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Creative Email Campaigns: Why an Online Education Company Sent an Email About Football

Can a coding company send a relevant email about football? Or will we just spam our friends and students?

Every week, over team brainstorms how to reach out to people in clever, funny, and interesting ways. We don’t want to clog up your email inbox (annoying!) or send messages that just push sales (boring). Our aim is to inspire, delight — and just maybe deliver something unexpected in your inbox. Our company is focused on accelerated learning, experimentation, and a little bit of quirkiness.

Last week, our team had to think about how to connect over football. (At least American football, because the Super Bowl was this weekend — some of us are soccer fans, or what the rest of the world knows as “football.”)

“I don’t understand football, honestly,” I admitted sheepishly to my colleague.

He laughed — “Me neither!”

“Wait,” I said. “Can we go with that?”

What if I sent an email about football and asked people to teach me what they knew? We crafted an email to reach out to people and sent the following:

What happened next was pretty cool. Over 200 people wrote back to me, and I spent Saturday morning hanging out and writing replies back to folks.

A lot of people had REALLY funny things to say, and I have to say, you taught me a lot about football. Moreover, I got to know several hundred faces in the One Month community and get to know a lot about who reads our blog, what they’re interested in learning, and — of course — what they know about football.

The thing is, we’re always learning here at One Month, and when there’s something we don’t know much about (like football), we want to learn from each of you. Thanks for taking the time to write in and teach us. It was a great way to learn about y’all.

Here are some of the highlights of what you shared and taught us about football:

“Football to me is all about memories, nostalgia and loyalty. Just like a group of developers get together and nerding out over the latest grunt or rails package, football is a common thread that we can all get behind to rally for — regardless of race, religion or any other preference.” — Andrew

“It’s like a new episode of a TV show every Sunday and Monday, except it’s a very real business with very real people.” — Shafiq

“The Super Bowl is like Thanksgiving in February: Your family wants to do a big dinner and bring everyone home for the weekend while you secretly wish you were drunk with friends watching the game without having to talk about what you’re thankful for.” — Saif

“I felt similarly to you, until I was watching the Ravens take on the 49ers in the 2013 Super Bowl. Suddenly, I saw the strategy, the patterns, how each team used each play to advance further along the board. Each player had a role, a specific skillset and position. The coach and quarterback coordinate to take control of the game. The game is even more complex, as each position is dynamic with injuries and individual player performance. In order to win, you must keep track of a strategy that is constantly changing in response to the other team’s moves, players, and the end objective to move along the board and win the game. I’m now a fantasy football addict.” — Melinda

“It’s a national ‘Sickie’ day in the UK on Monday for those that stay up to watch.” — Howard

“You mean the Katy Perry concert? The show opened and closed by some soccer thing?” — John

“Loving a football team is like working at a company. So when your company/team does well you feel like you did well. Even if all you did was cheer in the stands or write emails asking about football, you share the glory of your team’s success.” — Taylor

“It may not look like it, but there is real grace and skill behind it, both individually and on the field and as a team. The things these players execute are as athletic and sometimes as elegant as figure skaters or gymnasts, even on the Offensive or Defensive lines (the pile up).”

“They are trying to open up or close down gaps where someone might run or throw the ball, and like sumo wrestlers, they push against each other to do so, leveraging their bodies to knock the opposing blocker down. The game is also deeply rooted in American history. Listen to this week’s Radiolab for the full version, but it does come out of a tradition where guys had to show they were tough…because previous generations of men had The Civil War and wars in the west against native Americans to really show their toughness. Teddy Roosevelt had to intervene to make the game less brutal (people were dying on the field playing the game)…the biggest thing to come out of that era was the forward pass.” — Ian

“Every play is an opportunity for strategy. It’s like playing a more complicated version of rock, paper, scissors. Whatever both players just picked will affect each player’s decision in the next round. And both anticipate the other side’s anticipation of their own behavior, leading to a sort of strategy arms race.” — Peter

“I’ll probably get punched for saying this, but one of my favorite things about football is honestly the food and beer/whiskey, then onto friends and family and lastly it’s the game.” — Brandon

“At a basic level movies are great because they transport you to a different world (the willing suspension of disbelief). Football fans experience something similar; when your team is on the field nothing else matters, you’re in a different world.” — Michael

And if that doesn’t convince you, maybe these videos will:

In addition to all of the helpful commentary, we also got a bunch of links, videos, and references. Radiolab did an exceptional piece on American Football, and the YouTube videos we got were hilarious. Here’s a few of the best:

Andy Griffith explaining football in this 1953 commentary:

Bad British NFL Commentary:

And a Guide to American Football:

What about the haters?

As Taylor Swift says, “Haters gonna hate, hate, hate …”

You can’t please everyone. As a marketer and a long-time communicator, I’ve learned this through trial and error. You simply cannot please everyone. One of my favorite branders and designers says that it’s better to have a brand that’s both loved (and hated) than to have something that people feel indifferent about.

With emails — the only way you can have zero unsubscribes is if you have no one on your email list, or if you never send any emails at all. We track all of our open rates, subscribes, engagements, and unsubscribes and we learn from every campaign. (The highest opened email of all of our blog campaigns so far has been the “Drunk Mode” video release.)

Everyone has different opinions, and for the football email we got a couple of replies (just a few, thankfully) that sounded like someone got out of bed on the wrong day. (In that case, I just crank out the T-Swift and keep going).

In one instance, someone said:

“Who the *bleep* is Sarah?”

Right. So, hey y’all. I’m Sarah. I joined the One Month team to help them with creative writing, copywriting, marketing, and content creation. You can see all the awesome people on the One Month team on our about page or check out the recent talk Mattan and I did on content marketing last week in our free webinar (info below). I’ve been writing a few blog posts and I’ll be writing new essays on accelerated learning, growth, and ideas here on the blog. (If you want us to cover anything specific, or you have a question, just leave a note in the comments or reach out to me by email, happy to chat).

Another person more politely asked: what’s the point of this email?

Emailing is a conversation — it’s not just blasting information and shouting at people. If you use it creatively, it can be a way to get to know more of the faces at One Month, including many of our students, friends, and alumni.

Out of 200+ responses, we had three grumps, hundreds of awesome explanations, and a lot of conversation. As a marketer — which to me, means conversationalist, you’ve got to hold space for dozens of conversations with tons of customers, students, and people engaging with your brand. How do they interact with you? What’s the overall tone and reaction?

Several people cheers us for not selling anything —

“Great (and engaging) email. Way to not sell anything, and not be offering anything, but still be interesting. Well done!” — Josh

“I admire your willingness to dive in and learn about this wonderfully complex game. I hope that you received some clever tutorials.” — Jay

In addition, being able to explain a game — a process, a strategy, a theory, a team — is much more similar to understanding coding and creation strategy than you might expect. Here at One Month, we think learning new things is fun, and we might continue to surprise you every now and then — with new classes, interests, ideas, and questions.

Or email campaigns.

In all the responses I got, I learned so much from everyone, which resonates with our own spirit of wanting to learn, well, everything. Lee is practicing to become a world-champion DJ, and Mattan is teaching himself to play piano. Chris and Mattan take improv classes and I just signed up for my first singing lesson. What can I say? We’re nerds who like accelerated learning.

Thanks to everyone who played along! Hope you enjoyed the sport, the entertainment, and the conversations. We had a blast doing this.

We’re constantly experimenting with what we send people — developing a style and then testing out new things to see what we can tweak, improve, and better. If you want to learn more about content marketing and how to communicate in a way that’s different, unique, and fun — check out our content marketing free webinar or our upcoming class launching the last week of February.

In the end, the highest email open rates come from creative emails.

In our free webinar, Mattan and I chat about our top ten quick-wins for making content that actually gets shared. We break down the definition of content marketing and share ten strategies for engaging with your audience in a more meaningful way. In our upcoming class, we’ll be breaking down what content marketing is, who’s doing it really well, and how to construct email campaigns, experiments, and incentives so you can grow your own business, brand, or project.

And last but not least, the email winners:

Also, I have to announce the winner!

We had so many creative replies. Congrats to Craig Morrison for having the funniest response. You made me laugh out loud.

Here’s what Craig wrote:

The best part about football is the singularity of the sport.

It’s just you, versus your opponent.

You’re both surrounded by thousands of people, staring down at you as you play, all intensely watching your every move.

It’s intoxicating, knowing those players and the pressure they’re under.

Seeing them play what is much more a mental sport than any kind of physical one.

The sweat on your hands, the racquet slipping from your grip as you swing.

The pain in your knees you barely notice as you sprint across the court to take a last ditch effort at hitting the ball back to your opponent.

Wait that’s Tennis, football sucks.

PS: Don’t get me started on football, with all those different clubs and the tiny white balls. It’s barely even a sport.

And congrats to the following people who also sent amazing emails:

Also, bonus congratulations to Melinda Pandiangan for your awesome storytelling and sharing that football is about patterns, strategy, and complexity. Scott Johns explained that that football strategy is more like game theory than crushing humans, Caroline Bagby for sharing her evolution from not caring to learning all about the game to becoming a marketer for the Patriots (and subsequently learning all about the game), Jeff Charleston for giving some insight into the game (having played a super bowl himself!), and Yonathan Ayenew for reminding me to stick to my guns and read a book if that’s what I want to do next. You all rock!

What’s the best email campaign you’ve ever received? What do you love getting in your inbox?

How to Successfully Promote and Market Your App

Stories about successful apps are everywhere — Mint, Flipboard, Uber and many others. The companies behind these successes built apps that quickly rose to stardom, and along with that notability came large amounts of revenue. But many apps, even the most /creative, innovative and well built, don’t experience this type of success. Why?

App stores are inundated with applications. Android users have over 1.6 million apps to choose from, and Apple’s App Store users can select from 1.5 million. The competition is fierce. Understanding how to promote and market your app places you ahead of the competition, as you gain the ability to reach users on a much larger scale.

How to Promote Your App

Before taking any steps to promote your app and start wondering how to market an app, there is one decision that you need to make. You must be clear about your target audience. Who will download your application? Who will you serve? Are there several different segments or only one?

Once this decision is made, all other marketing efforts can be tightly focused, and as a result they will be more efficient. Here’s a few methods for growing your app’s user base more effectively.

Build a teaser website. This will be your hub for spreading information and capturing email addresses for people who are interested in your application. Your site should be simple and effective, and it should also include a place to blog.

Start blogging. Using basic SEO principles, write content that will draw people to your website and encourage readers to subscribe to your blog. Once subscribed, you can offer valuable content, but you should also share information when your app launches. Social sharing, such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, can also be leveraged to share content and connect with potential users.

Generate a plan for blogger outreach. Who is blogging in the niche that your app targets? You need to find these people, because they are influencers who can launch your app to stardom. Ask for an opportunity to guest blog to get in front of their audiences. Typically, you will include a biography at the end of the post, where you can place a link to your app.

Make the app free at the launch. Don’t create another barrier to download, especially when you’re building up reviews of the app. Any blogs discussing the app can promote it as free.

Create a podcast. In addition to your blog, you can create a podcast that is focused on your app niche. Publish on your site and also on iTunes. Or better yet, repurpose your podcasts into blog posts, or guest blog posts, to leverage your resources and reach more people.

Develop a product video. When developing your app website, create a product video that tells the story of your app’s development. Stories are powerful marketing tools and help you capture the attention of the visitor.

Create an interest-driven Facebook group. What niche does your app target? Created a targeted Facebook group, where people with common interests related to the app can get together and socialize regularly. You will build authority in the niche as the group owner and gain traction for your app.

Consider using Facebook ads. Target your specific niche, with the ability to leverage demographics and interests. When you drill down and focus on a highly targeted group of people, overall advertising costs will be lower and your ROI will be higher.

Leverage social media marketing. Host a Twitter chat to engage with people who may use your application. Take for example RunKeeper, an app that has a great blog with lots of content, including tips for runners and success stories. They share the content on Twitter, but also host a chat, where they can bring together people with common interests and build authority and meaningful connections.

Capture ratings. A higher rating in the app store translates into more downloads. So if your users love the app, ask them to spread the word. For example, Localytics uses segmentation to identify people who frequently use your application. You can then target that group with in-app messaging asking them to rate your app.

Regardless of which marketing strategy you select, it’s important to synchronize your promotions. Attempt to have almost everything appear at the same time before your app launches. This results in your target market seeing your app in several different places and thinking, “Gosh, I really need to check that app out — it’s everywhere!”

Marketing an App: What to Avoid

Some app developers make the mistake of opting for email marketing. And in general, email marketing can be effective when it’s highly targeted and integrated with your other marketing efforts. But trouble can occur when blanket or form emails are sent out with information about their applications.

You can also skip press releases when promoting your app. This method may have been effective several years ago, but today, there are millions of apps available. As a result, press releases about new apps are often discarded, resulting in wasted money, energy and time.

And finally, skip the “for pay” review sites. They often get less traffic than expected and, equally important, it’s unlikely that your target market is using those sites to make purchasing decisions.

The Next Steps

Every app developer has a different strategy, and a different budget. But the most important aspect of marketing your new app is the willingness to try many different tactics. A “one size fits all” marketing approach doesn’t exist because of the variety of preferences and review processes of your target audience. There is no one-size solution to how to promote an app; you have to consider your target audience and how to best reach them.

A willingness, however, to attempt different marketing tactics and measure those results will create a winning strategy that will result in more users downloading your app, as word spreads quickly.

Creating A Strong Product Differentiation Strategy

Imagine a customer is leaving a restaurant and choosing between calling an Uber or a Lyft. He knows he wants to get home as quickly as possible, but he’s still faced with a decision. Should he call an Uber or opt for a Lyft instead?

The executives at Uber and Lyft work hard to differentiate their products so that the customer’s choice is easy. They want customers to make a choice without thinking at all.

As you grow your business, you want to make sure you’re differentiating from the pack so that users choose you over competitors again and again. In fact, you want to create a product that’s so good that your customers don’t see your competitors as viable options.

In this post, we’ll explore how you can craft a strong product differentiation strategy that sets you apart from the competition.

What is Product Differentiation?

Product differentiation, by definition, is what separates you from your competitors. What is it about your product that makes it unique? What stands out? Why would a prospective customer choose you over a competitor?

But product differentiation refers to more than just being different. It’s about offering something that has an attractive advantage. Coming up with a differentiation strategy is essential to the products and services you sell, but it’s also important for your branding and marketing efforts. How is your marketing different from what’s out there?

The Challenges

If it were easy, you wouldn’t be reading this post. Here are some common challenges that entrepreneurs face as they strive to create a successful strategy:

Copying others. When you see your competition offering brand new features, it’s tempting to copy exactly what they’re doing. You worry that customers will see those new features and ditch you for your competitor. But if all you do is copy, you don’t have a distinct product differentiation strategy. You need to be committed to creating a better overall experience, instead of racing to copy the competition.

Sustaining the competitive advantage. When you first start out, you may have a few distinct advantages, but it won’t be long for the competition to catch up, and for your audience to get bored. As you grow, you need to continually stay on top of trends, constantly iterating to find new ways to differentiate.

Race to the bottom tactics. It can be tempting to compete on price, but this strategy could put you out of business. If you only differentiate on price, offering the lowest possible offers, then youre setting yourself up for a constant race to the bottom.

Relying purely on product quality. Your product may be made of the finest materials, and your software may have been developed by top engineers, but customers are interested in more than quality alone. Plus, many businessses claim to offer quality services but have low standards.

Start with You, Not Your Competitors

Robert Herjavek, serial entrepreneur, thinks the world is filled with too many “me too” businesses, which makes it difficult for them to get capital. “I think if you really have an innovative idea and you’re first to market, there’s no shortage in money,” Herjavek told Entrepreneur.

Saying “me too” goes beyond product. Sometimes, businesses mimic their competition’s marketing, rather than differentiating with a unique strategy. You might see that your competition has published a new blog series, or is offering a series of coupon codes in creative channels. Sometimes, their tactics might inspire you, but it’s important to develop your own strategy.

Prioritize the User

When you’re trying to differentiate, it’s important that you think about how you can improve the experience for the user. Many founders get hung up on what the competition is doing, or work so hard to do something different, that they forget about the people they’re serving.

When crafting a differentiation strategy, think first about your user. Is there something you could offer that would make their lives better? Ask yourself:

  • How is our offering an advantage for the customer?
  • What problems does our product solve?
  • What do users need that we could provide?

Race to the Top

As we outlined earlier, it can be tempting to offer the lowest possible prices. You reason that low prices are a good way to differentiate your product from your competitor’s.

In some cases, price can be a good differentiator. For example, if you’ve found a revolutionary way to manufacture products, and are able to reduce your margins substantially, it may make sense to come in at a much lower price point. In this scenario, you’re not losing money by offering low prices. Instead, you’re creating value for the consumer.

Most of the time, however, you want to race to the top. That means creating premium products and offerings. Think about how good it feels to buy a well made pair of jeans or the perfect project management software, in both these cases, customers are willing to pay a high price to get what they want. If you’re able to differentiate, price points won’t be a problem.

Content Marketing Isn’t The Dirty Word You Think It Is

People call me a “content marketer” often (not sure if it’s a compliment or insult), so let’s talk about how you can use the articles you write to sell the products or service you’ve got.

Too often, clients, friends, and confidants (i.e. people I talk to on Slack) tell me that they don’t have time to write articles that support their business. Then, in their next (digital) breath, they tell me how their business could be doing much better. When I mention to them that useful content could support and grow their business, and they could do a lot better if they made time for writing, they reply that they don’t have time to write.

This, my friends, is known as a total logic fail.

Let’s start with what content marketing isn’t.

It’s not simply blogging. Otherwise, there’d be thousands of teenagers on Tumblr who could put “content marketer” on their resume (although I’m sure some do, those pesky teens!). If you’re writing entirely for yourself, that’s a journal — there’s nothing wrong with that, but it won’t be effective for selling anything.

Content marketing is the intersection of where the writing you do serves the audience and you, the creator, equally.

Your audience wants value from timely, useful, and engaging information. You need your business to grow (whatever growth means to you), make money, and be continually exposed to new audiences.

With this type of writing, there’s always an intended next step. Buying something, signing up for a list, registering for a webinar, sharing something socially, ranking in a search engine for a term, etc. There’s some explicit action that happens after someone has consumed what they just read. Because they made it all the way to the end, they’re finishing reading now, and are looking for what to do next.

The reason I’m called a “content marketer” is because my weapon of choice for selling what I create is writing.

The reason I’m called a “content marketer” is because my weapon of choice for selling what I create is writing. I choose this weapon because it suits me the best, and aligns with what I like do and how I like to show up in the world.

As a writer, I know I can write. Whereas if I had to make cold calls or give speeches, I’d be a sweaty mess of “uh’s” and “hmm’s.” Writing has consistently and strategically grown my product business (books, courses, online events) to make up more than 50% of my income in less than three years.

So maybe you want to be a content marketer, too? Maybe it’s not such a dirty term after all. And maybe, just maybe, it’s not as much work as you think.

Here’s how you can maximize a small amount of time to use content to help both your audience and your business.

Start by always having a list of ideas for topics you want to write about. What do you add to this list? Questions your audience has asked you, related content to your most popular existing articles, using apps like BuzzSumo to analyze topics/competition, even articles you’ve read that you have a unique or opposite take on.

Have ready access to this list of ideas (either in a physical notebook or a text file that you can access from your computer or phone). Add to it constantly and be on the lookout for new ideas to add to the pile while reading, watching TV, scrolling on social media, walking in the park, or even eating breakfast.

Now, look at the list and pick the first idea that stands out to you. You’re going to write a content marketing article on this idea!

Write down the following items in a spreadsheet (and we’ll use this article as an example):

  1. What’s your goal in writing about this idea? Ex. “I want to teach people that content marketing is easier than they think it is.”
  2. What’s the reward your audience gets for consuming an article about this topic? Ex. “They learn how to use content marketing to drive revenue and exposure in their own businesses.”
  3. What’s the main point of the story? Is there a secondary point? Ex. “PRIMARY: Content marketing is easier than most people think it is. SECONDARY: Writing consistent content takes less time than people think, too.”
  4. What makes those points valid? Is there data, a unique personal story, research that backs it up? Ex. “50%+ of my revenue is now coming from products — all because of content marketing.”
  5. What is the result a reader would see if they, too, acted on the main point you’re making? Ex. “Better/more business if they used content marketing correctly.”
  6. What are 5–10 headlines you could use for this post? Ex. “Content marketing isn’t the dirty word you think it is” “How I use content marketing to generate more than 50% of my product business revenue” “Why content marketing can work for you, in less time than you think” “If you’re too busy for content marketing, then you’re too busy to grow your business” “Get out of your own head about content marketing — it can help drive business”
  7. What’s the next action you want a reader to take after reading the post? Ex. “NEW READERS: Sign up for my mailing list. EXISTING SUBSCRIBERS: Download the XLS worksheet and actually use it.”

Guess what? In answering those simple questions, you’re now 80% (or so) of the way finished your article. No staring at a blank screen for hours or life hacks required, just asking yourself a few simple questions for each idea you’ve got. Let’s put the answers to those questions together a little better:

  • [A6 — Pick your best headline or A/B test the strongest ones.]
  • [A2 — Use the reward your audience gets to illustrate a pain point — what happens if they haven’t taken action.]
  • [A1 — Spell out what you are illustrating.]
  • [A3 — Clearly explain your point(s).]
  • [A4 — Back the points up with data or stories.]
  • [A5 — Describe what the outcome looks like if your reader acts on this.]
  • [A1+A2 — Reiterate your goal and why your audience cares.]
  • [A7 — Give a concrete next step now that they have the information. Bonus content, buying, signing up, sharing, etc.]

Without writing the article by staring at a blank screen, you’ve just written the entire outline, now all you need to do is make the sentences flow together in your own style. If you’re just starting out with writing, remember that writing is basically a muscle — it gets stronger the more you exercise it. So don’t be discouraged if things at first are slower than you expect. You’ll get faster the more consistent you are with your writing practice.

If you’re just starting out with writing, remember that writing is basically a muscle — it gets stronger the more you exercise it.

“Now Paul,” you might be thinking, “That sounds so formulaic and boring! And not at all like the creative person you are or — more importantly — that I am!” But here’s the thing. The formula may be … well … formulaic, but the key is all in how you apply it. How you take the information and make it into a flowing story for your readers. It’s like saying, “Oh, I don’t read fiction because they’re all stories of a character who starts out, goes through some things, and ends up in a different place.” The high level stuff IS formulaic — it’s what you do, what data that makes it interesting, and what makes it you.

With a bit of practice and consistency, there’s no reason you can’t spend an hour each week writing at least one of these articles. That way, you can get your words, ideas, and brand in front of your audience on a regular basis, and the more you write, the faster and easier it becomes. There’s no excuse not to carve out a bit of time each week if you have a business.

There’s no excuse not to carve out a bit of time each week if you have a business.

One extra thing I’ve figured out by doing this for a few years is that it’s easier to write a bunch of articles at once than it is to write just one, wait a week, then write another. Once you get into the rhythm and flow after writing one, you may be able to crank out another couple right after it. This helps you stay a few weeks ahead of your publishing schedule, which leads to less stress (also known as, “Oh shit! I have to release an article tomorrow?!”)

Staying ahead of your schedule can also help you commit to only publishing your best content. The formula above doesn’t guarantee greatness, it just helps frame content quickly. So you may find that some posts just aren’t that awesome. However, if you’re head of your publishing schedule by a few weeks, you can throw the bad ones away and keep the best for sharing.

I’ve used the above ideas to sell books, drive mailing list signups, sell courses, and keep my brand top-of-mind. It works for me because I get to share in a way I feel comfortable with: writing and teaching.

Using content to engage, teach, and inform your audience is a powerful sales tool.

Using content to engage, teach, and inform your audience is a powerful sales tool. It helps define you as an expert as well as a helpful person, which leads to trust, which then leads to sales. All done in a non-slimy, non-sales-pitchy, really honest way. You help the most important people to your business (your audience), and reciprocation from them helps your business. It’s a win-win.

For those of you paying attention (which I assume is everyone who has read this far), this post was written using the formula I just outlined. I took an idea from my list of topics and went through each question, then put the answers to those questions in a order that gave me an outline. From there it took a little while longer to turn it into the article you just read.