How to use email campaigns to incite wild commitment

Imagine you’re sitting around a poker table, staring down a handful of straight-faced players. Your cards are okay, but not great. You think they might be good enough to win if no one else has anything spectacular, but you probably would only be willing to bet a few chips. As luck would have it, the first round of betting takes place with only a small raise, so you go match the bet without a second thought.A second round of betting begins, with another small raise. Since it’s only a small amount, you match that bet as well. And another, and another, and another. Soon there’s a large pile of chips in the middle of the table, and many of them came from you. Looking over your cards, you realize that the situation has not improved much–your hand is still passable, but mediocre. Finally, someone places a bet that is larger than you are comfortable matching without a better hand.

You know you should cut your losses and fold, but you’ve already invested so much. You feel that you have a right to win, even without the cards to back that feeling up. And so, with some hesitation, you push your chips into the center even as you lament your poor chances at getting the chips back. What happened?

In the past I’ve written at some length about the value of cultivating a feeling of familiarity among your clients. Frequent contact by email is, of course, a highly efficient way to go about that. You put together a single newsletter every so often, add a little personality and a healthy serving of reassuring stability, and hit send. All at once, you’ve reached out to every person that has ever been interested enough in you to sign up for your mailing list. At this point you’ve done more to build your business than 95% of small business owners. But if your plan ends with the client merely receiving your message, you may still have missed out on a tremendous opportunity.

You see, it takes a lot of energy for a person to make a decision, to reach out and take action. So once you’ve taken an action, you tend to want to protect the energy you spent. You’ll be much more willing to take additional actions to protect your initial investment. This is how a lot of those internet scams work:  they draw people in by getting them to take small but significant actions in order to induce a commitment to seeing those actions through. Just like the skillful poker player who bets just as much as you’re willing to match… at least the first time around.

So how does all of this relate to email marketing? Well, you’re probably maintaining your mailing list because you hope that your subscribers will eventually take some sort of action. But too often that desired action will be a one-off, major purchase of products or services. A huge commitment, all at once! No wonder it takes clients so long to make their final decision!

But you can help the process along, by breaking the process down into smaller, more digestible chunks. It’s not much of an investment to accept something free, so you can offer a free report, free trial of your product, free training module… anything that is naturally connected to the product or service you hope your client will become committed to. You could e-mail it to them, but why not instead send a download link? It’s not much of a committment to click a download link. Maybe while they’re on the download page, you could ask them to provide a quick idea of why they’re interested, just so you’ll know what people want.

By now they’ve taken a few actions: signed up to receive the free item, click through to a download link, thought about what made the offer interesting to them, described it for you… Do you think they’ll be more, or less likely to open up the free trial and give it a spin? And once they’ve done that, wouldn’t it be much easier to just buy a serial number to activate the trial, rather than getting mixed up in a whole other product?

You can break this down even further. What if every newsletter you sent out offered a small reward for taking a small action, with no strings attached? Take our quick survey and we’ll give you a widget just for playing. Click the link to our blog and we’ll give you a funny video to watch. Tit for tat. Easy.

You can build a relationship with your subscribers, but it’s going to take more than just shouting in one direction. A real relationship goes both ways. So let’s brainstorm. What are some simple actions you could ask your subscribers to take that would benefit you both? What small incentives could you offer to build up your clients’ commitment to their relationship with you?

A trial is worth a thousand words.
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