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Sean interviews the “Email Supremacist” Ben Settle about building a rabid following and incredible customer relationships (and of course tons of sales) using email.

Ben is a world leader in email copywriting. Get a free digital copy of his prestigious Email Players newsletter and access to his mobile app (with hours of biz building strategies) here: https://www.bensettle.com/

Click above to listen to the 28 min audio.

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Sean Corbett:
Today, we’re going to talk a little bit about email marketing and how you can think about it and use it to build better relationships with your audience. And obviously, ultimately to make more sales. Pretty excited today, I’m joined by one of the top email marketers in the world, and also a man I consider my marketing mentor, Ben Settle. So Ben, thanks for being here.

Ben Settle:
Well, thank you, I appreciate it.

Sean Corbett:
I was hoping you could tell the listeners a bit about your background and just maybe explain a bit why so many people come to you for help with email.

Ben Settle:
Well, there’s a long version and a short version. I’ll just give the short version, save some time, but it wasn’t that long ago where if I got dragged to a party or some social place where I don’t want to go because I hate small talk so… But I get dragged to them sometimes. And sometimes when that happens, you inevitably get asked a question, what do you do? And after I say, well, I write spam, just to get a rise out people, I would say, well, I’m no, I’m just kidding. But I am like a bum but who gets paid because for many years there, that’s all I kind of did. I’d get up, write an email and I’d be done. And that was my entire work day. I did that for about six years or so before I got bored and wanted to become a grownup and start building an actual company.

Ben Settle:
But the email has always been the driving thing. It’s just to me, it’s like the eighth wonder of the world and people come and go as far as people trying to teach it and do it. It’s very trendy, right? There’s people one day, they’re an email expert, the next day they’re like, well now I’m an Instagram person or I’m a crypto person, or I’m a whatever. It’s one of those things that becomes trendy every few years I’ve noticed, but I’ve just stuck with it since 2000, I don’t know, two or whatever. And it just, to me, it’s the tool that just keeps on giving and giving and giving. So I think people sense that, they like it. They know that I don’t write like shallowly about it. And when I teach it, I’m very serious about it. But at the end of the day. To me, it’s just, I can’t think of a better, faster way to make sales in any media than email.

Sean Corbett:
Yeah, for sure. And it’s interesting that you talked about using email as the foundation for building your business. When I think so many small businesses, especially like brick and mortar shops and stuff like that, they just think of email as a distant tool they might want to use at some point in the future.

Ben Settle:
Yeah. That’s the thing or they… And I understand because they see so much crap out there, right? And they probably get so much crap in their inbox that they’re thinking, oh, I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be the person who’s just writing last chance every day and sale on X, Y, Z, and all that. But when you look at it, it’s a tool for selling, yes. But really at the end of the day, it’s a tool for building relationships, one on one with your list. And if you approach it that way, all kinds of doors open that you’re just not going to see anyone doing in the mainstream who’s doing email, and it’s fine because I was just seeing, I don’t know which site it was.

Ben Settle:
I get sent screenshots of these things because I’m not really on social media anymore, but people know I find it amusing. And somebody was like talking about, never send more than one email a week or something. It’s like, I’m like doing like one a day, five a day or whatever, it’s like, and I’m thinking, okay, well I hope all my competition keeps thinking that because if you’re trying to build a relationship with someone and you know what they want and they’re on your list for a reason. There’s no reason that not to mail them often. I know that once a day probably scares a lot of people. That’s fine. But my point is that it’s all about building relationships. And if you want to position yourself as a leader in your market niche industry, there’s just no better way. To me it beats the pants off Facebook or Twitter or anything else. There’s no substitute for it. That I’ve seen yet.

Sean Corbett:
Yeah. I actually wanted to dive deeper into that. Because you have a concept that you teach about a lot called Relationships Over Transactions and I’m glad you brought that up, right? Emailing every day, I think for a lot of people listening, they’re going to think, man, that sounds so aggressive, right? Or the classic, “this won’t work in my business or this won’t work with my customers”. So yeah. I mean, did you have an epiphany along the way about that and understanding that you could send emails and sell in every email, but really what you were doing was building that relationship?

Ben Settle:
The weird thing is I didn’t figure any of this out. I’ll be very blunt and honest about that. There are people much smarter than me that kind of paved the way. My biggest inspiration for this has been a guy named Matt Furey. I remember around 2004ish or something, and I was struggling as a freelance copywriter, working my butt off and just it’s like a grind and here’s this guy, just gets up every day, writes an email, his list, and he’s in the fitness niche and he is bragging about it. He’s like, yeah, I’m typing this from China. I’m writing this email. I want to go ride elephants after that. I’m like, wow, this is what I want. I want to do, this is how it should be.

Ben Settle:
And he’s building a relationship and a connection. And I noticed that it goes beyond just that though, if you study any great marketing, I mean great, someone in influence in persuasion, copywriter, or whatever, marketer, you’ll notice that they all kind of do variations of it. And some, if you look at the late Gary Halbert, for example, great copywriter, just brilliant. Like one of the best that ever lived. The reason he was so popular is not necessarily, I mean, yeah, his work was great, but you’d read his newsletter and you felt like you knew the guy. Now he didn’t mail daily or anything. He probably would’ve been very much against it at the time, but it doesn’t matter because it was the relationship building. Like you felt like you knew this person, this guy was changing people’s lives and it wasn’t some, he was very imperfect.

Ben Settle:
He wasn’t trying to act like he’s perfect. He would talk about this crappy thing that happened to him recently and tie it into your life somehow. And he, again, he wasn’t doing email, but it doesn’t matter because it was the approach that mattered. And at the end of the day, I’ve always noticed that the people who were really make things work and last the test of time are those who put the emphasis on building a relationship.

Ben Settle:
And it’s not like I’m not selling. I am. I am. I ultimately sell pretty much every email, but it’s not the goal. The goal is to build the relationship, give the opportunity to buy something that they may or may not have an interest in. And then I’ll be back tomorrow. Right? Because a lot of selling comes down to timing. Sometimes people just aren’t ready for something. But if you come at them, you aren’t pushy. You show some respect, you treat their time, as it’s valuable to them, just like your time’s valuable to you. It becomes a very, very powerful tool that, when you misused, yeah, people mostly misuse it, but when you use correctly for building a relationship, it can change everything.

Sean Corbett:
Yeah, for sure. And I think a lot of folks appreciate it or excuse me, they approach it in the inverse where they get very precious with one specific email because like, and they don’t realize, like you said, it’s a timing issue. You could maybe send that email in two months, make a whole bunch of sales, send it today and make no sales. But then if you just send that one email, boy, you’ve got a lot riding on it. Right? So it’s like it’s sacred now. Instead of if they just approached the consistency as being the sacred part and the message is as being no big deal then that might help the mindset.

Ben Settle:
Yeah and I’ll tell you what. Here’s a fairly good example of what you were just saying. So I’m about to name someone who probably had never even, the idea of email never even existed when he was when he was alive. All right.

Sean Corbett:
Yeah.

Ben Settle:
He’s an old school advertising guy who died in 1971. So, I don’t know how email got invented in the sixties or whatever. I don’t know when it was, but I’m sure he never used it for marketing purposes. And his name is Leo Burnett. And the Leo Burnett agency is still around today. It’s almost a hundred years old. It’s one of the biggest in the world. The guy, I’ve been reading this book that of a bunch of collected writings of his, it’s very hard to find. It’s called Communications of an Advertising Man.

Ben Settle:
And I’m going through this thing. And it’s all these little essays and speeches he gave back in the day, like the thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, all the way up until he died. And it’s interesting. One of my favorite essays in that was when he was talking to some outdoor advertising organization. I don’t, I forget who it was. And he talked about the power of friendly familiarity. He goes, there’s just nothing that’s going to sell, whatever you’re selling like that. And now his example was, imagine you’re going to work and you take the bus every day and you’re standing at the corner. And every day you meet with, you’re standing next to an insurance salesman, right? You guys just get to talk and whatever. You’re both going to get on the train and you’re going to go to the work and whatever. And you’re just familiar with each other.

Ben Settle:
You’re not in the market for insurance. It’s nothing like that, but what’s going to happen over time is you’re just you to seeing this person and you get to know him a little bit. And suddenly if you do need insurance or you know someone who needs insurance or he asks you for some kind of referral, it’s the sale is made without any manipulation, without any having to coax anyone, you don’t have to trick anybody. You don’t have to do any of that because of that friendly familiarity.

Ben Settle:
And email let’s you play that like a fiddle and people will say, well, you could do the same as social media. Not really because I mean, you can, but the reality is it’s a very noisy environment. It’s more like going to a convention center. It’s like trying to like talk over everybody, but friendly familiarity with email, it’s just the most obvious thing in the world. And when people are ready to buy, they’ll buy. And if you have something to offer, there you are, you should let you let them know about it. And when you do it right, and you know how to curate your list and you know what they want to buy, the whole game changes just completely.

Sean Corbett:
Yeah. Actually on that point of curating your list, I think that would be the next fruitful thing to talk about. So let’s say so far, the listeners are on your same page, right? They understand, they think, yeah, right, Ben’s right. I got to send more emails. I got to think more about the relationship. Now let’s talk a little bit about who are they speaking to? Who are they targeting and how are they approaching them? And you have such a great concept about this, which you like to call “the four shiny quarters versus a hundred pennies”.

Ben Settle:
Oh yeah. Yeah. I don’t know where I heard that analogy originally, but I remember thinking I’m going to start treating my list like that. And what that means is, there are people that will try to get everybody as a customer and everybody on their email list, they measure their success by size of list and all that. And there are people have very big lists. And I can tell you, I’ve known enough of these people to tell you that their lives are way more complicated than they need to be. And they’re always at the masterminds asking how they can simplify things and all that, right? This is what they do. And yeah, they’re very successful. I’m not taking that away from anybody. But I do have this belief that is better would have four shining, clean quarters in your pocket than a hundred sticky pennies when you don’t even know where they’ve been.

Ben Settle:
Now, there are cases where, what I’m saying will not necessarily be the case for everybody, but I’m saying the way I like to run things is, I’d rather have fewer quality people than a lot of questionably quality people. And by quality I mean, not bad people, but they’re not good for me. They don’t want what I have. They’re not going to like me. They’re not going to like my style, whatever. For whatever reason I’m not trying to like keep people on my list. Like, why do people worry so much about unsubscribed? Oh my God, I’m going to get unsubscribed. If I do what you say, Ben, I’m going to get hammered with unsubscribed and they’re playing to not lose instead of playing to win. It’s like, who cares? You know? It’s like, maybe they shouldn’t be on your list. Maybe they’re just sitting there clogging up your bandwidth.

Ben Settle:
And every email broadcasting company charges in various ways, but a lot of them charge by number of leads on your list. Why have a bunch of leads on your list who are never going to buy, just complain, right? It’s better if they unsubscribe, in fact, you should celebrate unsubscribes because they didn’t push the spam button on you, if nothing else. And if you’re building a list consistently, which is unfortunately, this is what a lot of people get wrong is, I’ll teach them email and they’ll learn at least the way I do things. And they’ll start making sales right away. Like, it’s pretty much inevitable, but that’s until they burn through their list. And then they’re like, how come sales stop? I’m like, well, have you been building your list? No, you’re not adding new names to the list? No. Well, yeah, you’ve gone through all the buyers.

Ben Settle:
It’s like, you always got to be adding people to your list and you’ll get some of the other ones too, over time. But this is a thing that happens over and over. It’s almost a trope now, but that’s the thing, you’ve got to be adding. It’s like any business has to have leads, has to be prospecting. I’ve never seen a business that makes it very long if they’re not generating new leads. I don’t even think it’s possible. So why would it be any different with email and yet, I don’t know. This seems to be a mystery, it’s like it dons on them like, oh yeah, I guess I should build my list.

Sean Corbett:
Yeah. And then the same approach applies. Right? They look at the total amount of contacts on their list as if that means something. So, oh, I can just add, I can scrape. I can get a guy to scrape a hundred contacts from businesses online or put them here or whatever. And then like you say, they all unsubscribe after the first three emails. So it wasn’t really list, was it?

Ben Settle:
Oh yeah. No. And I’ll give you a real life example of this. So this was a few years back. I haven’t messed with this recently. So there’s a lot of people obsessed over their so called opt-in rates, right? Like so many people visit their site. How many are going to opt into their list? And I’m not saying people shouldn’t pay attention to that. There’s nothing wrong with it. But I did this as an experiment. I had three headlines on my opt-in page. I just let them run. And I was tracking them for a few years and I didn’t really change, I didn’t really look at it at first. I just kind of let it run. Because I sound like I’m getting tens of thousands of people to my site every day to get a statistically relevant result anyways. So it’s going to take a while. Well, when I finally got to a point where I was pretty comfortable declaring a winner, it was very interesting to me because I was tracking them to sales of my email player’s newsletter. I wasn’t just tracking the opt-in. I was seeing who’s buying of these opt-ins.

Ben Settle:
Now one of the headlines was very, I don’t want to say hype-y, but it’s certainly appealed to the internet-marketing type people and the copywriters. They thought it was the coolest one, you know? And just something like how to double, triple, quadruple sales or something like that, big claim, big benefit, all that. And it by far got the most opt-ins to my site by far, no question. And then I had this kind of weird sleepy headline that didn’t even have a claim and it was all just about building up my credibility.

Ben Settle:
And the copywriters all thought it was stupid. It was too long. It doesn’t, every way that worked. But that was the one that was getting you the overwhelming number of sales. So there’s your four quarters versus your a hundred pennies. Why would I want a bunch of people who just opt in because of a, it got them in their greed gland or whatever, when I’d want the ones who are going to buy, ultimately buy. And that’s an example, like that’s why just testing things, like the opt-in, it’s like, oh you got to go farther than that. Who’s buying and appeal to them. Give them what they want, sell them what they’re buying and they’ll buy.

Sean Corbett:
Yeah. But Ben, “that sounds painful, and it’s going to take a long time and it’s going to take effort and thinking.”

Ben Settle:
Well, there’s the other bottleneck, right? Nobody wants to do it. Everybody’s out there kissing ass, everybody’s out there trying to soothe-say, it’s fast and easy. No, no, no. If all this was fast and easy, everybody would be doing it. And everybody would be very successful with it. Not fast and easy. Nothing in life worth having is fast and easy. It takes time. It takes consistency. We used that word earlier. That word consistency really is, that’s the key to the whole thing. Being there every day with something interesting to say worth their time with an offer to something that can improve their lives and hopefully change their lives and maybe they go and tell other people about you. And there’s the thing about email is that it doesn’t have to exist in a vacuum.

Ben Settle:
And I’m probably as guilty as anyone is thinking as thinking it did for a while, about 10 years ago or early. I remember thinking that well, if I just get my email game up and I write the magic subject line, no, no, no. The real power is, I mean that’s important, but it doesn’t exist by itself. That what happened before they got to your site again, which kind of appeal on your opt-in page, is going to bring the best buyers? I would say that’s just as important if not more important than writing the all magical subject line, you know? So none of these things exist in a vacuum. They all work together. It’s very holistic. It’s kind of like if you approach your health, some people approach your health by just, well, if I take this one vitamin, that’ll be great.

Ben Settle:
You have a whole body, you have a whole system there, everything from your gut health to your brain, to your heart, like everything works, nothing exists. It’s like in weightlifting, right, people will sit there and just do crunches all day trying to get better abs but there’s not a single, I don’t know, a single coach or expert or author in this, in that area who doesn’t say, no, you got to, you got to do compound stuff. Work your whole body up, build muscle. That’s that muscle that builds the pecs. You can’t spot-lose. It doesn’t work like that, you don’t. Just by doing crunches you’re not going to do it. But by having a holistic whole body approach, it’s better. So nothing exists in a vacuum and in email, it’s the same way.

Sean Corbett:
Yeah. That’s a hundred percent true. I think when I first started on your list and started getting Email Players, it was really about the craft of writing email and that fell by the wayside pretty fast, because if you’re diligent about it, you can get it pretty quickly. But then all of a sudden people started saying, I write emails for clients, obviously websites.ca being one of them. And people started coming at my clients and just going, wow, you’re the only person that I read. Oh that’s so interesting, your thoughts on this thing and that thing, all of a sudden, they’re getting referrals, they’re getting testimonials. We’re not even asking for it because like you said, people just, it wasn’t just one email it was chaining together this consistent narrative, almost like, well, like you said about Gary Halbert, it was like reading a serialized novel, getting his newsletters all the time.

Ben Settle:
Absolutely. And that’s exactly it, it wasn’t like one magic sentence and this one newsletter did anything. They all work together. It’s really one of those things. And I think this is why I have so much contempt for the internet marketing communities as a whole. And I do. I mean, I try, I don’t really hide it. It’s not personal against anyone. It’s just that I know that they’re hurting themselves and they’re spreading bad information. They don’t even realize it. See, it’s weird because I come from the, I started studying the old school people. I didn’t, when I got in this game in 2002, I mean, there was internet marketing and all that, but there wasn’t as glut of marketing, so called gurus out there. And so I was real fortunate to kind of run into the Gary Halbert’s and the Dan Kennedy’s and all that first early.

Ben Settle:
And it’s interesting because back in the day of direct mail and offline advertising and all that, you kind of had to go for the transaction first, you didn’t really have the luxury of building a relationship. Like the example I like to use is the late great Gene Schwartz, copywriter and his boss, or the guy who hired him, Marty Edelson, who founded Boardroom Inc, which was, I don’t know, $100, $200 million company by the time he passed like eight years ago and there’s story about in the sixties, I think it was, I don’t know if it was the sixties, but whenever it was, when Marty Edelson hired Gene Schwartz, he had $3,500 to pay and that was it, to launch a newsletter business. And Gene Schwartz wrote the ad and it launched the business. Now maybe I’m missing a part of the story, but there was none of this, send five pieces of content first.

Sean Corbett:
Warm them up…

Ben Settle:
Yeah. There’s no nurturing this stuff. And the reason I bring this up because back then you kind of had to, you just didn’t have the luxury in the marketing alone to build the relationship. Now we do. And it’s kind of a catch 22, because people can get away with doing a lot of things wrong, they do, but it doesn’t make it not wrong. And so you still have people just going for the transaction right away. I need the transaction. And there are times to do that. I mean, there are self-liquidating offers and that sort of thing, people running cold traffic. I get that. I’m not saying that never to do that, but I’m saying for most businesses who just want to build a list and sell it stuff, you have the chance now to build a relationship and get a transaction at the same time, which didn’t exist back then. So anyway, I just throw that out there. It’s just one of those things that I think about a lot.

Sean Corbett:
Yeah. I think it’s a good distinction too, because people might get a little bit confused when they hear us talking. If you’re listing out there and you’re going entirely for cold traffic, you might have to modulate what we’re saying here. But what we’re talking about is you might have a customer list, right? Or a past prospect list that you can get started with right away. That might be 2, 3, 400, 500 people on that list you can start emailing. And that’s when, what Ben’s talking about becomes so powerful, because those people sort of are already familiar with you. And that’s where the whole relationship and storytelling stuff really takes off. Ben, I wanted to ask you, I know you have tons of different people you help around the world, lots of different businesses. You yourself have a couple different businesses and stuff. I wondered if you could tell me a story about maybe helping in particular, a brick and mortar type mom and pop type shop, or at least maybe a kind of a success story that you heard from one of your students.

Ben Settle:
Yeah. I’ve had some people, like for example, there was a guy who had some kind of coffee business. I don’t remember exactly what it was. It’s like, I’m going basically on memory here and he was doing it. And it was just about driving people to his shop, using daily emails, he got them on, I don’t know how he got them on a list. I don’t remember if he was driving them to an opt-in page or maybe he was collecting their information in the store, which is a very good way to do it, by the way. You go to a RadioShack, they totally get your information. They don’t particularly do anything useful with it, but they do grab it, they do get your email address and all that. How hard it’d be to have like an iPad out there and say, hey, put your email in here and I’ll send you some updates on discounts and giveaways and whatever, whatever gimmicks you need to come up with to get people to coming back.

Ben Settle:
And I say, gimmick, not like in a bad way, but just, that’s what it is. You just want to get people coming back to the store. So I’ve had people do that sort of thing. Not a lot. Most of my customers are online, purely online marketers, but they’re out there and people do it. I have a friend who’s in, he has like a rental, he rents out machines and tools and all that. He was doing some stuff in email. I lost track of what he was doing with it, but he’s come back to Email Players recently. So maybe I should check in with him actually now that I think about it because yeah, I probably should be capturing more stories about that. I have so few of them on my list and in my world that I don’t really think about it too much.

Sean Corbett:
No, that’s fair. I mean, it’s incredible how much it maps to any different industry I’ve found at least. So, I mean, obviously you have a lot of teaching out there. A lot of opportunities for people to connect with you. If our listeners kind of want to take the next step and start actually sharpening up their email game, then what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you?

Ben Settle:
They could just go to bensettle.com. And when you go there, if you give me your email address, you can get on my daily email list and I do mail daily, but you’ll also get a free issue of the very first Email Players newsletter, which is well, man, that’s over 10 years ago, but the information people still use to make money with no big deal. I’m not going to give a physical issue to anybody, but they’ll get a PDF of the first issue. And you can go through that, use it, read it, do whatever you want. And it’s an absolute, no brainer to say, figure out if you want to keep following what I’m doing or not. It’s not going to be for everybody. And that’s fine. Because just as I curate out, I expect people to curate me out if I’m not good for them. So that’s bensettle.com. Oh and also more recently you also get access to my mobile app, which has about 40 hours of content in there. So all free at bensettle.com.

Sean Corbett:
Yeah. The app is fantastic. If you’re working out or driving, whatever, you can listen offline, online, audio, video, so that I highly recommend. And I think I probably sent a hundred people to your list to sign them up over time. And like you said, probably some of them curated themselves out because this guy’s emailing me every day. And-

Ben Settle:
I actually say it in the welcome email.

Sean Corbett:
Yeah.

Ben Settle:
I’m like, sometimes I mail, I don’t know what else to do, but I get very few complaints like that because I do, that’s all about being transparent. Right? Let them know what to expect.

Sean Corbett:
Exactly. Yeah. And so I thought it was funny when someone came back and told me that I said, well, yeah, don’t you want to learn about how to email? And they said, yeah. Okay. So just you could read Ben’s email every day and do what he does. And actually learn, like they thought like you had to deliver them something, no, no, the email is the thing, every day.

Ben Settle:
Yeah. I don’t know how to help people like that sometimes, but I do appreciate the sending people my way and I always appreciate that.

Sean Corbett:
Yeah. So definitely guys go check him out, go sign up and get on that app too because it’s fantastic. Ben, last word goes to you. Is there anything else you want to say about emails or marketing in general?

Ben Settle:
Yeah. Just, I understand that people see things being done out there with email and it turns them off and they’re like, I would never do that. And I don’t want to waste time with that. I’ll just go on Facebook all day and that’s fine. I’m not saying don’t use these other medias, but understand if you do email, right. And you understand how it works, you’re not an imposition on anybody. There’s something, you do it right and you’re going to have a lot of people who look forward to hearing from you and buying from you. And I just have never seen it work with another media like email. So give it a shot. See what you think. And worst case is you just don’t do it.

Sean Corbett:
There you go. Awesome. Ben, I really appreciate it. Thanks for coming on today.

Ben Settle:
All right. Thank you.