How to Build A Highly Engaged Tribe of Loyal Subscribers

Your email list is the number one asset you have in your business. Maybe you have an email list you’re just starting to grow, or maybe you’re looking to build on what you already have.

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Either way, it boils down to this: you need to create an amazing experience for your subscribers.

In 2017, the biggest thing you’ll notice with email marketing is that the old method of just sitting there promoting to your list over and over again doesn’t cut it anymore.

Over the next year, marketers want to drastically increase the engagement of their email lists – a difficult prospect if you don’t know where to start.

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Encouraging and nurturing engagement leads to a loyal list that will continue to buy from you over and over again.

These people then become your ‘tribe’.

Now, when I say tribe here, I don’t just mean a list of loyal customers. I mean a list of people who recognize you and your brand and want to be a part of it.

So how do you create a list of loyal subscribers?

Today, I want to share a tactic I like to call the Cookie System. This method relies on generating a give-take relationship with your subscribers in order to grow your tribe.

How to Create Balance and Grow Your Tribe With The Cookie System

This is a cookie.
If I put my two hands out, think of one of them as me, the marketer, and the other one as the email subscriber.

A piece of valuable content = a cookie

Now, imagine I’ve got a few cookies in my hand (or a few pieces of great content ready to share) as the marketer, and I want to give some of these cookies to my subscribers. This could be giving them a free download, a link to an actionable blog post, or a video series on a topic they’re interested in.

When a subscriber opts-in, that’s the equivalent of transferring one cookie from my hand into their hand, because they’re getting something amazing.

But the cookie doesn’t just transfer in one direction.

Doing a favor for your subscriber by giving them a piece of free content = giving them a cookie

Asking them for a favor (like buying from you) = taking a cookie away

It’s essential that the subscriber always has enough cookies in their hands so they aren’t left without any when you come to promote.

Because what happens when you take a cookie away from someone? They get upset, right? No one likes to be left empty handed, and that’s essentially what you’re doing if you take away ALL their cookies.

Think about it this way: every time I try to promote to my list or get them to buy from me, I’m taking a cookie away from them. This means I need to make sure I’m giving them one back to replace the one I took away by sending them something valuable.

When someone offers you a cookie in real life, how does it make you feel? It makes you feel good. It makes you feel like you’re sharing something with that person, and it’s the same when it comes to email marketing.

The key is to make people feel like they’re sharing something with you.

The Cookie System in Action

Let’s take a look at a sample email sequence where the Cookie System is in place.  

  • Day 0: Offer a cookie, like an opt-in
  • Day 1: Remind them about the free opt-in (a.k.a. Give them another cookie)
  • Day 2: Introduce them to your blog and give them a third cookie
  • Day 3: Maybe even give them another free, valuable piece of content so their hands are loaded with cookies
  • Day 4: Time to take a cookie by promoting your product or service
  • Day 5: Take another cookie


Remember, you don’t want your subscriber’s cookie stash to run low, so you’ll need to start providing free content again once you’ve taken away a couple of cookies.

Why the Cookie System Works

The Cookie System works like this: your subscribers subconsciously feel indebted to you (this is the Rule of Obligation or reciprocity in action) when you give them free, valuable content. These can be things like trainings, opt-ins, and informative, insightful blog content.  

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Think about the times you’ve been to the grocery store and they’re giving away free samples.

You’ve taken a sample, but it’s not easy to just walk away, is it? Instead, a lot people pretend to have an interest in the product, while some even go ahead and purchase it simply because they’ve been given a free sample.

This idea of pre-giving (i.e. giving something for free in order to encourage subscribers or customers to feel more loyal to you) has been an important part of the business world for a long time.

But, where businesses used to give away material things, like t-shirts, mugs, and branded erasers, they now give away valuable online content like trainings, info-products, and guides.

Even huge brands like Spotify pre-give – here, they are offering a free trial to new members.

But, as a growing business, you can’t give away everything for free. Which is why the Cookie System is all about creating a balance between giving and taking. When you start taking giving and taking cookies, your subscribers know what to expect from you and you’re setting up the expectations of your relationship.

You want your subscribers to think, “Yes! This person is promoting to me and they’re trying to get me to buy, but they’re also providing tremendous value so I’m going to stick with them.”

How to Maintain Engagement With the Cookie System

The number one challenge a lot of email marketers face is increasing engagement among their lists. 58% of marketers claim it is their number one goal when it comes to email marketing, while a further 44% said it was their biggest struggle.

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So subscribers losing interest is not an option.

Again, creating a fair balance between giving and taking is the key here, because when you take away all the cookies and leave a person empty handed, they’re going to lose interest.

Sometimes, you might see marketers that try and take cookies the subscribers don’t even have any more (they haven’t given enough free content to start promoting to their list).

What happens then?

The subscriber goes from liking you to potentially despising you, which leads to an unsubscribe and one less member of your loyal tribe.  

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to how much you should promote and how much free content you should give away. Just be sure you’re creating this balancing act where you’re providing just as much value as you are asking for the sale.

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The Content Marketing Pyramid highlights the different kinds of content you can give away to your subscribers.

Your subscribers want to hear from you via email – they signed up to your list for a reason, after all, so respect the decision they have made.

How the Cookie System Creates a Loyal Tribe of Subscribers

By giving and taking, you’re creating a unified force with your list (an “us” situation, rather than a “me, me, me” one). It’s this kind of dialogue and connection that humans seek both online and offline, so it seems like a no-brainer to tap into that base instinct we have of belonging to something valuable.

This balancing act of giving and taking creates a fair relationship. Your subscribers will be equally as willing to buy from you as they are to devour the free content you’re handing them.

And, as I’ve shown here with the Cookie System, it doesn’t have to be complicated.

You simply need to give the same amount as you take.

When you do this, you’re actively creating something that people want to be a part of. And, when it comes to promoting your products, your tribe will be more likely to buy from you! Why? Because you’ve been nurturing them with awesome information along the way!

 

Jimmy Kim
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Jimmy Kim

CEO at Sendlane
Based out of San Diego, California, Jimmy has been a digital marketer for the past 8+ years. Before his ventures online, Jimmy rose from the ranks, started off by washing cars at a local dealership and eventually ended up being one of the youngest General Managers in the country by the age of 25. After being burnt out working 80+ hours a week, he eventually turned to Internet Marketing. He found a passion in email marketing and in 2013 helped create Sendlane as one of the co-founders. Today, he leads the entire Sendlane team.
Jimmy Kim
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