Why Smart Subscriber is an even bigger deal than I realised

Shai Schechter • 2021

The day I started building Smart Subscriber I knew it could be a useful tool for creators—myself included. But I didn’t consciously understand its full potential until all the “I need this!” and “how can I pay you for this!” messages started from people who had been following along on Twitter.

I set out to understand everything I could about why creators and other email list owners were so excited. With each conversation my own excitement about the product and the impact it could have grew stronger.

Here’s why we’re so excited about Smart Subscriber:

1. It gives subscribers control over their inboxes—and their minds

A win for: your audience

Thousands of advertising messages are being fired into our minds each day. If we’re not incredibly intentional about what we let in, the world chooses for us.

It’s causing higher psychological strain, higher negative emotions, higher stress. That’s not a side of online marketing I want to be a part of.

Your audience is comprised of real people, not email addresses, and they each have their own interests and preferences. Smart Subscriber helps you help your audience take back control of what’s going into their inboxes, and their minds, helping everyone stay that little bit saner.

2. It lets you craft a superior experience for your subscribers

A win for: your audience

A lot of the creators I spoke with had tried to use the subscription management pages that come with their email marketing tool. But they quickly hit a wall: these pages are built around how the email marketing works behind the scenes, with little regard for how your subscribers really think about what they do and don’t want to receive:

  • Do you use internal naming for your lists? Your subscribers don’t want to have to figure out what G/FITNESS BRIDGE v2 is and whether or not it’s something useful to them.
  • Do you have some tags/lists that are for internal use, such as Customer? ESPs typically take an all-or-nothing approach and show everything to the subscriber.
  • Do you use tags to control who gets which email? You’re out of luck, ESPs typically only let subscribers opt out of lists or campaigns.
  • And some ESPs don’t let subscribers control what they receive whatsoever! All they can do is change their name and email address.

Smart Subscriber flips the entire experience on its head. It helps you think about and design the audience experience first. You decide which toggles and options your audience should see, how they’re grouped and labelled, and any descriptions you want to show alongside. Then you simply map these audience-facing options to whatever tags/lists/etc you have behind the scenes, and you’re ready to roll.

3. It ends the ‘Banana Bomb’ unsubscribe

A win for: you and your audience

As a child I loved playing a video game called Worms on the Sega Mega Drive. It was a war game between cartoon worms with weird and wacky weapons.

One of those weapons was the Banana Bomb. You’d throw the banana in one place, it would explode, and the shrapnel (more bananas, of course) would ripple out, bounce some more, and explode again. In short, this weapon was the opposite of targeted: it blew up everything it touched in a wide area.

The unsubscribe button in the emails you’re sending today looks a lot like this. It’s an all-or-nothing blast: if a subscriber isn’t keen on the content of one of your emails (or a certain type of email you often send) and wants to stop receiving it, their only option is to unsubscribe from everything.

They’re gone from your list forever, even if a lot of what you’re sharing would be valuable to them.

4. It’s an antidote to fear

A win for: you

For me, #3 was the obvious creator pain point when I set out to build Smart Subscriber. Keeping a subscriber on an email list instead of losing them was surely the big win.

What I didn’t realise was that there was a bigger concern that ripples out as a consequence of email list unsubscribes being all-or-nothing. And it was playing out in the mind of almost every creator I spoke with.

Creator after creator told me stories of all the emails they hadn’t sent at all because of the fear of alienating and losing some of their subscribers.

They were worried to send something even slightly tangential to their ‘usual’ content because their subscribers might hate it.

What if your most valuable email never gets sent at all? How much beautiful creativity and knowledge is never seeing the light of day?

Maybe Smart Subscriber isn’t just an email marketing gadget. It’s an antidote to fear. It’s the safety net that lets you confidently share your creativity with the world, safe in the knowledge that anyone can say ‘no thanks’ without disappearing from your world altogether.