A Surprising Promotional Email Template That Builds Email Circulation

Build circulation by using the reach of your current email subscribers

If there’s one thing that Mequoda folks have in common, it’s a powerful promotional email template that we call the circulation-builder, or circ-builder.

As a publisher, you might assume that this email template was created to strengthen print circulation, but it’s not.

The circ-builder was developed to boost email circulation through word of mouth while retaining your loyal email subscribers. You promote a freemium, which offers substance to your email subscribers, and in return, they forward it to their colleagues and friends. The recipients of that forward will arrive at the landing page for your freemium, and if all goes well, they’ll sign up for the freemium and your email list.

The general setup of a circ-builder goes something like this:

  • Create a free report, white paper or other freemium with a Rapid Conversion Landing Page (RCLP).
  • To promote this freemium, send out a short circ-builder email that links to an RCLP where interested parties can download.
  • Encourage the sharing of the email and the tweeting of the link to the download.
  • Ask for comments on the download page to facilitate conversations surrounding the free downloadable.

A circulation builder email should include the following components:

  • Free product promotion
  • Pass-along features
  • Embedded links
  • Subscription admin

Here’s a general outline of what a circ-builder template might look like:

You can over-complicate it or under-complicate it, but the basic goal of this email is to either make existing subscribers happy by giving them an interesting freemium to download, or to inspire them to share the email with their friends or colleagues.

This makes the “Forward to a Friend” button or link a main priority for these emails, preferably located above the fold.


How Publishers Are Using Circ Builders

Black Belt rotates between promotions and circ-builders each week. Their circ-builders promote the free guides on their site so that readers feel that they’re getting an extra perk for staying subscribed.

Black Belt also adds other “Recent Free Guides” to their circ-builder email template just in case the featured freemium isn’t their cup of tea.

Faculty Focus is another online publisher using circ-builders. They too rotate their Friday emails between a product promotion and a circ-builder that promotes a free special report. Mary Bart, editor at Faculty Focus, says she also promotes the special reports in text ads and in social media, which, she says, “gives us a little bump in new subscribers.”

“Revenue and subscriber numbers are both increasing steadily,” says Bart.

The Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School has a fun format too. At the top, they have a prominent “Send to a Friend” link. The headline links to the RCLP, and  in the middle of the email, to the left, they have an image of the report with a download link. They also have a text link in the middle of the email and an image banner at the bottom. They’ve covered all their bases when it comes to the different ways people can respond to an “ad”.

Another bonus for Harvard is that their domain is so reputable that they can get away with using “Free” in their subject line. The title of this email was “Free Report: The New Conflict Management.”

Deciding What to Promote in a Circ-Builder

To possess the most possible value, the free reports you promote should be comprehensive and include information that can help your audience achieve something of substance.

The key to this is creating and promoting freemiums that people want to download and pass along. If you’re going to spend the time to create freemiums and circ-builders, why not do the research to find out what people have proven to like most?

Faculty Focus gets ahead of the trends by watching their analytics. “By knowing what types of information our audience might need at different times of the year, I can make sure all the relevant pages have a call to action to sign up,” says Bart. “For example, in August faculty were looking for articles on writing a course syllabus, first day of class activities, ice-breakers, etc. Now that we’re in the middle of the semester, they’re in problem-solving mode and looking for articles on whether to give make-up exams, texting in class, and motivating students.”

And how about building circulation beyond the email?

“This year we began experimenting with inclusion of inbound links within the body copy of our free e-book downloads,” says Raymond Horowitz, editor at Black Belt. “These links would connect users to not only our store (so readers can buy products related to the e-book’s subject matter), but also to categorical/sub-categorical landing pages and blogs on our main site cued by words or phrases in the e-book’s body text — such as names of famous martial artists, names of styles, technique terminology, book titles, philosophical concepts, etc. And so, of course, then the user is exposed to aforementioned internal linking to more free downloads and more purchase opportunities.”

Mequoda email subscribers might recognize our circ-builders as the Free Report Friday emails we send out promoting for our free downloadable reports. Well, we gave it a redesign and reboot, and here’s what we came up with. As you might notice there are two main calls to action: download the reports, or forward to a friend.

Have any suggestions / insights on circ-builder emails you’d like to share? Happy to discuss in the comments.


    Darren W.

    Hi, thanks for the article, but where is the ‘Surprising Promotional Email Template’ you mention in the title. I read through the article twice and couldn’t see it. Disappointing.


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