[PMC Daily Consulting Insight] The ghost of Marshall McLuhan

Philip Morgan

I've become a less effective email marketer.

I hope it's so that you can ultimately become more effective at using email in your business. I learn some tough lessons so you don't have to. That kind of thing.

But it is frustrating.

Here's one depiction of the situation.

My email list circa mid to late 2018:

  • Cadence: Emailing the whole list daily

  • Platform: ConvertKit

  • Content focus: Specialization, lead generation, self-made expertise

  • Content style: Infotainment-heavy direct response

  • Results: Good lead nurture, good results when opening up new TEI cohorts, a "live" feeling from my list in terms of responses to emails, etc.

My email list now:

  • 1,889 free subscribers, 40 paid subscribers (12 paid, 28 comps, $1,240 gross annualized revenue)

  • Platform: ConvertKit for email courses, Substack for other emails

  • Cadence: Emailing free subscribers once weekly, emailing paid subscribers 4x week

  • Content focus: Generally it's about self-made expertise, which is a broad and weird umbrella.

  • Content style: Gedium-length essays, leaning towards brand marketing by reducing the "CTA density"

  • Results so far: Difficulty creating a ramp from the free weekly emails to the paid daily emails, less impressive results when promoting stuff like new TEI cohorts, a "dead" feeling from my free list in terms of responses to emails, response to promoting paid services, etc.

If we focus on just the last line here, this is a failed experiment and I need to kill it off now.

We shouldn't focus on just that part, because there's a lot to more be learned here.

The medium is... super freaking important

I've long advocated daily publishing as a way to accomplish two things: 1) lean out over your skis and accelerate the cultivation of your expertise and 2) build trust with the audience of your email list.

Along with that, I'd always assumed that once #1 above started delivering diminishing returns, one could easily back off from daily publishing to something less frequent.

I did essentially that, earlier this year when I made it possible to pay for my thinking by subscribing to the paid segment of my email list. What I actually did is segment my list, and in a way that allowed me to try both daily emailing (which I define as publishing 3x/week or more) and weekly emailing (to the free segment of my email list). For a segment of my email list, I backed off from daily publishing to something less frequent.

As I did that, I saw the ghost of Marshall McLuhan rise from his crypt, drag his lifeless corpse across the floor, and sit on my lap breathing his foul death breath into my face and whisper... "Daily is a different medium than weekly. The medium is... well, you know the rest, kid."

That's one lesson. At least for me -- and I think I'm a reasonable proxy in this way for many of my clients -- publishing something that delivers a positive ROI on the time it takes to read it 3x or more per week is so fundamentally different than doing the same thing once per week (or less) that it may as well be a different medium.

It makes me feel like Nixon in 1960.


This experiment hasn't been "clean". I changed multiple variables at the same time, which we all know makes it challenging to attribute causation.

The other changed variable was to adopt a more brand-ey marketing approach and reduce the CTA density in my emails. This could also explain some of the differences I'm seeing!

And maybe as a result I need to be a bit more patient and let this experiment play out a bit more.

My instinct, frankly and unflatteringly, is to run back into the "safety" of what I was doing before. It was working quite well.

But it's possible (likely, I think) that what I really need to do is double down on my experiment and try bigger variations.

Bright spots

I like the writing I'm doing now. It's an evolution in terms of the first goal of daily publishing, which is to take a trip to the "mind gym" 3x/week or more. My workouts are harder and producing more of the results I want.

Could I have done that without segmenting my list into free and paid segments?

Yes. Of course.

Just like I could go to the gym if I didn't hire a personal trainer. But my trainer-less gym track record has been unimpressive. Segmenting my list into free/paid was a useful forcing function for me.

Could I continue trying to think deeply, formulate that thinking into emails, and publishing those emails daily even if I killed off this paid email list experiment? Totally. That's what's so great about habits like daily publishing: they build a new capacity that you can use whenever you want. The habit is a scaffolding that helps you build the capacity, but once the capacity is built, the scaffolding can be removed.


After barfing this on you, I think the path forward is pretty clear: 1) the real experiment is the free segment of my email list, and 2) I should try increasing the CTA density in my free emails.

Early on in this experiment, I took the closest-to-hand free+paid email list example I could find (Stratechery) and modeled my experiment after Ben's work. His "ramp" is from a weekly free email to a more frequent paid version of the same thing.

In my business, the ramp needs to be from free weekly email to a paid product (book) or service. That's a different ramp. It implies a different purpose for the free weekly emails I send, and I need to conceive and plan those emails differently. And after almost 4 years of working in a different medium, I'll need to work and stretch to adapt to the new medium.

Additionally, I still have a small list segment that gets free daily emails: that's folks who sign up for an email course (http://positioningcrashcourse.com or http://coder2consultant.com). That's an opportunity to increase my CTA density and experiment with re-integrating tonally-appropriate direct response stuff.


It's worth becoming shockingly good at a particular medium, especially if it's one you can use throughout your career.

Be wary of summoning McLuhan's ghost, though. His breath smells like shit.

Have a great weekend, -P