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Grow Your Email List with a Giveaway Buzz Piece

This post is part of a series called Email Marketing Jumpstart.
How to Create an Email Marketing Plan
Which Email Type Is Best for Your Business?

For your email marketing to be effective, you need subscribers. How do you get subscribers to sign up to your list?

People will only sign up to your email list because they see a benefit in doing so. This could be because you offer helpful advice, or because you give your subscribers access to exclusive deals, or even because you have an entertaining writing style and people want to get to know you better.

To win subscribers, you need to show the benefits of joining your list. A good way of doing this is by offering a big incentive for people who sign up. If you're in the business of selling products, you could offer a one-off, exclusive discount to new subscribers. For service providers, your best bet is offering a giveaway buzz piece.

What is a Buzz Piece?

A buzz piece is a valuable piece of content that you give away to new subscribers. It's valuable to your subscribers because it provides helpful advice, and it's something they'd be willing to pay for. Typically, a buzz piece is a short ebook. Alternatively, it could be a video series, an ecourse, or an audio interview with an expert.

The phrase "buzz piece" was coined by Steve Slaunwhite in his co-authored book, The Wealthy Freelancer. Slaunwhite defines a buzz piece as:

Simply an information piece of some kind. It's typically 5 to 10 pages in length, and [published] electronically, as a PDF (Portable Document Format) so it can easily be downloaded from a website or sent by e-mail.

Sonia Simone of Copyblogger calls buzz pieces "birthday cakes". In an email newsletter, Simone explains:

When your customer opts in to your email newsletter, you need to reward her with a major treat. I call this the birthday cake.

A birthday cake is a free gift that you give in exchange for customers joining your email newsletter. That free gift needs to be remarkable enough to really capture her attention and imagination. It has to be something she really wants.

In practical terms, a buzz piece could be a:

  • special report
  • manifesto
  • checklist
  • workbook
  • how-to Guide
  • whitepaper
  • free book chapter
  • collection of resources
  • tutorial
  • blog post compilation

The more valuable it is to your readers, the easier you'll find it to win new subscribers to your email list.

Why Your Business Needs a Buzz Piece

Writing a buzz piece has a range of benefits. A buzz piece:

  • Grows your email list. As we've established, this is the main purpose of your buzz piece. It's a win-win deal. You grow your email list, and your new subscribers receive information that's valuable to them.
  • Shows you're the expert. Writing a book—even a short book—on a subject shows you know what you're talking about. Potential clients can see that knowledge for themselves by reading your book.
  • Subtly promotes your services. The purpose of your buzz piece isn't to make sales. It's about beginning a relationship with a new subscriber and a potential client. That's not to say you can't start pointing subscribers in the direction of your services. As Sonia Simone writes:

Contrary to popular belief, you do want marketing messages in your birthday cake content. But they have to be palatable, subtle messages. You’re not closing sales here... the birthday cake is just the beginning of the conversation.

Raise questions. Poke around at pain points that you can address in later content. Tell stories that resolve objections. But be subtle about it. The purpose of this content is to get your audience into a receptive state of mind before they start hearing any overt sales messages from you.

  • Is a great all-around marketing tool. Steve Slaunwhite recommends that you don't limit your buzz piece to only being used in your email marketing. You can get physical copies printed to hand out at networking events or include alongside pitches to potential clients.

But Surely Giving Away Free Stuff Isn't a Good Idea?

Run a Google search about growing your email list with a free ebook, and chances are that in the first page of results you'll come across an article titled Why Offering a Free eBook Can Destroy Your Email List. This article is by content marketer Ryan Hanley, and it's unfortunate that Google gives it such a high ranking (you'll see why in a moment).

In this article, Hanley contends that by giving away free stuff, you attract "freebie chasers". These are people who sign up to your list, download your buzz piece, then immediately unsubscribe.

So he pulled his free ebook to scare off freebie chasers. The strategy worked—to an extent. It chased away freebie chasers. The problem was, it also chased away everyone else.

Hanley has since revised his view. In a subsequent article he explained his change in viewpoint:

There was a time when I didn’t think giving away a free eBook in exchange for subscribing to an email list was a good idea. After a few months I can tell you that I didn’t know what the heck I was talking about when I wrote that blog post.

Email list growth is crucial to your success... and giving away a free eBook is probably the easiest and most secure way of growing that list.

Giving away valuable information for free is the heart of the content marketing revolution. And arguably, the more you can give away for free, the better. But don't take our work for it. Just look at how much stuff some of the most successful bloggers and service providers are giving away.

Don't Take Our Word for It—Check Out These Buzz Pieces

Almost all the big names in blogging, consulting and service provision use buzz pieces to grow their email lists. That's because buzz pieces are highly effective.

  • Copyblogger, one of the biggest authorities on Internet marketing, offers a huge range of resources to anyone signing up for their email list. This includes 16 ebooks, and a 20-part internet marketing course.
  • Ramit Sethi of I Will Teach You to Be Rich offers a free collection of resources to help subscribers find their dream job—including case studies, interviews with experts, and video guidance.
  • Social media consultant Jeff Bullas gives new subscribers a copy of his ebook 8 Key Steps to Blogging Mastery.
  • Hubspot has a huge marketing library of ebooks that website visitors can download for free if they provide their email address.
  • Carol Tice of Make a Living Writing offers a free 20-week ecourse on marketing for freelance writers. It's only available to new subscribers to her email newsletter.
  • Lifestyle advisor James Clear gives away a free 45-page guide called Transform Your Habits to new subscribers.
  • Fiction writers Sean Platt and Johnny Truant give new subscribers eight free stories.

All over the internet you'll find examples of giveaway buzz pieces. Once you start looking for them, you'll notice them everywhere.

Don't be intimidated by the size of the examples buzz pieces I've listed here. All of these bloggers and businesses started by writing and offering one ebook, then growing their giveaway offer from there.

Let's look at how to create your giveaway buzz piece.

Step 1: Choose the Right Topic

Before you create your buzz piece, you need to decide what you'll write about. How do you choose the right topic for your business? An effective buzz piece should be:

  • Related to the services you provide.
  • Targeted at your ideal clients.
  • On one topic—not broad ranging.
  • Attractive to prospects. It's got to be something potential clients want to download and read.

For example, if you provide copywriting and blogging services, and your ideal clients are small B2C tech companies, you could write any of the following buzz pieces:

  • 3 Ways Jargon-Free Copy Drives Tech Sales
  • Tech and Content Marketing: A Match Made in Heaven
  • The 5 Things Every Consumer Wants to Know Before Making a Tech Purchase
  • How to Get Big-Name Blogger Influencers to Feature Your Tech Product

Targeting your content at the right audience is crucial here. Steve Slaunwhite gives the example of his graphic designer friend, Dave, who created a buzz piece on how to design an effective logo.

On first glance, it seems like a good topic for a designer to write about. It is directly related to Dave's services, and shows his expertise.

Fortunately, Slaunwhite intervened before Dave's big buzz piece launch. It would have been unlikely to get many downloads. Why? Because when he was coming up with his topic, Dave failed to consider his target audience.

Dave's ideal clients were marketing managers. Most marketing managers aren't interested in finding out how to create a logo from scratch. That's information that graphic design students want.

Slaunwhite suggested that Dave should tweak his topic very slightly. Dave's new buzz piece A 5-Step Strategy for Selecting the Perfect Logo proved to be a big hit.

Step 2: Write a Compelling Headline

Once you've come up with a topic to write about, your next step is to make sure that people will want to download your buzz piece.

The key here is the headline, the title of your buzz piece. The headline is crucial, because it's what will entice people to hand over their email address. If your headline fails to grab people, then you won't get the subscribers you're hoping for.

Fortunately, writing compelling headlines isn't difficult. All you need to do is take note of the headlines that grab your attention. Over the next couple of weeks, collect headlines that you like in a swipe file. Then use this swipe file for inspiration when you're writing your buzz piece headline.

Here are a few popular headline formulas to help you get started. Just fill in the blanks:

  • How to...
  • 5 Ways to...
  • 3 Tips for...
  • An Easy Way to...
  • Do You Make These Mistakes in...?
  • The Real Truth About...
  • The Ultimate Guide to...

Step 3: Create Your Buzz Piece Content

A buzz piece of 5-10 pages will be between 2,000 and 5,000 words long. At most, that's the equivalent of writing 10 short blog posts (for comparison, this tutorial is around 2,000 words).

Writing a piece of this length needn't take long, especially as you're writing on a topic you're expert in. In fact, if you can set aside two hours a day to work on your buzz piece, you should be able to start on a Monday and be finished by Friday.

You can do this by following ebook writer Ali Luke's seven day strategy for writing ebooks, which we've adapted into a five day plan:

  • Monday: Outline your ebook. This includes jotting down all your ideas, organising your ideas into chapter headings, then writing several bullet points for each chapter.
  • Tuesday-Thursday: Spend two hours per day writing. In this time, you should easily manage 1,000 words per day, and at a brisk pace you could hit 2,000 words per day.
  • Friday: Read back through what you've written. Check that it all makes sense, and that your advice is easy to follow. After that, do a final proofread for spelling and grammar.

That's it! You've created an ebook in five days.

What can you do if you get stuck with your writing? Here's Ali Luke again:

Imagine yourself writing an email to a client or customer who had this particular question or problem. Write in a simple, direct, and straightforward manner.

Step 4: Give Your Buzz Piece a Professional Look

After you've written your buzz piece, you're almost ready to upload it to your website. But first, you need to make sure it looks enticing.

Formatting a report is relatively simple using word processing software, and is probably something you can do yourself.

Unless you're a designer, creating a professional cover is probably beyond your reach. These days, design isn't too expensive; you can work with a pro for as little as $50-$100.

When your design is done—great job. You're ready to publish your buzz piece to your website!

Learn more about jump starting your email marketing in our multipart, foundational series on the subject.

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