A few weeks ago, HubSpot deliberately unsubscribed 250,000 people from its marketing blog and reduced its list from 550,000 to 300,000. Crazy, huh? As you can imagine, we had a lot of anxiety about this test (but forced ourselves to go through with it, anyway).

As it turns out, the decision was a good one. What we found was that ‘trimming the fluff’ improved engagement. Not to mention, we tackled our big ‘graymail’ problem: because HubSpot was sending more than four emails to certain segments per day (and who has time to read that many emails from one company these days?).

Digital media is unchartered territory, and HubSpot had reached an inflection point that few companies are fortunate enough to experience: our audience grew so big that it was actually time to trim down and laser-focus on a core subset. But we didn’t want to jeopardize are web traffic by trimming down our list either.

Long story short: we didn’t lose any web traffic, and we actually improved the quality of our responses from customers, too. It’s a powerful lesson for our company–that less email marketing yields an overall net positive outcome. Here’s how this perspective applies to the world of digital media.

Digital Media Has Historically Been a Numbers Game

It’s always been about website traffic, reach, name, and reputation–in other words, behemoth visibility. But today? Marketers are realizing more and more that ROI comes from precision in targeting. The principle of ‘casting your net wide’ is obsolete: today, the name of the game is ‘reaching the right audiences at the right points of their buyer journeys.’

Digital media companies need to appease two stakeholders: advertisers and audiences. You can’t prioritize one group over the other, and you can’t neglect either set. What both groups want is the same thing: relevant, targeted messaging. It’s the media companies that can deliver this promise that will come out strong. Precision is the value proposition of the future–but many publishers are still stuck in ‘big numbers games of the past.’

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Things need to change–which is why publishers are exploring new revenue models that are based on personalization and higher targeting levels. For more information on these strategies, I suggest looking at HubSpot’s 2015 Publisher Benchmarks Report.

So How Does This All Tie Back to Email?

Email marketing is consistently ranked among the highest ROI channels out there. But it’s also getting more and more flooded, with consumers feeling bombarded with information overload.

According to one report, one-third of marketers think that personalization tech will be most important to marketing in the future. With industries moving in this direction, it’s important that media companies keep up. It’s the only way that publishers can (1) stay relevant to digital audiences and (2) deliver ROI to advertisers and other stakeholders.

Email is a high-performing channel because it’s the most direct way for companies to connect with their target audiences. But these same readers are bombarded with so much information that they’re missing key details in your messages.

It’s time to make a change: trim down your list to make every audience interaction count more.

How to Get Started Trimming Your Email List

The process won’t be straightforward. For instance, you won’t want to create a sudden jolt to your audience composition or subscriber base. You want to be methodical and make sure that you’re creating a value-add–not a deficit.

Start by conducting a landscape analysis. Here are some questions that your team should explore when trimming your email list: 

  • Who are your highest engaged audiences and why?
  • What are some reasons why subscribers may be interested in more or fewer emails?
  • What types of email content are your audiences finding most valuable, and why?

With an understanding of this contextual data, and the ability to tie it back to subscriber emails or personal profiles, you’ll be well positioned to ‘do more with your lists’to reduce the headcount of your subscriber base while improving your marketing efficiency.

You’ll want to take this step by establishing specific goals and an action plan around the following:

Develop Subscriber Personas

Most media companies are still blasting their entire lists with the same, one-size-fits-all messaging. But as audiences get bigger, they also become more diverse. It’s critical that publishers pay attention to these different needs and craft email messaging that’s relevant. For a guide to developing subscriber personas, check out this template and guided exercise from HubSpot.

Improve Quality of Email Marketing Content and Ads

It’s common for subscribers to treat their email lists as afterthoughts and add-ons to their core website browsing experiences. But consumers are finding themselves more time strapped and attention spans are shrinking. Email is one of the most powerful ways to maintain a steady, ongoing conversations with audiences. Don’t just throw together any email marketing content or ads: make sure that every word and graphic adds value to your subscribers’ core experiences.

Improve the Substance of your Messaging

This point is key. It’s not only invaluable from a user experience perspective: it will also improve your email deliverability, spam, and complaint rates. As a publisher, you already know thisit pays to have exceptional content. Your email list is no exception to this perspective.

Think Small to Win Big

After reading this blog post, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and wonder what to do. How can you ensure that you have the right plan in place and to get the ball rolling? The answer is simple: focus on making small improvements every day. Begin making subtle improvements now, even if you’re still defining your brand and revenue strategy. Especially with content marketing, the little things add up.

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