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Email lists are like the Giving Tree of marketing: They can help you position yourself as a trustworthy brand, build relationships with your subscribers, and boost sales, among other benefits.

Especially when you launch an online course or another digital product, having a sizable email list can often be the difference between a profitable launch and one that receives crickets in response.

But, to reap the benefits of email marketing, you first have to build up a quality email list and nurture it regularly with educational but engaging emails.

Read on to discover four steps brands can take to build their email lists from scratch and have a successful online course launch.

Why you need to grow your email list before launching your online course

Building your email list before launching an online course is like sending out invitations to an event you’re throwing. People won’t know about it unless you tell them. And why risk it after all the hard work you’ve done?

Your subscribers want to hear from you via email.

Campaign Monitor’s 2017 Consumer Email Habits Report found that consumers preferred email for communicating with brands across industries, including 66% who preferred email for hearing from retail brands and 55% who preferred hearing from travel and hospitality brands.

Given the unique features of email marketing, it’s not surprising to see why email is such a hit with consumers.

Unlike paid advertisements or direct marketing, email is a form of permission-based marketing where subscribers only receive your email marketing messages because they explicitly signed up to see them.

That’s pretty refreshing, given how many paid ads and other promotional material your average consumer is bombarded with daily. Email is also great for sending targeted information and wowing subscribers with your message’s originality and personalization.

For a sampling of just how innovative emails can be, check out Campaign Monitor’s email gallery.

Email being a hit with consumers is reason enough to add it to your marketing efforts. However, email isn’t just beneficial for subscribers; it’s a high-yielding investment for brands too.

Email offers a high ROI, compared to other channels.

Email is consistently ranked as one of the highest-ROI marketing channels available, with 30% of those who responded to questions about email marketing and automation stating it had the highest ROI.

But just how much can investing in email get you? Don’t invest in email marketing because everyone else is doing it. Instead, invest because it’s how many consumers prefer to communicate with brands and because it can earn you exponentially more than your initial investment.

Consider these four steps you can take to start growing a healthy email list and begin reaping that high ROI potential.

How to grow your email list from scratch in four steps

Growing your email list from zero is totally doable but requires patience, research, and creativity.

Four steps that any brand can implement to grow their list include:

  1. Penning content so good your readers will keep coming back for more
  2. Building relationships with your audience
  3. Creating landing pages and lead magnets
  4. Sending a steady flow of informative emails

Each of these tactics can be used in isolation, but they hit their stride when paired with complementary tactics.

Step #1: Create content your visitors will fall in love with.

To start your relationship with your subscribers off on the right foot, create content for them to enjoy.

Twenty-one percent of adults, for example, have said video is the most memorable type of content, with 45% saying that it’s the most engaging form of content.

Meanwhile, 68% of consumers have said that they prefer learning about new products or services by watching a video. However, if video doesn’t resonate with your niche, you still have plenty of options.

You could create your own podcast and appeal to some of the 189 million podcast listeners in the U.S., 67% of whom have listened to a podcast in the past month.

Considering 38% of consumers have purchased a product mentioned on a podcast, podcasting is worth a look.

Similarly, you could net many of the same benefits of videos and podcasts by hosting webinars or live streams instead. The beauty of hosting live events is that they generally require less preparation and scripting than podcasts or videos, with little-to-no post-production editing after they’ve been broadcast.

Lastly, traditional text-based and visual lead magnets, such as eBooks, guides, and infographics, are always a hit with consumers.

If, like 60% of creators, you struggle to regularly produce content, keep in mind that you don’t need to come up with fresh ideas each week (though it can help). You can just as easily repurpose your existing content into new formats with some minor tweaks.

Consider Jay Baer, the founder of Convince and Convert, as an example.

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Jay produces two- to three-minute videos, which his team then repurposes into a blog post, Medium post, podcast episode, and videos for several online platforms, among other types of content.

This is much more feasible than coming up with original content for each platform.

So remember:

  • Giving away free but highly valuable content is just one way that you grow your email list.
  • After producing all of that excellent content, you don’t just want to publish it and wait for people to find it.
  • Instead, you’ll want to get your content in front of your audience’s eyes and use it as a springboard for customer-brand relationship building.

Step #2: Foster genuine connections with your followers.

Trust is critical for brands who want to build loyal, ecstatic customer bases.

When deciding which brands to shop with, 88% of shoppers agree that trust is “extremely” important, with 14% of consumers saying trust is the number one reason they shop with a retailer, after price.

But, with industries from beauty to SaaS becoming increasingly crowded, how can you earn your audience’s trust and dollars without losing out to the faster-moving competition?

Giving consumers the information they need in a clear, easy-to-digest manner is one way, especially when considering that 71% of consumers prefer “pull” forms of advertising, where they can learn about a brand on their own.

Aside from producing original content, you should also ensure your content and copy is not overly promotional or pushy.

If you don’t have much original content yet, Quora and Reddit are two worthwhile sites for sourcing content ideas, raising brand awareness, and positioning yourself as a credible brand.

Quora and Reddit both have millions of visitors each month and feature questions that your audience members have publicly shared and are seeking answers for. That means you can answer their questions (and slip in a link back to your site now and then) without seeming overly bold or promotional.

Quora allows for an extra layer of subtle self-promotion by allowing users to fill out lengthy bios where they can include helpful links to their sites and content, like Josh Fechter did: Josh included a link to his free eBook in his Quora biography and attracted 3,000 email subscribers and 2,000 new Facebook group members in just five months.

Josh’s example brings up the next point: After you share helpful content with your readers, you still need an offer (such as Josh’s eBook) to get your readers to become subscribers.

To do that, you’ll want to implement the third step: creating a landing page and lead magnet.

Step #3: Create irresistible landing pages and lead magnets.

When you’re getting ready to launch a new product, you don’t want your site visitors to just end up on your product page. Instead, you’ll want them to first visit your specific landing page.

Unlike a product page, which merely lists your product’s key features, a landing page is where you can show your visitors how valuable your product truly is and back it up with persuasive sales copy, FAQ sections, and testimonials.

After that, you can include a call to action asking them to either sign up or make a purchase.

If your goal is to attract subscribers, share a got-to-have-it-now lead magnet to show visitors how much value you have to offer and make them wonder just how stunning your paid products must be.

In terms of lead magnets, you could offer a digital download like an eBook, checklist, or guide, access to gated video content, or even an email series, as The Podcast Host offers for their lead magnet.

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If you aren’t sure just which lead magnet you should offer, don’t worry. The beauty of lead magnets is that they’re highly customizable and can be targeted to niche audiences.

So feel free to create a few copies of your landing page that offer different lead magnets and test which attracts the most signups for a particular segment of your list.

After you’ve penned a landing page and created a lead magnet that has visitors eager to subscribe, there’s one more step to convert those subscribers into customers.

Step #4: Send emails your subscribers can’t wait to open.

To ensure subscribers enjoy receiving emails from your brand, don’t incessantly sing your brand’s praises or offer the same information your competitors are sharing.

Instead, use your emails to educate and entertain your subscribers to stand out from the rest of the competition. Thirty-nine percent of consumers have stated that they wished emails they received were less about promotions and more about sharing information, while 27% wanted content that was more personalized toward their interests.

If you want to become one of the few brands whose emails your customers can’t wait to open, you’ll have to practice delivering value as concisely as possible.

The first way to attract a contact’s interest is by having an attention-grabbing subject line. Your subject line is arguably where your brand can be the most audacious, since it’s often a deciding factor between a subscriber opening or ignoring your email. Just make sure your subject line reflects the email’s content and your branding.

To create an open-worthy subject line, you can make yours personalized, clever and catchy, or even a little controversial. It’s also important to keep in mind what devices your subscribers are using to open your emails to give you an idea of an appropriate length for subject lines.

When it comes to emails themselves, follow email best practices to increase your chances of email marketing success, from lowering your unsubscribe rate to increase your conversions. Other than that, what can you do to make your emails truly stand out? Any number of things, from personalizing your emails to using storytelling to sending out interactive emails.

For example, consider the powerful opening line, imagery, and emotions Oregon College Savings Plan uses to draw in readers, speak to their desires, and guide them throughout the email.

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Or consider the personalization GasBuddy uses in this monthly recap email, or this interactive carousel that Uggs included in their email.

The options for creating a truly remarkable email are only limited by your imagination.

Whatever you choose to include your emails, just remember two things: Experimentation is key when figuring out what types of subject lines and email content resonate with your audience, and variation is essential for keeping your subscribers excited for your next email.

Wrap up

If you’re launching an online course—or any other digital product—and want your release to be a success, you should focus on growing your email list first.

Not only is your email list comprised of people who explicitly gave you permission to show them your marketing messages, but it’s also a more personal way to build a relationship with your subscribers.

Whether you’re a one-person brand or a multi-person company, you can use four tactics to grow your email list:

  • Content marketing so that you can share helpful information with your audience
  • Relationship building so you can win your customers’ trust and loyalty
  • Landing pages and lead magnets to convert your readers into subscribers
  • Information-packed emails that give your subscribers helpful information that they can use to make a purchasing decision.

While growing your list can be slow in the beginning, with repeated practice, you’ll see great results.

Whatever has been holding you back from starting your email list, now’s the time to overcome it and start creating a list of subscribers who can’t wait to hear from you.


About the author

Taylor Barbieri is a content marketer for Podia, an all-in-one platform where online courses, digital downloads, and membership websites—alongside their creators—thrive. Taylor enjoys learning foreign languages, fiction writing, and pugs, in no particular order.

This blog provides general information and discussion about email marketing and related subjects. The content provided in this blog ("Content”), should not be construed as and is not intended to constitute financial, legal or tax advice. You should seek the advice of professionals prior to acting upon any information contained in the Content. All Content is provided strictly “as is” and we make no warranty or representation of any kind regarding the Content.
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