When it comes to marketing your race, email marketing is the granddaddy of all marketing channels. Forget TikTok, and Instagram and Facebook Ads, if you don’t have a sound email marketing strategy, you could be passing on a huge opportunity to grow your race - and also falling short of delivering the highest quality experience you can for your participants.
Today we are going to be taking a very close look at all aspects of email marketing strategy, from the types of emails you should be sending, and when and how often you should send them, to exactly what you should be saying to your participants and prospective participants through your email copy. And we’ll be doing all that with the help of my guest, marketing pro, and very passionate email marketing advocate, Hollie Light - or “Hollie from the emails”, as she’s come to be known.
In this episode:
- Why email marketing is so important for marketing your race
- Are you emailing your audience too often?
- Segmenting your audience into converted (signed-up participants) and unconverted (everyone else) subscribers
- Newsletters: whom to send them to, what to put in them, how often you should send them
- Sticking to a regular emailing schedule: creating a content calendar, repurposing content
- The importance of rewarding your email subscribers
- Selling your race through your newsletter
- Tips for engaging email subject lines (hint: it's not about you, it's about them!)
- Nurturing subscribers to signing up through staged email sequences
- Using email as a customer service/upselling channel for existing participants
- Marketing your shorter races as training events for your longer races
- Growing your mailing list with freebie/giveaway funnels
- Email design for optimal open rates and reader friendliness
- Using testimonials and social proof in your emails
- Productivity tools, email templates and other tips to help you optimize your email marketing
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Hollie, welcome to the podcast!
Hi, Panos. Thanks so much for having me! Hi to everyone listening!
Well, thank you very much for coming on. For people listening in, you are based in the UK - is that right?
Yes, in Guildford. So if you're into cycling, it's the place to be - it's right in the heart of the Surrey Hills. I guess everyone wants to know how far it is from London, isn't it? So, it's about half an hour by train or an hour's drive - quite close.
And you're a marketing professional by trade. You do your own thing through your own marketing agency. You've been working in the mass participation space for a while now wearing different hats along the way. Do you want to share with our listeners a little bit about your background and what you currently do in the industry?
Yeah, sure. Yes. As you said, I've sort of been in this industry - for the best part of a decade now - directing events and marketing. I've now set up my own digital marketing agency Active8, which specializes in helping race organizers get more participants to their start lines. My career in events started at Leeds University. I was studying marketing and sports science. As a competitive athlete, I was on a number of, like, first teams. I was actually one of the sports team committees when I started organizing events this was anything and everything from your, kind of, student nights out to sponsors and university competitions. It was at this point, really, where I realized that if I was managing to get 100 plus students to attend my events, surely I could make a pretty good career out of this. So, that's exactly what I set out to do. I got a dream job working for Human Race and coastal Triathlon Series, and that was quite a career-defining opportunity for me because I was working for not one but two of the UK's leading event management companies at the same time. So, it was a real crash course not only in marketing, but in event management as well. Literally, every weekend, I was at UK and overseas events, driving Luton vans, running merch stalls, filling in for the warm-up guy, social media - you name it, I did it. As you know, with events, everybody just, kind of, gets stuck in. So, this really, kind of, set me up to walk straight into a head of marketing role at a company called AAT Events, which is now owned by the race organizer. At the time that I joined, it was a fairly local race organizer with a half marathon and a few trail runs. So, during my time there, I really helped to transform that business into, like, a multi-award-winning event management company, launching events like Guildford 10K, selling out the Surrey Half Marathon, and securing some quite major sponsors. It was, kind of, at this time, really, that I tried my own, like, event directing, which which was great. I started working with a few more event directors in the industry. I know much of it from Weybridge 10K, who came on and spoke to you in a podcast. I did a Beer Run with me at full steam, Virgin Sports. So, I actually ended up sending so many emails about all of these different events going on in the area that, locally, I became known as "Hollie from the emails", which is something that, kind of, stuck. I suppose all of this gave me the launchpad I needed to start up my own business where I could offer organizers the opportunity to work with someone who, kind of, got this inherent understanding of events and running a business, coupled with the marketing know-how I think we all need in this industry right now. So, yeah, very lucky to be where I am today. Obviously, I had a lot of support along the way. Now, here I am on your podcast talking about email marketing, which is a bit of a highlight. So, thanks again for inviting me on.
Well, it's a pleasure. I should say, for our US listeners whom we have a few of, some of those names will not mean a whole lot - like Human Race, the race organizer, and all of those folks - but they're pretty big names in the UK. Amazing organizers, all of them - Toby Jenkins, who was the owner of AAT and another great guy. So lots of, like, really big names that people would recognize in the UK. As you were saying, through all of this, you came to be known as "Hollie from the emails", which is quite funny from all the emails you were sending out. We were having a chat a while back about things that might be helpful to highlight to race directors from everything you've done. You feel quite passionately about email marketing, which is why we're here today. So, let's start with your, kind of, pitch to race directors who haven't done too much with email marketing on why email marketing is so important. Everyone keeps saying that, inside our industry and other industries as well, like, email marketing is the thing you shouldn't neglect, and that you should be doing more. What are your kinds of arguments around that? Why should people be doing more with email marketing?
Sure. Well, I'd say, for any business, really, it's quite a worthy investment in terms of your time and money because email marketing is proven to be resistant, reliable, and effective. So, obviously, I'm kind of in this digital marketing world now. When you reflect back on how much that landscape has changed in the last decade, platforms like Bebo and MySpace have now just disappeared. Email is that one thing that has really survived it all. It's not uncommon for people to take a break from social media, but we're yet to see that happening on email. This is because it's a fundamental part of modern life. This really is, kind of, reflected in its user accounts. I think, in 2020, it was reported that 4 billion people use email - that's over half the world's population. More so, I think 99% of those email users are checking their emails every single day. So, not only do we have this kind of massive market here, but email is, kind of, transcending all the demographics. So, boomers through Gen Z are all using email. As good as social media is - don't get me wrong, I use it myself - it just can't compete with this. So, I guess what I'm trying to say here is that what email does for you is it gives you the opportunity to speak to up to 100% of the market via channels that they're using on a daily basis. Better yet, you're serving the content to an engaged audience because, again, it's very rare that we, kind of, end up mindlessly scrolling through our emails.
Yeah. These are really great points. I mean, essentially, you're saying that if you are online, you have to have an email. It's almost like your passport - everyone has one online - right? Then, as you said, it transcends all kinds of demographics and it is a very precious thing to people, I think - right? I mean, it's a privacy thing as well. It's something that people tend to guard and give out very, very cautiously. So, that actually brings us to one objection - we had another episode on the podcast on SMS marketing - which some people find ever more 'intrusive' than email marketing. One of the points we brought up there is that, generally - this definitely holds true over SMS marketing, but also email marketing - people and race directors, in particular, have this kind of reluctance to send out emails. They feel like they're spamming people - right? I mean, they're thinking, "I can't send out emails. I can't mark it through email. It's going to feel too spammy, too salesy." What's your response to lots of people bringing up that kind of objection or, like coming from that kind of place and being held back in doing more with their email?
So, I'd say that, if you're listening and that, sort of, statement really resonates with you, "I feel like I'm spamming people", I promise that you're not alone. As you said, Panos, it's something that kind of comes up a lot. I would say that there are two reasons that consistently contribute to this kind of feeling. One of them is GDPR - that kind of big, scary abbreviation which, for all its good intentions, has definitely created a lot of fear for those that are owning and managing that email list. Perhaps, we can, sort of, come on to GDPR in a bit more detail later. Perhaps more so, if you don't have a solid understanding of your audience or your email strategy, how can you know if you're spamming someone? If you don't actually know how many times you're emailing each subscriber, I'd say that's, like, your cold, hard truth right there. So, I suppose, in the same way that a personal trainer might approach something, the work that I do with my Active8 client tends to start around the mindset and follows with the plan. If someone has specifically asked you to send them emails - like the SMS marketing, for example - are you actually spamming them if you're simply delivering on their request? So, if you're not doing this out of fear that you're not doing it right, you are depriving yourself of what potentially could be a really high-converting tool. So I'd say, for anybody listening, I would start with that kind of mindset of, "Right. Okay, I'm going to overcome this. I want to get more entries to my events, and I'm going to use every tool I've got in my arsenal to make that happen." So, in terms of moving forward from there, I'd say, "Just get to know your database, who's in there, what do they want to hear about." You can start to review your options - like, the questions that you're asking people. I'd say the segmentation is key as well because if you segment your audience well, you can be confident that when you're emailing them, you're sending them relevant content that they've asked for, and your email system will reward you for this. You'll see your open rates soar. So, you will get that indication that you're doing something right. I suppose the only other point, really, is that if you are spamming people, again, your email system will tell you this. You're going to see mass unsubscribe. Your deliverability is going to plummet. If this happened, don't worry. I will say that the key here is that you've got that information, so you're able to react from it, so you can bounce back.
These are all excellent points. You're saying basically - which is just common sense - that if someone has opted in, you are clear about what they can expect from the emails that they're going to be getting, letting them know upfront about the frequency, content, and everything, and being clear about that. I mean, in a way, you are sort of not serving your subscribers right if you're not sending them the content that they essentially opted in for, which makes a lot of sense. Then, they have the unsubscribe button. I guess, where this gets, maybe, a little bit into a, kind of, gray zone is that-- I mean, we'll go into newsletters and all kinds of other aspects of email marketing, and all the different things you can be doing, but you don't actually let people know when they sign up that, "Oh, I'm also going to try to sell my race to you" - right? So, I'm just building an argument here. Then, when it comes to sending people, let's say, a "price increase" email or their second or third "Join my race" email in a couple of months, maybe, that's when people feel like they're stepping over the line of what the subscribers may have signed themselves up for. Does that make sense?
Yeah, sure. I think it's very easy to, kind of, sit here, listen to the podcast, and kind of take all this information on, but what I will say is, you will always feel more empowered with making your own research as well. So, I would, kind of, encourage anybody listening to just spend 15 minutes or so to just do some basic research on GDPR, because I think what you'll find is two types of permissions. One of them is expressed permission - this is super important for your new customers - like signing up for the newsletter on your website, where you have to make it clear that by entering your email address, you're subscribing to an email list. The other one that's quite key, I think, in this example is this implied permission, which means anybody that you've got an existing business relationship with - current customers, active members of your community - you have implied permission to send them campaigns. So, you can be quite clever in the way that you talk about the various aspects of your business, but still be compliant with implied permission.
Right. And this is all GDPR. We should mention, for folks in the US and outside of the UK and Europe, basically, who are not familiar with this, it's a kind of data protection, kind of, marketing type framework. How would you describe it to people who are not familiar with it?
GDPR, at the end of the day, is a good thing. The idea that people can have ownership over how their data is used and how they're contacted are all, sort of, good things. The other thing to, sort of, add to that is that it is in your interest to comply with this. It comes back to your, sort of, segmentation and the opt-ins from your audience. You need to be operating from a place of confidence. If you can get your mindset right and remember that somebody that subscribed to your email list wants to hear from you - they should be on your warmest list. This is absolutely the behavior that we want to be encouraging and rewarding, because email gives you the opportunity to directly message somebody in their inbox. So, the fact that they've asked for that is a really powerful thing. So, you need to, sort of, remember that, I think, at the forefront of your mind, rather than operating from, sort of, the back where it's, "Oh, but I'm worried that I'm not compliant" or "Oh, I'm worried that they may not have specifically asked for this." You may have so many amazing things that are happening in your business. So, stay on, like, a brand level. If you want to be, kind of, like, a more sustainable organizer, you might decide that you want to launch a free plog - picking up rubbish - and jogging events that are free. But if you're a subscriber that's in a cycling segment, you might not get to hear about that if you're, kind of, too strict with, "Oh, I can't message my cycling segment about this." This is why, I think, it's quite important - Panos, as you said - about factoring in what content goes in your newsletters versus your segments. They're a warm list and your email list. They want to hear from you. They've given you that permission and that instruction to say, "Yes, I want to hear from you in my inbox." So, absolutely act on it and just be mindful of the statistics that your email marketing platform is telling you, because it will give you a very, very good indication if you're doing something wrong, and you can bounce back from it, if you are.
Hopefully, we'll have some time to go into the bouncing back, which is really hard, I guess - reviving and paddling back and trying to reverse the tide if things go wrong with your email statistics declining. But before we go into that, let's touch a little bit on all the different aspects of email marketing that a race director might do. We touched a little bit - we mentioned, at least - about newsletters, but there's also, I guess, direct sales emails and other stuff. So, what exactly would fall under the umbrella of email marketing? What are we looking at here?
Event directors have two main segments or groups of people to contact on a regular basis. First of all, you've got your participants. These are the people that have registered for your upcoming event. You, then, have your subscribers, which is anybody that is yet to enter your upcoming events. This is just a super high level because, already, you might be thinking, "Well, in my subscribers, I've got my new subscribers and I've got past participants - both have yet to enter my upcoming race, but both require very different messaging." So, I suppose, when we think of the term 'email marketing', it's quite natural, in the first instance, to think of promotional emails, "I need to sell my race." Actually, I'd say that it's really important that you reward your existing participants with the same, kind of, beautifully curated, and highly engaging email experience as well. I'd say this is particularly key for race organizers, because we are in the experience business. So, it's a competitive market. We should be looking to go above and beyond just a confirmation email and some pre-race info, because no matter whether you're organizing a virtual event or an in-person event, every kind of race at the moment will start starts with some kind of digital journey on the whole. Usually, your race entry platform or your RunSignup, particularly if you're in the US. Depending on when you open entry, that experience for somebody could be starting months in advance. So, you have a really valuable opportunity there to create a lasting impression in a highly competitive market. I'd say that, financially, this is in your interest as well, because the cost of, kind of, retaining these customers and upselling other events, merchandise, etc, is a lot lower than the cost of acquiring new followers or email subscribers.
So basically, you're saying the very high-level starting point of how to think of what you're trying to achieve with your email marketing is in terms of the audiences you're trying to serve. You have your converted audience - essentially, the people who have signed up, they're going to do a race - and the unconverted, which is people who've never signed up for your race and people who may be past participants. So, you put those in the same bucket - right?
Yeah, that's a high level of who you need to be thinking about. I would just say that, when people typically think of email marketing, I think it's quite natural to just think, "Oh, okay. I've got to get more entries in." It can be quite easy to, kind of, overlook the amount of nurturing that you need to do for the people that are already registered. So, we can go into that in a little bit more detail further in the podcast.
Right. The other point that I think is really important here-- as you say, lots of people who go into email marketing are thinking, "It's a tool to sell. It's a tool to get someone who is not a participant to become a participant." But what you're saying there - which is very important and comes up all the time in different aspects of podcasts that we do in terms of the race experience - is that email marketing, and that's actually something a point that my guests on the SMS Marketing Podcast brought up - email marketing is also, like, a customer service channel as well. For the people who are customers already, it is a great tool to nurture them, to retain them, to basically deepen their customer loyalty to me, and make their experience better overall.
Yes. I think the key here is that we are operating in a highly competitive market. As I said, depending on when you open your entry, you might open entry for an ultra marathon nine months to a year in advance. If all you're contacting those participants with is a standard confirmation email from your entry platform, "Two more weeks to go", some race information, "You've missed an entire nine to twelve month window to be upselling future events", you might have the opportunity to bring on some sponsors, particularly if you can prove that you can generate some conversions for them by upselling kits. So, your classic example is, if you've got a run shop partner, your half marathon participants may really value 20% off of your fit stuff, run trainers, six months before their events. So, it's really your opportunity to showcase to your audience that you really understand what they're thinking, feeling, and proving that you can do a good job on that. Actually, I know that Racecheck did a study recently, and they did find that the race organizers who were rated highly in terms of their, kind of, communications always lead to better results on Racecheck. So, I think that's a really powerful statistic.
In terms of the actual instruments and campaigns I'm using in my email marketing - for instance, we keep talking about the newsletter - let's dive into that a little bit more deeply. So, the newsletter is something that I send to both types of audiences - both the converted and the unconverted. Do I send different types of newsletters to each of them? What's the purpose of the newsletter in this kind of paradigm?
Sure. So I mean, if you've got something newsworthy to say, say it. So it's a really good opportunity to just ensure that everybody in your database has been contacted - they've had that, sort of, touch point on a regular basis. I'd say that if you are able to communicate a wide range of things that might be going on in your business from, kind of, brand level. That means that you can, kind of, keep it super relevant to everyone. Then, from there, you might be able to filter them down into, sort of, like, more specific segments. An example of this really would be, if you have an event launching, you've got a date, you've got a venue - if you've listened to the PR episode with Meg Treat, she's sort of paved the way for me a little bit, because she has explained what content is inherently newsworthy. So, you can, kind of, repurpose anything that is relevant for your PR in your newsletter, so you can almost use it as, like, your own news outlet, if you will. So, even if you've got cyclists on your database who are only interested in cycling, if they've subscribed to your newsletter, there's no problem in saying, "Hey, we've got this really cool event launching. It's going to be on this date. More information will come soon." Maybe, you can give them the opportunity to, sort of, self-refer, "Click here if you want to. Find out as soon as entry launches." I suppose that the thing that kind of unites all of the content that will go within your newsletter is probably this kind of community aspect because that is, at the very core, is what events are about. If somebody loves running, like, the only difference between going for a run on your own or going for a run in a race is that sense of community. So, again, that's really valuable content to, kind of, put in your newsletter. Perhaps there's a regular participant or volunteer that achieves a brilliant goal. Or maybe, you've just been awarded some, kind of, like, eco credential or some kind of award. This is all great stuff to put in your newsletter, because it gives everybody the opportunity to buy into your organization at that branding level. Further down the line, further in different segments, it's about, kind of, trying to generate those conversions for specific events. Newsletters are just trying to get them to either buy into the brand - if they're a new subscriber - or be reminded why they have bought into the brand - if they're an existing subscriber.
That are some really nice examples of what goes into it. Stories are really important big news. "I'm launching a new race. I got the Sustainability Award or a story about our event." Even working towards a Sustainability Award, I guess, is newsworthy - explaining what you're trying to do - right? These are going out to everyone on your list, whether they are existing participants or not. So this is something you would send out to everyone, right?
Yes, because it gives everybody a flavor of what's going on in your business. Actually, one of the other key things that are always great to include is that kind of post-race FOMO - this sort of Fear Of Missing Out. So, if you've just had an event, absolutely open your newsletter with all of the highlights of that amazing event, and then give people that call to action to "How not to avoid missing out on the future" or "What is the next event that's coming up" because, in that, you might think, "Oh, they're not really interested in what happens in 10K. They're a cyclist." Actually, if you're sort of communicating those key points of "Somebody had a fantastic day. The organization was brilliant. They raised loads of money for charity", these are, sort of, like, quite universal concepts that might apply to various other events. So, you're, sort of, like, really hitting home on those things that people want.
You said earlier that newsletter is - what the name says, basically - you sending out news. We have set some examples there. Some of those examples are very infrequent or sporadic - they don't have a schedule - right? "I may be launching a race here and there or I may have some special news to share." But newsletters also generally tend to be thought of by people as a regular thing. So, what happens if I have a regular newsletter or I aspire to have a regular newsletter and I don't or I feel like I don't have the news to fill in meaningful email space week-after-week or fortnight-after-fortnight or month-after-month?
What I would say with your newsletter is the audience size that you're sending to does, kind of, give you some kind of clue for the scope of the content that you can use. So, this is a broad wide-reaching email to a number of subscribers. Therefore, your content will tend to be high-level, quite broad, and not necessarily into, like, loads of detail about one thing, because that makes it more relevant to a larger pool of people. So, if you're struggling for content, I would say, take it back to what makes newsworthy content - like, what is actually going on in the world right now? Is Easter coming up and people want to be burning off all this chocolate they've eaten? Are there National Fitness Days or other kinds of applicable things that are happening in the world that you can use to talk about in your business? I'd say that the other thing that you can do as well is, ultimately - as I sort of mentioned before, and this is something that will probably come up a lot in this podcast - being given that kind of instruction or permission to directly message somebody into their inbox that they use every day is such a powerful tool - it's such a powerful thing. So, we really want to reward that behavior. So, is there, kind of, an overarching headline partner or some other sponsorship deals that you can do to reward your newsletter subscribers? Do you always get, like, 20% off at a run shop or at, like, a training platform partner? So, think about other ways that you might be able to reward your participants. It doesn't always have to be a product or discount - it can simply be that you launch your entry to your events, to everybody on your newsletter, before it goes out to the general public. So, just always think about ways that you can reward your subscribers.
Yeah, make them feel special as well.
Yeah. Like they're, sort of, a member of an exclusive club kind of thing.
Yes. I'd say that it can be quite easy to think, "Oh, I've not got enough content to share" or "I can't think of what to write." I suppose the key to all of this is organization. If you plan your content in advance, you'll be fine. I've been there before in the early days of, like, working with organizers where they're, like, "Oh, I need to send an email" and they would literally type it all in one hit and then send it. That's not necessarily the best approach because, then, you will be struggling to think of what content to write. So, make the time to, kind of, plan out your content strategy and repurpose content. If social media posts worked really well for you, expand them out into an email or a blog post. Always repurpose.
Yeah. I would advise people - which is what I used to do when sending out newsletters in the past, trying to be regular, and also struggling with social media content - that there are lots of tricks. There are so many, like, special dates out there - like Mother's Day, this day, the other day, National Pancake Day, or whatever - that often savvy marketers use to create content around because, if we think about it, so many of these things can be made relevant to a running event or, like to a fitness event more generally - right?
Yeah. And it's about having the time to - or making the time, should I say - because event organizers are busy, right? It's always that we never got enough time, so you have to make the time. It really is worth it because there are some brands out there-- I think it might have been on Black Friday or, like, Mountain Warehouse - one of these - where they close all of their stores and have, like, a really unique approach to this day, where they're saying, "We don't want people to be shopping online. We want people to go outside and enjoy the world" which is exactly, at their core, what they want people to do. That's obviously something that stuck in my mind because it's a really unique approach to something. So, don't get sucked into this thing as, "Oh, it's Pancake Day. I better put out a recipe." Take the time to think, "Okay, how does this relate to my brand? If it doesn't, don't talk about it. Think about something else. If it does, think about how you can put a unique spin on it because it can definitely, sort of, pay dividends for you.
Yeah, Absolutely. At some point, we were discussing about newsletters - for instance, when you do your formal email after the end of the race, you throw all the nice race picks in there and, like, "Get registered for the next race" or something along those lines, which takes us a little bit into the territory of "How okay is it for me to try to sell through the newsletter?" Everything we've been talking about is, as you say, more like brand building and nurturing type stuff. How often, if at all, and in what way can I try to also sell through my newsletter - for instance, tell people to sign up for a race?
I'd say that with all of these kinds of decisions that you're making, you always need to, kind of, bring it back to exactly who you're speaking to. So, somebody that's in your newsletter might take a little bit more nurturing. They might not be ready to buy that particular event right now. When we're talking about, like, brands, messaging, and just trying to encourage people to sign up for their next race, whatever it may be, within your organization, it might be that they're sort of more ready to do that. Whereas, I think if you want to be selling a specific race, there's probably a bit more of, like, an educational piece in there where somebody on your newsletter might not actually understand, like, "What is the USP? Why should they enter this particular race?" I think, when you're kind of planning your campaign, have a look at where you're at in, like, your marketing cycle for each event, because it might not necessarily be that you want to take a linear approach if you just say, "Oh, well, the next event is... the next event is..." because, depending on your calendar, that might not give each event, like, a fair run. So, it might be that you've got a trail run happening in two weeks, but it might be six months to go for a half marathon, and that might actually be your peak entry window, for example. So, what I would suggest is, you can use your newsletters and opportunity-- if you really need to get people to sign up to a specific race, obviously, put it in there. We, sort of, mentioned before that anything that constitutes as newsworthy content deserves to go in there. So, if entry really is closing and you really want to hammer that message home, get it in there. If you just want to, sort of, cast your net wide for your half marathon that's going to be launching soon, that call to action can be a bit more of a self-referral journey, like, "Right, okay, if you want to be the first to know when entry launches, or if you want to get this special code, refer yourself here. Join this email list. Reply to this email saying 'Yes, I'm in'", you can use some sort of clever technology to, then, ensure that they're segmented correctly.
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Ok, now, let’s get back to the episode. In terms of subject lines for newsletters, I've seen lots of people go with a subject along the lines of our August news, our September news, or whatever, which doesn't tell you a whole lot about what's in the email. Like, it doesn't make, at least, in my eyes, for a very attractive subject line. How should people think of how to go from what's in the content of the newsletter to writing a good representative - not make it too sensational or fishy or whatever - nice, catchy subject line that would lead people to open up the newsletter?
So this is probably where we're starting to dive into the weird and wonderful world of copywriting. So, that is definitely a skill that you want to, kind of, employ for somebody in your team or research yourself a little bit more. The kind of principle behind it really is the fact that you want to be presenting your information in a way that serves the reader. So, it's not about my August news. It's about, like, what is it doing to kind of serve my audience? So, I think, once you kind of understand the psychology behind it a little bit more, it makes it easier to understand, like, why you're doing what you're doing. I think a common example is, people always use questions, right? "Oh, yeah, I need to use a question in my social media post or my subject lines." Why? The reason for that is because it begs an answer. So, don't just ask a question. Ask yourself, like, "Think about what is it that you actually want your participants to be, kind of, thinking and feeling?" So, when they're kind of writing all of this copy, we're trying to take the user through a bit of a decision-making journey. So, a lot of these, kind of, mailing systems will actually, kind of, give you a lot of hints for what makes a really good subject line - it might be using nine words or a certain number of characters. So, you need, kind of, a hook - something that's kind of attention-grabbing. It can be a controversial statement. It can be a question. But whatever you do, try and frame it in a way that is not about me, my August news, my events company, my race, and your experience that's on offer for you.
Actually, I think this is, sort of, like, rule number one of marketing more generally, right? So, framing things from the point of view of what this thing is going to be doing for you, for the recipient, not about me touting, "I did this or I did that."
I think that will help you to feel like you're doing things in a less salesy way and not talking about yourself all the time. Also, you're doing your readers a bit of a service because you are, sort of, taking away all of the guesswork and the figuring out of, "Okay. I've received this email. My August news - like, why do I want to read that?" You don't even want to be asking them that. You want to be getting that action. You want them to open the email. So, a subject line, for example, might be, like, "20% off of..." You read that and you're like, "Oh, so annoying. Off of what?" Then, obviously, you kind of got your preview text, so you can begin to expand on that. That is going to get people to open the clicks. It might be 20% off of your race. It might be 20% off of your trainers. I suppose what I'd say here as well is, if you're listening to this and thinking, "Oh, that's so annoying" - I've received those emails before - my question to you would be, "Is the offer that they made actually relevant?" Again, if you're recovering from a half marathon that you really enjoyed and their physio partner is now doing 20% off of sports massages, you're gonna be so pleased that you opened that email. It's because it's relevant. So, when you employ these tactics, you need to really consider the whole journey, kind of, from the start to the endpoint, and make sure that everything lines up nicely.
Excellent. Yeah, that's really good advice. Beyond the newsletter, I think one of the good things, I guess, that GDPR - which is, again, something we discussed earlier - did for people in the EU in the UK who use email marketing is it puts people into thinking of the different types of emails because, under GDPR, people have to opt-in actively into different types of emails. You see, on some email preferences lists, that senders of emails have newsletters to opt into the newsletter. Then, they have, like, marketing emails as a separate thing. So, is there a separate thing? The sales marketing email - does it exist as, like, a separate type of email that you would send out, specifically, marketing emails?
I suppose my, kind of, initial response to that question is why would anybody ever say yes to "Do you want to subscribe to my marketing emails?" As we're sort of, like, following on from this kind of copywriting aspect, think about how you present that option to your readers. Is it "We can contact you frequently with really cool races, with really good discount"? It's gonna need a bit of further thought than that - this is just, kind of, off the cuff. Try to, kind of, present that information in a way to the reader that's, like, "Absolutely! Yes, it's a no-brainer. I definitely want to hear from you."
What emails are we talking about here when we say sales marketing emails? Remind me again. We have the newsletter section, then we're talking sales emails. What emails are those?
So, I would say these this are the kind of emails that delve on from newsletters. This is, kind of, specific sequences that we would send about, like-- let's just say, like, the Guildford 10K. You kind of got your newsletter, and then you might have, like, a segment or subscribers that you can contact about the Guildford 10K. So, it's about having, like, a specific campaign like, maybe, sending emails, depending on your marketing window, that kind of takes readers on a journey of the early days, kind of, educating people.
The other type of email beyond the newsletter that, I guess, falls under email marketing are the more specific emails or email sequences that you use to actually funnel people and nurture them from not having signed up to having signed up. Do you want to tell our listeners a little bit about that?
For these emails, this is where you've received instruction from people that, kind of, expressed interests that they are wanting to hear about this specific event or this specific type of event. So, what you want to do is to plan, like, a dedicated sequence to aid the decision-making process for that event. So, the number of emails really is going to be quite unique to your company in terms of what worked best for you before, but also in terms of, like, the marketing window that you have available. For this reason, I quite like to break my email campaign down into phases. I'd say your, kind of, warm-up phase is probably the longest part of your campaign. This is where you might send emails, typically, maybe, a little bit longer in length, because it's a bit of an educational piece. It's about telling people, "This event is happening. What is the USP? Why should people enter? What are the sponsors and why this is important?" As I said, this is probably the longest part of your campaign. This is quite important because - we picked up before, in terms of copywriting - you don't want to make your emails sound super salesy, and having this kind of structure in place is going to help with that, because you're going to find that you're not always using that call to action of "Enter now." Within this warm-up phase, you might have your, kind of, diehard fans that secure their entry a year in advance, because they know that they want to take part. We absolutely want to reward that behavior, which is why those sequences for those registered participants are so important. For everybody else, they tend to wait until, say, 12 weeks out from the event pre-COVID. Moving on, kind of, from the warm-up phase-- I quite like to call them fartleks, to be honest. I sort of like to relate everything to training, because if you don't necessarily understand that much about marketing, I feel that we can all, kind of, level in terms of training. This might be where you, kind of, pepper in some kind of price rises or other kinds of incentives to just try and drive a few more entries throughout your campaign where you may have had, like, longer kind of branded educational piece or emails in your warm-up phase. You can then, sort of, shock your audience with these short emails. Perhaps, they're a couple of days or weeks spaced apart. That's really about driving home an action. Entry is about to go up. There's going to be a price rise. Perhaps, places are selling faster than they have done before, and it's going to move up to the next tier soon. So, you can kind of use the length and the frequency of your emails to, kind of, help drive this action. Then, I suppose you, kind of, come into your sprint finish and cooldown phases. Again, it might be, sort of, 12 weeks out from your events. Obviously, it'll depend on your type of race, type of participants, and all of that kind of thing. Again, this is where we're going to see the emails being a little bit shorter than your earlier ones because, by this point in the campaign - 12 weeks to go - people don't really need to know about all of the different things that are happening in the race. They've received all of these emails up until now. This is about trying to remind people what the USPS is, why they need to enter, and why they need to do it now. The doors are closing, not opening, so that is obviously going to be reflected, kind of, in these emails and messaging. Once your entry has closed - this is the key, really, because, as an event director, I do sort of understand this - you almost just, sort of, closed down into, like, full operational mode, particularly, if you're a smaller organization doing all of this stuff yourself. It's actually really important to make sure that your emails don't just, sort of, shut down then. Obviously, all of the people that have registered are going to be in your registered participant sequence - they're going to be receiving all of your, like, pre-race communications and building hype for the event. For all those people that haven't entered, you don't necessarily just want to drop off a cliff, because emails are not about just trying to make a sale. This is about community. This is about events. This is what events are for. So, if somebody hasn't chosen to enter, we've got to figure out why that is. So send them an email saying, "Oh, sorry that you missed out on this place. This is going to be what you're missing out on but, hey, we've got these other events that you might be interested in." Again, if you do some, sort of, free community initiatives like local runs at your run shop, maybe that is, kind of, a good place to take them to engage somewhere else. If spending money is what they're not into right now, particularly with everything that's going on in the world, you have to be a bit creative." Hopefully, that helps to understand the sequences that you need. If you plan these out for all of your events, you can kind of plug in the, like, key date. For example, you might have one of your follow-up campaigns over Christmas if you know that Christmas or New Year period is really good for you. Or for some reason, September is a really key moment, once you kind of have this overarching plan, you can start to see where all your emails are going out and when. That's essentially your strategy. That is the best way to, kind of, level up from this really linear approach of, "Okay, I've got my race in July. It's gonna be that race, that race, and that race all the way through to July." Then, "Oh, I've got another one in September. I've only got two months to promote this event." So, I think having that strategy is going to automatically make you feel more empowered to send those emails with confidence in a way that you're not spamming people.
Let me try to summarize what I understood of that sales sequence because I think it's quite important for people. So, I think what you're saying there-- again, you describe it in terms of fartleks and, like, training analogy. So, first stage - sort of, like, warming up - you send out emails that are, like, "Oh, we're an amazing flat course. Wouldn't it be great for you to go do your PR in our flat course?" or "We have this amazing or that other amazing-- wouldn't it be great for you to join?" And you'd still have a call to action there, I guess, for people to join, even on the, like, warm-up phase. Then, as you go through the sequence, you go through those, kind of, softy, softy sales emails, where it's more, like, about us and what the value is in the event. You go into more urgent types of emails. When the time demanded or when there's, like, price increases and stuff like that, you're like, "Enter today. Save 20% on the next price increase. Blah, blah, blah." Then, you start building up the pace. Then, as you say, very importantly, even if people don't convert by the end of all of that, you still have a warm-down phase where, basically, you tell them, "Oh, unfortunately, you missed out on this." Then, you funnel them into other areas of your event - maybe, you have, like, a community group or this next race. You also mentioned that - which I think is a great idea - it's good to have those sequences, like, planned on a whiteboard, so that you can see everything on, like, a big calendar kind of thing. The question for me is, are those sequences anchored around fixed dates that relate to your event - say, race day price increase window, etc? Or do you start going into that sequence every time a new subscriber joins your list? So, they sort of start going from the time someone signs up - that spacing of emails depends on when someone signed up and people are seeing different emails depending on when they signed up. Or are they all seeing the same thing, depending on how much time you have left for your next price increase or to your next race day?
Yeah, sure. I'd say this is why I quite like to plan in phases because it, kind of, gives you flexibility on the date. So, when you're, kind of, looking at that whiteboard, you can see what segments are receiving what emails. Your six months out might be right on top of something else, and it's going to the same segments. So, that's why I think having something in phases means that you don't necessarily have to, kind of, pin things to specific dates.
If, for instance, I join the mailing list or sign up, that would trigger and start sending me those sales emails a couple of weeks from the next price increase, or even, like, very close to race day. Am I getting those emails or have I missed the window of receiving those emails, essentially? Because I joined that too late, does the sequence doesn't make sense to be sent to me?
I suppose it kind of depends on where your subscribers are coming from. If you have, like, a brand new subscriber to your mailing list, the chances are is that they might have their own kind of dedicated sequence that they go through before they get sucked into your newsletter. If somebody has, specifically, opted in to hear about the Guildford 10K or about cycling - this is why we want to encourage people, or at least reward people for being on the mailing list earlier - if they subscribe earlier, within those, like, brand awareness, warm-up sequence, that might be where they receive more discounts or more perks. I think you can be quite clever within those warm-up phase emails. Just to, sort of, go back to your point on the call to action, if you know that you're going to have, like, a sponsored email that needs to go out from your headline partner, maybe, the call to action in your previous email can be, like, "Hey, we're going to be sending you an email in a week's time." That's, like, your top tips for your half marathon training plan. Or we're going to be sending you this free training plan. So, the call to action can simply be, "Keep a lookout for this email. It's going to be sent to you then." Again, it's one call to action that's not super salesy. Number two, you're going to increase your open rates for your sponsors. So, that's a win-win because, then, you kind of attract bigger sponsors.
Given that some of those sequences run on specific dates, what happens when people, sort of, parachute in the middle of that sequence and, maybe, that sequence doesn't make a lot of sense to them anymore because they've skipped the first three warm-up emails and now they're in the more, sort of, like, salesy phase, and they get, like, a very hard price increase "Sign up for the race email" without having had the warm-up phase?
Sure. My answer to that, really, is to consider your, kind of, onboarding journey for your new subscribers. So, obviously, in this case, we're talking about people that are yet to enter your event. When anybody kind of subscribes to your email list, maybe you can consider, like, a two to three step campaigns where no matter how far along your other campaigns are, they receive that kind of welcome email, "Thank you so much for subscribing. Here's what you can expect to receive. We're going to be talking about Guildford 10K. Maybe, there are follow-ups in a couple of days." Then, when your email goes out - as you said, that might be about your price increase - they're not, sort of, coming in hot because they've, sort of, had that buffer before. When we're talking about, sort of, rewarding your email subscribers, it's beneficial for us to encourage people to enter earlier and, also, be mindful that people want to enter later. So, people will be encouraged to enter earlier if they think that they're going to be getting a good deal and being, sort of, like, communicated nicely through your emails. Whereas, if they do enter later, they are going to be, sort of, missing out on your half marathon training plans and those sort of nice content - but that might also be reflective of the audience. As their regular runner, maybe they don't want a training plan, so you can start to, kind of, accommodate this within those later campaigns.
So let's talk a little bit about participant sequences - the kinds of emails you would send to registered participants only. What kinds of emails would fall under that?
Sure. This is your opportunity to communicate to your registered participants that you understand their thoughts, feelings, what they're going through, and you deliver on it. An example that I'm working on at the moment, is I've got a cycling event coming up on the 22nd of May. I'm going to be sending an email on the morning of the 1st of May to everybody that's registered because I know that, as soon as that calendar month comes around, they're going to look at their phone first thing in the morning and be, like, "Oh, well, first of May. I've got that event coming up. I better get organized. So, before they even have a chance to think about what it is they need to do, my email is gonna land in their inbox, "Hey, Joe. Have you checked that you've got no punctures in your tire? Like, have you got your bike serviced? Have you done all of those, kind of, checks and things that you would need to know about a month out?" Again, maybe this is your place to say, "You're going to receive another two emails before the race. It's going to tell you this, that and the other so that, then, by the time you're two weeks to go, you've already, kind of, been drip-feeding information. I think it can be quite easy or tempting, perhaps, to send one massive kind of pre-race email about two weeks or a week out from the event but people don't have time-- like, there's a lot of information to digest. Actually, if you're kind of a nervous athlete, that can be quite overwhelming. So, these are all the reasons why. Again, we want to try and plan out a bit of a sequence, sort of, starting - you can kind of use those phases, again, if you like - with your warm-up phase. There might not be that much. You might be feeling there's not that much to, kind of, communicate nine months out, but this all depends on the type of event you organize. So, for an ultra marathon, they need to be comfortable in the training they're in, they need to be confident that they've got all the right equipment, and they're getting used to wearing it, and that they're, sort of, upping their training schedule, obviously - sort of, like a 5K, nine months out. Maybe it's their first time, so maybe they do need a do a long training. So, I think when you're kind of approaching this and you feel that you're stuck for content, you've really got to be thinking about "What is it that my participants actually need to hear from me right now?" Of course, this is, again, like, your opportunity to be building hype and excitement for your event because word of mouth marketing is so powerful, because we absolutely want to be driving it. The way that we can do that is through this kind of frequent communication - telling stories from last year and rewarding your registered participants. Maybe, you have a deal with your sponsor where the email only goes to your registered participants, which you can then use in your other marketing to say, "Hey, everybody that's registered gets this. So, this is another great reason why you want to enter now." Then, obviously, that sort of leads on nicely to-- again, when you're, like, a month to go, this is when you can start to, kind of, drip feed your pre-race information all the way through. Again, not forgetting what I like to call the 'cooldown phase', which is where you want to be wishing your entrance, 'Good luck' and 'Final few checks--'.
It's quite nice, I think, to send an email, either, on the day or a day after just to say, "Congratulations! How are you feeling? Please review the race on Racecheck." Then, you've kind of got time to follow up with the official results and photos because even though you can, kind of, get these things digitally - the photos and the results - on the link, people will always look out for those emails because they will yield the highest, kind of, open rates and click-through rates. So, use that to your advantage so that people will scroll to find the results and photos. They won't scroll to find your 'Thank you to volunteers' or your 'Sponsored messaging'. So, you can, kind of, structure your email in quite a clever way which, again, is obviously kind of appealing as you're trying to attract bigger sponsors and nurture those relationships. Then, again, we really don't want to let these subscribers drop off a cliff. Endorphins are high. They're just taking part in an excellent event. They love it. How's everybody feeling the week after? Is there a Facebook group that they still need to be a part of? When is entry happening again? Is there a different event that you want to upsell them to? All of that kind of thing. Maybe it doesn't matter, but one thing I didn't really cover in the emails to the - I suppose it could be in the registered participants-- But one of the things that Human Race did quite well actually was this, kind of, 20-mile event which they use-- I mean, they had it in March, so they kind of used it as a bit of a warm-up event to London Marathon, which is obviously by different organizers. I kind of took this concept and applied it at events where, depending on how far into the campaign you are, I was able to, kind of, upsell other events as a practice run for other events that we had going on. For example, like the Guildford 10K, we use it as a good practice run for the Surrey Half Marathon. So, the way we communicated it was, obviously, being familiar with the race organizers and how we organize things. You're going to get a good understanding of how good our pre-race communications are, so you're going to feel relaxed. It's a good opportunity to practice your pace. If you can communicate this well within your participants' sequences, when we're talking about GDPR and this fear of "Oh, I can't speak to them about that", you're communicating this other event in a way that's actually really something that they do want to hear and know about. You don't have to hammer it home, but if you can use that to your advantage to be upselling things, then absolutely go for it. Merchandise is probably another classic example. I used to do a lot of work at the Color Run and we were trying to encourage people to, sort of, pre-purchase their packets of dye and T-shirts. They were so excited about this kind of event coming up and they wanted to get prepared. So, communicating at this really strategic point generated quite a lot of revenue for the company. So, yeah, think about the thoughts and feelings of your participants and act on them.
Let me summarize a few really good points there. So, what am I sending people who are already registered participants? I'm starting to send them, for instance, special sponsor offers and other, kinds of, exclusive bits only for my registered participants so that they continue to feel great about the race, the brand, and being part of, like, an exclusive club. About a month - or whatever makes sense for your race - out before the race, I start sending them all the kinds of information they will need to make their race day and preparation for my race - things like, "How do you travel to the race and get your equipment all in order?" Let's say you have medical certificates - that kind of thing - so I get all of that out of the way. Also, you mentioned two really interesting things. I can also send them an email about signing up for a smaller training event in the run-up to my event, which I think is really great. I would add to your point that if you're not putting on an event like that - a 5K or a 10K - ahead of your half marathon, you can join up with a race organizer in your area and cross-promote. You can promote their 5K or 10K if the dates suit and you can get some kickback out of that or other organizers can promote your half marathon to someone else. Also, as you said, merchandising and doing all of those sales may be stuff that people can then go pick up on race day - they can go buy branded T-shirts or other stuff like souvenirs. So, there are lots of things to be thinking about and sending out to registered participants, which is also quite helpful.
Yeah. I'd say that if you do this, this massively reduces your, kind of, admin costs, staff costs, time in your customer service department as well because if everybody is taking these steps to feel more, kind of, empowered and prepared for the event ahead - they know the information upfront - there's very little need to be, like, phoning and being, like, "Oh, where's my race pack? When am I getting it?" So, it's always about being sort of proactive rather than reactive with these kinds of things.
Yeah, good tip. I mean, when you communicate all of these things, it also takes out some of the burdens of doing customer support, although, as we all know - it's a recurring joke in the group - even if you put the date and all the information on the email, people are still going to ask. There's still going to be someone who has everything right in front of them, but they'll still come back and ask, like, "Oh, when is it happening?" That kind of thing.
Oh, of course. Again, this is why it's so important to try and, sort of, plan these email campaigns because I'm sure that - most organizers will agree with me here - if you've got something really important to say-- like, yes, you might put it on social media, but I bet 9 times out of 10 that you're gonna send people an email about it as well because it's gonna get through and people aren't gonna miss it.
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Ok, now, let’s get back to the episode. So let's move on and talk a little bit about growing mailing lists, which is super important. Everything we've said so far, sort of, assumes that you start with a decent email list of people - either past participants or people who've signed up over time through your website and elsewhere - which, I guess, sort of, hasn't, so far, looked at the question of, "Okay, how do I get people to sign up to receive my emails and build that 1,000, 2,000, 5,000 people email list that I need to make all of this worthwhile?" So, how do I do that? Give us some tips for growing mailing lists for races that work.
In the marketing world, we might call this a 'freebie funnel'. This is the idea that you will put out some kind of freebie that either aims to entertain or solve an issue for your audience. Again, it is really key that the offer that you're putting out has to showcase that you understand your audience. It's got to appear to them as something that is totally irresistible, that they just absolutely need to have it, so it does have to be relevant. These are all good things because it should make you feel a bit more empowered to be, kind of, choosy with the sponsors that you might choose or the partners that you might work with to deliver on this. Or you might want to do it in-house to, kind of, support future promotions. So, you can be very creative with the offer that you put out. I refer to it as a 'freebie funnel'. It doesn't necessarily have to be free. Within the, sort of, current climate with how things are at the moment, we are, sort of, seeing across the board in other industries and all sorts of aspects of life that spending power is down. So, at this time, it may well be worth considering a freebie. As I said, like, you can get quite creative with what you offer. I mean, I've done things from experiential activations right the way through-- I suppose, for the busy event organizer, having some kind of digital freebie would probably appeal because you can completely automate the entire thing. Just to use a fairly obvious or generic example, you might want to have something that's a half marathon training plan, or a nutrition plan, or something that you can put together in a PDF. Obviously, think carefully about how you communicate what this is and the name of it because just a standard half marathon training plan might not feel that appealing. If it's a bespoke training plan created in collaboration with an influencer or with your sponsor, suddenly, that might feel more valuable to your audience. So, if you understand what appears valuable to them, you're going to do well in this. Then, within your email system, depending on which one you use, you can actually, kind of, create a very basic landing page, which has the sole purpose of driving that conversion to click for that freebie. So, once you've got this PDF created and you've, kind of, got your landing page that takes them on a short copywriting journey down to that button to download, you can then use something like Facebook and Instagram ads to, kind of, broadcast this out as a, kind of, brand awareness campaign or similar to that. You can get people to, sort of, attract to this freebie. So, the idea is, obviously, once they download this half marathon training plan, they might get sucked into, say, a three or five-step email sequence that's dedicated to, kind of, warming them up before they join your newsletter. They may be brand new to your organization, so they might want to, sort of, find out a little bit more about the types of half marathons that you put on before they suddenly decide 'okay'. So, I've got this training plan from them. All of this may sound like quite a lot of work initially, but people do spend time on this because they know that, once somebody is on that email list, they have time to convert them. Whereas, obviously, like Facebook ads, if you're just going for, like, a hard sell of an event, you're only, kind of, managing to convert the people that are specifically ready to buy that right now. So, that's kind of the value of your email list and why we're specifically trying to get people in there.
It makes total sense - the whole, like, freebie funnel thing. Just for people who may not be super familiar with this, the idea is to give someone an incentive to join your mailing list, and you do that through something of value. As you say, training plan is a very common thing that races use. Another example I've heard that particularly works quite well with trail races is, you may offer, like, a PDF of 10 amazing trails around your city or something that people may not know about and make it a little bit more exciting by saying, "Oh, there's this three trails that no one knows about" so that a trail runner might want to own that information, and then gladly sign up to your email. As you say, these things take a little bit of effort. I mean, let's not, let's not kid ourselves - you need to put some effort into it. That's why someone would sign up to receive your emails. They're giving up their email to you, which is very valuable to them, and you have to give up something of value as well. Is there any, like, good hack for people to come up with these freebies or training plans or sequences more quickly? Do they go to someone? Is there someone that I can get these training plans from rather than me going out, reinventing, and redoing all this process from scratch?
Yeah, absolutely. You can certainly look to work with partners to deliver on this. It's potentially in your interest to do that because this can open the doors for, sort of, future relationships with partners, sponsors, or even influencers. In some ways, you might be able to, kind of, share the results together. So, in terms of, like, the hack for coming up with these things, I'd always try and focus on what you have available to you within your business first. If you're not finding anything then, obviously, you can kind of reach out further. Once you've, kind of, got this structure in places of the landing pages, how you're going to advertise it on Facebook, and the number of emails that are following that, you can, kind of, rinse and repeat that as many times as you like. Coming back to, "Oh, this is unviable for me. It's going to take up too much time. I'm going to have to research somebody to help build this out for me." You've got to remember that this is kind of the equivalent of a free trial. So, this is like the opportunity for somebody to try before they buy. So, when you follow up with this kind of email sequence that people receive, once they've kind of taken that action of downloading the plan, this is your opportunity, again, to show off how good your pre-race communications are. So, somebody that just received that half marathon training plan would be like, "Oh, it's written by my local physio or my favorite influencer in collaboration with this event. They must be really good." Then, they are receiving, sort of, really engaging and high-quality emails and be, like, "Wow! Okay. I'm getting this and I've got this for free. So, how good is it going to be when I actually decide to enter this half marathon? Yeah, I feel secure that I'm not going to be left in the dark. I'm going to know what's happening when."
That's great. Let's look at, also, email design itself - going into the technical specifics in terms of both the content that goes in and how the email is structured. Do you have any tips or hints from experience on how can people create email campaigns with high open rates? Is there a secret to that? Are there things that help with that?
I mean, in terms of high open rates, really, I think that segmentation is key. In terms of email design, again, depending on what platform you use, you may well have access to templates that have worked well before, or you might get, like, tips and hints for how to create a good email. I suppose that what you need to consider is you want to make an impact in somebody's inbox. I think the best thing you can do is to understand a little bit more about copywriting - just ensuring that you're communicating everything in a way where the reader doesn't have to do too much work. They can instantly figure out if this email is, kind of, worthy of opening. In terms of the design as well, there's no need to send a really ugly or boring email these days. So, make sure that you have, like, a nice branded logo or image at the top and spacing out your content nicely. In terms of colors, obviously, you can get super, sort of, into color psychology and things like that, which absolutely fascinates me - using green buttons for the 'Enter now'. On the whole, you just want to make sure that you're offering, like, a branded experience because that really helps with the recognition. So, I know that we were sort of joking a little bit earlier about how I became known as 'Hollie from the Emails', but that was because I had that, sort of, personalization from 'Hollie at AAT Events' because it's a bit more personal - people know where it's coming from and they're, sort of, happy to open it. So, rather than just having, like, support@ or vip@, which is a little bit boring.
Yeah. That always helps - the personalizing and having your name on the email, rather than having, like, a generic support or events or your team or whatever. There have been some discussions around how heavy you should lean on images in content, whether there's been, like, a trend over the last few years - it may have even, like, gone out of trend now - of favoring text-only emails in some cases or, like, emails with very, very few images and additional stuff. Do you have any opinion on that? Maybe, do some of these work better for different types of emails?
The annoying answer that nobody wants to hear, really, is that it is going to be unique to your business - the audience that you have is completely unique to you and, obviously, isn't the same as anybody else's subscriber list. So, I think, in the first instance, if you can, sort of, be confident that you're using all of the marketing tips and tricks to ensure that something is working and appealing to the reader on a copy and visual level-- it's a bit of a case of trial and error, but you can also reach out to, perhaps, some sort of trusted friends or family - or even better, your own database - to kind of give you that feedback of "Do they like your emails? Do they find them engaging?" In terms of text-only emails, I'd say that the only time that I've used text-only has been if I've had, like, a really important message I need to communicate and the open rates haven't been as high as I expected. So, this can actually kind of work quite well directly from your entry platform. So, if people are used to seeing these kinds of branded and beautiful emails and you have, like, a really key message in there, you can almost, kind of, shock your audience with a message from your entry platform to say, "Hey, this is Hollie. We've got this really important message. You need to bring a raincoat or keep an eye on the weather because the event is still going ahead. There's a high chance that it can be canceled. We'll update you soon." So, I'd say, "Never use that for marketing purposes. This is, kind of, like, purely operational." So, having that kind of shock in the difference of the length of text, the tone of voice, and the lack of images can, kind of, yield the high open rates, but it will very quickly get annoying if you're using that to say "Entry is closed", I suppose.
You also mentioned earlier at some point in the discussion about race reviews, testimonials, social proof, and all of that. How important is having that in your emails? Which of the emails that we discussed would you actually add testimonials and social proof to?
I would say that they're really important. I mean, I use them as a key part of my strategy for any kind of emails that I design and build for my clients. You can even go as far as to dedicate a single email to, kind of, do a deep dive into either a number of testimonials or a specific one. I'd say that the most important place to put this is probably within your sequences to your subscribers - people that are yet to enter your upcoming events - because what they do is give somebody a really personal relatable story of the transformation that is on offer. So, it's something that they can really relate to. I think that, obviously, anybody that is, kind of, registered for your events might like to hear about some of these stories in advance. Typically, I would use them, perhaps, afterward in a, kind of, roundup email where it might, kind of, feature in your newsletter. For example, in Surrey Half, we have this lady called Bridget that always used to take part every single year in sandals and a skirt, and she used to just, like, walk the whole thing. For some reason, she blew up into some kind of sensation in the newspaper and on our social media. So, we had a bit of a feature on her and an email afterward - that's just, kind of, a bit of an example of how you can kind of repurpose content that's useful. The key, sort of, social proof - using, like, Racecheck review - is more about trying to aid that decision-making process. Social proof - I think you may have discussed it actually on another episode - is just people seeing that other, kind of, influential people are taking part and they, therefore, might feel inspired to enter.
That's all super, super helpful. I'd like us to also - given that we have you on the podcast, you're a professional at this, and you've been doing this for ages - pick your brains a little bit on your best tips for making all of that happen with as little effort and time spent as possible because, as you've said before, race director are busy people. They're juggling, like, 100 balls at a time. So, how can we help people optimize their email marketing effort and just do more with less time and effort?
In the first instance, I would say, get yourself going on a really effective project management tool. There are so many available - I think that everyone in the freelancing space has been using these for a while. I think that, due to the pandemic, all kinds of race organizers and sizes of businesses are used to using these platforms now. You can assign yourself or team members tasks, and include deadlines for them. This will be everything from sourcing your Racecheck reviews that need to go in that email newsletter right the way through to, kind of, proofreading before it goes out. Second of all, depending on the email platform that you use, we can, sort of, delve into what we call 'automation'. These are automated emails that you can send out. The idea behind this really is just to maximize the value or lifespan of an email that you've already created. It also gives you the opportunity to send more emails without spending any more time doing it.
Tell us a little bit more about these automations, for people who may not be particularly familiar with them.
I think the best one that you can start doing would be, when you send an email out, you can duplicate that email, and you can choose to resend it to anybody that hasn't opened the email a few days later. So, obviously, check that it doesn't clash with any other campaigns that are going out. That is just a really easy way of maximizing the value that you can get out of that email that you spent that time creating. The other one that you can do, which is good, would be a bit of a cleanup exercise, actually, for any of your subscribers that aren't really converting. The idea is, "Why pay for subscribers that aren't opening your emails?" You can set up an automated, sort of, multi-step campaign, where you might select to send an email to anybody that hasn't opened the last five or ten campaigns that you've sent. You can, kind of, open that with, "Hey, we noticed that you've not opened your emails." That gives them the opportunity to, kind of, resubscribe to a segment that may be a bit more relevant. If you're still not getting open rates from that, like, three to five email sequence that you're sending, if you're still not getting opens from that, say, three-step email sequence that you're sending, you can look to unsubscribe to them because the chances are they don't use that email anymore or they're simply not interested. When we're coming back to, sort of, this return on investment on your email, every penny counts, right? So, why pay for somebody that's not converting?
What I think should be one of the toughest challenges for people is actually laying out an emailing schedule - how do you do that personally? Like, the full dates and schedule of when you're going to be emailing people and what you send out and also visualizing that - how do you do that?
I start with, obviously, the key dates that are happening in my calendar, whether that's the event dates, the six months out, the National Fitness Days, Christmas, peak entry periods, etc. I obviously, then, build out the email campaigns. I'm sending per events - a bit like how we spoke about earlier - and that, kind of, will give you an overview of your marketing plan. You may want to put it on a whiteboard or in the digital space - I'm quite proud to be paper-free. So, I will use a project management tool to map this out. You can get some really good ones out there where you can put all of this into a table. At the click of a button, it transforms into a calendar. So, there are really intuitive platform and easy for anybody to use, really.
What tools specifically do you use? I mean, we use Asana quite a lot - not for laying out emailing schedule, just general project management. Is there a tool you use specifically for developing emailing schedules that are particularly well-suited or has worked for you?
I use Asana as well. I have a number of different boards that I use. I may have a content calendar where I can map out all of the email campaigns. As I said, at a click of a button, it will just transform into a calendar so I can see color-coded, what segments, what events, etc. I may have a board, separately to that, that's more about the, kind of, actionable tasks like delivery or making sure that happens. So, if I need to go and get my content from my copywriter - I received that on time - then I can pass it on to my email marketer.
I guess, when we're talking about optimizing time spent on emailing and email campaigns, using templates is quite a big thing, right? I mean, you don't want to be just redesigning emails from scratch every time you want to send out an email.
Yes, when you have established a template that you are happy with in terms of kind of visualization - perhaps, your ambassadors or some trusted members of your community agree to receive these emails and, perhaps, you're achieving good results - absolutely use these as templates. I would say that the key really, as with anything, I suppose, is to be organized and to have your mailing system, kind of, labeled in a way that isn't cluttered and that you can easily find the different types of templates that you have, whether that's your newsletter, whether you saved them in phases - it's up to you how you want to save and use your email system. The key is to be organized with it.
A good template should, I guess, be quite constant with its use of logos and stuff and coloring. So, basically, you can get, like, a basic skeleton worked out and, then, from that, develop different branches of different sub-templates and stuff like that just to keep reusing as much as you can from what you've designed before.
Absolutely. I mean, first of all, all of these logos, banners, email, and unsubscribe links save you so much time - you don't have to keep going back into those images and linking them to your website. Second of all, it just gives you some kind of guidance in terms of what content it is that you need to create. So, if you've established that, for your newsletter template - the optimum number of words is 150 words, let's just say for example - if you have that template that's designed to accommodate that copy, it's much easier to brief your copywriter or your team or, perhaps, if you're writing it yourself. You, then, actually got that content. You've made your life so much easier because you know exactly what it is that you need to create, how long it's going to take you to create it, and it's just going to mean that you are able to, kind of, maintain this structure with your template.
Awesome. That has all been super helpful. I think we've covered so much ground on this - packed with tips at every turn. Where can people, perhaps, reach out to you or learn a little bit more about your work with Active8 and how you help races through some of these issues?
Sure. I suppose the obvious choice is to offer up my email address, wouldn't it? So, it's hollie@active8digital marketing.com. Perhaps, we'll just leave it in the links below in case you're unsure. Yeah, please do feel free to reach out to me. I'd love to hear from you. If you don't have any sort of specific questions, feel free to follow me on Instagram or Facebook at Active8 Digital Marketing. On LinkedIn, I'm HollieLight,
You're also quite active in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub - right?
Yes, I'll be in the Race Directors Hub groups commenting on all things related to email marketing and social media. So, yeah, you can absolutely find me there. So, thank you.
Okay, great! Hollie, it's been great. I want to thank you again for your time - it's been quite a lot of it that we used up today - and your wisdom.
Thank you so much, Panos for inviting me on. It's been an absolute pleasure to talk to you today.
And thank you very much to everyone listening in, and we'll see you all on our next podcast!
I hope you enjoyed this episode on email marketing with my guest, Active8 Digital Marketing’s Hollie Light.
You can find more resources on anything and everything related to race directing on our website RaceDirectorsHQ.com. You can also share your questions about race marketing or anything else in our Facebook group, Race Directors Hub.
Many thanks again to our awesome podcast sponsors RunSignup and Racecheck for sponsoring today’s episode. And if you enjoyed this episode, please don’t forget to subscribe on your favorite player, and check out our podcast back-catalog for more great content like this.
Until our next episode, take care and keep putting on amazing races.