Why You Don’t Really Need An Email List, And What You Do Need Instead

There’s this huge phenomenon going on with marketers marketing to aspiring entrepreneurs.

They like to tell you you need to use the tools methods they recommend. Email lists are just one evergreen example, along with Instagram, Snapchat, and there’s one guy that keeps popping up on my newsfeed lately talking about how he’s taking advantage of the untapped magic of Facebook Pages.

The truth is that–while there might be massive, valid evidence that their preferred method of marketing is profitable– the word “need” is often a reckless mistruth.

The key word here is “reckless”. If Gary Vaynerchuk told everyone they need to use video as their preferred medium because it’s working for him, you’d see a lot of people with no video skills taking his route. And now, because they’ve subscribed to the disqualification of their skills that are actually marketable — writing (blogs), talking (podcasts), or other visual media (Instagram/Snapchat fits here), they’re going  down a rabbit hole that more often than not leads to defeat.

These niche Gurus talk about businesses failing at astronomical rates like it’s just “how it is”, or it’s based on people’s work ethic. I think they’re about half right, but they’re also just avoiding accountability for their own poorly used influence. The other half is the fact that we have an entire world of entrepreneurs who are using marketing methods that are completely false and counterintuitive to their unique strengths, because they’ve been convinced that their strength is no longer good enough. They need the next best thing. And it’s a lie.

There’s not a single tool in marketing I’ve found that supercedes all others in profitability to the point of it being a factual, universal need. Where you’ll see one business who made a million dollars with an email list, you’ll know 3 others who’ve made a million dollars on Instagram, and another rarity who doesn’t use social media at all. They just have a blog, SEO, and really dedicated readership.

So the question then, is, what do you need, and how do you know what tools to use?

The undisputed necessities of marketing that you will always see people use with every tool and method are as follows:

Audience Discovery

Almost every entrepreneur who fails at audience discovery fails at business.

For the people in the back:

Almost every entrepreneur who fails at audience discovery fails at business.

So what do I mean by “audience discovery”? Knowing your audience, and here are the key things you need to know to craft and sell the perfect offer.

  1. What problem does your audience have?
  2. What other solutions have they tried, and what were their frustrations (assess your competitors)
  3. What goal do they want to reach on the other side of this hurdle?
  4. Where are they located?

With this information you can craft the perfect solution (product or service) and offer (pitch) that people are actually willing and ready to purchase.

For instance:

I’m currently working with the owners of a really awesome and highly engaging fitness training business. Think CrossFit but not so…CrossFittish. While they had success getting their few customers to stay and grow slowly through referrals, they had trouble bringing in the cold traffic they really needed to succeed.

Audience discovery did the trick. We shot out a quick survey to discover the following key points about their target audience:

  1. They didn’t have a problem getting fit. They had a problem staying motivated enough to stay fit long-term.
  2. They were going to gyms, trying one-on one personal training, o90x, etc. and being bored out of their mind, so they’d quit.
  3. They want a permanent fitness solution that they can stick with long term.
  4. They’re currently targeting local, so we opted for Facebook Ads as a solution.

My client had no idea that these were their audience’s actual problems, and the best part is that the solution their audience needed is already built into their program. They just didn’t realize what they were selling to even sell it! So instead of crafting a generic fitness offer, we switched it to craft a fitness offer and pitch it directly to gym goers who want to get out of their boring gym life and into a highly engaging fitness camp.

That’s how audience discovery works, and you need to do it for every new business, and I dare say every new product.

Brand Awareness

Ah. Here’s what all those gurus were talking about. Brand Awareness aka people knowing who you are.

The key, though, is crafting an attractive brand awareness campaign. Not which tool you use to do it.

First, figure out what your strength is. If you’re best at writing you’re going to look a lot better in blog posts than you will on video or a podcast. Do what makes you look attractive. In other words: don’t wear a suit that doesn’t look good on you to a date.

There are some rare examples which would perhaps require you to avoid certain mediums or have preferences. If your audience is a product for the blind, for instance, you’d probably want to go with a podcast over blogging. If you’re the GoPro CEO, Instagram and YouTube likely have your vote — then again that suit either looks good on you or you have the money to hire someone who can wear it better.

But there are a lot of people. People who have dog walking businesses, massage therapists, freelance writers, who think they need to use instagram because Joe Blow Millionaire said so and it’s just not the case.

To you, I say this: you’re wild for thinking you need 100 million customers to be successful. Instead of coming up with fresh daily visual content, come up with one ad that targets people who want your solution and also read competing blogs, and then come up with daily fresh written content that’s incredibly compelling and lands a sustainable and growing ROI’s worth of people in your customer pool.

That’s good marketing. The alternative is just chasing tail.

Audience Engagement

Once you get that one good ad working for you, it’s time to engage long-term. People generally need about 5 to 7 interactions with a brand before they’re ready to make a commitment that will be juicy for you.

This is where a lot of the gurus say you need an email list, specifically.

They say this as if Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, etc. doesn’t function completely on the users ability to subscribe and therefore the marketer’s ability to build a following of highly engaged subscribers.

They say “I have the highest conversion rate with my email list, hands down.” to which you should always ask them, “are you a good writer?” or “did you hire a writer?”.

If the answer to either is yes, and you aren’t a good writer nor can you hire one, understand that email lists are for them, and you might get much higher engagement and conversions from your best medium until you’re able to answer yes to one of those same questions.

To be fair, email lists come with handy tools for you to track each subscriber’s level of engagement and meet them at that specific level, but that’s not to say that brands like VSCO–a popular camera filter app that many a Instagram user prefers–wouldn’t make a killing promoting to their instagram following alone

In fact, if VSCO was a one person show, I’d recommend they stick with that until they have the money to hire someone who can do their email marketing for them.

And that’s the point here: Many major brands have the luxury of offloading their weaknesses so they can stick to their strengths. In fact, many of the same gurus will insist you do exactly that. If you’re a solopreneur or a small operation, your funds are tight. And before you get to expand, it’s best that you master marketing to the subscribers you already have on your best platform and grow that instead of worrying about what the Joneses are doing in Podcastville.

Stand your ground and flex in your own lane.

Once all of the previous steps are done, the final step is to of course make the offer your audience discovery told you to make in the beginning. The one you’ve been waiting to put out there to sell. The one that, if you do this properly, will net you financial freedom.

These are the only things you need to do in marketing. The rest are just tools you use to do them.

Tori Reid

Tori is the creator of Bootstrap Millennial where she helps young entrepreneurs grow their business.