Why Autoresponders Are Perfect for Storytelling
By Pam Neely
Autoresponders are one of the oldest and most effective types of email marketing. They’ve been around since Internet marketing was born. They’ve probably sold more than a billion dollars worth of stuff.
Compare that to storytelling. It may be one of the newest marketing buzzwords, but it’s actually one of the oldest marketing techniques. Storytelling is so important that some experts have hailed it as the #1 more desirable skill for a marketer to have.
What if we paired these two things up? What if we used autoresponders as a container for storytelling? It would let us fuse one of the oldest and most effective digital marketing tools with one of the oldest and most effective ways to engage an audience.
Using autoresponders for storytelling might result in crazy-high sales and engagement rates – the kind of results Ben Settle-style emails get. Or you could put them in the hands of Seth Godin for a far softer sell.
Or maybe we could put it in your hands, and let you make something new.
I really don’t know what we could do. But autoresponders seem like such a perfect container for storytelling that I just had to explore them further. Here’s a few things to consider.
Autoresponders are a marketer’s best friend
Autoresponders are a lazy (or busy) marketer’s dream. They are a series of email messages that you set up ahead of time. Then you schedule them to go out every few days. Once an autoresponder is set up, you could leave it alone indefinitely. It could run all your email marketing by itself.
That feature of autoresponders is why they are the original marketing automation. Often when we talk about marketing automation even now, we’re basically talking about autoresponders.
But thankfully, autoresponders require none of the expensive technology that so often goes with marketing automation. To create and manage an autoresponder, all you need is an account at an email service provider that lets you send unlimited autoresponder messages.
Note the “unlimited” part. Some email service providers only let you send about 30 messages for each autoresponder sequence. That’s a good start, but many autoresponders go on for longer than that.
Autoresponder masters like Perry Marshall have autoresponder sequences that go on for years. We’re talking over 300 messages in these sequences. So just 30 messages isn’t going to cut it. Fortunately, if you’re a GetResponse customer, we’ve got you covered. You can send unlimited email messages in each autoresponder sequence. We won’t hold you back.
How to plan your autoresponders
So once you’ve got the autoresponder capability, so can just start cranking out email messages, right?
Not so fast. You could start that way, but it will make things MUCH harder for you later on. Instead, sit down and plan your autoresponder first. Consider whether you want a time-based autoresponder or an action-based autoresponder.
“What’s the difference?”
The classic autoresponder is time-based. So you’d have a series of email messages set to go out in a pre-defined order. You’d schedule them to go out every few days. That’s a time-based autoresponder.
An action-based autoresponder isn’t triggered by elapsed time. It’s triggered by different actions a subscriber takes. You define those actions, whether it’s downloading a whitepaper or clicking a specific link in an email.
If you want to send a time-based autoresponder, you can plan it out like a list. But if you want to send an action-based autoresponder, plan it out as a flow chart.
Planning action-based autoresponders
Powerpoint is good for making flowcharts. So are oversized pieces of drawing paper, whiteboards, or online flow chart tools like Draw.io.
The interface of Draw.io, a free online tool that lets you create detailed flowcharts.
You don’t necessarily have to write a story that only has one path. You can write a “choose your own adventure” style story with an autoresponder.
Don’t know what a choose your own adventure story is? Way back in the 1980s, when people still read books, there was a type of young adult fiction called “Choose your own adventure”. At certain points in the story, you got to decide what you wanted the characters to do. So at the end of a chapter, you’d see something like this:
If you want to attack the ogres, go to page 37.
If you want to run away as fast as possible, go to page 51.
You could use this technique with your autoresponder… if you’ve got an adventure novel in you. Or you could use this “choose your own adventure” technique to let your email readers choose what they want to hear about.
Action-based autoresponders are like the old “choose your own adventure” action stories.
If you’re a GetResponse user, it gets even more interesting. You can pass a subscriber from one email campaign (ie, one email list) to another based on which links they click. So if you wanted, you could create two, three or even more different autoresponders, and then pass people back and forth among them based on how each individual user clicked.
Starting to see why we want to plan all this out first? It can be extremely powerful. But it can also become extremely complex. A few words of caution, before you start planning your action-based autoresponder:
- Don’t make your flow chart/autoresponder too complex. Otherwise you’ll create a maze even you might get lost in.
- Think about how you might want to change your autoresponders in the future. Build in some flexibility for changes.
- Consider what your prospects want to know about, and what order they tend to want to know it in. The “funnel visualization” reports in your Google Analytics account might be helpful with this.
Get your autoresponders’ timing right
Let’s go back to time-based autoresponders. There are some standard best practices for how often to send autoresponders. Generally, marketers send one message a day for about the first week, then send switch to every other day or every few days. This gives your readers lots of information when interest is high and slows things down as their enthusiasm tapers.
While that timing usually works, it’s always important to test. Your list is unique. Your readers might want emails more often or less often. The only way to know is to test.
GetResponse makes it easy to manage the spacing of your time-based autoresponders. There’s also an interface similar to this for action-based autoresponders.
Here are a couple of other timing issues to consider:
- Some marketers send autoresponders on specific days of the week. That way, if you want to send out another type of email to your list, you won’t be sending people two emails in one day.
- If you allow people to sign up for more than one autoresponder, they might end up getting several emails in one day.
- Some marketers get around this by sending emails from one autoresponder in the morning and sending from a different autoresponder in the evening.
- Because of all these timing complexities, the simpler your autoresponder is, the better. Do not add any complexity unless it improves your results.
How autoresponders to build trust
Both storytelling and autoresponders are a terrific way to build trust. That’s because both of them are extremely effective at getting your audience to know you and then (hopefully) like you. Once those two things are established, it’s time to work on trust.
The autoresponder builds trust over time because it’s a slow sell. People get to think about what you’ve said between emails. The consistency of the emails also builds trust. And it builds a habit. Every day, or every few days, your subscribers are becoming trained to look for, open and read your emails. They begin to trust you to send good information.
Adding some storytelling to your autoresponder
I really don’t have to tell you how stories work. You were hearing and telling stories even as you learned to speak. But there are some helpful things to remember about storytelling best practices. They’ll help you write better autoresponders.
- Every story needs a main character and a problem (or a villain). The story is how the main character, or hero, overcomes the problem.
- Your audience needs to identify with and care about the main character. Maybe that main character is you. Maybe it’s an imaginary person. Maybe it’s a historical character. Or maybe it’s one of your customers. Customer stories, also called “case studies”, are one of the most effective content formats around.
- Your audience will identify and care about that main character if he or she is like them.
There’s a classic storytelling format that’s tailor-made for autoresponders: the serialized story. These are basically stories that are broken up into installments. Most of Charles Dickens’ books were serialized.
The trick with serialized storytelling is to learn how to hook the reader at the end of each segment. Even if your story is broken into chapters, instead of short emails, you still need to give your reader a reason to continue on to the next chapter. You want to leave them hanging, with the tension high, so they’ll crave your next installment.
Want to see this done at a masterful level? Watch Game of Thrones. The writers for that series know how to keep us hanging not just episode to episode, but from scene to scene.
Autoresponders are a natural container for storytelling. They’re also one of the most profitable and easiest types of marketing campaigns to run. If you haven’t set up an autoresponder yet, we urge you to give it a spin.
Know anyone who tells great stories in their autoresponders? Give them a shout out in the comments.
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