When I was 12 or 13 my mother and I sat down and watched The Hand That Rocks the Cradle together. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so traumatised (and I’m not sure what message my mother was trying to send me) but I stand by my nearly 30-year belief that Rebecca de Mornay deserved an Oscar for her performance as the deranged and homicidal nanny.
I’ll come back to that film in a minute. First, I want to tell you about another memory I have.
This one happened just 10 years ago. It was when Sarah first invited me to dip a toe into the waters of content marketing. I was a traditional newspaper guy, so she took the time to explain a few core principles of the field. Among them was the ironclad advice “not to build your house on rented land”.
She meant, in no uncertain terms, not to build your audience on a platform where someone else has control — where someone else can change the rules and take away your audience, or control your ability to reach them, whenever they like. This was a no-brainer for me: after all, newspapers live and die on subscriptions.
This principle is why we’ve never really focused on building social media audiences, and why we’ve always advised our clients to grow and nurture their own email databases.
Having someone’s email address means you can reach that person whenever you want, directly, with whatever message you want, without the filter of a third-party algorithm.
So, it was with some amusement I read an article in The Times (of London — paywall) last week that explained email was “the next big thing” for Facebook. You know something is valuable when Facebook wants in on it. It seems the social media giant has noted the success of Substack and is getting onboard the email newsletter bandwagon. They’ve now launched their own email newsletter platform, called Bulletin.
Now, I have no idea what Facebook’s plans and hopes are for Bulletin, but I do know that the company says Bulletin will be free for creators until 2023. That set off a tiny alarm in the ol’ noggin – and I heard Sarah’s words playing on loop inside my head: “Do not build your house on rented land.”
Your email database is the single most valuable marketing asset you have. That’s why third parties want to access it. I’m not saying don’t use services like Bulletin and Substack — perhaps they’ll be a useful tool for your brand, audience and business. But I’m certainly advocating sticking to the content marketing principle Sarah shared with me all those years ago and which has proved solid in the decade since: the hand that rules the database is the hand that rules the world.
6 July 2021
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