gotten a grand total of zero dollars of business from my newsletter.

What’s worse, both the open rates and click rates for the newsletter have consistently fallen.  After the first few weeks the open rate was 50%.  Then it fell to 40%, then over the next few months down to 35%, 30%, 25% and lately it’s been barely above 20%.  The click rate was even worse, rarely getting above 3%.

After 10 months, the newsletter was averaging a 24% click rate, and a 1.9% click rate.  Honestly over the last few weeks I’ve seriously considered pulling the plug on the newsletter.  I’m putting 5-10 hours a month into it and literally getting nothing from it.  No emails, no contact, no clicks, nothing.

I was ready to say ‘I Quit’.

But…it kept nagging at me that I must be doing something wrong.  The newsletter is a tool that’s proven to work for others.  So far my newsletter was a failure, but I wasn’t ready to quit on it.

So I decided to re-evaluate everything about the newsletter.  I started subscribing to the newsletters of marketers that were seeing success with their newsletters.  I immediately noticed that their format was different from mine.  They weren’t publishing original content with their newsletter, in fact they typically were using their newsletter as a tool to drive subscribers back to their blog.  Often they would give a short summary of their latest post, then a link.

So on Monday I sent out my latest issue of my newsletter and tried a different approach.  I gave subscribers a recap of the recent changes that Facebook had made to its News Feed algorithm, and how it was likely impacting the reach of its brand page.  After telling subscribers what was happening, I added that if they wanted to see my two suggestions for handling this change, that they should click over to my blog to read my thoughts.

So my goal for this particular issue was two-fold:

1 – I wanted to see if I could significantly increase the open rate.  I wrote what I thought was a pretty good headline for the email: “The One Change Facebook Made That Could Kill Your Brand Page”

2 – I wanted to see if giving subscribers a lead-in to the post, then asking them to click here to read ‘the rest of the story’ would significantly increase the click rate.

The results?

The list’s average open rate is 24%, after two days the open rate for this issue is at 30%.  That’s a 25% increase over the list average.

The list’s average open rate is 1.9%, after two days the click rate for this issue is at 12.4%.  That’s an increase of over 500% above the list average.

There’s a couple of lessons here:

1 – Quitting is worse than failure.  When you fail you can still learn how to improve, but you can only realize that potential improvement if you keep trying to get better.

2 – It’s ok to change your path if you are lost.  I started out with a set of goals for my newsletter and certain tactics I was using to try to reach those goals.  After 10 months, it clearly wasn’t working, so I decided to try something new.

Now to clarify, simply getting people to click over to my site/content still isn’t the ultimate goal.  The ultimate goal is to get actual work from the newsletter.  But at least now, I have something I can tinker with.  Before, I wasn’t getting emails from subscribers, I wasn’t getting clicks, and the open rate was falling like a rock.  Now at least I have a way to generate more clicks, so that’s something.  I’ll still need to keep tweaking the format and content in order to see those clicks convert into leads, but today I feel much better about the newsletter than I did just a week ago.

The point is to keep trying.  It’s the same with your blogging strategy, your mobile strategy, etc.  It really does pay to experiment sometimes, for example, the headline to this post is an experiment.  I wanted to see if a very short and provocative headline would draw interest in the post.  Maybe it will, or maybe it won’t.

But if it fails, I’ll try something else.  I won’t quit.

Pic via Flickr

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Jerome Pineau December 18, 2013 at 9:44 am

yeah i never really got why you deploy the full payload from within the email body :)
doesn’t matter to me i read your stuff no matter what but maybe for others, it reduces your web conversions who knows…

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Mack Collier December 18, 2013 at 9:47 am

Jerome to you mean giving the full post within the email? Yes I have changed that as well on my Feedburner emails so now you have to click here to read the full post. I want to give subscribers the full email, but there’s just so much they miss by not clicking here to actually come to the site.

And thanks for reading!

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Jerome Pineau December 18, 2013 at 9:51 am

Yes. that’s how I get em. I think your last header/title was brilliant ergo the success rate probably. partly because every time FB changes anything people go apeshit :)
But overall your value proposition is not clearly poised IMHO. I read you because you’re the only one (or very rare one) who backs his words with real cold hard data – so your BS meter is very low for me.
thats why i never miss a post no matter what :)
cheers
J.

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Mack Collier December 18, 2013 at 10:11 am

Hey Jerome! Yes the headline was good, and that’s a reason why I like the newsletters cause it trains you to write better headlines cause as Carrie says below they are so crucial to open rates.

Thanks for the feedback, I’ve been self-auditing my efforts here the last few weeks and what I’m finding is that a lot of the things that I was doing to be helpful to readers, actually wasn’t helping ME reach my goals. So some changes have been made with more to come.

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Penina December 18, 2013 at 9:48 am

Well THAT email subject got my attention! How could I not open it? (to clarify, that email subject *coming from Mack*).

As an artist and a professional, I like to say, “I am my own lab.” I love how you live and express that through your various channels, Mack. It speaks volumes to readers and potential clients about your credibility and trustworthiness.

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Mack Collier December 18, 2013 at 10:09 am

YES Penina this is one of the lessons I am constantly trying to get across to readers: Tinker, tinker, tinker. Don’t take these ’10 Steps to…’ type posts as being the end-all, be-all on a topic. I always tell people to use these type of posts as the STARTING POINT, then figure out the rest on your own.

THAT is how you truly learn, by actually doing the work yourself. I need to do this stuff for myself and see the results for myself, then I get it. As you said, ‘I am my own lab’!

And thank you :)

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Carrie Wilkerson, The Barefoot Executive December 18, 2013 at 10:02 am

Glad you are tweaking

1. subject line is crucial
2. useful content, also crucial
3. consistency is key and

most importantly…an email or sub list ages and decays…some are active, some are passive, some are unsubbing — so unless you are actively promoting NEW emails, adding to your list and building, your opens, clicks and engagement will automatically decrease…no matter who you are, how great your book is or how amazing your articles are. It just IS.

Every high school knows that the biggest class is the freshman class…by the time you get to the graduation year, you’ve had attrition – no matter how great the teachers, the classes or the campus.

SO — subject lines, consistency and always adding more and more and more leads help all those numbers and efficacy.

Michael Hyatt does a great job using his email to drive folks to the blog. Use your content to point to your content to focus on your calls to action.

Hang in there. Grow your list.

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Mack Collier December 18, 2013 at 10:06 am

Thank you Carrie, all great advice! The list has actually consistently grown, which was the biggest reason why I didn’t want to give up on it cause it kept getting new subscribers.

And for the record, Carrie is one of those smart people I talked about in the post that told me I needed to get a newsletter. Thanks for being a great mentor!

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Jerome Pineau December 18, 2013 at 10:13 am

Thanks for the tip Carrie – just subscribed to Michael’s feed – didn’t know who he was.

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Karen Swim December 18, 2013 at 10:26 am

Mack, this is the one time I wish that the world could “see” my reaction to this post as I shouted “Yes, yes, yes” after every sentence. Over the years, one of the common mistakes I have seen companies make is to quit. They use a hit and run approach to a marketing or PR strategy, and when they do not get instant payback, they deem it a failure and quit. The strategy may not work but as you pointed out, test and modify before you pull the plug. Figure out why it’s not working and what you can change. As always Mack, you have provided inspiration and rock solid advice, thank you.

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Mack Collier December 18, 2013 at 11:33 am

Thank you Karen, I wish I could have seen that too! I’ve been blogging now for over 8 years and am still learning tips and tricks to get better at it.

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Bonnie Parrish-Kell December 18, 2013 at 11:24 am

Thank you, Mack (and Carrie and Karen) for your Don’t Quit enthusiasm! Much needed message for me right now.

Question:How does Outlook’s preview pane affect open rates? I scan my emails rather than opening ‘em.

Lastly, I would suspect it’s the make up of your email list that would affect revenue (mktg coordinators buy books, directors/sr mgrs hire you). That means segmenting lists, multiple newsletters, more work. Thoughts?

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Mack Collier December 18, 2013 at 11:32 am

Bonnie that is a GREAT question about preview panes, I had never thought of that. Any email marketing experts here know?

And Bonnie that’s a great point about segmenting my list, that’s another tip that I’ve been advised to do, and need to get to it!

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Karen Swim December 18, 2013 at 11:37 am

Regarding the open rates it depends on your email marketing provider so you should check with them on how they count it. If the graphic loads in the preview pane, for example, some count it as an open. Others track links and clicks separately.

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Adele McAlear December 18, 2013 at 1:13 pm

It was my understanding that a preview counted as an open. But now you’ve made me doubt that. Chris Penn would know… *goes off to ask Chris*

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Steve (JoeBugBuster) Case December 18, 2013 at 3:34 pm

Great questions about the preview pane!

Answer: The preview pane counts as an open *if* the graphics are allowed to load. In most cases I do use the preview pane and don’t allow graphics to load unless it’s someone whose stuff I read all the time. It’s somewhat ironic that since Mac uses multiple sender names, and I’ve configured graphics to auto-load from only some of those sender names, some would count as opened and some wouldn’t even though I read most of them.

Click-throughs will count whether or not they’re done via a preview pane.

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Bonnie Parrish-Kell December 18, 2013 at 11:26 am

Sorry for multiple posts. Silly smartphone :(

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Mack Collier December 18, 2013 at 11:30 am

I fixed it, no worries!

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Becky McCray December 18, 2013 at 11:56 am

My newsletter is original content and is not designed to push people to my site. It serves a completely different purpose than the site content. At Small Biz Survival, I share how-to articles for small town businesses. In the email newsletter, I share a conversation about the positive future for rural. The site is more about business, the newsletter is more about community (rural communities).

It’s not quite a deliberate design, but the newsletter appeals more to the exact people who tend to hire me to visit a small town and speak. I have received speaking inquiries from readers directly replying to the emails. So it is working as a marketing tool.

The key for me was discovering the right purpose for the newsletter. It can’t be serving the exact same market with the same types of info. There’s a slightly different market and a definitely different topic set and a completely conversational tone.

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Mack Collier December 18, 2013 at 12:10 pm

Becky that’s very interesting, thanks for your insights. I think I am still struggling with the right focus a bit, I don’t want to simply duplicate the content here and I do think the audience on the list is slightly different from the one here.

Thanks for giving me something to think about, glad your newsletter is working for you!

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Becky McCray December 18, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Mack, it took me several tries, several failures or false starts, before I found this combination. What finally solidified it for me was getting angry, or at least irritated at what others were offering. I felt I had an alternative. That defined my new purpose.

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Mack Collier December 18, 2013 at 12:31 pm

“Mack, it took me several tries, several failures or false starts, before I found this combination.”

And there you go ;) Thanks for helping me see that I need to keep trying!

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Jennifer Kent December 18, 2013 at 12:22 pm

You totally freaked me out with that subject! So glad that both your posts and newsletters are not going anywhere.

Keep posting that awesome content Mack!

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Mack Collier December 18, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Thank you Jennifer ;)

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Nedra Weinreich (@Nedra) December 18, 2013 at 11:55 pm

Mack, also keep in mind that sometime in the middle of those 10 months, Gmail changed how it displays newsletters, when it went to the tab-based format. I know that many of the newsletters I get now end up in the “Promotions” tab instead of the main one (and also often in the spam folder), and perhaps that started happening more often with your newsletters, resulting in the lower open rates. But clearly experimenting with headlines and format makes a big difference too. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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Mack Collier December 19, 2013 at 6:29 pm

Hey Nedra, that’s a good point to consider on the Promotions tab in Gmail, you are exactly right. Thanks for reading!

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DJ Waldow December 19, 2013 at 2:07 am

Dude. SO glad you didn’t quit. You know I’m always happy to talk email marketing with you. ALWAYS.

Have some “tips” I can share from my Waldow Social Weekly that I’ve learned over the past few years.

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Mack Collier December 19, 2013 at 6:32 pm

Thanks DJ!

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Nicole Underwood December 19, 2013 at 11:51 am

I enjoyed your thoughts on this. I’m learning as I go and am glad to hear you adjusted and didn’t quit. It’s encouraging to know people who have TONS more experience than I are still experimenting with things too! Keep on keeping on! I’ll be signing up for your newsletter right after I finish typing this comment! I look forward to reading it :D

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Mack Collier December 19, 2013 at 6:31 pm

Thanks Nicole, that’s one of the points I wanted to get across that even those of us with more experience are still learning.

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Karl Staib December 19, 2013 at 6:33 pm

It’s all about layering the content in various places so you can engage with as many people as possible. If you can engage with people via email and send them to your blog to start the conversation you’ve created extra touch points, which will help with your conversion.

I’m glad you didn’t give up. :)

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Marilyn December 27, 2013 at 7:14 pm

At least you started a newsletter. I’ve been wanting to, but I’m just not sure how I want to go about it and all.

That’s good you didn’t quit, now you also have some thoughts, ideas and number to get started on 2014 with.

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