Do Your Emails to Friends Feel Foreign?

01/08/2016 03:48 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

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"Greetings and good tidings, I am Prince Ibraham Babatunday, and..."

We all, at one point or another, have been on some Nigerian scammer's email list. It's annoyingly funny how poorly executed these conversations are. Before we finish the opening sentence, we know that we're just another name on this sender's list.

Pause for a minute, though, and think: Do your clients feel the same way when they get an email from you?

Now, my point here applies to any business that commits this error -- particularly with email marketing -- but for illustrative purposes, I'm going to pick on real estate agents, because I often see real estate agents do this, and I'm going to do this in second-person. But if you're not in real estate, don't worry, you can come, too.

The messages you're sending your clients are no better than the Nigerian scammer's email.

Every person you've done business with gets the perfunctory bi-monthly email from you. Most of the time, these emails simply announce some content you "thought the recipient might be interested in."

For example, here's a screenshot of an email a real estate agent recently sent me:

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This is an example of the worthless content many email marketing services email to your clients twice per month on your behalf. Is this content painting you as an expert?

Let's be honest, though.

You didn't think -- neither about your clients who receive these emails nor the content you're sending them. You simply hired some marketing company to handle your email marketing for you, which, if you really think about it, means you've hired some snot-nose kid to speak for you... to your clients... whose favor you depend on for your livelihood... and you take no ownership of these conversations. That's scary.

Look, I get it.

I'm a business owner, too. There are a hundred things every day that are probably worth doing, but your time constraints afford saying yes to only one. Result: ninety-nine worthwhile things get shelved.

How do you solve this?

Technology is one way. It allows us to increase outputs without increasing inputs at the same rate. Put another way, technology allows business owners to scale.

Remember, I've been there. I understand how intoxicating it is to learn all of the ways that marketing automation can chip away at those time constraints. What you're thinking is that you can maintain more conversations with more people, more frequently. "Just sign up here, pay us your $50 monthly fee, and we'll put our most brilliant 12-year-old wordsmith to work speaking to your clients for you."

Your idea is not bad (as is often the case in business) -- your execution is bad.

What all of this means is that, if you're using marketing automation in this way, then you should expect no better results than the Nigerian scammer.

Marketing automation is incredibly powerful.

In real estate, for example, the hardest thing to do is often the most valuable: to stay on the fore of your clients' minds so that when the moment strikes and they're ready to buy/sell, your name is there, and they call you. This is probably the biggest reason real estate agents use email marketing.

In the marketing world, we call this a "drip campaign." Drip, drip, drip -- "oh, you're ready to buy a new house? Sweet, I'll be there in five minutes."

But the thing many real estate agents miss is the proper relationship between marketing automation and content:

  1. There is no marketing automation without content.
  2. Marketing automation, therefore, is merely your Trojan horse, but content your weapons hiding inside.
  3. And content is very powerful when presented to the right person at the right time.
Number 1 is not often missed altogether. Just look at the example I gave above (pictured) of what not to do. What you get for your monthly fee is two automated emails per month with "tailored content" for your client email list. So content is included with the email marketing service. But I put "tailored content" in quotations because it's not actually tailored -- or, if I'm being generous, it's not tailored enough.

What does "tailored enough" look like?

When I was a kid, I remember how striking it was to have dinner at someone's house whose family talked about really interesting stuff at the table. Don't get wrong, my family talked about cool stuff, too, but I had dinner with my family almost every night, so it's typical for conversation with people you see often to devolve into small talk and routine. "How was your day?" "What do you have planned for this weekend?" "How's the meatloaf?"

The moment my friend's mom began some interesting story, I was enraptured. This was really interesting content, and thus, it was a conversation I wanted to be a part of. Most importantly, though, I came to associate that mom and that family with being an interesting source of content. You might say that, in my mind, this became her brand.

Today, if that family's dinner conversations were a blog, I would subscribe.

In real estate, it's no different.

We hire real estate agents, because we trust they know more than us about buying and selling our homes, about how to navigate the biggest transactions most of us ever make.

We want our real estate agents to be full of useful content. We want that content to be crisp and timely. We want to hire real estate agents whose conversations about real estate impress us. We don't care about "5 Last Minute DIY Projects for the Holidays." If you, Mr. or Mrs. real estate agent, send us that content, then we'll assume you know nothing better to say, and we won't hire you, and probably won't want to eat at your dinner table.

Many marketers say that content is king.

But it's not. Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about. And the conversations you strike up with your clients become your brand. And just like any business, the path to being able to run exclusively on referrals begins and ends with your brand. Indeed, a referral-only sales funnel is the holy grail, and brand is the only thing that separates you from agents who are already there.

All labor has dignity and should be undertaken as such... even email marketing.

I'll wind this down in same way that most articles about email marketing do: with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as a Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven composed music or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well."

"No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence."

In other words, don't be "that guy." Take pride in anything you put your name on.

Think of your clients as friends and family.

This means you have to stop thinking of them as merely a means to your business ends. You don't like to feel like you're just a faceless number on someone's email marketing list. So don't make your clients feel that way either.

Be intentional about the brand you want to build. Understand the technology available to you, and use it. But don't half-ass it.

Be intentional about the conversations your content sparks. Demonstrate your expertise and your values as a service provider. Make sure that every word you send to a client adds value to their lives and, most importantly, makes them feel valued.

Because, in real estate, just like in any other service business, there is nothing more valuable than a client base who adores you.