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012: The Long Game Podcast: Email Marketing Advice from Ilona Abramova, VP Operations at AppSumo

Email Marketing Advice from Ilona Anramova VP Operations at AppSumo

In this episode, Alex Birkett talks to Ilona Abramova who is VP of Operations at AppSumo, and an absolute genius at email marketing and copywriting.

This convo is very different from our other Long Game episodes. First, Ilona and AppSumo are a client of Omniscient’s. Second, Ilona’s a friend and someone who shares Alex’s divergent and semi-ADD tendencies in conversation (according to Alex himself).

Finally, instead talking about content marketing or diving into Ilona’s background, he thought it would be cool to do a live consultation. In this episode, Ilona teaches Alex how Omniscient should be doing email marketing.

If you’re building your email marketing program from scratch or revamping it for more ROI, you’ll find this useful. It’s also just a fun exploration of ideas that also touches upon email marketing best practices that anyone can use to increase the effectiveness of their program.

Look at this as a masterclass on email, as well as a look behind the curtains at what it’s like getting consulted from a master email marketer. 

The Long Game is hosted by Alex Birkett and David Ly Khim who co-founded Omniscient Digital to help companies ranging from early-state to scale-ups with growth strategy, SEO, and content marketing. Allie Decker, Head of Content, joins the conversation as well.

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Key Takeaways

6:48 – Defining email marketing

Everyone’s doing it, but many people wouldn’t call it email marketing. Ilona defines it for us.

“I would say that if you’re sending an email with the goal of making a sale or telling a potential customer or client about something, you’re engaging in email marketing. So it’s email and it’s marketing. So it’s email marketing. But there are definitely different types, right? Depending on the sector you’re in, I think most people, when they’re thinking about email marketing are thinking about ecommerce, but there’s definitely just a niche of the entire funnel, but a lot of the principles are going to be the same regardless of what you’re selling. So if you learn kind of like the basics of how to talk to people and how to convey your messaging and when to talk to them, you can improve your conversions from email, regardless of what it is that you’re selling.”

14:03 – Escalating offers

When you get people on your email list from a free lead magnet, the best way to nurture that relationship is to escalate their commitment bit by bit. 

“What’s a relevant piece of content that is paid, but low cost enough that you’re kind of getting a foot in the door of being like, this will give you a taste of what it’s like to work with us. And I know that you’re interested in keyword research. So here’s a module of a course for, let’s say $29. If you’re seeing that those people are going to have engagement and now you can see completion data. You can say, hey, I’m doing this in Teachable. I can see that this person finished my course. Once they finish your course, you can send them another email that could be a lot more personal. It’s like, Hey, this is Alex. I’d love to know what you thought about the course, anything that we can improve? And now you’re kind of creating an opportunity to have a conversation with somebody and potentially give them a secondary upsale of hey, I now know that you have enough intent in this process and clearly want to learn more about SEO and content marketing. The best thing I can offer knowing who you are is this one-off audit. And once you have a personal relationship, this stops really being about email marketing. And now it’s more like, how do you nurture interpersonally?”

18:42 – With cold interactions, offer instant value

If a prospect finds you organically, save time and nurture that relationship by having a ready to go piece of content that addresses a pain point.

“I would say what’s something that you can do that’s one and done, that has instant value, and that gets your revenue generating? That to me sounds more like a course or an ebook or something that you can create one time and then be able to essentially funnel people in and give them value. Obviously, the most important thing is providing value. It’s not just a gotcha to get 30 bucks or whatever. It’s a lot more about, how do you establish these relationships? And your emails are really just a conduit for getting you to the page, right? The goal of the email is not to sell you anything. The goal of the email is to get you to the next stage. It’s to get you interested in a product. Then it’s the goal of the website and the offer itself to sell you. So if you understand that’s where someone came from, if you speak to their pain points directly, if you’re like, Hey, I know that you’re interested in keywords. We have a lot of success with this course, helping people identify their keywords by themselves.”

20:26 – Keep offering value and segment

People won’t unsubscribe if they’re getting value. Also, target the people on your list who are engaging with your emails.

“I think people stay on email lists when they get value. So if you’re writing blog content, how do you kind of summarize that, put a snippet of that into your emails so that if I read your emails, I get a learning, right? I learned something every time I opened an email and if I’m actually interested in SEO and improving my own content marketing, you can see that with your own engagement. And then what you could do is segment further based on engagement. You can create a segment for example, and say, hey, if someone’s opened my email three times in the last month, that probably indicates to you that they are at the very least interested in SEO, that they have a vested interest in what you’re talking about. And then those people can then be the people that you sell something to. So you’re not just kind of mass blasting everyone because you can clearly see some people are, they’re not really engaging with what you’re saying. And the best way to make sales is by targeting the people that are most primed to make those sales.”

26:09 – Welcome sequences

Once a lead magnet has brought someone to your email list, make sure you’re welcoming them to your brand and getting them excited when you deliver the offer.

“It should also say like, hi, welcome to this community. This is who we are. The fact that people don’t know you’re an agency, they could know that in a welcome email, right? So you provide them with the thing that they came here for, but also take a moment to credential yourself, say, Hey, this is the Omniscient team. You can even have that be like a plain text email from your team. Doesn’t have to be anything, like there’s no bells and whistles. Doesn’t have to be that way. but just more like, Hey, we’re people, our passion in life or whatever is to help people kind of connect with their audience. Enjoy this, please reach out to us if they have any questions. That kind of humanizes your brand and also sets the context of now I’m part of this community, as opposed to just the pure transaction: get email, receive PDF.”

33:29 – Give the reader space

Keep calls to action clear and space out your follow ups.

“It gets a little tricky when someone doesn’t answer you. It’s more so that you should take your foot off the gas, not necessarily that you need to stop talking to them altogether because they didn’t respond to one thing. If they downloaded the PDF, that does indicate that they’re interested. Like, that you’ve gotten an opt-in from a specific thing, but now, you know what they like, you know what they were here for. So deliver them something that’s congruent to that. So like what you mentioned about those webinars. If you have webinars on a similar topic, you can just shoot them an email and be like, Hey, I hope that forecasting PDF is working out for you. Let me know if you have any questions. We created this webinar. I think you’d like it, here you go. That way, what you’re doing is you’re not, you’re not pressuring people to engage with you, you’re just giving them value.” 

44:14 – Segmentation improves conversion

Alex shows Ilona an email sequence and gets her feedback. She advises him to find ways to test engagement and segment for better conversions.

“That’s kind of I think the beauty of email marketing, is that you can craft pathways for people and understand who they are based on what is resonating with them. So where they click will now inform what they’re interested in. It tells you who they are and that’s what the point of segmentation and personalization is. It’s based on who they are, you can deliver them better experiences. You’re also ensuring a higher conversion rate because I know for example what you would be interested in, because I know you as a person, but similarly through your emails you can also kind of create the right experience for them.”

50:45 – Don’t forget to add personality

Good content is important, but showing personality through your writing is how you stand out and establish trust. Be authentic.

“That’s just classic mom giving a preteen advice. Just be yourself. But it’s true. The thing is, I think people when they’re first starting out with an agency it’s like, you don’t get to be that selective. You’re like trying to build up a client base, but then you want to make sure that you’re professional and buttoned up and people trust you. But then you’ll notice that as soon as people start getting successful, they kind of become more informal. Because people resonate with that informality. They resonate with people, they don’t resonate with suits. And so, especially in this ecosystem where you’re working with startups, you’re working with small businesses, medium size businesses. They want to know that they’re working with people who care about them. They care about their results. And so I’m a big proponent of speaking to people like you’re friends with them, especially if you’re going to work with them one-on-one, because you want them to know who you are. You want them to trust you.”

1:02:43 – Nurturing sequence

Ilona gave a step by step way to nurture a reader from lead magnet to conversion, by having them take an action each time.

“So the first time you’re like, here, open this. Second time, you were like here’s some additional relevant information and if you want to learn more you can attend this webinar, for example. Like you want them to take an action each time and then based on whether or not they’re taking actions.Then that’s where you start having your, a little bit of that segmentation, which I know you get overwhelmed by, but it was basically yes, no. Hey, did you open this? If yes, you’re clearly interested in what I’m giving you and then you’re kind of qualified for the next thing. If no, then maybe I can ease up or give you something a little bit more beginner or more eye-catching, more generalist, right? Something that most people would be interested in. And then, to me, if someone consistently doesn’t open emails, that either indicates that they joined those email lists for one specific thing and are just not really that interested in being on the email list or that first thing wasn’t relevant to them. And then you can try something else. You have potentially other options to try like a different content upgrade and then see if that works. Or some people are just not good fits for your emails.”

1:07:24 – Social proof before sales

After two emails offering content, Ilona advises offering social proof through a case study or testimonials before sending a hard sales email.

“Some people would say that you can go right into sales there. I would say social proof is a better tactic because it’s like you’re putting numbers to the content. So first you’re like, Hey, I really like this content. This is interesting. And now you’re saying, well, here’s how it works for other people. But in that AppSumo case study within the actual website is when you should have the kind of upgrades to be like, interested in doing this, work with us. And then that way you can have a little bit more aggressive of an approach of now they’re interested in potentially becoming customers. And then from there, that’s where I think more of your outbound engine can start taking place.”

1:13:08 – Give away a little for free

To tempt people into buying a larger offer, give a piece of it away for free. That allows them to see what they’re getting and be more likely to buy.

“I think that it’s better to give out free information. Let’s say you take the first module of your course, which is, let’s say like the SWOT analysis and you just send an email and you’re like, know who your competitors are. That’s the subject line. And then you just walked through really basic stuff. It’s like this is the framework. And then it’s like, if you’re interested in learning more about this and building on these tactics, we have this course and then just pitching it, but giving something in the email. I think that oftentimes super salesy emails don’t give you anything. And so you think that you have to buy it to get something, but you don’t know what you want to buy until you try it. That’s why free trials are so popular because people want to be able to actually play around and you know, touch and feel the thing. And so I think even if you turn some of that content into an email and just gave away some of it, a piece of it for free, that’s valuable. And that someone could even learn something from the email. I think they’re more likely to then buy the course.”

1:16:30 – Use discounts, scarcity, and added value

Add urgency to your offer with a discount or a time limit to motivate them. Or add value to your offer for a limited time.

“I’m not trying to tell you to do spammy things to sell. It’s more like when there isn’t a time sensitivity, it’s almost like people could always just say, oh, I’ll just buy this later. You can always justify making the purchase later. And a lot of companies and a lot of businesses do not discount and are able to do it without that, but it does drive the urgency more if there is some sort of a special offer and that special offer doesn’t have to be spammy. It could be additional content that you’re giving out for free for a limited time. So, you could have an ebook or something that you’re like, Hey, we’re gonna add this tool in, if you buy it in the next two weeks and that way you’re not doing anything negative to your users, you’re not artificially inflating your price. You’re not pretending like there’s limited seats. What you’re doing is being like, Hey, like I’d like to fill some spots now. And the way that I want to do that is by giving them an extra thing.”

1:23:19 – Try a quiz

If someone hasn’t really engaged or has only engaged with a couple of emails, a good last attempt at getting them onboard is to send a quiz.

“One thing I would say that is a great hail mary is a quiz. So people at their core just want to learn about themselves. And so if you could come up with a quiz, like I for example, got by Glossier, a what kind of skin routine do you need quiz? And then at the end of it they’ll ask you questions or this is the kind of skin I have. This is what I’m interested in, whatever. And then they’ll make recommendations based on what you’re saying you want. So what you could do is also have different varying stages and the answer to the quiz, it could be, Hey, you need to learn a little bit more before you can work with us. Not said like that, but more like, Hey, you’re a novice in this. Here’s some free resources or, Hey, look, you’re a good fit for this course. And here you can learn about the course or you could be like, you’re ready to jump right in. One of the questions could be, how much are you currently paying for content marketing or what budget do you have? And then that can also be a qualifier for you. But the more that you can make it fun and have people kind of learn about themselves and their own knowledge, you could even be like a knowledge-based quiz where it’s like, how proficient are you in content marketing? And then that way you’re just curious, but at the end of it, you can make recommendations to kind of send them down different paths. But I think that if somebody stopped engaging, the one thing that I would do is make it about them. Turn the focus back on.” 

1:35:29 – Is a big investment in email marketing worth it for smaller businesses?

Many companies are using email to build their businesses. Ilona says a great email newsletter comes down to a company being able to create good content consistently.

“I think the answer to that question is that in order for email to work for you, you have to become a content company, right? You have to have content. Your emails are not going to be your main driver of revenue if all you’re doing is pitching your agency. You have to have another business on top of the agency of creating content and lead nurturing and all that, which you’re already doing. You have a course and you have your Office Hours and you’re creating content. So now it’s kind of time to take that content and turn that into a newsletter. And what people are coming to you for is not necessarily working with you. It’s learning from you. The same reason that people will join HubSpot’s newsletter for the content. They have good quality content and people don’t even really realize what they do because they’re here for the content. I think that the mindset shift is that you’re not just an agency that works with people. You’re also a thought leader and the way that people are going to, the reason people are gonna join your email list because they want to learn from you.” 

1:39:37 – Email lets you scale really easily, especially with digital products.

Your list is already qualified and ready to hear about new products and offers.

“That’s also the benefit of an email list is that every time you release something new, you already have a list of people that you can blast. So anyone who purchases your course, and AppSumo for example, you’re gonna get an email through Teachable. And then now whenever you make a new course, you have customers that are already, who know who you are. And you can upsell them directly as opposed to starting from scratch each time.” 

Connect with Illona on Linkedin.

Connect with Omniscient Digital on social:

Twitter: @beomniscient

Linkedin: Be Omniscient

Listen to more episodes of The Long Game podcast here:

Alex Birkett

Alex is a co-founder of Omniscient Digital. He loves experimentation, building things, and adventurous sports (scuba diving, skiing, and jiu jitsu primarily). He lives in Austin, Texas with his dog Biscuit.