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How IMPACT grew its email newsletter to 40,000+ subscribers Ft. Liz Moorehead (Inbound Success, Ep. 141)

How IMPACT grew its email newsletter to 40,000+ subscribers Ft. Liz Moorehead (Inbound Success, Ep. 141) Blog Feature

May 4th, 2020 min read

How did IMPACT grow the subscriber base for its email newsletter to 40,000+ in under two years?

Liz MooreheadThis week on The Inbound Success Podcast, IMPACT Editorial Director Liz Moorehead talks about THE LATEST, IMPACT's email newsletter.

Created in 2018, THE LATEST is written by Liz and sent out three times a week.

It's one of several email newsletters that were created around the same time and are really disrupting the world of email marketing.

In this episode, Liz shares the story of THE LATEST, from how she writes it, to the newsletter format and design, how they grew the subscriber base, and the impact the newsletter has had on the company's business.

Best of all, she shares her advice for anyone who wants to start an email newsletter, or is interested in revamping the one they currently publish. 

Highlights from my conversation with Liz include:

  • Liz is the Editorial Director at IMPACT, where she overseas a team that publishes approximately 25 articles a week and a thrice weekly email newsletter, THE LATEST.
  • In 2018, IMPACT had a large audience and a lot of content, but no email newsletter.
  • THE LATEST was originally created as a way to consolidate all of the email that IMPACT was sending and create a better experience for its subscribers.
  • When THE LATEST launched, there were only about 1,200 subscribers. Today, there are around 42,000.
  • The newsletter goes out three times a week and every issue is personally written by Liz, and sent directly from her email address.
  • Each issue begins with a personal story by Liz, where she often includes very personal details.
  • This choice to mix a business newsletter with very personal stories was a deliberate one that has helped THE LATEST connect with its audience.
  • Liz's advice to anyone writing an email newsletter is to be honest and vulnerable, but keep the stories somehow relevant to the content and audience.
  • Liz tested a variety of different formats for THE LATEST, and eventually landed on one that is very text heavy, with few if any images. This ran counter to what she thought would work, but testing proved it to be the best performing format. 
  • She uses emojis to break up the text and draw the reader's eye to what she wants them to see.
  • IMPACT uses HubSpot to measure the performance of its marketing and through that, can tell that THE LATEST has influenced more than 2 million dollars in revenue.

Resources from this episode:

Listen to the podcast to learn what makes an amazing newsletter and how you can use your newsletter to grow an audience and drive revenue for your company.


Transcript

Kathleen Booth (Host): Welcome back to the Inbound Success Podcast.

I'm your host Kathleen Booth. And this week my guest is my good friend Liz Morehead, who is the editorial director at impact. Welcome, Liz.

Liz Moorehead (Guest): I am so excited. Can you believe it's taken us this long to have the idea to have me on this podcast?

Screen Shot 2020-05-04 at 6.30.53 AM
Liz and Kathleen having WAY too much fun recording this episode.

Kathleen: And if I'm being honest, I honestly think I thought I had already done it, which is why I didn't do it because I thought I already had. 

Liz: I'm going to try not to take this personally. You may get an official demerit in the mail. The jury's still out on that. We'll see how today goes. 

Kathleen: I don't know how this happened, but we're making it right now.

I'm so excited to have you on because you are somebody who is doing so much amazing work in so many different areas.

To be candid, when I invited you, I had to choose because there were so many topics we could have covered. You're the pillar content pro and all these other things, but the thing I really wanted to talk with you about is email newsletters.

But before we get into that, pose people out there who may not know who you are or who or what IMPACT is, can you please talk a little bit about yourself as well as the company?

About Liz Moorehead and IMPACT

Liz: Absolutely. So as you mentioned, I'm the editorial director here at IMPACT.

IMPACT is a digital sales and marketing company. That basically breaks out into a couple of different things.

Number one, we consider ourselves the top educators in the space of digital sales and marketing, and that manifests itself through our publishing.

We publish the anywhere between 20 and 25 articles a week, seven days a week, even on Christmas.

We have IMPACT+, which is a self guided learning platform for digital marketers, sales pros and business leaders, and then, we also have our agency services as well.

So we originally started out as an agency, you know, the traditional inbound marketing HubSpot partner agency before we really started getting our claws into the education piece of it.

One thing I will say though that is a little bit different about our agency services is that instead of the traditional model of, you know, "Hey, just, you know, kick your marketing over here, we'll take care of it.

Like don't worry about it. We got it, we'll take care of it," we have more of the "Teach a man to fish" model.

So we do a lot of empowering businesses to bring their content in house, bring their video in house, really take ownership of their marketing technology stack with things like HubSpot.

So that's, that's IMPACT in a nutshell. All things digital sales and marketing. If you have questions about it, basically just come to us.

Kathleen: You've had an interesting journey because you're like part marketer, part editor, part writer. You're a different kind of a person than we've traditionally had on the show. So could you talk about your journey a little?

Liz: My journey is strange. I never fancied myself ever getting into marketing. I only ended up in marketing and quite frankly, landing in your lap Kathleen, as the result of a layoff.

Prior to being in the inbound marketing and content management space, I had been working in communications and I had been working as a senior editor at a digital publisher that catered exclusively to trade associations. Then they over-hired, or there was a market contraction, and there were a bunch of us, since we were the last in, we were the first out.

So my editorial team, we all just like, 50% of the people, left like overnight.

Then, the next day, a mutual friend of ours who was working at your agency Quintain at the time said "you should come out for lunch."

I'm like, "I don't want to," like, "I want to stay in pajamas, I want to be sad, I want to keep crying cause I just lost this job that I really loved."

And it turned out it was when you were guys were doing the Inbound Marketing Summit at The Metropolitan in Annapolis. And I walked over to her and I said, "I had no idea the rest of everyone that you worked with would be here."

And that's how you and I met, because you said "You're the one who writes the beer column for the Capital Gazette. Right?" And I said, "yes." And the next thing you said was, "I don't like beer."

Then, there was a little pause and in that pause I'm like, "This is the worst 48 hours."

I'm like, "I look like I just got dumped. I feel like I just got dumped. This lady in front of me, dressed to the nines, and I looked like, just awful." And then you said, "But I like your writing."

Kathleen: Yes, it's true. I was a devotee of your beer column, which I just think, it's hysterical because you're right, I don't like beer. I don't drink any beer, but I loved reading about beer because you made it so interesting. So go figure.

Liz: Yeah. So I came on board at Quintain and I'm going to make this part of the story pretty short, but it was kind of, it was a, it was the first time I had really failed at something.

I was very excited to be in marketing. It was a new challenge. I had done each piece of that job desperately across different roles throughout my career. Things that I had done historically very well, and it just wasn't working.

I think about a year or so afterward, you and I had one of those “carefrontations”, a candid conversation, a crucial conversation, whatever you want to brand it as.

And you and I were sitting there talking and you and John Booth, your husband, who ran the agency with at the time said essentially, you know, we have a right person, wrong seat. So you put me in a content management role.

That was, I feel like, when my career changed, because prior to that moment working in marketing, I had always been brought on in the way we had discussed it. As, you know, "you needed a marketer who knew how to write."

And the reality is I was a writer who had a strong marketing backbone. It was the flip...

To me, brand storytelling, interviewing, voice and tone development — like, how do you make content that is so memorable that people not only remember the answer that you told them, they remember that you're the one that said it to them — that's the kind of stuff I was really good at.

To be able to really focus on that exclusively in the role just really changed it, but that is something we're still seeing today. You know, there's more traction, there are more content managers now, but at the time, you did something that was atypical. You created that role that I think was, in a way, ahead of its time.

Kathleen: Well, you're giving me a lot of credit, but you are an incredibly talented writer. And for those listening, Liz and I have had the opportunity, and I would say for myself, the good fortune, of working closely together several times. We don't work together now.

You've had a really an amazing career and, I would say, she has set the bar for what it means to be a Head of Content in many ways, in the sense that not only does she do an amazing job, but she also teaches others how to do it.

Why IMPACT started THE LATEST

Kathleen: So that being all said, let's talk about email newsletters. I want to preface this with, when we were working together back in 2018, we were both at IMPACT and IMPACT produces a lot of content and has a big audience.

But at the time, it didn't have a newsletter, which I always thought was interesting because it had this huge, built-in audience.

So we were talking about creating one, but we really wanted to create something special and not just kind of check the box with a newsletter.

It just so happened that that all happened around the same time that I feel like newsletters were undergoing a Renaissance. It's funny, I just gave a talk on this last night.

2018 was the same year that Morning Brew was founded, that The Hustle was founded, that Ann Handley started writing Total Annarchy. That was a pivotal year for email newsletters.

And I think I would hold up the newsletter that you're involved in right alongside those others in terms of the, you know, how it's kind of breaking new ground on what it to send an email newsletter.

So with that as an intro, maybe you could rewind the clock and start at the beginning. For people who are listening and might not be familiar with the newsletter, could you talk a little bit about, you know, what it is, how frequently it is sent, who the audience is, et cetera?

Liz: I like how you phrased the history of THE LATEST, , by the way, because I remember that conversation. "Liz, how would you feel about writing our newsletter?" And I said, "Nope."

I waffled, was a bit wishy washy. I was trying to say no, but with as many yes words as possible.

And then you did that thing that you're so good at doing, which is like basically communicating that you're volun-telling me. Like, "So you're going to try it out and see what you think about it."

So that went pretty great.

Now, we have THE LATEST. It's meant to give digital sales and marketing pros everything they knew need to know to make smarter decisions, faster, and to do their job better in around five minutes.

It hits inboxes Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. I do emphasize to people who may not have heard of this newsletter before or are new to this, yes, an actual human being writes it.

That human being is me. I spend about six to eight hours a week working on it and it is a labor of love.

Now, Kathleen, you remember the discussions that we had. We had already been doing some passive email distribution of our content, but we were starting to run into a couple of challenges.

You know, HubSpot, for those who may or may not be familiar, has an option where you can automatically generate instant, daily, or weekly digests of the content that you're publishing.

We had scaled up rapidly from the traditional model of like, a few times a week of publishing content, to what I mentioned before, you know, seven days a week. No holidays off, 20 to 25 articles a week.

That's a large volume. And we were running into a situation where we had emails competing with each other.

You know, we had events we wanted to promote. We had all of this content that was going out and it was just this passive valuable-ish maybe kind of thing that we'd been sending previously.

So THE LATEST was really meant to solve for that, as the centralized location where we could put all of our most important information.

And we had a new opportunity to show one of the things that we believe about the most at IMPACT, which is our people, our products.

So if that's the case, we're going to make it as personal and as impacting and as thoughtful and hand curated as possible. We wanted it to be as valuable as it could possibly be.

Kathleen: So that was the nice things about newsletters, is it's their ability to consolidate a lot of what you want to communicate to your audience.

And I do remember at the time that, you know, we have those instant blog notifications going out, but we were emailing people about events, and webinars and you know, social groups that we were running.

There was a time, I think we counted and people were getting, you know, an email every day from us, if not more than that. And that can quickly lead to major email fatigue, which you know, really can hurt your sender score.

So that was a great reason to shift over to the newsletter in and of itself, was let's email people less and let's be more efficient about it.

But I think you're right, there was so much more to it in terms of being able to really cultivate a voice and develop a relationship with the audience.

Getting personal in a corporate email newsletter

Liz: I believe though, that was the thing I didn't expect out of it. And I'll admit, I'll still get the heebie jeebies every time I have to smash the send button on a newsletter that goes to I think 42,000 people at this point.

That's still something where in the pit of my stomach, I'm like, "fine."

The thing I never really expected out of it is that piece you just mentioned, which is really developing a relationship with your audience.

I remember when I first started writing the newsletter, earlier issues were a little bit more pithy, a lot shorter, not very personal.

I always like to embrace the Kathleen mindset of "keep doing stuff until people tell you to stop doing it," then just keep going and see what happens.

And so I started using it, especially last year, to just be more emotional and honest about where I was personally because I went through quite a bit of stuff last year. I'm just ripping off that bandaid.

I now live in Connecticut, but I used to live in Annapolis, Maryland with you — not with you in the same home, but like a mile down the street.

I was married at the time. I am not married anymore.

I was moving up in my career. I was trying a lot of new things. I was experimenting with a lot of, just, new things professionally.

It was a really big year of growth for me and I started talking about it. I started talking and I had no idea.

I don't know what possessed me to do it, but very similar to Ann Handley and a lot of other newsletters you might see out there, we really focus on putting the letter in the newsletter.

Now you may think to yourself, well, things like divorce and moving and all that stuff  — that's not really relevant to digital sales and marketing leaders.

What was surprising to me is how many of those elements of going outside of your comfort zone, being willing to embrace change, all those things really apply personally and professionally as well.

And the audience, that really ended up resonating with them. I would get start getting responses and replies. You know, we were in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and I remember there was one where like, I was trying to be positive.

I was trying to be like the little fortune cookie, you know, confused to say it's all gonna be fine. Like it's not, I couldn't get myself there. And finally I just wrote this thing about how I was just flirting with an emotional cliff.

I wasn't in a really horrible spot, but it was becoming increasingly more difficult to carry the weight of my own feelings, carry the weight of the feelings of my friends and family — the fear that for a while there was really gripping the country and the world and still is to some degree.

That was one of the issues that I got the most responses to.

It becomes this thing where I essentially started just writing to the people in front of me and they would respond and they would also still read all the stuff I put in there — still read everything else. They would read all the articles, they would click through everything. 

Mixing business and personal in email newsletters

Kathleen: So taking a step back, as I think it's interesting, if somebody isn't familiar with the newsletter, this might be confusing.

This is a corporate newsletter in the sense that it is IMPACT's newsletter as a company, but you write it pretty much every time.

Every now and then somebody else jumps in if you're on vacation or, you know, for whatever reason to take a Saturday off, but really, this company newsletter starts off every time with a very, very personal introduction from you.

So can you just talk about that dynamic because I think that's a dynamic that is going to be very new to a lot of people.

They might be thinking, "why would you have a company newsletter come from one of the employees and start with a personal letter from him?"

Liz: Well, let's face it. People trust human beings. People buy because of relationships they have with human beings.

Now more than ever, since we are trapped behind our screens, my entire social life is conducted via Zoom at this point and has been for the past seven plus weeks.

They don't want to talk to a nameless, faceless company. They want to talk to a human.

Also, if you want to just get more technical and tactical about it for you business leaders out there going "I don't know, we're different. That's not for us guys."

Just to be perfectly candid with you, your open rates will increase if it comes from a person.

The moment we stopped sending things from IMPACT or "Liz from IMPACT" or "whomever from IMPACT" and just put "Liz Moorehead," boom, open rates popped.

Kathleen: Yeah. It's funny, I was, so I mentioned I was giving a talk. I gave a talk last night to the Public Relations Society of America about basically this topic of newsletters.

I talked about having it come from a person and, and how a lot of companies are very skeptical and they think "No, our audience is too professional, we need to be more formal."

The example I love to show that shatters that myth is there's a company called CB insights, which is a technology analyst firm. Like, big time tech companies, you know, are their clients — the Googles, the Microsofts of the world.

This is a very highly respected company in the analyst field. They have an email newsletter that has hundreds of thousands of subscribers and it comes from Anand Sanwal who's one of their principles.

This is the part I love the best. He signs off, like at the bottom of the newsletter, he writes his intro just like you do. And at the very bottom, instead of saying "from Anand," he says, "I love you, Anand".

This is a highly professional tech analyst company and one of the principals signs off the newsletter "I love you."

Like, you know, I think that that to me just says, if they can do that, then anyone can kind of cross that bridge and become more personal in the way they do their email outreach.

Liz: A hundred percent and I get that feedback a lot too.

"Well, Liz, you're in marketing, you're allowed to do this kind of thing". I'm like, wait, hold on a second.

Our target audience are high level VPs, CEOs, no nonsense business leaders, and they're reading and subscribing to my newsletter. It's still works.

Yeah. I think a lot of people talk themselves out of trying things before they're even willing to see, you know, they're, they're ready to indict it.

They're ready to pass judgment and say, "Oh, this won't work for us. Yada, yada, yada."

But that's not true.

And I would also say, you know, this is something we've been seeing with video right now too.

This sounds like a strange correlation, but especially in this, you know, in the wake of coronavirus, the threshold for production quality right now is a little bit lower, especially in video.

People are expecting you to be in your homes, to be more human, to be more open. And I think this is a great opportunity for us to open that door and realize, yeah, so they're tech people or they're this or they're that, but they're also humans first.

They are human beings first.

The anatomy of THE LATEST

Liz: But to get back to your original question, yes. So the anatomy of the newsletter in terms of how it's set up.

At the very top you're always going to have a big headline that basically showcases the three top stories that we're covering in a given issue.

So for example, the one that went out yesterday was "How to have really difficult conversations over video" and "Are you ready to do content marketing right?" and "How we planned and executed a 3,000 person virtual event in only three weeks."

So we'll have that right underneath that. If nobody wants to read my letter, that's fine because we give you the links to those three articles in a little box right above it. So you could just like, you know, "That's fine Liz, you have a lot of feelings. Maybe later I want to read this stuff."

Now underneath that then we have the letter.

The letter itself usually falls into one of two categories. I would say 75% of the time it is somehow tangentially related to one of the three articles that's included. I like to keep it relevant.

There are, however, the fringe cases — that other 20% of the time where it's like, I have something I want to talk about. Maybe something big happened at IMPACT. Maybe there's just something more global that I want to talk about.

For example, let's just go for it. The issue when I told everybody I was getting a divorce and I did it kind of euphemistically was the New Year's Eve issue.

So it really made sense because essentially I was saying I was moving to Connecticut and doing so by myself. I'm only going with my cat. It's crazy to think about what the beginning of this year was like versus the end of this year. And I think a lot of us are feeling that way.

That is something where like there's a bit of a balance. It's not always like, emotional bloodletting, but that's how I bring those types of stories in.

I don't just decide, "Well I don't have anybody to talk about my feelings with. I'm going to do it here." It has to be relevant to the moment, to the context of what I'm talking about after the letter.

Then it goes into a little bit more detail about each of the articles. You know, what question does it answer, what is it about, who wrote it?

And then I also include some related links. So for each article, if somebody is interested in the topic, but that's not quite the article they're looking for, I'll pull in some other things. We feature our latest podcasts and shows — the usual stuff like marketing events you need to know about.

And then right now, because everything is so stressed out, we used to have something called weekend nonsense in our Saturday issue. Now it's in every issue because I think we all really need a laugh right now.

And then I might throw in like, "Hey, I'm reading this" or you know, I, I fool around with what's in there.

But that's really the anatomy of it. The goal is essentially to make it something people are excited to open. I think if you're creating an email newsletter, yes you want to drive traffic to your own site.

But when I wake up on the days that I have to put this together, my number one goal is to make it something so insanely valuable that no one will ever regret having opened it.

Even if they don't click through, that's fine. I just want them to feel like I have somehow made their job easier, their life easier or made it easier to make some sort of decision that day.

Designing your email newsletter

Kathleen: That's awesome.

Now I know way back in the beginning we had a lot of debate about what this newsletter should look like, and how it should be formatted.

There's lots of different schools of thoughts on this — you know, how many graphics do you include and pictures and videos and gifs and emojis?

Liz: So many things. I was so wrong.

Kathleen: So talk a little bit about that. I think it's evolved over time and you've done a really good job of testing everything so that you can make data backed decisions.

Can you share a little bit of that whole evolution and what you've learned?

Liz: Sure. First of all, it's good to keep in mind, just from an email deliverability perspective, the more graphic, flashy, design-y your email newsletter is, there is a higher likelihood that people will not see it that way either due to settings in their email that automatically turn off images if you're in a particularly like cybersecurity or technology focused space.

Outlook inboxes are brutal in terms of what they will let through or what they will actually show.

So we tried to keep the structure of it pretty lightweight. It doesn't look all the way plain text. There's some tabling in there, there's a little bit of structure, but for the most part it's just a basic rich text editor.

But it wasn't always that way. Well, originally it wasn't.

We had a little bit more structure around it, but for the most part I would say as long as I've been doing it, I really try to keep it more of that loose structure.

Now a couple of the things though at the beginning that I, let's just talk about the thing I was most wrong about. So, as you know, every blog article you publish on your website should have a featured image associated with it.

You know, people like things to look at. So I was of the idea that every featured article — because again, they were under that welcome letter for me, there are three articles — that every single one should have like, a featured image with that.

We did that for a while and the open rates were great, but the click through rates were fine.

Then somebody said we should test it without images. I just thought that was going to be a disaster.

I am always coaching people about content, when they create it, to not create giant word walls. Because that's the first thing that makes people go, "No, no, this looks hard. I don't want to do that. That is visually, that is not a content piece I would like", you know?

So this idea that we were going to have just like, so many words, really freaked me out with no visuals. Lo and behold, when we took out the three featured image, one per each of the articles, our click through rates went up.

Now that I think about it, it kind of makes sense. Imagery in a newsletter. If you subscribe to it already or will be in future, you'll see that I still use images, but they're purposeful.

They're only there to drive the story forward. They're only there to provide visual context where I think you actually need the context.

Otherwise it's not there. There are no images.

I like to use emojis, which is also another thing I was wrong about. Not really so much in the text or the letters, but we use them as visual guides.

Like, for example, there's always a pointing finger in front of every headline for each of the three articles. The marketing calendar always has the same little calendar box, hot topics and Elite — I'm very proud of this one — a little spicy pepper.

Things like that.

It's so that people can visually scan and they get used to knowing where things are. And it allows me to visually call things out without it being intrusive. But that was something I was always very against.

Just, you know, I'm, I'm knocking on the door 40, I've never been a huge emoji fan. We had to have like two or three people in our team at the time help us try to figure out Snapchat, and I still don't understand it.

I've just never been an emoji person, but it allows me to add a little bit of personality, razzle-dazzle when I want it.

Occasionally I'll just like throw one in to be a little bit cheeky in my intro, but that's really the only visual compliment other than me including an image when I feel like it's necessary.

Otherwise it's just, it's just words and links.

Kathleen: I think this is another area, like, emojis are a great example where you hear people say, "I can't do that because my audience is older and more professional". But the audience for THE LATEST is, how would you characterize it?

Liz: All over the place? I think a lot of people on the surface would say, okay, so you're a young, hip marketing agency. You can get away with this stuff.

The people I hear the most from — this reminds me a lot of my beer column. Everybody always thought that my beer column audience was like young bearded flannels, you know, the usual beer drinking crowd.

And I did have a lot of those. But the people I've heard the most from, my most devoted people who still actually read me to this day, even though I retired from that like what, six, nine months ago? They're older, 40 and above.

It's the same thing with this. Some of my most devoted people, the people I hear from the most, are much more established in their careers. CEOs of businesses, VPs of sales and marketing.

One of the guys is actually one of our clients, was one of our clients. He's like some good old boy from Tennessee. He's a straight shooter. He's just that guy.

People you would never imagine are actually reading my newsletter and they're engaging with it.

The other thing I'll say about emojis, too, is that remember it doesn't always have to be a smiley face. There are emojis for things like charts or very basic things like a calendar tab.

You know, take a look at what's available to you. You can get away from the kitty stuff, you can get away from like the silly stuff. There's a lot of good stuff in there.

Kathleen: Yeah. And there's a great site. My favorite resource, the site getemoji.com because you could just go there and you can see them all and you can copy them and use them wherever you want. I use them a lot, not just in email newsletters but in LinkedIn posts and stuff like that.

The other thing too is that going back to the conversation we had about fact that a lot of your images will get stripped depending on where it's being sent to and what the email platform is. Emojis are Unicode text. So you are able to make your visuals have a little bit of flair.

Liz: It gets in there without it getting stripped out.

Kathleen: Yeah.

Liz: So that's really nice. It's, it's good for me. I use it for visual hierarchy the most.

Kathleen: Yeah. It's very, very effective for that.

What impact has THE LATEST had for IMPACT?

Kathleen: So, this started in 2018. Can you talk a little bit about the results? Like how large is the list now? What are you seeing in terms of marketing results from the newsletter?

Liz: Oh yeah, for sure.

When we started this, I think the  number was somewhere around like 1200 people maybe because we didn't want to force opt-ins. We had people who were opted into our daily, our weekly notifications, but we didn't want to force people to come on board with it.

We did an initial push, I believe, with garnering subscriptions. We brought some people over who were already opted in in certain capacities and it started as a very small list.

After that, today, I think I already mentioned it, we're now at 42,000, and in terms of results of what we're seeing from it as of today, we're closing in on about $2 million in revenue associated with it via HubSpot, which is outstanding.

Kathleen: That's awesome. 

Liz: It's a newsletter. You watched me last year on stage at IMPACT Live. I like content that makes money. You know, a little little skin off my back there. I'm pretty happy that that's uh, that's doing well.

The results really speak for itself. I think if you go into that with the same mindset that I have, whether it ends up looking like mine or not, it's not just about what articles do you want to in here? Do you want to drive traffic?

If you just focus your entire energy for a couple hours that you're putting it together and say, "I want to make this the most valuable thing that my ideal buyer would have in their inbox", you will be astounded at the brand evangelists you can build out of that.

Email newsletters in the time of COVID-19

Kathleen: That's great. Have you had to change anything with the newsletter as a result of this whole craziness with the coronavirus?

Liz: I think what's been surprising is how much benchmarks no longer matter. Like, we had all this benchmark data, right? We've even written the same articles, like "When's the best time to send an email newsletter?" When's the best time to do to do that?

Those rules no longer apply because everyone is trapped at home. So for example, we had, you know, a pretty steady average open rate that had been growing incrementally over time.

And then there were a couple of days just because, you know, I think a lot of people can relate to this, as soon as coronavirus hit, it was, it moved like a wave across the country and around the world.

But when it would hit wherever you were, it was like 24 to 48 hours of complete madness. There was shell shock. There was, what are we doing at our company?

There are all these things that need to happen. And so I was talking with Vin, our VP of Marketing, one day and I said, "Look, there's no way I'm going to get to this until like, THE LATEST is actually going to be the latest my time.

Like that's just how it's going to happen because I have X, Y and Z to do." And he's like, "Those are the top priorities. As long as it gets out the door today, I don't care when it gets out."

We had sent it at like six or seven o'clock at night. We had almost doubled our open rate.

Kathleen: Wow.

Liz: It was absolutely absurd because it made sense. Right? People are now just sitting at home, not understanding boundaries between work and play because, I don't know if anybody else is like me, I know I'm done with work when I move from this side of the couch, which is the right side of the couch, to the left, just to kind of mix it up just to see what happens.

That's been kind of crazy. I would say also the level of emotional honesty I'm allowed to get to has been great, but it is a balance.

I really was struggling for a couple of weeks there of, you know, I used to find inspiration for the newsletter out in the world, face to face human interactions.

What do you do when 80% of your stimulus for how you create as a writer for me is gone? That was really a big challenge for me.

Some days I feel better than others. And I think as this has become more of a normal, as this has become more status quo, again, this is the end of week seven of this, at least for me, I'm learning to find stories in different ways.

But for awhile there it was hard. You know, just, I couldn't be depressed all the time.

Kathleen: You can only talk about your favorite Netflix show so many times, right?

Liz: Well the other thing too though, is that there's an emotional delicacy to it. There is a reality that I need to constantly be aware of.

There's a difference between humor that genuinely puts someone in a good mood for the first time in a day and humor that's tone deaf and falls flat and actually ends up offending someone.

So it's been a tricky thing to figure out because I understand that everybody has a different situation. Here's a good example. IMPACT Plus is that learning platform we were talking about earlier. I run the virtual peer group for content managers.

We have CEOs and business leaders, sales and videographers and content managers, yada yada yada. So I run the content manager one. We had a content manager virtual peer group scheduled for the week after everything just caught completely on fire.

I had originally slated to be teaching people how to build a content strategy, and instead I was like, I'm not sure if this is what they even want to be hearing about or if this is even what they care about right now.

I'm so glad I didn't do that because as it turned out, a couple of people on the virtual peer group had been laid off, weren't even content managers anymore, but they were still there, there were business owners who were concerned whether or not in a month they were going to still have the business.

I mention that because I had a similar reaction to THE LATEST. I remember the first couple of issues, I sat there and said "Am I helping people who have just lost their job?" You know, I'm in a place of privilege. I still have my job. It's all relative in terms of what everybody's dealing with, but that is a privilege.

I've had to maintain situational awareness that I'm not speaking to an even more diversified audience with a much more volatile emotional range. And I'd say that has been a really big challenge, but it's also been really fun.

Like yesterday's issue of THE LATEST I talked about weird food and combinations and stuff. Like the other night for dinner, I had this fantastic 2015 red Bordeaux from France and I paired it with an Oscar Meyer baloney sandwich and I started getting all of these funny emails back from people.

One guy was like, "The only reason I was able to build a spreadsheet last night was because I took a break and stood over the sink and ate cold pizza."

I think good advice for this is to just be honest. Everybody's kind of blindly feeling around the dark room for a light switch right now, but the only way you're going to get through it is just being aware of who your audience is. Be cognizant of the emotional state they might be in, but don't let that restrict you from a place of fear. Let that give you freedom in terms of the stories you're telling because I think people are really looking for people to be honest.

I'd say that's one of the big impacts that this pandemic has had on our newsletter. I was already being really honest. I was already really doing a lot of these things, but it's made me a much more creative storyteller in terms of where I find stories and it's also made me, I think, a much more empathetic storyteller. It's made me more human, more open, more personal. Whereas I think the knee jerk reaction might otherwise be to restrict, pullback, be more corporate.

What Liz says you should know about starting an email newsletter right now

Kathleen: if somebody is listening to this and they're thinking, well, I might want to try either starting a newsletter or revamping my newsletter and taking a different approach, if you had to give somebody advice on, if you were starting a newsletter now, what, what would you tell them?

Liz: I think it's important to have a very clear idea about the why behind the newsletter.

Why are you making this choice? Is it because your current email marketing isn't working? Is it like us, where you have so many different communications? We need to bring that together and there's a new opportunity to do it better.

Really understand your why. I would say that's the first step.

Then be very clear about what your goals are. I think that if you're going to go into this, like, "we need to check the box, we need to do a newsletter," then what I'm talking about is not for you. In fact, I'd say probably in a year or so, that kind of email newsletter stuff I don't think is going to really survive.

It'll be there. People will open it, but it's never going to drive the brand awareness that you want. It's never going to create that community. It's never going to make people initially have that reflexive "I have a question about this. I should go to them after that."

I would say when you're building out what goes in your newsletter, you need to put out of your mind, your priorities. You need to say, "What is it that, if I were my ideal buyer, what would make me go, 'Oh wow' every time I open that newsletter?" — that's what you want.

You want to create that moment where somebody opens it up and it's a present like on Christmas morning and they say, "My gosh, they got this just for me!"

That's what you want to do and it's going to look different. You know, you may not have the crazy personal letter or like, I think one time I made like condolence cards for marketer's failing email campaigns and stuff. Like I get really weird in mine.

Just make it personal, tell a story, you know, make it so people understand that there's a human behind what you're doing and then just commit to it and be willing to try different things. Be wrong about images.

You know, you're going to have to fight a lot of your own instincts. You're going to have to do a lot of testing, you're going to try things, they're going to work, they're going to not work and that's okay, but be consistent.

Kathleen: Yeah, and just keep doing it.

Check out THE LATEST

Kathleen: If somebody wants to check out THE LATEST or subscribe to it, what should they do?

Liz: Just go to impactbnd.com and if you scroll down, you'll see a little bar that says THE LATEST. You could see the latest issue and then there's a big button that says "Subscribe to THE LATEST" and you'll get me — actually me — in your inbox three days a week.

Kathleen: You can scroll through so many past issues of it, unlike many newsletters which only exists in your inbox. I think the cool thing about what you guys do is you can go back and read prior issues on the website, which is really nice. So you can try before you buy if you want.

Liz: Yeah, absolutely. I mean if you follow me on LinkedIn, my username is Liz clam. Every time a new issue of THE LATEST comes out I share the web version of it, which is, you know, it's user friendly to look at. 

Kathleen's two questions

Kathleen: All good things must come to an end, but we're not quite done yet.

I have two questions that I always ask all of my guests and now it is your turn to answer. The first one being, we talk a lot about inbound marketing on this podcast. Is there a particular company or individual that you think is really like the shining example of doing inbound marketing? 

Liz: That's a great question. And the funny part is, is that I always knew these questions were coming, but I'm still racking my brain about this. I think my answer probably would have been different had we had this about a month ago before everything happened or I guess more than a month ago at this point.

I've been spending a lot of time on LinkedIn recently as I think a lot of people in our space are. And I have to say, I have been blown away by three people who our names we're all familiar with. Marcus Sheridan and Ann Handley they started doing this live series about being trapped at home and talking about the most pressing questions, concerns, and fears that everybody was having now that we're all in this new reality and I just thought that was a really fascinating and new way to do inbound in a real time, human way.

Kathleen: That's really cool.

Liz: There's also a guy named Chris Carolan and he is a member of our content manager peer group. I'll make sure to get a link for him so you can put it in the show notes. He is in the manufacturing space and the stuff that he has been doing recently has been, I don't think he realizes what he's doing. He is a little pioneer of inbound and also now virtual selling. So doing sales demos.

There's this whole idea that as a sales person, you need to be in front of a person in order to sell to them. He's doing virtual sales demos, still closing deals, and he's also creating insanely good content about it. He's probably one of my favorite people to follow on LinkedIn and I'm not even in manufacturing. 

Kathleen: That sounds like me and beer.

Liz: Exactly. I will never build anything but I will follow him forever.

Kathleen: Yes, exactly. Awesome. Well I will put the link in the show notes for those people.

Second question. The biggest pain point I always hear from marketers is that digital marketing is just changing so quickly that it's like drinking from a fire hose, trying to keep up with everything. How do you personally stay up to date and keep yourself educated about all things digital marketing?

Liz: I mean, I almost have a cheat answer. I'm the editorial director at IMPACT, so I have to read pretty much everything that we publish. And it's across video, sales, and marketing. It's across HubSpot marketing technology, developing your strategy. And we also have a whole section devoted to just news reactions, which contextualizes the latest digital sales and marketing news.

So by virtue of my role, I know I'm a little bit spoiled in that I have to stay up to date. But here's what I will say. I use Feedly. I've never gotten over the demise of Google reader. I think it was the biggest mistake Google ever made was getting rid of that. But Feedly is now the devil I know and I've used it to create digital marketing news and publishing newsfeeds for me.

So I follow SEO Journal, Marketing Land, Search Engine Land, Forbes CMO Network, Digiday, all of these different things.

And then on the publisher side, it's like, What's New in Publishing, Poynter, things like that.

I just go in there and scan. Even if you're just scanning headlines, you don't have to sit there and be like, I'm going to take three hours out of my busy day and I'm going to read all these articles. I just skim and I look, I just try to stay abreast of what is happening.

There is no secret sauce, no silver bullet to staying up to date. You need to come up with a process and a schedule and you stick to it.

Kathleen: But I want to say, I mean you guys create THE LATEST as a way for people to stay up to date, so you can subscribe to THE LATEST and piggyback off of all the efforts of the folks at IMPACT who are trying to summarize the news every day for you.

Liz: Thank you for shamelessly self promoting me so I didn't have to.

How to connect with Liz

Kathleen: All right, well now we really are coming to the end. If somebody does want to ask you a question or reach out to you or connect with you online, what's the best way for them to do that?

Liz: So the best way for you to do that is to find me on LinkedIn. My name is Liz Morehead, L I Z M O O R E H E A D. And if you like pictures of beer and cats and the occasional Connecticut state park, you can find me on Instagram at @whatlizsaid.

Also, fun fact, if you go to impactbnd.com and type the word "genius" in the search bar, you will be brought to every article I have ever written.

Kathleen: That is amazing. I'm going to do that. I'm going to do that just to see it work.

You know what to do next...

Kathleen: All right, well, thank you so much for joining me, Liz.

If you are listening and you liked what you heard here — and how could you not because Liz is amazing — or you learned something new, which again, how could you not because Liz is amazing, apparently she's a genius — head to Apple podcasts and please leave the podcast a five star review. That is how we get in front of new people and they find a find the podcast and hear and learn from amazing experts like Liz.

If you know someone else who is doing kickass inbound marketing, tweet me @workmommywork, because I would love to make them my next guest.

That's it for this week. Thank you so much for joining me, finally, Liz.

Liz: I know, I know. Talk to you again soon Kathleen.

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