Lines in the Marketing Sand

(Listen to this post, here.)

Question: How do you know if your best friend is a vegan?

Answer: He’s already told you.

I don’t know why, but there’s something about participating in veganism that compels a person to share it with everyone (the same appears to be true for CrossFit).

And, since you and I have gotten to be pretty close, I am sharing it with you now: I am a vegan. As of next week, it will be exactly one year.

Please don’t write to commend me for my commitment to planet Earth or my love of all living things. Under the right circumstances, I’d eat you and your entire family without a second thought.

I did it strictly for health reasons.

And while I have zero evidence to suggest that this radical change in diet does anything to boost hair growth (sigh), it has drastically, miraculously, improved the numbers that matter.

Further, and much to my surprise, it’s been way easier than I feared.

First, because everything I now eat tastes much better. I’m snacking on handfuls of spinach straight out of the bag.

Second, and thanks to having a “job” that allows the time required for chopping, slicing, crushing, peeling, and otherwise making nearly everything from scratch – not to mention a spouse who is on the same page – it hasn’t been a problem.

The thing I like most about it – other than maybe giving friends a hard time for “consuming the flesh of the dead” – is that the vegan lines are very clearly drawn:

No animals. No dairy.

Frankly, I find it way easier, psychologically, than previously, when I was trying to “eat healthy” by cutting back on the bad stuff.

Animals and dairy: No. Everything else: Yes.

Email Marketing Ain’t Veganism

You know what’s not at all like this? Email marketing.

That’s because with email marketing, the lines are not clearly drawn (if they are drawn at all).

There’s always the temptation to push the envelope of what’s reasonable just … a … little … bit … further.

And, since pushing said envelope tends to give you more of what you want in the short run – more sales, more subscribers, more clients, more followers, etc. – it can be hard to resist.

With that in mind, I want to share with you four email marketing practices that, while not illegal (at least not in the U.S.; many other countries have stricter rules), are doing you more harm than good over the (slightly) longer term…

#1. The Bait and Switch

It’s perfectly fine to give away something for free in exchange for a newsletter sign up. It’s well-proven that a “lead magnet” of this type – a PDF, an e-book, a prerecorded webinar, etc. – will boost subscriptions.

But, you need to make it clear that those who provide their email address in exchange for the freebie are also opting in to receive your newsletter or other information.

Simply adding them to a mailing list without their knowledge and consent is over the line.

#2. The Pretend Conversation

If I send you an email with the subject line, “Let’s cook up some tofu,” and you reply to that email, the subject line shows up in my inbox as, “Re: Let’s cook up some tofu.”

So, what some sneaky marketers do, in an attempt to make you think that you started this thread, is send an email with the “Re:” already sitting at the beginning of the subject line.

Will it result in more opens? I guarantee it.

Will it make me question your trustworthiness? You can bet your last block of tofu on it.

#3. The Too-Frequent Flyer

Several years ago, I developed and rolled out a new course to my newsletter list.

I had been studying someone else’s approach to maximizing sales and I followed his advice: When you launch, over the first four days, send 10 promotional emails to your list.

By email #3, people were writing to complain. By #4, I had several long-time readers, clients, and friends essentially pull me aside and ask what the hell I was doing (two people even called me).

What I was doing was making a lot of money … at the expense of long-term relationships that I had built over many years.

I stopped the rest of the emails immediately.

What I learned is that if you are in the high-trust business (and if you’re not, you’re probably reading the wrong newsletter), you have to be very careful about preserving relationships.

I don’t know what the perfect frequency is of promotional emails; sending just one will cause some readers to leave.

Just keep in mind that unlike with a newspaper (Google it, GenZ-ers), where nobody cancels their subscription if they see an ad or two that they don’t like, with email, once somebody unsubscribes, they are gone forever.

So tread lightly.

#4. The Me-Newsletter

Part of what makes a professional service email newsletter so interesting (don’t get me started) is that you and your readers don’t share the same objective…

You are publishing in order to generate word of mouth – to get strong referrals and great clients. It’s not because you want to be in the publishing business.

Your readers, on the other hand, couldn’t care less about you and your upcoming mortgage payment. They are there for quality content – content that helps them live their lives or do their jobs better.

Which means that if you want this to work, you must never lose sight of who holds all the cards (Hint: it’s not you).

Sure, you can mention yourself and what you do here and there.

Just know that the more real estate you devote to patting yourself on the back, talking about your services, or “subtly” suggesting that when it comes to knees, you are the bee’s (look that one up too), the more people are going to run in the other direction.

I recommend an 80/20 split between useful/promotional content.

Don’t worry. You are not giving anything up. Keep showing up with useful information and readers will refer and hire you on their own.

Here’s the bottom line.

The absolute, by far, has no equal, Lebron James of professional services internet marketing is still email.

It’s not video, or podcasts, or social, or that weird virtual reality headset that your nephew refuses to put down. Email is still the killer app.

But this amazing tool requires that the person on the receiving end be willing to play along.

Doing things that annoy, trick, or generally wear out your welcome with readers will cause them to leave, breaking the spell and ending the magic.

One more thing … did I mention that I am a vegan?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Are you a vegan? Feel free to tell us a little bit about why.
  2. OK, that’s enough.
  3. Really, we don’t need to hear more.
  4. I need to leave now.

Share your answers below…

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21 thoughts on “Lines in the Marketing Sand

  1. LJ Miller

    I am not vegan…maybe I should consider it!? However, I do respect those who are and sometimes even eat like they do when I’m with them 😉 and it hasn’t hurt me one bit.

    I love the association of being vegan with what NOT to do with email marketing (and newsletters). You make the best links between life situations and what we do every day between those life situations.

    Thank you Michael!

  2. Lorrie Kazan

    Hi Michael: You might enjoy the book ‘Cured’ by Jeffrey Rediger, MD. Harvard-trained dr who explores the phenomenon of spontaneous healing. Diet seems to be one of those factors that helps (esp vegan) but he also talks about one healthy group that eats bacon and lots of food fried in lard. What they have is community. Another book is ‘Breath’ by James Nestor. Both books are worth reading because it’s not just the stuff most of us already know.

    Always enjoy your newsletters. Congratulations on keeping veganism to yourself for a whole year, and quietly continuing. Best wishes, Lorrie

  3. Jane Pollak

    Is it safe to assume you’ve watched Forks Over Knives? I loved this newsletter as I love ALL your newsletters. Motivational and inspiring.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Jane! Yes, I have seen it along with some of the other popular ones. I found it helpful to really dive into the benefits of plants vs meat initially, as a way to make the switch! I think I am safely on the other side now.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Haha, let me just say, the ice cream avoidance has been a bit of an adjustment. That and breakfast out, which is not nearly as satisfying. But … there is vegan ice cream! Close if you squint, but definitely not the real thing! The ice cream party will live on!!

  4. Ken C

    Not a vegan here, but I do respect those who make the “sacrifice” to live healthier.

    Congratulations on the 1 year milestone!

    As a fellow email marketing guy, I enjoy your emails… they’re so good, and always on point!

  5. Bruce Horwitz

    Regarding vegan ice cream. My niece’s husband runs “Mr Dewie’s Cashew Creamery” in the SF Bay area and, having tasted it, I could see eating instead of conventional ice cream… with hardly a squint. Is it going to match a super premium (i.e., high fat) product? No, but it’s darn good. Unfortunately for you, he gave up trying to ship it.

    As far as the marketing emails that go right into trash… you are spot on talking about the ones with RE: in subject line. They are often even more obnoxious when they start off with “I just wanted to follow up on the email……” Since I don’t actually open them I don’t know what follows but I know the names of people I’ve been in touch with and it ain’t them.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I’m glad the state of vegan ice cream continues to improve. It’s definitely way easier now than it would have been even five years ago!

  6. Tom Shott

    Hi Michael,
    Long time fan. And I have been vegan for more than two years. And yes, my numbers have changed from horrible to really not bad at all. My doctor has been impressed. Thirty five pounds gone, BP way down, cholesterol way down and many more benefits. This issue like many before is spot on. Thanks!

  7. Sandra

    Hi Michael. I’m more of a pescatarian that likes eggs and tater tots lol. And chocolate. I do have a wonderful salad that I make and eat almost every day. It consists of chopped kale, cucumber, cabbage, broccoli, frozen peas (thawed), an ounce of diced cheese and sometimes a small handful of almonds. I use a little bit of an Asian sesame dressing on it to add some flavor.
    So my meats are shrimp, salmon, and white fish and I only eat them a couple times a week.
    It is a more healthy and nutritional was of eating for me but a true vegan I will never be.
    Enjoy your weekend!

  8. Kristin Lieb

    1-4. Nope. Why? I love a good steak and an amazing scallop.
    I have unsubscribed from emails for that exact reason, as most have I would imagine.
    Give me something I can use and I’m ok with an ad in that newsletter.
    Send me 10 adds and info all about how fantastic you are and, meh, not a fan. Unsubscribe.
    It takes SO long to get and grow that relationship, don’t ruin it with buying me a statue of yourself for my front lawn. 🙂


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