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Ash Ambirge


You’re the founder of The Middle Finger Project, where you’re dropping f-bombs and jaws in the marketing world. Can you give Modern Achiever readers three jaw-dropping ideas for building their lists?  Not just the usual – let’s hear the juicy stuff.

First of all, my biggest pet peeve & no no is simple: Please stop using the word “newsletter.” This is an epidemic in email marketing, but guess what--it’s a death sentence for your list. Why would anyone want to sign up for your newsletter? You know that sounds like a chore, right? (Both signing up AND receiving it.) People are interested in what’s in it for them. And newsletter does nothing to communicate value--instead, the word implies that you’re going to bombard them with “news” about your company that nobody cares about (yet.) Unless you’re Richard Branson, your big selling point to get on your list shouldn’t be your news.

That brings me to point number two - given that people are interested in what’s in it for them, that means that there actually should be it for them. The idea of a mailing list isn’t to deceive people onto it and then keep them there with handcuffs (which is impossible anyway, darn it); the idea is to actually showcase how useful, smart and helpful you & your company are, to the point that that person can’t imagine NOT being on your mailing list. We want them BEGGING for more. Why? Because that’s where revenue is generated. So, how can you get your subscribers addicted to you? Think in those terms. If you were them (which, really, THINK ABOUT what that means), what would have you peeing your pants with delight to receive on a weekly basis?

Now that you’ve got ‘em on your list, here’s where a lot of folks go wrong--they keep wooing new subscribers, and forget to woo the current subscribers. And this is important because you can’t grow your list if you’re losing subscribers as fast as you’re gaining them--you’re just spinning your wheels there. So what things do you need to do to woo current subscribers? Well, first of all, keep good on your promises. If you tell them you’re sending them weekly recipes, you damn well better send them weekly recipes. You can’t just fall off the earth and then send a pathetic message out later saying, “Sorry I haven’t been around--I’ve been busy, but now that I’m back, you’ll be hearing from me more!” This is unprofessional and an embarrassment. And that, of course, points to another truth here: You can’t treat your mailing list--or your business--like a hobby. This is not an optional “would be nice to do on a regular basis” kind of thing. This is IMPORTANT. And you’ve got to stick to a schedule like your business depends on it. Because it does.

Another thing you should be doing to woo current subscribers is simply making sure your messages are actually pleasant to read in terms of design. You might have the best content in the world (see #2), but if that content comes in the form of some poorly designed email template that’s hard to read and looks like someone who’s never touched a computer before set it up? You’re not only diminishing your credibility, but you’re diminishing any chance that anyone’s going to enjoy the experience. And if they don’t enjoy the experience, then you can wave bye bye to their money. It’s that simple.

In your blog post, The Art of (Online) Seduction (and Why You Need It to Make Money), you say that successful blogs provide more than information – they provide an experience. Can you suggest how AE readers can apply that same theme to list building? How (and where) can they provide an experience that will help them grow their list and generate more leads?

Absolutely - this piggybacks off the prior question where I briefly addressed the importance of design relative to customer experience. But let’s back up a minute and first mention what experience is, and why it’s so important.

Experience is the whole package for your subscribers--from what you say, to how you say it (important), to your voice, to the design to the way you space your sentences...and more. You aren’t providing a newsletter. You aren’t providing an article. You’re providing an experience--one that the reader or customer will begin to be seduced by--or not.

Think of the J.Peterman catalog ads, even, for a good mini-example of this. J. Peterman doesn’t even use actual photos of the products they sell; they come with a rough, artistic sketch, and a product description that is *THE* definition of an experience. Take this one, for example:

At the Colosseum in Rome, the toe of your sandal kicks over a chunk of marble,
revealing a mint silver denarius from the reign of Emperor Hadrian.

Dinner at La Pergola is on you.

Then, there’s that innocent stroll into the jungle during your stay at an eco-resort in Belize.

Next thing you know, you’ve discovered the fabulous lost city of Xupu Ha…dozens of acres of temples and statuary and steep-sided sacrificial lakes, concealed by centuries of vines.

Your Mayan is rusty, but the natives seem to refer to you as “She Who Has Bows on Her Sleeves.”

Italian Shirttail Dress (No. 2318), found by serendipity in Florence.
Upper-calf cut of soft, pre-washed linen, fashionable and favored by adventurers who want to keep cool. Rounded shirttail hem. Self belt. Point collar.

Bust darts, shaping seams, and those bow-tie roll-up sleeve tabs
eliminate any possible confusion with Mr. Jones.

You don’t even need to SEE the product to know that you want that. That’s an experience, through words, right there.

So how does this translate for your mailing list? Help people envision themselves as the person they want to be, through your company. Don’t just talk about boring facts; tell stories, share perspectives, play with ideas, and be HUMAN. And help your subscribers feel like being on your mailing list isn’t like any other--it’s an experience they’ll want to come back for, time and time again.

Sarcasm isn’t quite the right word here, but rowdy is. Rowdy with a touch of irreverence. How would you say your brilliant flair for rowdy irreverence has helped you build your following of readers, fans and clients?

You know, I get a lot of people who tell me they aren’t even small business owners or entrepreneurs, and yet they still stay subscribed to the blog because it makes them laugh, and allows them to take a break from the world for even just a few minutes. I think this is key. They’ve told me it’s their guilty indulgence. And I think the reason why it’s done so well as such, is because everyone surfing the internet has got chronic eye-glaze; everything is the same old, same old, and nothing jumps out at them as novel or fresh anymore. And that’s where TMF project comes in--it slaps them in the face with a crowbar, and it forces them to sit up, and get excited about something. (That’s the advice I give my copywriting students on their goal for their copy--hit ‘em in the face with a crowbar. Not literally, of course. Wink.)

You’ve definitely had a few (global!) adventures. Being an entrepreneur is an adventure too. Can you give our readers a little pep talk – especially for those days when the easy answer is to stay inside with your pajamas on, rather than step outside and really live life? (Pajamas optional.)
Oh, I’ve had trouble with this myself in the past. When you’re working so hard toward something, and your livelihood depends on it, it’s really hard to step away from the computer sometimes. You find yourself unshowered for 2 days in a row, in the same sweats, shoveling down left over pizza, pissed that anyone dare interrupt you with a phone call. You’re like a mad scientist. And while the motivation is great, don’t forget that it isn’t sustainable, and if you don’t get outside and be a human once and a while (you know, things like seeing the sunshine, getting some exercise, and even doing frivolous things like reading a magazine), your ideas are going to start to suck. Your creativity levels are going to drop. You’ll start to feel the first pangs of resentment. And eventually you’ll burn out--and you’ll take your business down with you. So for your health, and the health of your business, don’t forget to be HUMAN. (And for the love, stop taking your laptop into the bathroom with you. Don’t think I don’t know.)

Right now you have two choices for people who want to subscribe to your list. They can get your weekly blog posts directly via email and / or a daily “afternoon quickie” one-liner email.  Can you tell us why you’ve chosen to offer these two items, rather than something like a free e-book or tutorial?

I used to use lead gen magnets for TMF, but my audience is vast and they’ve got different needs, so that, combined with the fact that online marketing info gets outdated quickly, inspired the decision to position the writing, itself, as the product and lead magnet. Honestly, I wouldn’t recommend my approach because not everybody’s a writer. Fortunately, it’s what I do--copywriting. So I have a leg up in this area, and tend to attract a lot of subscribers that way. But it’s not what I would recommend. Furthermore, I do offer the blog posts or the quickies, because I know my blog posts are long and not everybody wants to read ‘em; so I offer them an alternative. This way, I still have a way to keep in touch with prospects, even if they aren’t interested in being subscribed to a full on blog.

That said, I do use lead gen magnets with other projects; for example, our latest project, Small Business Bodyguard, which is a legal resource for small business owners who need to get their legal ducks in a row, offers up a free mini legal clinic to anyone who opts-in. And that’s really effective, because it all goes back to: What do people want? (Not what they need. There’s a big difference.)

Here’s your soapbox, care to step up and let loose? Anything going on in the online marketing / lead generating world that you see is a big mistake?  Or maybe the opposite. Anything you want to shout praises about?

You know, so much of marketing is about your words. Given that that’s my craft--copywriting--I’m all about the words. And what I try to help my clients and customers see, all the time, is that every single WORD they use is saying something about their brand. Too often, I see clichés being used left and right because they’re the first phrases that come to mind, right? So people use them in their marketing. “Find your authentic self!” “Win the battle of the bulge!” “Get empowered!” They all SUCK. And the reason they suck is because they’ve lost impact and meaning for people. When the eye sees something like a cliché, the brain assumes that it already knows what it says, so it starts skipping entire phrases and sentences, and then guess what? It just skipped right over your entire message--and YOU. Words are so, so important, and it’s important to be selective & strategic. I know it can be hard. But I encourage everyone to really be discriminate with which words they’re using---and how they can take an old idea and make it sound FRESH. This is particularly important if you’ve got a sea of competitors and you need to position yourself as the fresh alternative. If you words don’t seem fresh, then you aren’t going to, either. It’s as simple as that. Words can make or break you. And fast.

Any last thoughts or ideas about list building and lead generation you’d like to share?

Make time.

No exceptions.

Doing this right will be the one thing that will catapult your business to new levels--I don’t care who you are.