The 12 Most Effective Loss Leaders to Attract Email Subscribers to Your Brand


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Here’s the truth about email marketing in this decade: Newsletters have been around for a while, and many businesses use them. But it’s hard to get a potential customer sign up for your newsletter.

That’s why it makes sense that smart businesses resort to bribery (“If you give us your email, we’ll give you this cool thing”). Most of the time, that item is virtual but provides enough value to be worth the exchange. Not all bribes are equal.

The golden rule of content marketing is to amaze potential and current subscribers with what you give away for free. Make it so useful and surprising they cannot wait to see the rest of your products.

With all of the ideas below, this golden rule applies. Make it amazing. Make it shine. And give it a value proposition that’s not just tempting — it demands attention.

12 Top-Performing Loss Leaders for Email List Growth

1. E-Courses

Don’t deliver a tired old e-book that promises X solutions to Y problems. Everybody’s seen too many of those to be excited about another similar offer.

Instead, offer a multi-episode course including video, worksheets, and action-item steps. Set it up to be delivered as part of the automatic onboarding your mailing list service provides. Make it awesome, and include in it the basics of your business.

These courses work best when you build them to solve a problem, and title and position them accordingly. Your course shouldn’t provide just general information, but rather outline precisely how to make progress when somebody is stuck and frustrated. You’ll capture subscribers’ emotions by offering relief to a problem they face, and you’ll impress them with the quality of your knowledge.

2. Manifestos

A manifesto is a detailed, emotionally oriented but factually driven expression of your principles and beliefs. It should inspire trust in you and your company by showing prospective clients your business has values and goals corresponding to their own.

A manifesto should be reasonably long (between 3,000 and 10,000 words) and produced as a PDF or e-book. You could even do a video if you’re good at speaking on a screen for 10 to 15 minutes. Use the format, language, and concepts that speak most to the people in your industry and your target customers.

Manifestos generally attract fewer leads than other offers. However, these leads are often higher-quality. They’re the people looking for a person or corporation whose values align with theirs, and they’re likely to become not just clients and customers, but passionate advocates for your brand.

3. Contests

Capitalize on the fundamentally competitive nature of humanity by holding a contest around your content marketing. Set a task to the general public that presents benefits for your marketing plan. You can set direct requirements, like referring new sign-ups to your newsletter, or more holistic tasks, such as liking or sharing specific social media posts.

Whatever you require of participants, make sure these requirements are clearly defined, easy to track, and given a specific time limit. At the end of that time limit, you tally the results and declare a winner. Most of the time, your winner will be the person who performed the task the most often or the most effectively.

Make the prize for a contest reasonably impressive. If you’re having one winner or just a few winners, opt for a physical object mailed to their homes. In this world full of e-books and video courses, something tangible carries compelling weight.

4. Drawings

A drawing works like a contest, except you don’t pick a winner based on direct behavior. Instead, for every act they perform, they get a virtual ticket in a pool from which you draw at the end of the contest.

Everything we said about contests applies here as well. Make the tasks clearly defined. Make them easy to track. Set a specific time limit. Be super-transparent when it comes time to draw, so there can be no accusations of favoritism or rigging. Finally, if possible, make the prize something tangible so its perceived value is significant enough to get people interested.

5. Checklists and Worksheets

Everybody in the world is short on time these days. Any tool you can provide to help clients with time management is something they’ll be eager to receive. Checklists and worksheets do precisely that by imparting vital information about a process, project, or need and organizing the workflow to get it done.

Like with e-courses, checklists and worksheets work best if your title describes not what they are, but rather what problem they solve. An action title draws the eyes and interest that a loss-leader needs to create.

As a bonus, you can craft a checklist and worksheets that help potential clients organize information your team will need later if they become customers. This will save time during onboarding and let you get to the part where you impress them faster.

6. Infographic Cheat Sheets

Producing an infographic may require new skills and tools beyond what you’re currently using to produce a newsletter and other forms of written content. But the benefits can be worth it. As marketing company Mammoth reports:

  • Human brains process visually presented information fastest and with the most comprehension.
  • Infographics are 30 times more likely to be read than text articles.
  • Infographics are shared more often than text.
  • Visual posts gain 65% more engagement than text on Facebook.

If you can create an infographic rich with information for potential clients that directly answers an important question or solves a nettling problem, it can be an incredibly powerful way to get new subscribers. You can offer a sneak preview of one portion of the infographic in your publicity materials and tell subscribers they’ll get access to the full infographic if they sign up for an email list or take another action.

7. Exclusive Content (With More to Come)

People love to feel like they’re part of the in crowd. This was true in high school, and it’s true now. This particular lost leader comes in two parts.

The first part promises exclusive content delivered in the form of your newsletter or other content marketing material. It could include behind-the-scenes glimpses of your company, special offers, or information for members only. Consider offering early access to products before the public release date.

The second part relates to the specific giveaway you send to people upon signing up. This can’t be current, like a sneak preview, but should give some kind of in-depth inside look at your company. A manifesto can be a reliable option here. Think about the most transparent thing you can share with prospects that would encourage them to engage more deeply with your brand, your products, and your company’s values.

8. Deep-Dive Reports

A deep-dive report is what it sounds like: an in-depth, detailed study of some aspect of your business or industry. This can’t be a simple 101-level e-book, but rather a comprehensive assessment of something going on in your industry.

Be sure your report answers a question or solves a problem for those most likely to engage with your company. It must do so comprehensively and demonstrate expert knowledge. It should answer a narrower question or a more specific problem than content with a broader focus.

Although exceptions abound, this is often one of the better options for B2B content marketing. Business-to-business clients tend to come to the table with a fair amount of knowledge already and are seeking detailed answers to their questions and problems.

9. How-To Templates

This cousin of the checklist or worksheet solves the same problem and offers the same solution, only in a slightly different format. It offers the recipient clear, organized, detailed instructions for accomplishing a task they need to accomplish, and in doing so, it demonstrates how skilled you are with that particular task.

Offer a prospect a template for something you would typically charge them for if you had to do it. It builds a sense of gratitude because you saved the person money and trust because they can see your expertise in action.

10. Success Blueprints

The difference between a success blueprint and a how-to template is the scope of the instructions. A how-to model gives specific instructions to perform a single task; the reader can accomplish it independently with the template in hand. A successful blueprint offers a strategic-level course of action to achieve a specific long-term goal.

Each step in the blueprint might be appropriate for a how-to template of its own. The design should include steps most people can accomplish alone, steps to achieve by referencing your content marketing, and steps they will need your (paid) help to perform successfully.

You probably have a success blueprint rough draft already in your company. It may be called a “customer journey template” or something like that. There’s no reason you can’t use the process your company undergoes when servicing clients as the starting point for a blueprint.

11. Case Studies

Human beings love stories, so tell them one. A case study showcases an example where you improved life dramatically for a client.

In many ways, it’s the big brother of the customer testimonial. You’re showing the direct results of using your service, supported by real names and verifiable metrics. Done well, this can be an incredibly compelling combination of social proof and objective evidence that you excel at what you do.

12. Physical Goods

The overwhelming majority of giveaway offers to join a mailing list are electronic. If you can instead deliver an actual, physical object to someone’s door for free, your offer will get more attention.

You will need to run the numbers before getting started. Check your average sale value, average lifetime client value, and closure rate per lead from your content funnel to determine how much you can spend to acquire an email address. Then, find out what you can give away, with shipping, for less than that.

You might have seen a  similar strategy on Facebook ads lately, where somebody offers a “free” print book in exchange for the shipping fee. The fee is usually enough to cover production costs and make the physical item less costly per unit.

Final Thought

Remember, not every item on this list will apply to every industry. When faced with deciding which to use, remember that metrics are your friend.

Run programs where you make different offers on otherwise identical email initiatives, tracking which ones result in the most sign-ups. This kind of A/B testing is fast, easy, and happens in real time for most email marketing services, and it helps you ensure you’re spending time and resources only on the offers that will net you the most value.


Jeff Spaulding worked for 15 years as a marketing manager at a Fortune 500 company. Now, he is a consultant to small and mid-sized businesses, providing online and content marketing strategies.