Last week(ish) I launched a reimagined LeadMD newsletter. It’s targeted toward B2B marketers, but B2C marketers are welcome to join the fun and I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. In this post I’ll share the results from my first send, because I encouraged feedback and multiple people asked about open rates, click-throughs, some even challenged my opt-out strategy. So, I’ll share with y’all my journey as I attempt to create the best damn B2B marketing newsletter in the universe!

See, What Had Happened Was

Once upon a time, around 2011, LeadMD had a nurture strategy. That strategy included sending out emails once a week with links to our content. In 2011, with marketing automation growing in adoption, the market needed to be educated about the space. It needed insights into demand generation, creating leads, passing them over to sales, attributing marketing ROI, the whole kit and caboodle. People needed us. When a new person entered our database, we’d send them our “welcome cadence” – the same series of emails for every new person.

Then a few years ago, we moved away from this strategy to a more real-time update. Each week, we’d push subscribers the new content we published. We shifted because engagement in the previous nurture (once awesome) began to dwindle. And, frankly, as a small team (ahem, our marketing team has always just been one person), keeping up with inserting new content in the nurture became a tedious and ultimately ignored activity. This weekly newsletter never really preformed like we wanted it to and we ceased deploying it … at some point. I don’t know when.

When I came on board, I knew we needed to better leverage our database of marketers and our stack of content. But, we knew two things that didn’t work. So, what does work?

We saw people rave about newsletters from Katie Martell and Ann Friedman. These newsletters strive to highlight interesting articles from the insane amount of rubbish being published these days. And people like it. So, I figured we’d do something similar. BTW, sign up for these ladies’ newsletters. They’re fantastic and different from ours.

My First B2B Marketing Newsletter

Okay, so I started crafting my newsletter last Tuesday, anticipating a Friday deployment. I thought about how I wanted to start it. Most important to me was making an immediate impression to convey what this “thing” was. The first step in that?

Subject Line

As a joke, I wrote “Don’t Read This.” into the subject line. And then, I honed in on my mission.

My B2B Marketing Newsletter’s Mission

Really what I want is to create a community of marketers who think about interesting marketing things, yes, but also bring in other news from the world beyond the sliver touched by marketing. I want to create a recap that the overworked, overwhelmed B2B marketer can absorb and make them smile. In short, I want to help my fellow marketers. And, I realized that part of what delayed the launch of this was the fact that I didn’t really know what my target wants to read about. Do they even read?

And that’s the nugget of thought that led me to the next core piece…

Testing

A surprising/snarky image right at the top.

Alt Text: just-kidding-read-this-obvi

Alt Text: just-kidding-read-this-obvi

I paired the idea of a subject line that literally encouraged people not to read this email with, a philosophy I believe in strongly, testing.

Bring My Vision Into Focus

From there, I knew I wanted a letter from me to explain what this “thing” is. I knew that letter had to bring together the elements I outlined above and get people excited about joining me on the journey. I edited this letter no less than 100 times. I’m not exaggerating. I’m a novelist and so editing and writing pulse through my veins. It’s no surprise for me to adjust one word at a time and reread the entire note to see how it flows. Here was the letter that ultimately deployed last Friday:

Be honest. You weren’t planning on reading this anyway.

And I’ll match your honesty… you didn’t explicitly ask to receive this particular email. I’m approaching you like some rando at a bar to see if we can be friends.

Why?

Because I’ve been wading through the piles and miles of bullsh*t content about marketing and thinking, “99% of this sucks.” And to solve for the suck, I am building a community where awesome marketers provide insights on what’s working for them, and also what’s not.

Are you with me?

It starts with this thing. An email deployed weekly with links to stuff I think you’ll enjoy. But beyond enjoy, I aim to send you stuff that will ultimately help you in your day-to-day job or maybe even your life.

“Is it a newsletter?”

Ugh.

…..

Yes, it’s probably best classified as a newsletter.

Although, when I think of a newsletter, I think of a zero-personality aggregation of a brand’s recent posts. That is NOT “this thing”. This is OURS (yours and mine) and it’s going to be helpful. That’s the goal. To help you. And by proximity, to help me too.

Below is my first pass. Tell me what you think!

Literally.

Look below. Read the words. Click the links. Then, once you’re at the bottom you’ll see two buttons. Click on the one that most closely expresses how you feel. And that will lead you to a one question comment form. Your response will go to my inbox and I’ll read it. Really.

If you hate my little labor of love, by extension, you probably don’t like me and it’ll sting a bit, but then I’ll look at my dogs and realize they know more about me than you ever will and they still love me. And then I’ll somehow muster up the courage to read the next reply and the ones after that, until I understand the trends my readers like and what ya don’t. Then next week, I’ll diligently craft something better and better until I reach the nirvana of newslettering, write a book on it and you can say you received this first email that began it all. Just imagine.

So, I went in the direction of brutal honesty. Unfortunately, much of what we expect from marketing messaging is some flavor of BS. We expect to have to wade through it and so, when a message is simply honest, it is hopefully one that stands out and also one that’s appreciated.

The Actual B2B Marketing Newsletter Part

Click here to view the email as a webpage for the actual stories.

The Send

I wanted the vision of testing and adjusting to be more than lip service. And so, I decided that I would do a slow deployment in various cohorts. My first cohort deployed on Friday, throughout the morning and afternoon to emails starting with A-C. Not super scientific, but also, interestingly, about 25% of the total send.

The Response: Email A

My People: The Likers

I drove people to provide feedback via quick button clicks at the bottom. 78% of people reported liking it. Sweet! Beyond the button clickers, I received some direct feedback via the good ole “Reply To” because I included my actual email at the reply to. These were generally positive as well.

Although all my survey responders came from clicking the positive button, they weren’t without critique.

Here’s my favorite feedback:

I like the content and the comical intro to the “newsletter”. The other reads at the bottom are nice too. The intro was longer than I prefer, but I’m a lazy bastard who doesn’t like to read emails very often.

Reading through the comments, the tone was spot on, but the length was simply too much. Totally fair.

Adjusting for the Critique

I gave people the weekend to provide feedback and then, bright and early on Monday morning, I got to work adjusting the too-long intro letter. Here’s what I adjusted it to:

Be honest. You don’t plan to read this.

You’re too busy.

As a marketer, I get that. As do, pretty much, all other marketers BTW. And so, what if we joined together to create something worthy of our time?

That’s what “this” is. A newsletter (though I despise the term) for US. It aims to provide the fastest recap of interesting things on the interwebs for you weekly. And I’ll incorporate your feedback aggressively to improve it.

Point in case … You’re receiving the second send of this email. This section, right here, that you’re reading was MUCH longer for my first cohort. And the feedback I received read like this:

“I liked the honesty of the email copy, but then, honestly, it went on too long.”

And so, those marketers saved YOU precious time. We’re working together already!

Below is my first pass. Tell me what you think!

Literally.

Look below. Read the words. Click the links. Then, once you’re at the bottom you’ll see two buttons. Click on the one that most closely expresses how you feel. And that will lead you to a one question comment form. Your response will go to my inbox. I’ll read it and incorporate your feedback. Really.

Other Adjustments

The only other thing I adjusted was the subject. When I reviewed the open rates, they were sub 20%, which is my low water mark. Even with a cold database, I should’ve been able to get a 20% open I thought. And so, I tested a different subject line: “Testing for Brevity”

  1. Because that’s what I was doing
  2. Seemed interesting

The Response: Email B

With my next cohort, my open rate was better, as was my click-through and my click-to-open. My unsubscribe rate also improved. Meanwhile, the qualitative feedback coming in still loved the tone, without the detraction of the length. So! I felt like I’d hit a good stride and deployed to my last little test group.

The Results

The Hard Facts

  • Deliverability: 91.5%
  • Open Rates
    • Email A: 18.7%
    • Email B: 17.8%
  • Click-Through Rates
    • Email A: 3.4%
    • Email B: 2.2%
  • Click-to-Open Rates
    • Email A: 18.4%
    • Email B: 12.2%
  • Unsubscribe Rates
    • Email A: 0.8%
    • Email B: 0.5%

As you can see, over time, with the last deployment of Email B, Email A actually ended up performing better, although the send for Email A was only a third of what Email B’s deployment was. And so! I probably should’ve performed closer testing and been a little more scientific. But hey, I’m learning!

Also, I need to work on my subject lines. Maybe I should’ve read this post on our own damn site first: “The Art of the Open: Getting Your Emails Read

Content Assumptions

I didn’t receive feedback from anyone specifically on the content. People focused mostly on the letter’s tone. Which, although their reaction was positive, it could have distracted my readers from the actual purpose of the newsletter, which is to join the conversation. So, I’m left to analyze the data for findings about what types of things people gravitated towards.

  • The Most Popular Link: How to Not F*ck Up Your First 90 Days as CMO
    • Hypotheses for why:
      • Swearing. People like it?
      • The “behind the curtain” feel of it. What should a new CMO do? And either, “Am I doing it right?” or “Is my boss doing it right?”
  • The Least Popular Link: Things are NOT Awesome in Venezuela
    • Hypothesis for why:
      • Maybe global affairs was a stretch =) The sales humor were the best performing “Non-Marketing Reads” links. And so, I think even if it’s not directly related to marketing, it likely needs some tie in

Lastly, as I looked at the people who unsubscribed or clicked the “bad” link at the bottom of the email, most are from >$1Billion revenue companies. To name names, marketers from Amazon and Intel unsubscribed. Do marketers at the yuge companies not like to have fun? I seriously considered removing them from my next send, but figured I could test one more week and what’s up.

Conclusion: Have I Created the Best B2B Marketing Newsletter?

Not quite I’d say, but that’s the goal. And frankly, I can’t do it without awesome, engaged marketers helping me! I’m including a link to this in Newsletter #2. I’d love for you to join us in making this a resource the delights and educates marketers everywhere! Click here to join us.

2 Comments

  1. Brian on February 7, 2019 at 1:38 pm

    FINALLY.

    This will be the second list I’m on for the daily updates. Just you and Mr. Godin, Andrea.

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