Email Marketing for Podcasters: At-a-glance:
- The very term “email marketing” can sound stuffy and boring. But don't let that put you off.
- Email marketing can help you connect with your podcast audience and followers in a more meaningful way.
- No matter what your budget or audience size is, there's an email marketing software that's right for you and your podcast.
- We'll show you email marketing tools, including Sumo, Revue, Button-down, TinyLetter, MailChimp, Active Campaign, AWeber, and Convertikit. This way, you'll know about their prices, features and drawbacks.
- There are good and bad etiquette in email marketing. Here, we'll show you how to use consent and privacy guidelines, to set you up for success.
Read on for the full lowdown…
You need to be in charge of how you communicate with your audience. Social media can be unreliable. There really are people who simply create a Twitter account, and figure that's their entire website, press kit and communication strategy, sorted. Don't be that podcaster. Your podcast's episodes, no matter how good, can't carry the burden of discoverability and interaction alone. With some simple email marketing know-how and a good tool behind you, you can solidify the relationship between your audience and your podcast's content.
Let me tap the brakes for a second. When I say “email marketing,” I'm not talking about how to sell by email. That's a whole other topic. What I mean is using email as a tool to promote your podcast. You're “marketing,” in the sense that you're exchanging your podcast content for their attention. When your email messages provide useful content on a consistent basis and a helpful call to action, your email marketing becomes another part of your overall content stream.
Why Build an Email List for Your Podcast?
Your audience can be loyal, interested subscribers, and they can still get busy and distracted. It's entirely possible that your new episodes can be buried in their podcast listening app, unnoticed.
If you rely solely on social media to remind newer listeners about your show, you're at the mercy of that social media platform. Social media platforms put a ton of effort into making sure that users see paid advertising every minute or so. Posts from pages or accounts that you deliberately follow can get buried.
The power of email marketing is in consent. People who sign up for it agree to get more information about your podcast. They want to be reminded when you publish a new episode. They have consented to give you attention. In return, you have to give them something worthy of their attention.
For example, a first time visitor to your website might sign onto your list to get a useful checklist, recipe or knitting pattern. From there, you can tell them about the podcast – something they might never have found otherwise. Eventually, they listen to enough podcast episodes to turn into a loyal raving fan.
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Or, take a casual listener who might have found you through Apple Podcasts, and has consumed just 2 or 3 episodes so far. At this point, they might drift off, distracted by another new show. But, on the last episode, you mentioned that checklist, and so they signed up to get it. As before, you can now update them, every week, and make sure they don't forget about you.
Full disclosure: this article will contain some affiliate links, to products we genuinely use and like. If you click through the link and sign up for any of the services, we earn a small commission. It doesn't cost you anything extra, and it helps us make more of the free content we provide on this site.
How to Grow an Email List for Your Podcast
Here are a couple of fenceposts, so you can align your content and tactics.
The first is obvious: like I said before, you have to ask. Invite your audience to join your email list in your episodes' call to action, on social media, in your show notes, and make a link available on your website. If your website uses embedded player plug-ins, think about using one with a button to sign up for your email list. Two-factor authentication helps you stay in compliance with privacy policies, and avoid mis-spelled email addresses.
The second is that you have to deliver value, so people stay subscribed. Make opening and reading the email marketing messages from you a pleasure. Don't think of it like a sales call or a push. Think of it as something which provides value in and of itself.
My favorite email newsletter is Austin Kleon's newsletter. Kleon is a visual artist and a writer on creativity topics. His newsletter is bare-bones minimalist: just links, with a description for context. The style reflects his design aesthetic and message, which is “get started, keep going.” The newsletter takes me less than a minute to read, makes me feel inspired, and leaves me wanting a bit more. Which, of course, leads me right into his call to action and merchandise links. Do I buy his books? Heck, yes.
What's the Best Email Marketing Opt-in Form Software?
In podcasting, there's rarely an ultimate “best” choice for everyone. People vary. So do their unique needs, wants, budgets, and podcasts. With that in mind, here's a rundown of our favourite options to help you choose the best tool for you.
One of the best email marketing services for opt-ins is Sumo. We use it on a lot of our podcast websites. Colin's been following Sumo's work for a long time, since discovering their ‘Groupon for Marketing Geeks' – AppSumo. They now have a suite of tools – just called Sumo – that can help us out with a whole bunch of marketing tasks on our website.
The tool of theirs that's worth highlighting here is called List Builder. It's a super easy and really powerful way to include opt-in forms and popups on your website. After signing up, you need to complete the link with Sumo on your website. This just requires logging into your WordPress website, clicking one of the Sumo ‘connect' buttons, and then entering your Sumo account details. Sumo has opt-in templates so you can customize your forms.
Sumo have a free tier, and their Pro tier has a 30-day money-back guarantee, which is pretty generous. There are no limits to the number of subscribers on your list for either the free or paid system. Two vital differences are that the free level includes Sumo branding on your email messages and so on, and stats for your activity (being able to see how many people open and click on what) expire after 30 days.
- Free: This is a great place to start. You have an unlimited number of subscribers, and you can send up to 10,000 email messages a month.
- Pro: For $39 a month (if paid annually, saving $120/year), you get everything in the free tier, and, split testing, advanced visitor targeting and integrations, and e-commerce design templates.
More of the Best Email Marketing Software Options
I use a couple of these tools, for different purposes. Some of them I know about because I get email newsletters via different tools. Everyone has different communication needs, and you wouldn't use a hammer to stir soup, would you? Or… would you?
Never mind. Let's dive in.
Revue‘s branding is all about the concept of a magazine. Each message is called an “issue.” The web-based interface is as easy as composing an email. You can drag and drop elements such as images or video. Third-party integrations help you pull posts or links from social media sources. A list of previous issues shows how many subscribers you have, what percentage opened the email, and what percentage of recipients clicked on links. It's accessible, even cute.
Pricing varies based on how many subscribers you have.
- Free: lets you send the newsletter to up to 50 subscribers.
- Pro: ranges from $5 a month to send your issues to 200 subscribers, up to $135 a month to send it to 40K or more. The pro version lets you pick your color scheme, use a custom email address and domain, and add unlimited team members to administrate your newsletter.
- Enterprise: “request a demo.” They'll make you an offer.
We use Revue to edit and send out the Fiction Podcast Weekly, so if audio fiction is something you enjoy, you may want to look at that, as an example.
Buttondown is similar to Revue, in its minimalism and accessibility. Pricing is also by subscriber amount. Once you get to Buttondown for Professionals, you get the features which set it apart. The standout feature for me is that Buttondown has automatic link checking. This saves time, and would keep me from accidentally sending people to thepodcasttoast.com.
- Free for the first thousand subscribers
- For every thousand subscribers, it's $5 a month
- Buttondown For Professionals is $29 a month, and lets you have multiple newsletters and integration with Zapier.
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TinyLetter is meant for people whose main focus is the message they want to communicate. I get TinyLetters from people I know in real life, who simply want to reach a lot of people quickly about life updates. This is particularly good if you're trying to cut down on your social media time.
TinyLetter shows you how many people opened and clicked on links. Other than that, it's the most basic email marketing software you could ever want. It's free, and another excellent starting tool. If you want more features, you can check out its big sister, which is…
If you listened to podcasts (particularly Serial) between 2006 and 2016, you've heard an ad for MailChimp. Their branding, with a clever cartoon monkey, sticks in people's heads. They use a lot of really right-brain language in their branding, with phrases like “customer journeys” instead of “automation workflow.” Despite this art-school warmth, MailChimp has the power of hardcore capitalist technology in their software. It lets you integrate with shopping software such as Stripe, and efficiency tools like Calendly and Zapier. All pricing tiers include the beta test of their “Creative Assistant,” an AI-powered design tool that studies your brand, then creates color palettes and brand images for you.
This email marketing software offers Customer Relations Management, so you can understand how subscribers respond your messages, and what to do next. Is your podcast doing well in France, but your email messages are opened in Iceland? Time to think about your content strategy.
The pricing structure is labyrinthine, in the kinds of features it offers, and the criticism of MailChimp is that it becomes expensive quickly. But, you get a lot for your money.
- Free: up to 2,000 subscribers, forms and landing pages, and customer relations management, so you can see where your recipients are opening and responding to your email marketing.
- Essentials: at $9.99 a month, it's similar, but with up to 50K contacts and customer support.
- Standard: For $14.99 a month, you get the Customer Journey Builder and Branching Points with up to 100,000 contacts. That way if they go to your website, and buy some products but not others, MailChimp will automatically send that customer an email saying, “we noticed you bought (x), did you want the (y) that goes with it?” This level also includes Behavioral Targeting and Send Time Optimization.
- Premium: For $299.00 per month, (nope, not a typo, it's a big jump in pricing) you get 200,000 contacts, and all of the aforementioned features, plus multivariate testing, and customer support by phone
If my podcast were primarily focused on sales, or if merchandise were integral to my monetization strategy, I would use MailChimp. The higher levels are probably a lot more than the average independent podcaster needs. It could also be good if you wanted to send your audience email focusing on a particular aspect of your podcast's topic (i.e. if your fly-fishing podcast has special episodes about buying good fishing lures, with links to your Etsy shop). Your mileage may vary.
ActiveCampaign focuses on email marketing for digital businesses, e-commerce, and business-to-business companies. Bear in mind that their pricing page assumes you have at least 500 contacts. This is probably not where you want to start, if you're making your first podcast. If you're creating a network with other podcasters and want to share information, this could be a good tool.
A lot of what Active Campaign does can be automated. You can tailor differently typed messages to different audiences, and send them based on the recipients' click data. Active Campaign has over 500 automation recipes, or tasks such as sending a recipient an email to wish them a happy birthday, or “you left something in your cart” emails.
They also offer over 300 integrations. You can fit your Active Campaign desktop in with WordPress, Zoom, Slack, and much more.
Pricing is based on how many email contacts you have, and how many features you have. So, this can vary widely. There isn't a free plan, and the trial period is 14 days. Assuming that you have 500 contacts, then:
- Lite: For $15 a month, you get a ton of promotional, sales, service, and support features, for up to three users.
- Plus: At $70 a month, they offer everything in Lite, plus Facebook Custom Audiences, Custom Branded Forms and Landing Pages, and Customer Health Scoring. Has a customer not visited your web page for a while? It'll tell you. This level lets you have up to 25 users working on it, and a free strategy session.
- Professional: For $159 a month, this offers all of the above, and, split automation, win probability, personalized product experiences, and three one-on-one training sessions per month to understand how it all works. All this is yours for up to 50 users.
- Enterprise: At $279 a month, this level offers support for HIPPA, which tells me this email marketing software is intended for hospitals and healthcare provider agencies. Your podcast probably doesn't need this much security or tracking data. However, it's also got custom domains, mail servers, and reporting, and contact enrichment. This level is available to an unlimited number of users. Add in the free design services, and you're well on your way to world domination.
For the average podcaster, particularly at the start, ActiveCampaign is like bringing your entire kitchen on a two-night camping trip, in anticipation of all of the things you could potentially cook. Again, if you're using your podcast as a brand asset to drive sales, this will fit the bill. But, otherwise, it's a lot.
AWeber is another email marketing software which focuses on sales. Like MailChimp, it focuses on the look of your email messages and landing pages. The drag and drop technology and templates make it easy to communicate in a really good-looking way. Like Active Campaign, there's a fair amount of focus on what happens after your recipient opens the email. At the Pro level, you can track web page activity, purchase tracking, and cart abandonment. You can even tag recipients based on which emails they open and the links they click, allowing you to focus your message.
Users can integrate AWeber with tons of content management tools and customer relations management software. If there's something you need which AWeber can't do, it can fit your account with a tool that does.
The tiers are based on the number of subscribers you have. Of course, more subscribers means more stuff to administrate, so there are more features.
- Free: For up to 500 subscribers, you can send over 3,000 emails a month to one list profile. This includes all of their design options, tagging, and simple analytics. You can have unlimited users on your account. Plus, you can integrate with other software.
- Pro: The Pro level varies in price (from $19 to $149 a month) based on how many subscribers you have, but the features stay the same. For up to 25,000 subscribers, you get split testing, click tracking, behavioral automation, webpage tracking, and more.
- For more than 25,000 subscribers, AWeber says, “call us.”
All levels, including the free entry level, get 24/7 customer support via phone, email and chat. AWeber doesn't have as many customer relations management software options as ActiveCampaign, but it lets you integrate with probably any kind of CRM software you could want. If you want really pretty email newsletters, and need to lock in with a sales website, this is a good option.
Colin told me that he believes Convertkit is one of the best email marketing services on the market, particularly for content creators. We have an affiliate relationship with them because they're so damn good.
Convertkit is really powerful for content creators. It has the power to send really, really tailored emails, based exactly on what your subscribers have done or asked for. So, if they signed up for the “Interview Checklist,” we can then send them a series of emails teaching them a lot more about how to record good interviews.
If, during that series, they click a different link and show an interest in equipment, for example, we can change things around and send them equipment emails instead. Convertkit lets us send our subscribers exactly what they want, when they want.
The free tier is another great starting point, for up to 1,000 subscribers. The Creator and Creator Pro tiers let you have more than a thousand subscribers.
- Free: for up to 1,000 subscribers, you can send email, sell digital products and subscriptions, have unlimited landing pages and forms, and ou have customer support via email.
- Creator: For $25 a month (if paid annually, getting 2 months free), you get everything in the paid tier, plus free migration from another tool and automated funnels and sequences.
- Creator Pro: For $50 a month (if paid annually) you get everything from the aforementioned tiers, plus Facebook custom audiences, subscriber scoring, advanced reporting, and a newsletter referral system.
Email Marketing for Podcasters: The Right Tool for the Job
Before investing in a particular email marketing tool, take a step back and look at your podcasting goals, objectively. What's your value proposition, and how is it unique? What's your audience really like? Do you want to use your email marketing as a way to remind people to listen, and monetize your content? Or, are you a business with a podcast attached to it?
It could be interesting to use the branching “customer journeys” in MailChimp or the automation recipes in ActiveCampaign to create a customized fictional experience for an audio drama podcast. It'd also be an expensive tool. Know your goals for your podcast, and what your audience wants. Then, choose the tool that's best for you.
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