Why Brands Need to Conquer Their Fears and Use Email to Distribute Content

Most brands already rely heavily on email lists as a direct marketing tool. Yet when it comes to using those email lists to push out content, they hesitate.

“We don’t want to overload our customers!” or “They’ll think we’re spamming them!” are popular justifications for hiding the “Sign Up For Our Newsletter!” widget in your blog’s lower right rail (a.k.a. Blog Siberia), or refusing to blast out your latest article to your subscribers. Some marketers will tell you that their email lists are “just too valuable” to risk flooding them with something as unessential, and potentially alienating, as content.

This line of thinking simply isn’t going to cut it. “Protecting” your email lists means your future may involve spending a significant amount of resources creating content, followed by an extended waiting period spent twiddling your thumbs—while no audience develops to read and share what you spent all the time and money developing. And then all you’ll have is frustration.

The creation of your content is really only half the work in content marketing—the rest is audience development. A robust email subscriber list that’s used strategically and often is a crucial tool in your audience development arsenal.

Media companies use email lists as a tentpole for audience development, as well they should—if content is your product, and consumers provide you with a direct channel to provide them with that product (their email address), then you should use it with maximum force.

Brands producing content have an opportunity to think more like publishers with their email lists. Like the best media companies, brands can use them as a tool to distribute original content to the community of people already interested in the brand.

The value of email lists as a method of disseminating content goes to the heart of why your brand is creating that content in the first place: You’re fostering a community that voluntarily engages with your brand on multiple levels, instead of disruptively plugging your product or service.

Certain brands may have legal considerations with using email lists for content distribution purposes. Pharmaceutical companies, for example, need to be especially careful about stepping on FDA regulations in their content marketing. And as with all emails sent for promotional purposes, your emails need to comply with CAN-SPAM. But none of these should take email off your list of content distribution tools.

For an example of a branded site using newsletters to thrive, look no further than GE Reports. According to Tomas Kellner, the site’s editor, the mega-brand started building its email list for GE Reports readers in 2008. Since then, it’s grown to 15,000 subscribers. You can tell that the site values email as an audience development tool from a quick glance at how the site is designed—the “Subscribe” bar is given prime real estate on every page.

Every day, the full subscriber list gets an email with the latest story. Kellner says that an article’s ability to bring in new subscribers is a key metric for success.

Despite all the benefits, I don’t want to imply that email lists can never be overused or mishandled. There is such thing as flooding people’s inboxes, and more than a few trigger-happy marketers have ticked off their customers. But, with a smart content distribution strategy and high quality content that relates to your subscriber base’s interests, all of these concerns can be erased.

From a backend standpoint, adding content newsletters doesn’t have to be a big investment. There’s no shortage of ready-made tools to build and send great looking newsletters to your email lists. Mailchimp, Constant Contact, Sailthru, Campaign Monitor, and others provide templates and built-in tracking software. There are even (free!) tools like to help increase your total subscribers.

Ultimately, seeing newsletters as a threat to your email lists, as opposed to an opportunity to deepen your relationships with current or potential customers, is an antiquated view. If you want your content distribution plan to succeed, there’s no room for waffling. Use your email lists, and use them well.

Melissa Lafsky Wall (@Lafsky) is the founder of Brick Wall Media.

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