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Chapter 4

Email Marketing Case Studies

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So you’re looking for an email marketing case study to inspire you and show you what’s possible when you get smart about email marketing? Read on, because that’s just what I’m going to be sharing with you in this chapter.

Meet Steve Chou: Master of the Autoresponder Sequence

Steve Chou is an entrepreneur and owner of My Wife Quit Her Job, an outlet that Steve and his wife use to document their experiences and strategies for building wealth on a single, steady income. The centerpiece of My Wife Quit Her Job is Steve’s course that helps people start a profitable online store.

Unlike many courses that “open” and “close” at various times in order to create scarcity, Steve keeps his course open year-round so people can buy it at any time. However, the course does come with a pretty high price point—$699.

The main way Steve sells his course is via email marketing. When someone signs up for Steve’s email list, they start receiving emails in an autoresponder series that provides opportunities to purchase the course.

That autoresponder sequence contains a wealth of great email marketing tactics. In my conversation with Steve, which originally appeared on Episode 143 of the SPI Podcast, we unpacked how Steve turned a humble nine-email sequence into a powerhouse series of emails that drive purchases of his flagship course and grow Steve’s base of superfans.

If you want to listen to our entire conversation in that podcast episode, you can check it out right here:

Let’s get into Steve’s story!

Tapping the Huge Potential of the Autoresponder Sequence

Steve has used email marketing to sell his flagship course for several years, but for most of that time, his autoresponder series was what you might consider “good enough.”

Steve says, “I would give them a little sell, have a little FAQ and then that would be pretty much it. That’s the way I had it ever since 2011.”

After people exited the autoresponder, they continued to hear from Steve with emails pointing to some of his blog posts, but they were no longer “in the loop” when it came to his course.

Then in 2014, Steve started interviewing people on podcasts and picking up nuggets that started to change his thinking on what was possible with the humble autoresponder sequence he used to market his course to his email list.

In one of these interviews, Steve spoke with an email marketing expert named Dan Faggella. Steve says, “I told him what I was up to. He took a look at my email autoresponder sequence and he said, ‘Dude, for this price point for your product, you really need to make your autoresponder sequence longer and hit them up. Don’t be afraid to sell them more often.’”

At that point, Steve’s autoresponder sequence had only nine emails. Dan advised him to make it three times longer.

It was a lightbulb moment for Steve.

A Reader Defects, and Steve Jumps into Action

Something else that happened shortly after that pushed things over the edge and spurred Steve to change his approach to his email marketing. He got an email from one of his blog readers that read:

“I have a confession to make, Steve: I cheated on you. Noah Kagan sold me his course day after day with his autoresponder sequence. I have to say yes. It may look like sending continuous emails may bother some of your followers, but for me it worked. The email content was relevant day after day, and it got more and more interesting, so when I saw Noah had a course online, it convinced me and I signed up immediately.”

Steve was convinced. His autoresponder sequence needed more touch points. Nine emails was not enough to sell his course effectively.

In SPI 159, I spoke to email marketing expert Dan Faggella (yes the same Dan Faggella who helped Steve Chou make his autoresponder awesome) about best practices for your autoresponder series:

So he started building out the sequence, from nine to more than twenty emails.

But the length of the sequence wasn’t the only thing that needed to change. Steve also had to rethink the content and calls to action he was including in those emails.

Why Logic Can Only Take You So Far in Your Email Marketing

Steve shortly realized one big thing that his emails were missing. Says Steve, “I’m an engineer, and everything that I do at work tends to be logical.” As a result, the emails in his initial 9-email sequence were focused mainly on, as Steve says, the how-to aspect: how to start an ecommerce store, how to launch a website, that sort of thing.

But as Steve was learning, “logic doesn’t really equate to sales.”

He realized that instead, he needed to emphasize “the psychological aspects of selling something online. What I was missing was I was not really tapping into the customer psyche.”

At the time, he was still working a full-time job. So his next step was to approach one of his work friends who was in sales and ask to have lunch with him. At lunch, Steve asked his friend the secret to selling and he gave him an important tip. He told Steve that when it comes to selling, the product is very important—but even more important is the person selling the product.

Sharing the Human Side of Things Is Huge

Steve’s friend’s advice was to show off more of his personality. This is something I’ve tried to do in my own marketing: inject my personality into things. (Not doing so is one of the email marketing mistakes I’ll identify for you in chapter 5!)

For example, at the beginning of each episode of the SPI Podcast, my voiceover guy gives a little tidbit about me. When I initially came up with the idea to do this, a lot of my friends said, “Don’t do that! Nobody wants to hear about you!”

But it definitely works. Every time I go to a conference now, people pull out one of those things that I’ve mentioned—they ask me about my fantasy football team, or they bring up the fact that I’m a Sagittarius or half-Filipino. All of these little tidbits help me make real connections with people.

Want to create your own creative podcast intro? Here are some tips:

In a similar way, it took Steve a little while to realize “that people were buying the product for [him] and not necessarily for just the product.” So he decided to start sharing more of his back story. He recorded a video introducing himself and telling his story. He also included a link to the very first episode of his podcast, which also told his story in a different format and shared his philosophies on family and starting an online business.

A podcast is a great way to share more of yourself, especially because the podcast format tends to make listeners more of a captive audience.

Steve says the idea behind sharing personal facts and stories was to “try to get people on your bus. Who knows when someone might resonate with one particular fact that you’re revealing about yourself?”

Any way you can make authentic connections with people is going to pay off for your online business. Not only is it important to share the “human” side of things in your autoresponder sequence, but it’ll also help you down the road when you pitch something.

Why Encouraging Email Engagement Is a Win-Win

The other thing Steve started doing was encouraging people to engage with him as soon as they signed up for the email list. In the first email in his sequence, he asked people to reply and tell him their story.

According to Steve, this was aimed at doing two things:

  1. It helped ensure that future emails from Steve would reach the person’s inbox and not their spam folder.
  2. It gave him a chance to start a conversation with his readers.

The response Steve got to this email was impressive. He found that people would often tell him, as he says, “their full story.” By asking people to respond to his first email, Steve was also helping himself stand out from all the other marketers these people were hearing from.

And because Steve was in the early stages of growing his email list, he could still manage responding individually to people on his list which allowed him to hear directly from them about how they needed help. Steve is also someone who tries to respond to every single email he gets. As he says, “It’s not always possible, but I try to do it because they’re pouring their heart out and it just makes sense that I need to respond. I owe it to them to respond.”

Before Steve increased the length of his autoresponder sequence, he sent an email to his list with a survey asking people why they weren’t buying the class, and what was stopping them from starting their online store right at that moment.

According to Steve, he got “a whole bunch of responses,” and those responses were incredibly valuable in formulating the remaining emails in the sequence.

The Life-Changing Magic of Answering People’s Objections

The first response was, “I’m not sure if your course works.” It was a great first question to answer. Did it work? Were there students in Steve’s class that have been successful as a result of taking your course?

Thankfully, the answer was yes.

Steve already had testimonials from people who’d taken the class sprinkled across his sales page, and he would occasionally mention them on his blog. But realized that he wasn’t emphasizing and calling enough attention to the testimonials. He just assumed people would see them.

So he decided to amplify his social proof and gather some more success stories that he could use in his autoresponder.

How can you get your audience to move and convert? Like Steve did, first you need to identify their biggest objections, then answer them:

He started interviewing some of his successful students. He even had a couple of them as guests on his podcast and added their stories to the autoresponder sequence. He started creating student stories and allowing them to write guest posts on his blog, which he calls “a win-win situation: they got a back-link, I got a testimonial.”

Show People Someone They Can Relate To

For his case studies, Steve chose to highlight stories from students in different demographics. One was a single mother who was not very tech savvy and wanted to earn extra money with her ecommerce store. Another was a young professional, a single guy who wanted to quit his job someday. Another was also a single guy who was not tech savvy at all but who, as Steve says, “really liked the learning process.”

He then incorporated all these guest posts and interviews into his autoresponder sequence.

By having lots of variety in the types of people and themes in these success stories, Steve was covering lots of different bases by giving his readers more chances to read a story about someone they might relate to.

I’ve found this strategy to be successful in my own business too. The most popular episodes of my podcast are the ones where I have students come on and talk about how they’ve been able to build their businesses from scratch. People often tell me they can relate to those episodes more than when I interview people like Tim Ferriss or Gary Vaynerchuk.

When there’s a “regular” person on the show, they feel like they can also achieve something big themselves—they’re more emboldened to give it a try.

Addressing the Global Factor

The next reason people weren’t signing up was something Steve hadn’t considered before he began to come across it. As Steve says, “We live in a global world now, and people were asking if my course applied worldwide.”

When Steve started selling his course he assumed that all of his subscribers were based in the US. But it turned out that he had a lot of students from across the world, so he decided to dedicate one of the emails in his autoresponder sequence to people who wanted to start an online store and lived outside the US. His aim was to address one of the biggest concerns that affects people who want to get into ecommerce but live in a country where ecommerce isn’t prevalent. They often wonder, “Can I still make money if I live in a very small market?”

So Steve interviewed one of his students, a person who sells goods to customers in the United States from a foreign country using a fulfillment house in the US. In the interview, the student shared a lot of useful information that dispelled two questions or fears that other people who live outside the US and want to start an ecommerce store might have:

  1. Is the market large enough?
  2. Can I actually run an online store from a different country?

Steve turned the interview into a blog post and linked to it in one of his autoresponder emails.

How to Answer the Dreaded Question: “Why Should I Pay For This?”

As someone who’s sold information products, I’ve had my fair share of people ask me why they should buy my product when there’s so much information out there—online, in books—for free. It happens all the time.

That’s why Steve came up with a way to preempt this kind of blocker, and he did that by coming up with two stories from his personal life that illustrate why it can help to have some direct guidance when you’re trying to learn or build something new.

I’ll let Steve explain the first story:

“When I had my first child I went out and read pretty much every single baby book out there. I read all these books and I got really cocky. I knew all the different steps on how to soothe the baby. When our first child came out and she was pretty much inconsolable, my wife was trying to comfort her and everything. At first I was really cocky and I was like, ‘When you’re done trying to console my child, why don’t you hand her over to me and let’s get some sleep?’ She handed the baby to me and I used all the different techniques.”

He even took a class to learn “baby language.”

And what happened? “I basically tried all these techniques, and nothing worked. I tried to read the baby’s language, and that didn’t work.”

Steve had to throw in the towel. He ended up going to Babies“R”Us and buying a bunch of baby pacification devices that finally did the trick.

According to Steve, the moral of the story is this: “I read all these books and I read all these websites on how to do parenting, but it was different. Every child is different—and that’s the same with your business.” That’s the first story Steve incorporated into his autoresponder sequence, to show people how trying to learn something on your own doesn’t always produce the results they’re looking for.

Like Steve, many entrepreneurs struggle to know when to charge for things and when to give it away. In AskPat Episode 0840, I gave Lewis some advice on how to make this decision about his own content:

The second story Steve used to share this lesson was the tale of his quest for six-pack abs. Here’s Steve again: “I was looking online, and I thought the secret to getting six-pack abs was doing sit-ups. Even after doing sit-ups, I was getting fatter because I was building muscle underneath all my fat. I was doing everything all wrong, despite what I read online. I was drinking all the protein shakes and that sort of thing, and it was only after talking to certain people who had done it before that I actually finally managed to achieve that goal.”

So Steve turned this experience into a story he shared in one of the emails in his sequence. He says that he tends to get responses only from men about the six-pack abs story, and only from women about the baby story.

I asked him if, given this divide, he thinks sharing both of these stories in his autoresponder alienates anyone on his list, but Steve doesn’t believe it does. “If they don’t want to read it, they don’t want to read it,” he says.

A Wealth of Email Marketing Tactics in One Autoresponder Sequence

Although Steve has extended his autoresponder sequence from nine to twenty-three emails, he doesn’t include a pitch in every email. And sometimes the pitch will be subtle—for some emails, it’s just a quick note at the end like, “P.S. If you want to take a chance on yourself, join the class.”

At the end of most of the emails in his autoresponder sequence, Steve typically includes a short call to action that says something like, “If you want to learn the right way and have someone who can answer your questions during the entire process, consider joining my class.”

But most importantly, Steve’s autoresponder gives people multiple opportunities to purchase the course without hitting them over the head. Instead, Steve has created an effective autoresponder that uses the human element, answers people’s objections, and convincingly explains why they should pay for Steve’s help rather than try to do it themselves.

That sounds like a recipe for success to me.

Mini Email Marketing Case Studies for Quick Inspiration

Hopefully, you found Steve’s email marketing case study interesting and inspiring. His is just one of many email marketing success stories out there—and hopefully your success story is also about to be written.

Looking for more inspiration to get your email marketing machine in gear to help build your audience and grow your business? Here are a few more mini-examples of people who’ve used email marketing to find new fans and grow their incomes. I hope they give you that burst of motivation you need to start building (or improving) your own email marketing system!

Cliff Ravenscraft,

What does your business do?
I help people break free from limiting beliefs that keep them from living the life of their dreams.

How has email marketing helped your business?
Because of email marketing, I’ve been able to generate as much as $60,000 in sales by simply writing a single email to my relatively small list.

What email marketing strategies/techniques/tips did you use to achieve this outcome?
One strategy that I’ve employed is using survey questions to learn more about those who have opted into my email list.

I use ConvertKit, which allows me to add “tags” to people who click a specific link that is in response to a survey question that I ask. [Full Disclaimer: I (Pat Flynn) am a compensated advisor and affiliate for ConvertKit.]

This allows me to specifically target broadcast emails to a specific segment of my audience who are exactly the right target for the message I’m sending.

What email marketing tools did you use to achieve this outcome?

Will Chou,

What does your business do?
It helps Asian Americans with earning more and performing better.

How has email marketing helped your business?
My dream was to get double digits of new subscribers a day. It was an unreachable dream, but it’s happened!

What email marketing strategies/techniques/tips did you use to achieve this outcome?
I turned almost every piece of content I put out into an email capture device, from Instagram posts to YouTube posts to most importantly, Quora answers, blog posts, and guest posts. I added lead magnets in several ways: via Leadpages to blog posts, a link in my bio on Instagram to a capture page or my homepage, or a link in a YouTube video description to an opt-in page, to give a few examples.

I’d only get a dozen or so views on each piece of content but surprisingly, all of those added up over time.

I also used SEO for blog posts, YouTube SEO for YouTube videos, and podcast episodes were based on topics that other popular podcasts got downloads for.

What email marketing tools did you use to achieve this outcome?

Benjamin Houy,

What does your business do?
I help English speakers learn the 20 percent of French used in 80 percent of everyday conversations.

How has email marketing helped your business?
Email marketing helped me go from no sales to six figures. This then allowed me to hire a content writer and voice actors to create much higher-quality content for my blog. I created an evergreen email course all new subscribers receive. Three thousand people receive it every month. It helps them better learn French but also gives them a special offer to buy my course.

What email marketing strategies/techniques/tips did you use to achieve this outcome?
The most important was to write an email course that people find useful so they will actually want to subscribe and receive it. I can’t name one single technique but making each email manageable and incredibly useful is what made the email course so successful.

What email marketing tools did you use to achieve this outcome?
Three thousand subscribers sign up via OptinMonster forms every month. They then receive the course using ConvertKit. I find that using a simple setup like this reduces the complexity of email marketing and helps me avoid costly mistakes. I used to have a much more complex setup before but abandoned it after it led to me losing thousands of dollars because of configuration mistakes. [Full Disclaimer: I am a compensated advisor and affiliate for ConvertKit.]

Lucas Lee-Tyson,

What does your business do?
We help entrepreneurs and marketers start and grow their business online with Facebook Ads

How has email marketing helped your business?
All of our existing clients have come from our email list, which we built to one thousand subscribers (without paid traffic) in under three months. This allowed us to have a $5,500 product launch and resulted in $10k+ in new clients.

What email marketing strategies/techniques/tips did you use to achieve this outcome?
Email automation, scheduling informative and value-packed weekly broadcasts, and getting feedback from our audience on the aspects of Facebook Ads they need help with most.

We recommend sending an email at least once a week, to keep in touch with your audience and always be providing value. Not having a link in every email we send has done wonders for our customer delight factor, and thus, our sales.

What email marketing tools did you use to achieve this outcome?
We use ConvertKit and OptinMonster to build and manage our email list. [Full Disclaimer: I (Pat Flynn) am a compensated advisor and affiliate for ConvertKit.]

I hope these email marketing case studies have given you some ideas and inspiration to put email marketing to good use in your own online business!

<< Back to Chapter 3 Go to Chapter 5 >>

Continue reading Pat Flynn’s Epic Guide to Email Marketing

BEGINNING Email Marketing Strategies

CHAPTER 1 How Email Marketing Works

CHAPTER 2 How to Start Email Marketing

CHAPTER 3 Email Marketing Tips

CHAPTER 4 Email Marketing Case Studies << You are here

CHAPTER 5 Email Marketing Mistakes

CHAPTER 6 Email Marketing Tools

CHAPTER 7 My Recommended Email Marketing Solution


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