I just have to get through this email before going back to purely content audit emails because I think it’s important to acknowledge what’s going on if you have a list and what the ones I respect and admire are doing.
My goal here is to share some thoughts on engaging with an audience in the current landscape, and offer my help where appropriate (scroll to bottom for 45 min consulting call).
Being more personal right now
One of the main advantages of being a personal brand in a world where people are getting sick and tired of brand bullshit of advertising, marketing gimmicks, privacy invasion, etc., is that personal brands are inherently personal.
With the current situation, it feels even more important to be real and offer that personal connection – we’re all in flux, social distancing is already hard and it’s been a week or so, most of us have loved ones that are immunocompromised, and our clients, employers of those we care about might not be around after this all shakes out.
Mark Schaefer, a marketing consultant, has one piece of advice for brands the past year or so, and that’s to (actually) be more human. And while big brands struggle to figure out how to do this, or at least appear to be doing this, he seems to do it with his own audience with ease.
He’s right that it’s a good time for reflection, for taking advantage of this time for those of you that have had your schedules cleared. What’s urgent has been turned on its head. And if you’re like a lot of people, you’ve been left with all this time.
How to go about being more personal? Simply candidly sharing a check-in feels real and generous to me when I see it in my inbox. And as long as that awareness of what your audience is probably going through is there and acknowledged, that’s genuine and personal enough.
There is a lot of variance in your audience in how they are feeling right now. I think of Ann and me as very different in how we’re thinking about his whole thing. Shes’ been more pragmatic: do what the CDC says, social distancing, not touching our faces, washing hands after transitions (dog walks, getting home, etc.). Put zoom dates together with friends to minimize getting stir crazy. Consider how another recession would affect our ability to earn an income over the next year and what buttoning up would mean – that kind of thing.
I was ready to shelter in place a week ago. I read dystopian sci-fi and go to worst case scenarios pretty quickly. She has a better head for this stuff, so I’m deferring to her in this situation, and not buying a bunch of hiking gear to head for the hills.
Acknowledge the current situation, take the opportunity for a more meaningful connection to see how your audience is doing, what the mix of sentiment is, how people are doing. It feels important and worthwhile.
My experience being in a lot of audiences, consuming about 100 lists daily:
I’ve appreciated learning a bit about how different people I respect or look up to who shows up in my inbox are handling planning for the next few months. Even just to see a few sentences on how it’s impacting someone, their family, business, lifestyle, or the simpler “stay safe” type notes at the beginning or end of emails has been nice.
What being generous looks like right now
I can confidently say: the people winning right now are the ones being truly generous.
As an audience member, I’ve been grateful learning about some of the offers or even more structured generosity campaigns. Not even taking anyone up on them, I’m just glad to see people offering help and support.
There’s something comforting about it in the face of all the uncertainty, when the ultimate impact of all this is still so unclear. I know it personally makes me want to take a break from worrying about our situation and turn that focus outward. A couple examples:
Relevant free and discount or at-cost offers
Kevin Hillstrom from MineThatData’s audience is CEOs of consumer product brands. He offered a few free 30 minute consults and discounted a forecasting productized service around what losing 2 months of revenue might mean for them: email here. In this case, the discount is generous. Hillstrom’s IP is immensely valuable to organizations potentially doing hundreds of millions in sales and the ability to manage cash flow and not to lay off hundreds to thousands of people should be considered generous.
Ramit Sethi has provided a $1k stipend for his team members to use for anything related to COVID-19 preparation and offered to pause monthly payments for two months upon request for info product customers.
Lauren and Andy over at Plumflower Software have created a list of resources for the medical community. They are looking at prepopulating their Doclauncher.com app (basically a document management meets build your own app) with COVID template resources for medical teams that need an efficient way to communicate and update systems and offering it at cost or for free.
Paul Swail is offering advice on learning serverless, starting a Saas, and working from home right now.
Stephen Kuenzli is offering help with navigating change around AWS Devops, “especially if you support healthcare services.”
Doing thinking for your audience around what flux means
Bob Lalasz of Science+Story is a thought leadership consultant. He has compiled important resources and is using his emails to lead his audience (research organizations) to be more effective at disseminating information and authority of expertise in the current landscape of social media.
Kyle Bowen of SuperHelpful is writing about how COVID-19 is affecting museums, how museums can work toward fulfilling their missions without visitors.
I went to look at what Philip Morgan had written recently which is great advice – knowing that it’d be meaningful, that a lot of people look to him. Surprise – Philip’s saying be generous. The previous five examples are all people I know through TEI, Philip’s community of practice.
In normal times, you get to decide what to be generous about. But right now your audience should guide what being generous means. Know your audience, and if you’re unsure, poll them on Twitter or a subset of your list before making an offer.
What not to do
I wish this went without saying, but I’m seeing a lot of tone-deaf emails.
The worst culprit is fake scarcity discounts on info products right now. Do not tie discounts on zero carrying cost products to time expiration of offer.
There is real scarcity, so when it’s real, clarify that because it’s easy to be misunderstood right now. Real scarcity is offering a few slots for consulting at a reduced rate is different – it’s generous because your time is actually scarce. A course with instructor support has real scarcity. Apps have a cost to use in the form of server space. Physical goods are, of course, the same.
I also think there is a case of being too generous – like being generous in a way that jeopardizes your ability to not have to lay people off or be more likely to shut down later. Right now, a wearable device + app company is offering a product at cost that vibrates when you touch your face. They even branded it as “immunotouch.” They say they are doing this pretty much at cost.
We’ve worked with a client in this space. The ongoing cost to carry wearable device customers is simply too high. This trades short term PR and revenue for long-term solvency = risk for their employees.
If you still want to launch a product right now, what should you do?
Launching online courses by email right now is tricky. I haven’t seen it done well. I’m not sure you can. Especially when sales copy and course material was written before COVID.
Unless you’re purely in a traditional educational sphere, like technical skills building, if you launch right now, you at least address why and how you’re going about executing something that was pre-planned with transparency.
Ramit Sethi from I Will Teach said this about a product launch they were in the middle of planning:
Yes, we plan to launch Earnable, our new program on how to start an online business. I think it’s even more important now…
I understand nobody wants to listen to someone being tone-deaf and launching some random product right now. So I’m going to de-emphasize some of the glamorous traveling stuff I’d planned to talk about. Yes, Earnable can help you achieve that Rich Life, but I don’t think that’s what most of us are thinking about right now.
I’m not sure that’s the optimal way to handle, but 100% prefer it to not addressing it.
Amy Hoy from stackingthebricks.com had two great emails on what to do in a recession/down-turn two weeks ago – incredibly timely, well-written, and I think good strategic advice based on real experience. And then without another mention of what all is happening, the last 8 emails looked like a re-used autoresponder sequence around opening, launching, and closing the doors on the course launchd launching her flagship course these past two weeks.
I actually missed the initial recession emails (until going back while writing this), so to me, it just looked like they had decided to just push through with the original plan or the launch was on autopilot. To be fair, she’s being super present and offering advice in social.
For these two examples, both course launches can help people earn an income online through a responsible process. I think, done carefully, there is an opportunity to adjust for the current landscape.
What would that have looked like for those two examples? I’m not really sure. They both have mega email lists. I’d love to see a leaner approach to making those launches more relevant, in both sales copy and product offering.
What can I do?
I want to be more helpful here. I’m not really sure what that looks like.
If your schedule has been wiped clean and you suddenly find yourself in a position to reevaluate next steps for your business, I’m happy to take a look at your site and have a conversation on what that could look like, where your initial opportunities are for improving your site around meeting your goals. You can schedule 45 minute call here.