Cold email marketing became popular in the past few years, the idea being that it was an extension of genuine interest and engagement. You’d let people know you mentioned them in a blog post, or referenced them in some other content, like in an ebook. Or you’d share something you wrote that they might be interested in for their own blog or research. They would most likely share it with their followers. Good times, all around. And it worked.

Unfortunately, it has morphed into something else, much like guest blogging was co-opted by spammers and sullied.

I wish I could share the tweet with you that set my mind to writing this post, but unfortunately, it has been pulled down. Essentially, with typical Twitter bluntness, the writer of the tweet said this:

Online email marketing today is an email from some guy saying, “I mentioned you in this thing I wrote. Share it with all your people.”

I suspect he pulled the tweet down because the language was a bit more colorful than this, no doubt stemming from the sense of frustration as his already burgeoning inbox was bombarded by this careless kind of marketing that is really little more than spam.

I’m going to approach this post a bit differently, positing some theories about cold email marketing at the start.

  1. If everyone ends up doing it, the effectiveness is lost.
    1. Even if it’s a miracle cure, too many people are poorly trained in administering it.
    2. Even in perfect form, the sheer amount of emails can overwhelm.
  2. You must have patience. People don’t all move at the speed of marketing.
    1. The recipient must truly benefit and get value from your request.

Cold email marketing can be done well, just like guest posting still has a place, but too often, in the wrong hands or from marketers who are too busy and have an eye on numbers instead of the hearts of the people. It is something ugly.

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A Tale Of Frustration

True-story time, so that you can learn from my pain.

I generally receive a fair amount of emails each day from people who want me to look at their blog post or ebook. They tell me quickly that they’ve mentioned me or something I’ve written in their content, and would I please…

  • Check it out. (Pretty vague, and it doesn’t tell me how I’m going to benefit, only that I’m going to have to give up time to do it.)
  • Review it and see if I agree. (Feels like being baited, but I might bite depending on how they worded the email.)
  • Comment on it. (Again, time consuming and how do I benefit by giving you social proof?)
  • Give them pointers on how to make it better. (I find this confusing; I don’t have time to spot-edit other content. I think this is supposed to be flattery, but I would advise wording this kind of request carefully.)
  • And, most importantly, would I share it with my followers lots and lots of times.

Some I respond to, and some I don’t. Because I’m an introvert and also fairly regimented in what I allow myself to do each day, that would interfere with work and personal time, so I don’t always respond right away. Many of these cold emails are hastily written and don’t offer any genuine reward.

So if I don’t respond, I archive it away. Sometimes I’d get a follow-up email, wondering if I’d gotten the previous email, and repeating the original request. Some folks follow up the follow-up many times over, and that’s harassing.

One day, I received a typical cold email. It said this:

Hey Julie. I love your blog post X. The best part was this: X. Here is a quote I liked: X. We wrote something similar and I’d like you to check it out. I would love your feedback. Sharing it on your blog and social media would be great! :-)

cold email

I read it, and I thought this:

It’s a form email, with blank areas for personalization. They used the quote to prove they read my blog post, but is a large pull quote suggesting they didn’t actually read it. It feels like part of a massive campaign with an attempt at being personal. I don’t know this person.

I archived it. Six days later I received this:

Hey Julie. Just touching base again. While waiting to hear back from you, I read this wonderful post on your blog about X (same blog post mentioned in the first email). I liked it so much I shared it with my Twitter audience. Here is the tweet: (link to, not any specific tweet or profile). Here is something similar: (same blog post they wanted me to check out last time). I hope you enjoy it. Do leave a comment or share it.

I archived it. Clearly, a follow-up cold email form with sloppy attention to details. I’m not going to share content from anyone who isn’t careful about details, since the content I share and curate reflects on me.

Two weeks later, I receive an email from the same group. Unfortunately, they mixed up their copy and paste efforts, it seems, and it was for some guy I didn’t know, containing an email reply chain. Same email template and wording, same blog post they were pushing.

I responded back, letting them know of the mix-up and that their email hadn’t gone to the correct person. I also politely and pleasantly noted I was not interested in these types of cold emails.

Ten days later, I received an email starting another round of the same templates for another blog post. I archived it. Ten days after that, someone else from that group made a friend request on some of my social media profiles and promptly sent me a message with a link to their LinkedIn Group. Sixteen days after that, I received a cold email announcing beta access to their app. They also asked if I would please sign up and promote their app on social media and on my blog to my friends?

Ye gads.

This is one example. I have many. I save the emails, because sometimes I can’t believe people are doing it. I want to say this to these folks who are going about cold email marketing in this manner: You keep taking up my time and bandwidth. What do I get out of this?

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What To Ask Yourself As You Write Your Cold Emails

Assuming you’re not an influencer and that you’re looking to build your audience and get some new attention with the help of someone who has a bit of influence, what do you have to do to make cold email marketing effective again?

Frankly, much of these next steps can work for any marketing approach, not just cold emails.

1. Did it jump the shark?

Before we proceed too much farther, I’d advise you to learn how to evaluate a marketing technique and decide if it’s jumped the shark. This cold email technique may have, indeed, reached critical mass, if you have influencers and others grumbling about it on social media. It has been proposed by leading marketers as a winning technique for so long now and has been used by those of us in the trenches, causing it to lose its power.

cold email marketing

But maybe not.

What kind of responses are you getting back? Perhaps your email method works, perhaps your style is off, or perhaps the technique is alive or dead. You decide.

2. Am I valuing the person?

Signs of not valuing the person you’re about to make a request of:

  • Emails that fill up already crowded and noisy inboxes that are filled with jargon, insincere compliments, overly casual friend-talk from a stranger
  • High request loads (share this, do this, review this) for busy people
  • Constant “follow-up”
  • And a barrage of simultaneous friend requests on every social network out there the same time you send the email

That feels like a war campaign, not a genuine relationship. That feels like you’re checking things off a marketing list according to a schedule, and not seriously inquiring and engaging. You clearly want something from the person without any quid pro quo.

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3. Is my timeline off?

Remember, people don’t move at the speed of marketing. Engagement is not a cold email and a follow-up. That’s little more than the digital form of advertising circulars in the mail that have my name on it generated from some database. Real relationships, and real engagement, takes time.

You can’t flood the Internet with cold email marketing in hopes of fast returns. In other words, do not spray your emails out to random influencers and strangers, taking the shotgun approach and hoping something sticks. That’s a good way to ruin your reputation and have your email marked as spam, or categorize you as a “troublesome” emailer.

You must focus on specific people with specific communication tailored directly to them personally and genuinely. Their interests. Their concerns. Thoughtful responses. That level of communication necessarily reduces the amount of emails you can send out, and it stretches out the timeline.

cold email marketing

While it would be nice to think of cold emails as a campaign-based technique that fits a particular timeline centered around a specific set of content, I am suggesting that era has passed. It may have worked that way when the technique first developed, but if my inbox is any indication, getting a flood of emails based around the latest content piece someone is pushing that month and my reaction to it (as well as the now-gone tweet mentioned earlier), it’s leaving a bad taste in people’s mouths.

4. Is there any real interest?

If you don’t hear back, you didn’t hear back.

Don’t follow-up your follow-up your follow-up your follow-up. Don’t send messages on other social network messaging systems, too. If the person isn’t interested, move on. And tell the rest of your team as much.

They’re just not that into you.

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What You Need To Do

If you’ve asked yourself those questions and are legitimately good to go forward, you need to know how to do it right.

1. Pre-engagement engagement.

Choose a few influencers or people you’d like to target in the hopes that they will do the same for you. Be creative. Pick a few who aren’t on the top of everyone’s list, perhaps. Look for people who:

  • Are active on social media.
  • Have followers who are active.
  • Have lots of blog comments.
  • Are in the habit of promoting others or doing what you’re ultimately going to ask them to do.
  • Are someone you’ve engaged with legitimately (i.e. not looking to get something from) in the past.
  • Have responded to you in the past.
  • Are doing something unusual, unique, or have a brand or thing going on that is different from everyone else that you are truly interested in.
Please notice: You’ve engaged with them in the past without trying to get something from them. And also, please notice: Someone doing something you’re truly interested in.

Do you see people as merely a means to an end? Do you target influencers who are merely in your niche or have the fame, or are you actually interested in what they say and do? If you aren’t truly interested, you’re going to have a tough time forming a legitimate relationship and communicating with them on a real level.

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Remember this, because I’m going to harp on this and allude to it for the rest of the post: Natural conversation stems from true interest. Real relationships stem from caring about someone else.

If you’re a well-known person in your niche, and considered an important and relevant influencer, you might be able to get by without some of this. After all, you can’t care about everyone; you’d be exhausted. But most of us aren’t, and you need to lay the groundwork of genuine friendliness first before launching requests. If your first contact as an unknown quantity is market-ese, empty flattery, a form email, and “do this for me please”, you failed. You did it wrong.

2. Inject tangible value into your communication.

Remember, this cold email technique doesn’t work unless you genuinely have something of value to offer the recipient. And by genuine, I don’t mean some sort of empty flattery or suggestions of assumed or forced quid pro quo (“I share your stuff all the time. You should do the same for me.”)

You need to add some value. And you need to show that you value the actual person.

Adding value and benefits is easy enough. You know the drill. You offer the recipient access to exclusive information or data, a free copy of your ebook, a guest post, help with something, first use of an infographic—that kind of value and benefit is easy to understand. But how do you show the person that you value them?

Simple: You assign time or money to the interaction. In a busy and fast world, time and money carry weight.

  • You could send a postcard.
  • A letter.
  • A Graze box.
  • A holiday card.
  • Treats for their whole team.
  • A hot new book on their Amazon wishlist.
  • If the person constantly gushes about Yo-Yo Ma on their social media feeds, send them a Yo-Yo Ma CD.
  • If they love Star Wars, send them something Star Wars-y.
  • Donate to their favorite charity.
  • Spend months conversing about non-marketing things like you would with a friend.
  • Offer to help them here and there, early on, before popping a request (“I’d be happy to be a beta tester/bug finder” or “I can create some graphics for you if you need a little help.”).

This isn’t about being a creeper or about breaking some sort of pay-to-play laws. It isn’t a guarantee they will do what you want.

It’s merely saying with action that the person matters and you took the time to show it. Talk is cheap, especially online, and when I get something that took time or money to communicate with me, I pay attention. That person was willing to expend something of value to them in order to get my attention.

cold email marketing

For example, I recently received a letter from a blog reader from Kentucky who had read a post I’d written here on the CoSchedule blog. And by letter, I mean paper, in an envelope, with a stamp. He wanted to thank me for writing on a topic that he hadn’t realized he should learn about, and felt he needed to let me know how much it had helped him. So I wrote back. I responded. If that person asks something of me, I will certainly be paying attention and more likely to at least respond again.

I’m going to be bold and say that being personal is the only way to stand out now. Clever or flattering language in an email doesn’t really do it. It’s not enough, anymore, to run the data and find a “slow email” day so your email doesn’t get lost in the shuffle because, truthfully, there are no slow email days. They’re all pretty heavy, with some days being merely slightly less heavy.

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If you simply can’t imagine doing anything more than email, block out the time to send real emails long before you need to make a request. You might:

  • Ask their opinion about something they are interested in (anything other than about a post you just wrote).
  • Ask questions, as if they were a mentor (but no links to your site right away).
  • Sincerely tell them how their writing has helped you.
  • Share some content with them that isn’t yours. Tell them why you thought it might help, or how it fit in with what they have previously talked about.

And then wait a bit before repeating. You’re establishing that you’re not just out for what you can get.

When thinking of cold contacting an influencer to gain traction for your content, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is too common?
  2. What is uncommon?
  3. How can I make this happen using something uncommon?

You know what happens when you add benefits and show the email recipient they are valuable to you? They see your request as being more valuable. You took the time to add value to it, therefore, it is a more valuable request.

This is a simple equation.

3. Don’t care so much.

This one technique, that of cold emails, cannot be the cornerstone of your marketing plan. If it is, you’ll care too much.

If you care too much, you’re going to chase after it too hard. You’re going to “follow up” to the death and ruin your chances of future success. I’m not proposing apathy, but patience requires you not to sit and stare at your phone waiting for the email to arrive.

Be Picky.

The crucial question is this: What can you do (not just say) that shows you invested time and/or money into your communication? What have you done that shows you value the person?

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If you have the mindset that the person you’re making the request of is more valuable than your request, you won’t slip into spammy and frustrating behavior, and something, ultimately, will come from your efforts. So, in recap:

1. Pick your request.

By deciding that you will add true value (backed by time and money) to your request, you’ll be less sloppy and more casual in the requests you make. Instead of pushing every third blog post, you’ll take the time to create some kind of content that truly matters.

2. Pick the person.

Use the list and choose your email recipients wisely. A bigger list isn’t always best. Be sure you only take on what you can handle in a personal manner.

3. Pick the method.

Choose a creative way to communicate to get the recipient’s attention, but remember to do it early on before you begin to make requests. Be uncommon. If email is the only route you can go, remember that caring about people and communicating that genuinely without wanting something in return is, in and of itself, uncommon.

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What has been your experience with influencer outreach? How do you write truly valuable cold emails?