The “Talk Radio” Approach to Effective Email Marketing

image of on air sign

Most people struggle with email marketing because they think email is … email.

But it’s not.

At least, not when you’re selling online.

When you’re selling with email it’s far more like talk radio than it is sending an email.

What do I mean by this?

Instead of thinking of your email marketing efforts as sending emails, a better description is …

Talk Radio in text

What does that mean, exactly?

Just like an online sales letter is like direct mail on your computer screen, email is nothing more than talk radio on your computer screen.

Take Rush Limbaugh, for example.

Love him or hate him, he’s the talk radio king, and every step he takes professionally has been carefully crafted.

He’s made hundreds of millions of dollars, spawned thousands of knock-offs and competitors — and has even changed the course of political elections — just by having daily conversations with his audience about their frustrations and emotions.

Without constantly pitching.

Without hard selling.

And without even hard teaching.

What’s his secret?

A big part of it is related to what actor Alan Alda once said about the TV show 60 Minutes when its creator Don Hewitt (Alan’s friend) died.

According to Alda, the reason 60 Minutes was so popular in its day is because it made the news fun.

He described the show like this:

It was like eating broccoli that tastes like a hot dog.

In other words …

Few people enjoy eating broccoli.

Just like few people like to digest hard information via the news (or email).

But most people LOVE a good hot dog.

It’s fun to eat, tastes good, but is more or less junk food, isn’t it?

And the trick with delivering information is to make it valuable (i.e. broccoli) while looking and tasting like a fun “hot dog.”

Well, guess what?

It’s the exact same thing with email

You just have to think of it like talk radio.

You’re feeding your list broccoli (value), but making it as fun to consume as a hot dog. They consume it, they want more, and when the time is right, they trust you enough to get out their wallets.

Does Rush Limbaugh provide hard value?


Usually he jokes, entertains, and tells stories.

Does he teach?

Maybe once in a while. Always a fun way, not a cold, dry lecture that puts you to sleep.

Does he pitch for 3 hours straight?


If he did, nobody would listen. Instead, he takes “profit center” breaks (what the rest of us call commercials) to air direct response ads.

So, what does this mean for you?

It means … don’t think of yourself as an “email marketer.”

You’re now a talk radio show host.

You’re writing to your audience each day in a way they find fun and interesting.

You’re not writing for everyone on earth. Like Rush, you’ve defined your audience and you communicate in the way that works for them.

When you teach, you make sure it’s entertaining.

You’re not constantly pitching.

You’re simply talking to them about a shared passion.

You DO sell in every email, but you do it strategically, making sure the timing makes sense and the offer is relevant.

This has worked like gangbusters for every market I’ve sold to.

And I bet it’ll work for your market too.

For a free eBook showing you 10 ways to use email like this (as well as some other cool tricks), click the link in my bio below and subscribe to my email list.

About the AuthorBen Settle is a direct response copywriter and email marketing strategist. Although Ben no longer accepts clients, he gives away over 700 pages of his bestselling ideas and insights free at

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Reader Comments (33)

  1. says


    You made a great point and a clever analogy here. Email must inform, educate, entertain, and above all provide something of value to the reader.

    As you pointed out here, we as email marketers must add personality to our emails. It makes building a relationship with our readers much easier. You also get a few cool points in the process!

    Great Post!

  2. says

    I am wondering if marketing or email marketing isn’t truly about mentioning to people things that could truly be helpful to them.

    If a physical product is clearly valuable for people, they might be able to understand it by themselves. We can take the example of a knife (unbranded), in a world that did not know about knives. Would a seller really need to market extensively to sell to people?

    Is the real problem in some internet marketing products the absence of real innovations or the fact that we are talking about intangible products?

  3. says

    Just got your email ebook this post looked like a hot dog but it did feed me some broccoli as I can still taste it.

    Very useful information and I seem to be thinking this way a lot more as I notice how much easier it is to sell and market this way.

  4. says

    The same rule should apply to any content a company writes and promotes, especially the idea about no hard-pitches. People don’t want to be talked at or sold to. They want to have a conversation with your brand.

  5. says

    Hey Ben,

    I am new to this site,joined few days back.Would like to know what is the difference between email marketing and email spamming?Does email marketing include sending email to subscribed readers?Do we have any post here that tells what is exactly email marketing?

    The thing that confusing me is readers subscribe to get post updates from a site wont it be email spamming if they get other emails

    I too get many emails for this and that,so someone collecting emails from all over the web and sending emails to them without there wish,this thing comes in email marketing or email spamming?I guess both.

  6. says

    I like this part: “just by having daily conversations with his audience about their frustrations and emotions.”

    A lot of people that I know have difficulty with e-mail marketing. The mistake they make, in my opinion, is not keeping in touch with customers enough. Instead, they go weeks on end without sending e-mails only to send one when there’s a new pitch or an announce about a big event.

    It’s good to send those e-mails too, but I feel like most people miss out on just “having daily conversations” with their customers. It’s hard to make a big pitch when you haven’t kept in touch and people don’t know who you are. The trick is to have the daily conversations so they do know who you are when they need to know. And you can always throw some soft sales into the daily conversations.

    Ben, is this close to what you mean in this post?

  7. says

    Howard Stern is the King of Talk Radio, not to mention a marketing genius – online, offline, underground, overground, in outer space – you name it.

    And I think Howard would make a much better analogy than Rush Limbaugh, who is grotesque, bloated, hypocritical, “sexual tourist” who spends his time getting hopped up on “hillbilly heroin,” while preaching about how “drug abusers” should be executed.

    That aside, I think you’re dead on with the spirit of your analogy, and as a subscriber to your list, I’ve experience your use of this approach to great effect. Keep up the good work!

    • says

      Stern’s a great example, but no angel either.

      Both of them probably have more haters than fans … and both are incredibly effective and make a ton of money. I’m not a Rush fan (this is a big understatement), but the fact that he can continue to be successful despite the issues you mention does highlight how effective the approach can be.

  8. says

    That’s a great analogy, and it’s so true that a lot of list owners mistake what people want when they sign up. People don’t want to be sold at, they want information they can use, and if you happen to persuade them that there’s something you need to buy along the way, that’s a great deal for both of you.

  9. says

    @Neeraj – emailing people who have opted in to your site is not spam. If you’re really concerned about it then tell them in the opt in box (like I do) exactly how often you will be mailing them and the kind of info you’ll be sending

    @Joseph – you’re right, daily (even just 5 days per week) is one of the best things anyone can do for their business. It positions you as a leader and not just an expert (nothing wrong with being an expert — but while people listen to experts, they tend to follow leaders)

    @designexpertise – Last I checked Rush makes more than Howard Stern by a few million as of last year, but any successful radio host is a good example, pick your poison…

    @Daniel – I agree 100% dude, I use this stuff for all kinds of communication

    • says

      Howard signed a deal for $500M – Rush tired his darndest to compete and only got $400M.

      My point is more about Rush as a person and his lack of credibility (which is bad marketing) – I challenge you to investigate Howard’s personal life and see if you can come up with any kind of misconduct along the lines of what Rush has been up to.

      Howard presents his show as entertainment, he realized people respond to radio and TV shows with host that has personality, and that there’s a market for lesbian dial-a-date and fart jokes, all presented as entertainment. He doesn’t pretend it’s anything more than that, and it works: because he’s credible.

      Rush’s show is entertainment, but he doesn’t present it that way, he represents himself as an authority, and most of the bozos listening don’t realize that it’s entertainment – which is a big part of why we have wackos running around killing abortion doctors and and taking shots at members of congress.

      I think this speaks to a broader point – successful marketing hinges upon credibility – I signed up for your email list because you’re credible, you mean what you say and you deliver the goods. Rush lacks credibility, he’s cast himself in a certain light, made broad proclamations and stood in judgement of other, all contrary to his own lifestyle – ZERO CREDIBILITY and therefore a very poor analogy of for good marketing.

      • says

        @Design: I think you’re missing Ben’s point. Rush get’s paid to have an opinion, which unlike court testimony, doesn’t have to be credible.

        Love him or hate him, Rush (and Ben) just got you to leave two comments with eight paragraphs. 😉

        • says

          First of all, I complimented Ben on his premise in more original response (I’m on his email list), and I don’t hate Rush (that would be affording him way to much respect – I don’t care about him), but we talking about marketing, and I totally disagree that successful marketing is not predicated on credibility.

          And I further disagree that your opinion doesn’t have to be credible – if I ran around saying “the sky is green and the clouds are black, that’s my opinion,” the response would be: “hey, this guys not credible.”

    • says


      I am using feedburner and it has no such option i guess :(,cant go for aweber or anything else as if now but if will start a new site will opt for mailchimp in the starting as its free initially till then need to learn more about it .Subscribed to your site to learn more but I just want to know one thing in your subscription form it says No AOL, MSN or hotmail addresses,why so?

  10. says

    It is funny how someone can sell more by not selling at all. It is quite true that people hate to be sold. Flashing “buy me buy me” never works any more. People unsubscribe right away upon receiving such emails.

    The more we entertain them and the more we get personal, the more they embrace us.

    Great points Ben.


  11. says

    What a cool concept, Ben! I’ve used a similar technique before only with audiobooks. I’ve found that listening to an audiobook from an author helps me channel that person into my writing. I hear that person in my head and write my thoughts while using their voice. It works like a conversation in real life and translates onto the page almost like transcription.

    I see exactly what you’re saying in this post. And having a conversation ellicits more response. Makes sense. Will check out your ebook. Thanks!

  12. says

    Great way to think about email marketing.
    Headlines are crucial to draw people in. But the process of keeping your audience entertained throughout the email is also important. You must have them forget they are reading an advertisement and have them too busy engaged in good content.

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