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4 No-BS Steps to Launch A Successful Newsletter

picture of Josh Spector

Josh Spector

Josh Spector, Audience Growth Strategist

Do you have a newsletter, or thinking about creating one? If you’re still unsure about how to start or grow it, then this episode is for you.

This week we are joined by Josh Spector, social media marketing and business consultant who has worked with The Oscars, New Line Cinema, actors, podcasters, and more. In this episode, you’ll learn how to position your newsletter, research your audience, and design your value proposition.

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We covered:

  • The difference between email newsletters and email marketing
  • Why newsletter is not going away anytime soon
  • Do younger people have a different relationship with emails?
  • How to set the right goal for your newsletter
  • Designing your newsletter’s value proposition
  • How to do customer research by “stalking” your audience
  • Why consistency is everything
  • What Josh thinks marketers should learn for the next 5, 10, and 50 years

Full Transcript:

Louis: Bonjour, bonjour and welcome to another episode of EveryoneHatesMarketers.com, the No-Fluff Actionable Marketing Podcast for marketers, marketing consultants, founders and tech people who are just sick of shady, aggressive marketing. I’m your host, Louis Grenier.

Louis: In today’s episode, you’ll learn how to grow an email newsletter to attract the right kind of people and grow your business. My guest today is a social media marketing consultant. He helps clients to grow their audience including the Oscars, movie studios, comedians, actors, and a lot of people who are in the real estate business and also founders. He publishes in a very interesting newsletter called For The Interested, and he also runs a popular Facebook group about it called Newsletter Creators.

Louis: Prior to that, to being a full time consultant, he was working for the Academy of Motion Pictures. He worked in marketing for New Line Cinema and as a film reporter for the Hollywood Reporter, so he knows also a thing or two about storytelling and how to appeal to an audience from a different perspective than just tech companies and tech marketers. Josh Spector, welcome.

Josh: Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Louis: I was saying just before we started actually that I found your name to be really impressive. I know you didn’t pick it, but Josh Spector sounds really serious and really almost villainy, superhero style movie. So, thank you first of all for coming.

Josh: I will take it. It’s good to know if I need a fall back profession I can fall back on being a super villain.

Louis: I don’t know why it sounds like Lex Luther a lot to me for some reason. So, I mentioned email newsletter in the intro, right?

Josh: Yeah.

Louis: I would say that I’m not really good at emails and the emails right now. It’s something I want to improve on so I’m really looking forward to your insight on this. But one thing that I’d like to know straight off the bat because a lot of those terms are used interchangeably almost is, what’s the difference between email marketing, email newsletter. What do you see the difference to be?

Josh: Cool. I’m going to talk about it as I see it in my definition of it. I think different people probably have their own definitions of it, but to me, when I talk about newsletters, I view a newsletter as something that’s designed to deliver value to an audience. That the newsletter in some ways is the product itself. Whereas I see email marketing as something that’s designed to extract value from an audience, and that doesn’t mean that a newsletter can’t generate and extract value. It happens to be then a really good newsletter is actually a fantastic form of email marketing.

Josh: But a newsletter, again, I think of it as the product itself and that it’s content driven. So, when I talk about newsletters, I’m not talking about, someone’s going to get on our list for our product or whatever, and we’re going to send them two or three emails and then try to convert them. I view a newsletter as something that you send, it’s content driven. You send it consistently over an ongoing period of time. While it may help to drive a sale or a conversion or do whatever you want to do, that’s not its sole purpose. And so as a result, when I talk a lot about newsletters compared to email marketing, there’s things that may work in the “email marketing world” that I would not recommend for a newsletter.

Josh: For example, email marketing 101 is use a lead magnet. Come up with something that’s going to get people to give you their email address. But in a newsletter, to me, I don’t want people to give me their email address to get whatever my lead magnet is. I want them to actually want the newsletter. So, while as an email marketing tactic, a lead magnet makes a lot of sense. When it comes to newsletters, I actually don’t recommend using a lead magnet. Just because you’re getting someone who wants a free template or a free guide to whatever doesn’t mean they actually want your newsletter. And so they just sign up and unsubscribe and whatever. So, I view newsletters very much as content and product itself and that can help you accomplish all sorts of different goals, but it’s very different from what most people think of as traditional email marketing.

Josh: And I think the other thing I would say about that is one of the ways in which I think both sides go wrong is people don’t think about, am I creating a newsletter or am I doing email marketing? And they reverse the tactics. So, they’re doing email marketing, but they’re promoting it and trying to position it as a newsletter when it’s not really a newsletter. They’re not really trying to deliver a content product to people. They’re trying to get them to buy something or vice versa. They’re trying to grow a newsletter and they’re using all these email marketing tactics to try to grow their list and then wondering why everyone that signs up on subscribes.

Josh: There is a misalignment, so I think it’s really important for all marketers or content creators or anybody to get clear in their own head, what am I actually trying to do? Is this a content product or is this just a sales tactic?

Louis: That’s a nice way to put it. I hadn’t thought about it before, but I can clearly see the difference now. I guess, I can see a lot of people trying to entice you to sign up to regular newsletter by using some shitty download or shitty case study, something quite bad. But yeah, as you said, it seems the newsletter value needs to be obvious and that people need to sign up for the newsletter itself, not for the artifact that comes before it, right?

Josh: Yeah.

Louis: That makes total sense. However, I heard a few times now that newsletters are dead and that Facebook Messenger is going to replace all of that. What are you thinking on this? It’s 2019 at the time we’re recording this episode and it seems like email newsletters are going as strong as ever. We see a lot of platform offering paid newsletter now to their communities and whatever, so it doesn’t seem to go away. Why is that? What’s happening here?

Josh: I think there’s a few reasons. It’s definitely not going away. If anything, I do think it’s booming. You’re seeing companies like Substack, and a lot of this is also a reaction to what has happened in social media. The reality is that email and newsletters in general, it is just a content delivery platform. It’s a way to reach people. And the reality is people can say all they want that email is dead, but if you have a good newsletter with a list of people who have subscribed because they want your newsletter, this is where it goes into the difference between, did they just want the lead magnet or do they actually want to hear what you have to say? But assuming you have a decent list, you’re going to have a much higher open rate than you’re going to get organic reach on any of the social platforms. That the single best way to get people to see your message and consume it, to actually reach them is through email and in their inbox.

Josh: When you take that in mind, it’s funny. One of the things I always point out is even the social platforms, why do Twitter and Facebook and Instagram automatically default you to email notifications and want to send you an email anytime anyone does something on their platform? Even they know the best way to reach you is in your inbox and not on their platform. So to me, that’s what it’s really about and I think people have started to realize as organic reach has decreased on all these platforms, as social media it’s certainly very different now than it was five years ago, 10 years ago. I think you’re seeing people realize that email is a great way to actually get people to see their stuff.

Josh: The other thing I think that’s a part of this is the consumption of email. Emails actually … Well, two things. The first quick thing is everybody has email. Not everybody is on Twitter and not everybody’s on Facebook. Not everybody’s on Instagram. Everybody’s on email, so your potential audience is basically 100% of the people. If you’re just focused on one of those platforms, that’s not necessarily true, so that’s an advantage. But the other thing is that the consumption of email and newsletters, it’s actually a very intimate platform, that when you’re consuming something on social media or let’s say you want to comment or engage, yes you can DM people, but it’s public. And everything that someone’s seeing, if I post something on Twitter when my followers see it, they’re also seeing how many likes it has, how many retweets it has, what other people have said about it. It’s influencing their judgment of that piece of content.

Josh: When someone gets an email from me or gets a newsletter, there is no contact. It’s one-to-one and they’re making their own judgment. They’re not seeing this doesn’t have a lot of likes, maybe this wasn’t good. That’s a very different experience. And this gets into also, I think when you write newsletters in a way that is not corporate but it’s personal, but it’s friendly. I always recommend to write it as if you were sending it to a friend. Even if you’re doing it for a company, it shouldn’t feel like a corporate press release. People will consume it one-to-one, so why are you talking as if you’re talking to everybody? Say you’re saying this is something you should check out versus something you guys should check out, right?

Louis: Yeah.

Josh: You don’t want to create that artificial distance between you and your audience. The other thing about it I’ll say is that a lot of people forget when they’re doing newsletters in this stuff is that email is inherently a two-way platform, and also very different from social media. So, when you’re talking about using it to build relationships with your audience on an individual level, they can reply to you. There’s a lot of people that don’t want to comment. Their comments on your Facebook posts are public for everyone to see. Their reply to you is private. That’s a one-on-one conversation, so there’s a lot of dynamics of it that I think are very different from what’s going on in social media. And I think some of the rise, again, and they never went away completely, but the recent rise and boom in newsletters is a reaction to everything that’s gone on on social media platforms in general.

Louis: That’s a great overview. Thanks so much for going through that. You clearly have thought about it for a long time more than I have. The next thing I have in mind, I always try to think about, will this episode be still relevant in five years, 10 years or even 50 years? I’m thinking of younger generations here, and I don’t want to fall into the bullshit of Millennials versus Gen Z and all this stuff. But it’s a clear path that a lot of younger generations have been born with the internet and their habits are slightly different than ours, I would say.

Louis: From your experience, do you see differences in the way they handle emails? Do you see a lot of people who have been born with the internet not have email addresses anymore, relying on other platforms? What is your experience on this?

Josh: It’s a good question. It’s always tricky to predict the future, but I certainly don’t believe that email is going away anytime soon. I also think, I don’t look at it necessarily as generational. I think it may be more, and this is a guess, this is an assumption on my part, but it may be more age related. If 15 year-olds aren’t using email now, I don’t think that means they’re not going to use it when they’re 25 and in a job. That I think some of the young people don’t use email bit is not really about a generation that is going to abandon email. It’s about your needs and the way the work world operates is different than when you’re in high school or even college or whatever.

Josh: So theoretically, is it possible that email could fade away? Yes, that’s possible, but I think it’s highly unlikely, especially when you compare it to that communication is going to need to get replaced. Let’s say it did go away, hypothetically. It’s going to need to get replaced by something. And the problem is emails, they’re universal, open-source may not be the right word, but it’s a platform agnostic thing. And if it’s going to be replaced, I don’t believe that everybody’s going to be using Facebook Messenger or everybody’s going to be using Instagram DMs or everybody’s going to be using Slack, or take your pick.

Josh: So I think again, one of the biggest advantage of emails, again it’s everybody’s using it. There is no one company that owns it or controls it, and it’s just hard for me to believe certainly in this adult business world that that’s going to go away anytime soon. It could, but I don’t see it.

Louis: It’s a great way to put it as well. Thanks for clearing that right now. Let’s go through a step-by-step. You’re a listener to the podcast, as you mentioned before and so you know what’s coming next. Let’s say we have a company or you’re a content creator or you are someone who wants to grow their business and you decided that newsletters are probably a good way to get started. You might have something that is not working right now, or you might have no newsletter whatsoever.

Louis: And here what we want to do is, how do you … plenty of questions here, but how do you position it? How do you come up with an idea that is strong enough for your people to like? What frequency should you stick to? How do you find people who give a shit about it so that they can actually subscribe? I know you’ve covered that in multiple articles, but let’s get started. In this scenario, what is the very first step you actually advise companies or individuals to take?

Josh: The first step is to figure out what your goal is, and a lot of times I don’t mean the goal for the newsletter. I mean what are your goals? It’s interesting. When I have conversations with people a lot of times about social media in general, let alone newsletter, I always tell them, “Don’t tell me your goal is more followers, don’t tell me your goal is more engagement. Don’t even use any social digital terms.” Tell me about your offline goals. What are you actually trying to accomplish? You’re trying to get more clients, you’re trying to sell more product, you’re trying to promote a cause. Let’s talk about the off line stuff.

Josh: So the first thing is, what’s the goal? What are you trying to accomplish? Then the next thing is with that goal you go, what’s the target audience? Who do you need to reach to accomplish that goal? Once you have those pieces, now you’re looking at the newsletter. Again, a newsletter is a tool, it’s a tactic. It’s not a goal in and of itself. So now you go, I need to reach this audience to get them to take this action, which is ultimately my goal. So now, I’m looking at that audience and I’m going, how can I provide value to them? What will they find interesting? What will be worth their time?

Louis: I guess I agree with you with the goal. What is a good goal for you? When you talk to people straight away, have a conversation, where do you say, “This is a shitty goal, let’s dig deeper,” and when did you say, “This sounds like a great goal”?

Josh: It’s a good question. To me, it’s a shitty goal when … again, anything that’s about more subscribers, more followers, all that, any metrics that are tied to the newsletter itself, to me is a shitty goal. Because ultimately, what are you trying to do? You’re not just trying to have a lot of subscribers. So you want something that’s specific and tied to, again, their business or their cause or whatever they’re trying to do.

Josh: I do think that there are most newsletter goals, and I don’t have the full list in front of me. I have a newsletter accelerator course, and within that there is a lesson about goals and I spell out seven or eight of the most common goals. But some of them, for example again, it could be you want to sell a product. It could be that you want to attract clients for your business. It could be in some cases it’s a personal branding exercise. I want to position myself as an expert in this field for X, Y, and Z reason. I want to get speaking gigs or I want to sell a book or whatever it is. It could be that you’re building an audience for your other content.

Josh: So, if I deal with comedians, let’s say, and a comedian ultimately is selling tickets to their shows on the road, they need a reason for people to connect with them so that down the road when they come to that person’s town, they can let them know. And if you’re just doing what a lot of comedians do, which is unfortunately, give me your name and I’ll spam you when I come to town, that’s not a huge incentive for people to get on your list. Versus sign up for my newsletter and every week or every two weeks I’m going to send you some really interesting funny thing, or however they shape it. So, goals are different for everybody.

Josh: I can tell you for myself with my newsletter, my goal, I do not use my newsletter to directly sell my services. Again for me, it’s about I see an audience. I almost compare it to real estate that I think there’s value to having an audience. It plays out in all sorts of ways, so while I don’t use my newsletter to directly sell my consulting services, attracting people and building this audience does two things for me. Number one, eventually a lot of those people do wind up hiring me, so it does bring me business even though I’m not really necessarily using it directly to promote my business.

Josh: The other thing that it does to me is for me, it almost functions as a filter because I work independently. I don’t have a company, so when I’m choosing clients to work with, if they’re a subscriber to my newsletter and have been for a while, I know we’re going to be a good fit because they have gotten a sense of me and what I believe and what I’m interested in. And I know the fact that they’ve been reading this and are connecting with it, it’s a shortcut for me to go, “This is going to be a good relationship, this is going to be a good client.” So for me, one of my goals for it is it also serves as a filter a little bit for my business.

Louis: I concur with that and I completely agree. It’s the same thing for me on the podcast. The reason why we are connected is because we believe in the same thing. And I know that because you listen to the podcast and we got in touch before, right?

Josh: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Louis: It’s really about having your tribe. The newsletter is a really good way to have a tribe of people who believe in the same shit, who talk to you directly and asks question directly replying to your emails. It’s a great way for marketers in particular to build an audience that is really your loyal tribe. I don’t remember who wrote it a few years ago, but you know this concept of 1000 true fans?

Josh: Mm-hmm (affirmative), tell me.

Louis: Yes, this is a very strong statement. You only need 1000 true fans to make a viable business for yourself and that’s extremely strong. If you manage to do that via newsletter over the years, that could be super powerful.

Josh: It’s funny you mentioned your podcast because I would add, the other thing is that people I think don’t think about, but to me I see this very obviously, there’s a lot of similarities between newsletter and podcast. When you think about the reasons why people would do a podcast, the relationship a podcast gives you with your listeners and how different that is than a typical social media follower relationship, again, the same way I was talking about the intimacy of being in someone’s inbox. I think the same is true for a podcast. There’s an intimacy when you’re in their ears. There’s a lot of similarities and I also think in my mind, I see what I call the newsletter boom that’s happening right now, mimicking in many ways what’s gone on with podcasts over the past couple of years.

Louis: People feel the need to connect to people who believe in the same thing. They want to find their community, their tribe, because the world is very oppressing should I say, or very overwhelming at the minute and they feel the need to really connect better with their people. And I think yeah, I agree with you. Podcasting users, they all agree. Very close.

Louis: Now, you have a goal that is actually a real goal linked to your business, linked to what you want to achieve. How do you make sure that you come up with a concept or positioning that makes you stand out or at least something that is unique to you, or at least something that is unique to the audience you want to attract? Maybe there’s a few steps in between, but let’s say step one is the goal. What is step two then?

Josh: I think once you figure out what you want to do and who you want to reach and what they value, the biggest piece is the value prop, the value proposition. How are you going to deliver value to this audience? Because that’s ultimately how you’re going to get them to subscribe, to how you’re going to get them to stick around. And what is that value you’re giving them?

Josh: Now, this is obviously going to depend a lot on your goal and the audience and all of that stuff. But ultimately, when you figure out really what … The way I think about it as I go, what can I give these people that is going to be useful, that is going to be valuable, that is going to be worth their time? Look, it is true that people’s inboxes are a disaster and they’re flooded with stuff, and they’re not looking to get more emails in general. So you really have to give them something that is going to make their life or their work or whatever better. It’s got to be worth their time to open your email.

Josh: And I think once you figure out what that value is that you can provide them, the next thing is you really need to message that everywhere. It’s amazing how when you look at people’s subscribe pages or their forms or whatever, how many of them are just like, “Join my newsletter.” And it’s like, no, you have to explain what the value is and it needs to be in your description. And the description, too often people’s descriptions are join my newsletter and I’ll send you my newest posts or join my newsletter and you’ll get an email every week or every two weeks or whatever. That’s not value.

Josh: This gets into the classic marketing features versus benefits. Are you selling the features or the benefits? The fact that you have a newsletter and you’re going to email them once a week, that’s not a benefit. That’s a feature. So for me, the description of my For The Interested newsletter is actionable ideas to improve your work, art and life. That’s a little broad, but at least it’s catered towards here’s what you’re going to get. I’m going to send you ideas of things that you can actually do. It’s not hypothetical, it’s not theoretical. It’s for people who want to improve. I don’t share the news of the day. It’s not about here’s what Trump did yesterday, it’s not just general thought pieces or about whatever. It’s here’s an article on how to get a better night’s sleep, here’s an article on how to be a more productive creator, here’s an article about how to improve your landing pages or convert more of your audiences into customers. That’s what you’re going to get.

Josh: And so I think whatever your newsletter is and whatever value you’re giving people, there’s newsletters out there for example, that send you every week. They’ll send you a recommended podcast, so here’s five podcast episodes that you might want to check out. Not their own, from other people’s, right?

Louis: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Josh: So, the value that they’re providing people is discovery. It’s saving them time. That’s what that should be. It shouldn’t just be, “Hey, I send you five things.” It’s this newsletter is going to save you time, it’s going to introduce you to new podcasts if that’s something you’re looking for. It’s figuring out what the value is and then positioning and promoting that value to people. Give them a reason to sign up.

Louis: Let’s talk about that in detail because I don’t want to fall back into the trap of most marketing podcasts who talk about, you need to provide value and then, oh, okay cool. So, let’s talk about that in detail. Because I think you have a lot of step in there that you’re not talking about because they’re probably internal at this stage. It’s obvious to you, so let’s make it obvious to listeners as well.

Louis: What are the steps required to truly understand what your people will give a shit about, this value that you need to provide them? How did you advise your people to do that?

Josh: There’s a few ways to do it. First of all, obviously it depends how well you know your audience and your market in general, but let’s say that maybe you know it. Number one, you can certainly talk to people. Talk to your target audience, both individually or collectively if you have a customer base or if you have some relationship with people. But even one-on-one, have conversations with them. What do you wish existed? What are you trying to figure out? Those conversations.

Josh: For example, let’s say I was doing a newsletter about highlighting podcasts, I would have conversations with a few podcast listeners, not of my own, but just in general. And I would say, “What do you wish was out there? What are your problem points?” And you might get from people … I’m making this up, but somebody might say to you, “There’s all these podcasts I want to listen to, but most of them seem to only have five or 10 minutes that are really interesting and valuable and I have to sit through an hour to get that five or 10 minutes.” So in my own mind, I might go, huh, maybe I do a newsletter that just tells people the best five-minute clip of each podcast to listen to.

Josh: Another example is you might have a conversation with somebody who goes, “I listen to all these marketing podcasts because I know this space, but I’d like to listen to stuff that isn’t specifically about marketing, but still might translate. Different but related, but I don’t know how to find it.” And I go, okay, I’m going to do a newsletter that features a non-marketing podcast for marketers to listen to. So each week I go, here’s here’s this. So again, that’s how conversations with individual people or collective people, you could obviously survey people if you have an existing audience. By the way, if you are going to survey them, I highly recommend instead of using multiple choice questions, you ask open-ended questions so that you can see the words that they use and the things that they talk about. But that kind of stuff.

Josh: And then the last thing I would say that you could also do is I have a lesson in my course. I call it how to stalk your audience on social media. And I talk about one of the things I did in the early days of my newsletter was I identified a couple of my readers who were opening and clicking, some of my most engaged newsletter subscribers. And I went and found their social media accounts. I think at the time I went to their Facebook accounts and I literally, assuming they were public, I went through I think two or three months of all of their posts, and I literally wrote down notes and was like, what are they sharing? What are they talking about? What words are they using? And then I looked at them both individually and collectively and I noticed a bunch of things. I was like, wow. Almost every single one of these people is sharing links to stories from their local newspaper, which is interesting in the context of newspapers are dead.

Josh: But to me it’s, it said something. Almost all of them were doing some charitable work in their community. They were doing blood drives, they were doing animal rescues, they were doing whatever, so I was learning things about what my best audience or most engaged audience cared about and was doing. I noticed that almost all of them were in some way or another teaching something. They weren’t necessarily teachers, but they were teaching an improv class, they were giving writing lessons, they were a piano teacher. And so I started to buy just “stalking” a few people in my audience, I started to get a sense. I noticed how they talked. I noticed almost all of them at some point have included an emoji in their posts. Well, maybe my social post should include an emoji. I want to speak their language.

Josh: But again, it’s basically conversations and research, and the better your target audience, the easier it’s going to be for you to figure out what they value.

Louis: I knew there was something behind all of that, so thanks so much for answering that. It’s golden. This is the type of advice that I want to hear every time I speak to someone. You mentioned talking to people directly, you mentioned sending surveys. I completely agree with you about open-ended answers. For the love of God, if you’re listening to this podcast right now, do not send surveys with close-ended questions with multiple choice because you are making assumptions behalf of your people, especially if you don’t know your audience very well. Be very careful of using those type of questions. You’re going to bias yourself towards a specific answer. If you don’t randomize your answer, you will have more people clicking on the first choice by default. Be very careful of all of this.

Louis: Instead, exactly as you said, open-ended questions. Let them talk and you’ll discover plenty of interesting stuff. I’ve done that several times for the podcast. One of the top things I’ve learned is that people love the actionability of it, the step-by-step and they love the specificity of it. The fact that we cover one topic at length, and this is the reason why I talk about Everyone Hates Marketers to be an actionable, no bullshit podcast. It’s not me saying it, it is my people who said that, the people listening right now.

Louis: So talking to people, briefly, you mentioned a few questions. But again, what type of questions would you like to ask people for this, briefly?

Josh: Well, I think it depends a little bit on the niche obviously and what you’re trying to do, and I also think there’s questions specifically to the audience. I also think it can be helpful to try to figure out, what else are they consuming? What else?

Josh: For example, if I’m starting a newsletter and let’s say it’s geared towards whatever. Let’s say it’s geared towards marketers, I want to ask marketers, what newsletters are they already subscribing to? Are they not subscribing to any? Why? Why are they subscribed to a bunch, but they don’t open or read any of them? What do they like about the ones that they subscribe to? What do they dislike about the ones that they subscribe to? Again, this is like what do you wish exists?

Josh: Then the other thing too is separate from newsletters is in general, what are they struggling with? What’s the hardest part of your job right now? What’s the easiest part of your job right now? What do you wish more people were talking about? I had written a blog post and this is different, but it’s relevant. I had written a blog post about questions to ask people when you’re interviewing them for a job, when you’re hiring basically. And it’s interesting because while this is very different, I’m just thinking about it now and there are certainly some similarities.

Josh: I recommend asking people, what other jobs they applied for, and they don’t have to tell me the specific ones, but their answer is, let’s say I work for a nonprofit entertainment company, something in the entertainment industry that’s a nonprofit. If someone’s applying for a job and I ask them, what other jobs are you applying for? And the three examples they give me are nonprofits, not necessarily in the entertainment industry, I know that they’re interested in the nonprofit part of my job. If they say, I applied at this studio and this network and whatever, I know that what they’re interested in is the entertainment part. So, I think you can do the same thing here. We’re getting a sense of what else are these people interested in consuming, whatever, tells you something about where their head’s at. And so I think that it’s those kinds of questions.

Josh: Another question from that post that I would ask people in terms of hiring them is, let’s say it could be for anything, but let’s say it was for a social media job or a marketing job I ask them a two-part question. The first was, what do you see in the marketing or social media space that you completely disagree with or you think is way overrated? What trend that you’re down on or don’t like? And then on the flip side, what is most exciting to you? What do you think the future is or what are you excited to work on?

Josh: And what that really is telling me, there’s no right or wrong answer, but what it’s really telling me is if I hire this person, now I know and they have some degree of let’s say, control or influence in their job, now I know where they’re going to go. Because if this person told me, I’m super excited about VR and I’m really down on email marketing, the chances are when I hire that person, they’re going to want to push towards doing stuff in VR and they’re going to want to phase out or not pay attention to email marketing.

Josh: I think you can do the same thing with this stuff when you’re asking if my target audience is marketers or whatever asking them, what are you really excited about in the marketing space? What are you really down on? And that might influence, just using that example I just gave, I might go, huh, maybe a newsletter about VR. Again, at some point you have to do what you want to do and what you’re passionate about and interested in, because I think the other thing about newsletters too that I haven’t said is your newsletter is not going viral overnight. A newsletter is a longterm … We talk about no bullshit marketing and whatever. This is not a get rich quick. You need to understand that this is something that you’re going to invest time, effort and potentially resources and money into, and it is something that is going to grow over the long term.

Josh: And then I think the other piece of that is it has to be done consistently. My personal recommendation is I think if you’re going to do a newsletter you have to send it at least once every two weeks, ideally once a week. But it depends on what you’re doing in the market. The reason for that is I think if you send less than once every two weeks, ultimately you’re trying to become a habit for your audience. And if you send less than once every two weeks, it’s just too difficult to become a habit no matter how good your newsletter is. And that’s my like weekly, I think it’s ideal, that people will start to expect and always send it at the same time. That’s another tip.

Josh: People that launch a newsletter and they go, I send it on Monday and then I send it on a Wednesday and then I send it on a Sunday night and then they go, I don’t understand why it’s not really getting traction. You’re trying to develop a habit for your audience, and you can’t develop a habit if they don’t know when to expect it. So, you want to pick a consistent time and you want to commit to doing that. And ideally, it would be no less than once every two weeks.

Louis: And that’s proven scientifically, the way habits are being formed and being kept is that two weeks is usually the maximum at which the human brain likes to remember things. And beyond two weeks you start forgetting things. And this is why this podcast is weekly as well. That was a conscious choice. This is why it’s always published on Tuesday morning, European time for the exact same reason. It’s about building habits.

Louis: I want to come back to something before we move on to, how do you actually find people to subscribe in the first place and ways to do that. Because I’m pretty sure if you’re listening to this right now you’re probably dying to know that. I know I am, but before covering that, let’s go back to the positioning of the newsletter and the value prop you want to find.

Louis: You talked about looking at the social media profile of your people to see what they like, the tone they use, the pieces they read. That’s pretty clever stuff. That really helps you to see what type of stuff they read, and you don’t then have to really rely on what they say. You rely on what they do, right?

Josh: Yes.

Louis: Which is extremely powerful.

Josh: Absolutely.

Louis: You need to be very careful sometimes of what people tell you, especially about the future. If you say I’m very interested in that. Okay, that’s cool. But if you say, what do you think I should be doing next? People coming up with ideas, sometimes it’s awkward. Instead, you might want to check out, what have you liked in the last three months or what have you read in the last three months that made you tick and whatnot?

Louis: And apart from that, let’s say we know what people give a shit about. What is their pain point, what they like, what they don’t like, let’s say we have a rough idea on that. What is your advice to package this newsletter into something compelling enough for people to sign up? Because as you know, there are so many offers like that on the web. How do you position it so that it stands out?

Josh: Let’s start with this. Let’s start with what people are not looking for. For the most part, nobody is out there going, I wish I could get more email from people. For the most part, nobody’s out there going, I wish I had more newsletters to subscribe to. Some people are, but for the most part, that’s not a mindset that people are in. It’s interesting when you talk about surveying too, where it’s like if I were to survey again, let’s say my audience was podcast listeners, if I were to service podcast listeners and say, are you interested in signing up for a newsletter? Just no context, they’re probably like, no, I’m not.

Josh: But if I said, are you interested in me sending you a week, a podcast and tell you these are the five minutes you should listen to? Now, maybe. So you got to understand in terms of the positioning of what you’re doing. You’re not actually “selling” a newsletter, you’re “selling” the value the newsletter provides. That’s a positioning piece.

Josh: I think that the other thing too is that in terms of finding these people, if you have your own audience through some form or another, that’s a different conversation than let’s say you’re starting from scratch and you don’t have an existing audience. You don’t have anything. And let’s say I’m a clothing company. I’m making this up. I’m a T-shirt company that sells Chicago Cubs T-shirts, so my target audience is people that might want to buy Chicago Cubs T-shirts. I need to go figure out what Chicago Cubs fans what could I give them that they might want to hear once a week, once every two weeks, whatever?

Josh: So, the first thing I got to do is find where are they? I might go into a Facebook group, I’m sure there’s Facebook groups that have millions of Chicago Cubs fans and I’m not going to go in there and just jump in. And again, this is basic non spammy marketer tactic. I’m not going to go in there and post, “I have a Chicago Cubs T-shirt company. Who wants to sign up for my newsletter?” I’m going to go in there and I’m going to watch and I’m going to listen and I’m going to engage in comments. I’m going to become a part of the community and get a sense for what they’re doing. Then I might pick off a couple of those people that maybe I’ve had some interactions with them on their posts or whatever and say, “Can I email you a couple of questions? Can I have a quick conversation with you?” And then I might float some ideas by them.

Josh: I might ask them open-ended questions like, what do you feel like you wish you knew? But I also might have some ideas. I might go, I’m thinking about doing this thing where I interview huge Cub fans about stories from their lives, about their most incredible Cubs moments or whatever. Would that interest you? And maybe they’d say yeah, that’d be cool, or maybe they’d say, no, I don’t really care about that. Or I might go, I’m going to start a newsletter where I tell weird stories from the history of the Cubs that people don’t know. What do you think about that? Here’s an example. So, you’re testing that to try to figure out and hone in on what they value.

Josh: The second piece of that is ultimately, you can do all the research and prep in the world. You’re never going to know until you get up and launch and do it. So, I think the other part is don’t get stuck forever trying to plan and prepare and guess. Do a little research, do a little thinking and put it up. The nice thing about newsletters, unlike a lot of other things, is the costs are incredibly low. While there is an investment of time, it doesn’t have to be a huge investment of time. It’s very easy to put something out and go like, all right, let’s see what happens. Let’s see if people are signing up for this, let’s see if they’re sticking around, let’s see if they’re opening and clicking. Let’s see how this feels.

Josh: The other thing that I would add about this is a lot of people get intimidated by assumptions on what a newsletter is “supposed to be.” That they think it needs to be this long, big thing or fancy design or whatever. And the reality is it doesn’t have to be a big thing. I had a comedian client who I was talking to and he knew he needed an email list to be able to reach his audience, but he was doing a lot of stuff and he was busy and the idea of writing this big newsletter every week, it just wasn’t his thing. But he was trying to figure out what to do. And what I said to him was, I was like, “Look, you need to rethink what a newsletter can be. Your newsletter could literally be one or two sentences that you send that is a link the funniest thing you saw this past two weeks.” Or this guy was very connected in the comedy world and in the music world, it could be, you guys need to check out my friend so-and-so’s band. They’re incredible.

Josh: As long as what you’re sending provides value, you literally could have an email that is one sentence, no design, text only. Hey, checkout this awesome thing. I think I even said, I was like, “We can call your newsletter Joe’s one awesome thing.” And what’s interesting about this is that’s really simple, but as long as the thing is awesome to his audience and appeals, people that like his comedy will like the kind of things that he’s sharing. It’s great. And what’s really ironic is people are so busy that that idea actually might get more people to subscribe because on their end they’re like, wait a second, all this is one sentence and it’s just a link to a thing. I don’t have to read a whole thing. This isn’t “work” for me.

Josh: It actually can be really compelling, so I think when you think about value and newsletters in general, don’t get locked into this, it-needs-to-be-this-big-formal-long thing. I go back to delivery mechanism. I’m going to find something that my audience is going to value and I’m going to figure out a simple way to send it to them on a regular basis. And if I do that and it’s actually valuable and I get it in front of the people who will value it, it will work.

Louis: And it comes back to what you were saying before. If you’re really certain about the value you’re providing, the pain you’re relieving from people, I think your example off the top of your head a few minutes ago was really strong actually saying, I’m going to share with you the best 10 minutes of marketing podcasts, let’s say. Instead of listening to the guest intro for 15 minutes and blah, blah blah and the yards and whatever.

Louis: If you have this value and you say, I’m going to do that and send you those best 10 minutes every week, you don’t need a fancy 1500 words newsletter. As you said, all you need is one sentence that says, “Check out this podcast from Tim Ferris,” click on the link and it’s going to make you listen on the minute that you thought to be interesting. Boom, that’s it. You’ve delivered your promise.

Louis: So yeah, I agree with you. And it’s true that when I think of newsletter, when I close my eyes and think of newsletter, I imagine this massive fucking thing with sections and subsections and it’s really lengthy, but it doesn’t have to be. And I like the fact that you’re saying that a lot. It doesn’t have to be long. It just has to be good, which is what it’s about.

Josh: I think along those lines, and I’m going to use you as an example and your podcast. I’m a huge fan of curation in general. I think the other mistake that people make is they assume their newsletter has to be about them, and it doesn’t. It has to be about value to their audience.

Josh: So hypothetically, let’s take your podcast as a perfect example. The default assumption would be if you came up with a newsletter that it would be about your podcast in some way. Maybe it would feature excerpts from the show or maybe it would, whatever. An alternate take is, we’ll take the idea that I just gave you of those five minute clips. Your “newsletter” could literally be here’s the five minute No Bullshit Podcast. So, you listen to other marketing podcasts, you pick out the five minutes in which the guest talked about, shared some no bullshit secret and very much in line with your show, even though it’s not your show. But designed to appeal to your audience and attract other people, and you send that.

Josh: And maybe your newsletter is like, here’s this five-minute clip from the Tim Ferriss show. This is the best part, check it out. And then you can have, and by the way, here’s my episode this week if you want to hear it. But what’s interesting when you do that, not only have you created something that’s going to draw new people to you because if they don’t know you or don’t know your show, they’re probably not going to subscribe to your newsletter, but they might subscribe to the, oh there’s a newsletter that shares five-minute clips from marketing podcasts. They might see you’re drawing new people in, but also for your existing audience.

Josh: Here’s what’s interesting, your hardcore fans who listen to you every week, if your newsletter, hypothetically, it was just about your own stuff, they don’t necessarily have an incentive to be on it because they’re like, I already subscribed to him in Apple Podcasts. I don’t need a heads-up when he has a new thing out because I get it all the time, I love him. But if you’re curating other stuff that’s not in your podcast, now they’re like, I definitely want to be on that and I want to tell other people about that. So now, they’re no longer just saying you should check out Louis’ podcast, it’s great, it becomes a gateway drug to your show because it’s very complimentary.

Josh: And for you, again, you may have to spend some time just in this hypothetical example, you’d have to spend some time listening to podcasts, but also your community could help with that. You could have people send you … “When you guys hear a five-minute no bullshit clip, send it to me.” It can become a group effort, which is the other piece of this.

Josh: People assume, again, it’s all in how you frame it. The newsletter doesn’t have to be a ton of work, especially if you have an audience like you do. If you put out there, “Guys, when you hear a one-minute to five-minute clip of somebody giving a no bullshit tip anywhere, maybe it’s not even just podcast, maybe it’s a blog post, maybe it’s a whatever, send it to me and it’ll be our No Bullshit tip of the week or whatever.”

Louis: This is getting better and better by the minute. Thanks so much for taking this hypothetical example, which is actually not hypothetical. Let’s be honest. I actually send an email every week with the episode and that’s the only thing I do, which I know is absolutely shit. Because I know a lot of people subscribing to the email actually listen to it and they don’t need my email. So I’ve been thinking a lot about doing new stuff. And one thing I’m actually going to do, and if you’re listening to this right now, it’s the first time I’m announcing it, is I’m launching a new content series where I’m doing written interviews of marketers that are in the trenches.

Josh: Cool.

Louis: And using the same set of questions, but very in depth, very actionable as well, but you’re not going to get that in the podcast, so you’re going to have to subscribe to the email or check the website if you want to get them as well. So it’s not curation because it’s still me reaching out to those people, but the next step could be something like that as you said, from outside people.

Louis: And I think it’s a good segue to the next part and I really want to cover that briefly, the promotion, is the fact that when you start talking about other people, when you start leaking their stuff, guess what? You’re going to build a relationship with them, and guess what? They might have a newsletter, they might have a podcast. They will invite you on and this is how you promote your stuff. To start with I would say this is marketing 101, build fucking relationships with people. As simple as it sounds, it takes a long time. It takes years, but it is and will always work.

Josh: Absolutely.

Louis: Outside of that, outside of just purely making friends, purely sharing shit from other people, giving, big giving before I’m expecting to get in return, what other strategies have you used to promote your newsletter and what do you advise people to do?

Josh: I actually have a post that people can find it, maybe you can link it in the comments, but I think the post is titled something like, Five tactics I’ve used to grow my newsletter to 25000 subscribers. I’ll talk about a few that I’ve used specifically. Obviously, there’s different things that different people can do in different ways, but from the very beginning I have posted my newsletter on medium as well as sending it. And so that has gotten it in front of a different audience. I also blog regularly. Separate from my newsletter, I publish one blog post a week, so that original content has definitely drawn a lot of people in. That’s one thing that I do.

Josh: I’ve used Facebook ads pretty effectively. My biggest tip with that is a lot of times when people run Facebook ads or Twitter ads or whatever you’re running, if you’re running ads to promote your newsletter, what they tend to do is run a straight forward promotion of the newsletter. I write a newsletter that does X, Y, and Z. Sign up here to get it. What I have found to be much more effective is to actually promote content as opposed to a general newsletter sign up.

Josh: For example, I took a blog post that I had written that had done really well on medium and online and whatever, and it was titled something like The two minutes it takes to read this will improve your writing forever. And it was really just simple writing tips about how to write better. I promoted that and at the bottom or within that article it said, for more tips on how to improve your work and blah, blah, blah, sign up for my newsletter and it converted pretty well. So when I would run the ad promoting that piece of content, a couple of things happen.

Josh: To try to get someone to sign up to your newsletter that cold, that doesn’t know you or anything isn’t going to work that well. It’ll work a little bit, but it won’t work that great because they don’t know anything. But once they’ve read a post of yours, it’s going to convert at a much higher percentage. The other thing that happens is if the content is good, like that post of mine I knew was good, you get a ton of organic sharing, which drives all your costs down. When you run an ad that just says, sign up for my newsletter, even if someone checks it out and signs up, they’re not going to share that. There’s no organic bump on top of whatever you’ve paid for that ad.

Josh: So I have found, and I’ve done this with a lot of different things and different newsletters and pretty consistently, almost across the board, that you will get more for your money promoting a piece of content that embedded in the content plugs your newsletter, than you will just straight out going, sign up for my newsletter.

Louis: Very much like a normal relationship. It’s a cliche at this stage, but don’t expect to get married at first date. It’s the same thing, it’s just basic relationship. You’re talking to people on the street, like it’s the first time you meet them, don’t blow your shit. You know that. Therefore, don’t do it in your marketing as well. And as you said, you just build a rapport, you just create a relationship. You give them something before you expect anything in return. They get a chance to read yourself, to be acquainted with your personality, and if they like you they’ll fucking sign up. You don’t need to push them, you don’t need to do “direct response marketing” and expect them to sign up straight away. I very much like that approach as well, and this is why you’re on the podcast. We have very much the same point of view.

Louis: Josh, thanks so much for talking to me about this newsletter concepts where I’m getting tired at this stage [crosstalk 00:53:47] you probably get a lot of value. Definitely about newsletters, you’ve change my mind about a few things and gave me a lot of ideas as well. And I hope if you’re listening to this right now, you will too. I just have two questions before I let you go. What do you think marketers should learn today that will help them in the next 10 years, 20 years, 50 years?

Josh: Well, I have to say again, everything gets filtered through your own perspective. My background, I studied journalism in school. I think writing in general is an incredible skill. I know it seems obvious and cliche, but no matter what happens, all the social platforms can change and all the technology can change, and I know that video is booming and podcasts and all of that. But the bottom line is writing is foundational to all of that stuff. And the ability to write and tell stories is something that is always going to be valuable no matter what happens. I’m a big believer in that.

Josh: The other thing that I would say is I believe that, and I say this all the time, not enough people do things that it’s actually a skill to be able to follow through and do and create and put something into the world, and not get bogged down in thinking about it, planning it, worrying about it, being scared to do it, being afraid of failure, all of that stuff. Developing a habit and a skill of doing is ultimately how you’re going to get somewhere. And I noticed, because I work with a lot of individual creators and artists and that kind of stuff, and there’s a huge difference between the people that do and put stuff out on a regular, consistent basis and the ones that do it sporadically or forever thinking or planning about it.

Josh: And what I like about that is writing, you can certainly always improve and you can learn and study and whatever. But even that requires some natural ability or certainly practice in that. Doing, anybody can do, and I’m not saying it has to necessarily be great, but nothing is stopping you from putting something out into the world. You might come up with a terrible newsletter, but if you put it out, your next one will be better.

Josh: Just a quick story. I remember years ago talking to a literary agent in Hollywood and I was talking to him about screenwriters. He said, “Here’s the first question I ask screenwriters who are looking to get signed or work with me or work with studios and sell stuff. I ask them how many scripts they’ve written.” And he said, “If the answer is anything less than 10, if they haven’t finished 10 screenplays, the conversation’s over.” He said, “Because I know that number one, your 11th screenplay is going to be better than your fourth no matter what, and that this is about doing, not just about results.” “People who have written a couple of screenplays and then think it’s going to happen,” he’s like, “I want to see that consistency of effort in doing it,” and I feel the same way. The newsletter didn’t work, do another one, do another one, do another, that kind of thing.

Louis: It’s about the process, not about the results. And this is an incredibly powerful mindset to have. Instead of focusing on, I want to have a newsletter and I want to have 500 subscribers by Christmas, you just say, I’m going to fucking publish a newsletter every week no matter what. And if you change your mindset this way, it’s so powerful.

Josh: The other thing that’s great about that mindset is that’s what’s in your control.

Louis: Yes, definitely.

Josh: The frustration comes from focusing on the things that are not in your control. Nobody can stop me from publishing a newsletter every week. I don’t control whether or not people subscribe or not, but I can do my part of the bargain and I can take pride in that, that I’ve done that consistently. And I can try to improve and make the rest of the stuff work. But other people go the other way and they go, this is only worth it if people subscribe or if it sells or if I whatever, when no matter how good you are, that stuff’s ultimately out of your control.

Louis: Yep, I completely agree. And that’s all about stoicism, about tranquility, about focusing on the things you can control. And that really gives you peace of mind and confidence about your own stuff. What are the top three resources you recommend listeners today? It could be anything from podcast to newsletters to anything.

Josh: There’s a lot, but I’m going to give you three that I’ve … I consume a ton of stuff, but I’m going to give you three that I’ve consumed recently. One is, there’s a book I just finished called, This Is Not a T-Shirt and it’s by a guy named Bobby Cam or Bobby Hundreds. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of The Hundreds clothing brand, it’s a big streetwear brand and it’s basically his story and the story of their brand going from literally two guys who had no idea how to even print a T-shirt to one of the biggest streetwear companies in the world.

Josh: It’s really good. A good read, really interesting, and he is very much in line I think with how you and I probably both think. One of their mantras is people over product. He’s very much about community and brand and doing it the right way, and credits that with a lot of their success. Definitely not a spammy marketer.

Josh: The second one is, there was a video I watched. Well, there’s a whole YouTube channel. Spotify has a YouTube channel called Spotify for Artists and it’s basically a bunch of talks and interviews with people, marketers, people in the music industry, basically giving advice to artists on how to grow their careers. There’s a lot of good stuff on there. There is one in particular that I watched a bunch of times recently. It’s only a 10 or 12 minute video.

Josh: There’s a guy named Mikael Moore, M-I-K-A-E-L, and he runs Janelle Monáe’s production company label called Wondaland. He runs it and he gave a talk where he breaks down … they have an artist named Jidenna, and he breaks down basically how they launched an artist’s new album, and he shares their deck and the degree of strategy and the way they think about branding and marketing and positioning. Basically, he’s sharing what they put together to then show the label, the marketers, to show everybody, brands that they meet with, here’s what this guy is and here’s what we’re doing. I find it to be a really interesting talk.

Josh: And then the third thing is a website that I came across recently and you may have heard about this or not, but it’s called Marketing Examples, marketingexamples.com, and they seem to have gotten a lot of attention very quickly and deservedly so. They just share really simple case studies from marketers who have done stuff that has worked and literally just break down, here’s exactly what we did and how it worked and I think it’s a good resource.

Louis: Yeah, I concur. I follow them on Twitter. They’re pretty good. Josh, again, thanks so much for your time. A really enjoyable conversation. A lot of learning on a topic that we hadn’t covered before. So again, thanks so much for your time.

Josh: Yeah, thank you. Thanks for having me.

Louis: Great.

Josh: Cool.

Louis: Yeah, it was great.

Next: check out the 500+ marketing resources mentioned on the podcast over the years (sorted by the number of mentions and format).

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© 2017 - 2020
NOT SEEN ON TV - FIGHTING MARKETING BULLSHIT SINCE 2017 - BY LOUIS "BONJOUR BONJOUR" GRENIER
© 2017 - 2020 NOT SEEN ON TV - FIGHTING MARKETING BULLSHIT SINCE 2017 - BY LOUIS "BONJOUR BONJOUR" GRENIER