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Book Review-Email Marketing Demystified: Build a Massive Mailing List, Write Copy that Converts and Generate More Sales

It’s been several years ago now. I had a technology client that was a marketing firm. In a conversation with the president, we were talking about getting responses to an advertising campaign. He said to me, “I can guarantee you a number of responses, I just can’t guarantee you it will be cost effective.” That stuck with me as a fundamental truth of marketing. I had always thought that you might not get enough responses, but, in truth, if you’re willing to spend enough money, you can always generate the responses – it’s a matter of whether that will be cost effective or not.

That’s why people turn to email marketing. In general, it’s cost effective. The Direct Marketing Association says that, on average, for every $1 spent in email marketing, the business gets $43 in sales. That’s a huge return. However, how do you get those kinds of returns? That’s what Email Marketing Demystified: Build a Massive Mailing List, Write Copy that Converts, and Generate More Sales seeks to help you do.

The Point of It All

Before getting into the details of the how, it’s important to focus on the why. (See Start with Why.) You do email marketing to market something – but what is that something? In some cases, it can be consulting services. In others, it’s product sales. However, product sales to whom, and what is the product being sold?

For me, we sell The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users to corporate customers, who buy it for everyone in their organization. We sell courses to individual corporate buyers who are looking to learn more about SharePoint themselves. We want these products in the hands of more people.

One of the insights from Email Marketing Demystified is that if you continue to pitch the same products to the same audiences, you’ll see diminishing returns. The business question becomes how much time do you spend marketing, and how much time do you spend creating new products? There is – of course – no answer to this question. You can build lists and write great copy, but if you’re not selling products, eventually the whole system will fly apart.

Put Out the Fire

Copy Writing

The heart of getting conversions on your emails – moving someone from reading to responding – is copywriting. On the surface, this is an easy task. Everyone learned to write in grade school. However, the subtle arts of copywriting aren’t as easy as they seem. The difference between a 1% and a 2% conversion rate aren’t impressive until you realize that this doubled your effectiveness – or can move you from one hundred purchases to two hundred.

Simple tips like keeping your headlines and subjects to five to ten words that will fit on a single line of text flow throughout the book. The copy on a button can dramatically change how many people click and respond. (“Sign Up Now (Free)” is the recommended copy for a button.)

List Building

In the category of list building, Email Marketing Demystified isn’t silent – but it’s definitely not verbose. Effectively you’re directed to Traction and to for finding ways to build your list. There is the tongue in cheek response that you just build great content for years and years until it starts to work. Of course, no one wants to hear this – but to some extent, it’s true. The Halo Effect focuses us on the truth that the world is filled with probabilities, not certainties. You can increase your chances – the probability – that your list will grow, but there’s no certainty in its growth.

A good friend of mine who teaches marketing once told me that all marketing is “throwing stuff against the wall to see if it sticks.” I can tell you that in my experience this is true. There are some things that I thought were going to be great for list building that did nothing. Other things that I didn’t expect much from have been very useful to me.

In short, if you’re looking for solid techniques for actually building your list, you may need to look elsewhere.

SPAM Shift

Before completely leaving the topic of list building, I should say that there has been a shift from purchased lists and mass mailings to smaller numbers of people who are more actively engaged in your content. While it’s still a valid list building technique to get someone else to pitch your offer to their list, rarely does acquiring a list work these days. Lists todays have to be built.

The tools that exist to help users protect themselves from SPAM have becoming increasingly more effective, and this may have something to do with the shift. Major mail systems are prioritizing the emails that you interact with, and, as a result, the massive number of emails that are being sent – and delivered – aren’t being seen by the users.

List building isn’t like the old days, where you could build your list by acquiring it.

Frequency and Timing

One of the considerations when you have a list is how frequently you should be emailing your list. The guidelines are interesting… No more than once a day, and not less than once a week. Of course, if you look at books like Launch, they’ll tell you to send reminders on your launch day so you may end up above the once a day rule – but at least it’s not every day.

My own results have been mixed. I believe that, between product launches, there is a place on your refresh list for emails to be sent out once a month. Basically, these are people who are interested in you and what you’re doing, but there’s nothing that they need to buy right now. You don’t want to inundate them – but at the same time you don’t want them to forget you. I still send a monthly newsletter to people who are interested.

In addition to that, I send people email campaigns when they want them. We offer 30 Office Tips (delivered every other weekday) and a set of SharePoint Secrets that are delivered every three days. It’s possible that we’ll be emailing folks more than once a day – but only if they’ve asked us for that frequency of contact.

The other dimension is how long do you hold onto a lead? The recommendation from Email Marketing Demystified is to have autoresponder sequences that last three to five months. This feels long to me, but who knows? They also recommend that if someone hasn’t interacted with you in six months you should remove them from your list.


I don’t know that I’d say that Email Marketing Demystified lives up to its title. It feels more like a set of clues to find your own path than a secret decoder ring. However, if you’ve been doing email marketing for a while, you probably realize there is no such thing as Email Marketing Demystified – the best you can hope for is some useful clues that make you a bit more productive.

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