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Struggling with your email marketing? You may need to work on your differentiation strategy.

Updated: Apr 30

You can build the perfect strategy, email or otherwise, but if you can’t grab your audience’s attention in the first place, you’ve lost the battle of holding that attention, to begin with.

I talk a lot about grabbing that attention by starting the relationship between the sender and the recipient on the right foot and then nurturing that relationship steadily and wisely (missed the intro?).

But even a good sender-recipient relationship, which started on the best of terms, won’t always be enough -

Noise levels nowadays are immense. Everywhere you look, you’ll find marketing messages and brands trying to convince you to buy their solutions.

For some people, logging into their inboxes is the modern-day equivalent of entering a battlefield.

“BUY NOW!”, one email shouts at you, “read me first!”, another begs.

Even if you do notice a name that you know and like (maybe even trust) in your inbox, the likelihood of you, as a recipient, opening that email and engaging with it is decreasing by the day.

In comes the differentiation part of your strategy.

The thing that helps a brand make a long-lasting impression so subscribers remember you, resonate with you and want to open your emails as soon as they see your brand’s name popping up.

And even though I can’t give any “secret formulas” for that differentiation strategy (remember? No cookie-cutter approach in this house!), based on my experience, the main three ingredients for it are pretty damn simple.

Like in dating and (any) relationships, many audiences are looking for a balanced mix of:

  1. Humor

  2. Novelty

  3. Safety

Deliver that experience with your emails, and you’ll stand in the oversaturated inbox.

(Of course, it’s simple but not easy. And there are many other factors to it like personalization, segmentation, zero-party data collection, and more.)

Today’s example is a good one for that.

And even though it isn’t an email marketing tactic, this email prank combined those three so effortlessly that it revived a brand from the grave and gave it new life, so much so, that this brand is still going strong a decade and a half later.

I’m talking about Rick Astley.

Yup, that guy.

Back in 2007, Rick Astley wasn’t in the music scene anymore, not actively anyway. But some gamers on the 4Chan website thought it’d be really funny to promise a link to the new Grand Theft Auto IV trailer, but instead, send people to that Youtube video.

Right there, the first Rickroll was invented.

(This tactic is called bait and switch - hook people in with a false promise and deliver something else. And for the love of pasta, don’t do it in your marketing. I can’t stress that enough.)

Ever since then, people around the world started sending a link to this video in their emails, promising it’d be something else.

Imagine the shock of serious employees opening a work-related email just to have that tune start blasting instead, for the entire office to hear.

It’s no surprise that Rickrolling became so popular:

A familiar and loved 80s hit and the element of surprise made it funny (and sometimes excruciatingly annoying) to so many people.

How many? The “Never Gonne Give You Up” music video has more than 2.2 Billion views (as of writing this piece), and Astley revived his music career.

16 years later, and earlier this month, he performed at Glastonbury Music Festival in front of dozens of thousands of viewers.

And there you have it, yet another proof of the power of emails.

Do it right, and your subscribers will remember you and be your biggest fans for years to come.

What’s your differentiation strategy? Need help with figuring out yours, so you can stand out in the oversaturated inbox and sell more with your emails? Let’s chat.

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