Should You Use Multi-Part “Soap Opera Sequences” In Your Email Marketing?

Last week's 4-part “mini-series” on outsourcing your marketing generated some fun reactions—including several good questions that I'll tackle over the next few days.

Here's one from a reader named Dana:

Oohh…The suspense. Loving this email series. Because I totally resonate and agree with what you are saying. Some other “experts” are always saying to outsource everything…But I never agreed.

Quick question:

Is there a max length for emails that you aim for? Just wondering why you decided to break this one story into many pieces.

Is it a length thing? Or a “suspense” thing?

The question about using connected, multi-part sequences vs. one-off, standalone emails is one that I wrestled with a lot early on.

The email “gurus” have differing takes on this, which didn't help my confusion.

On one hand you have guys like Andre Chaperon, whose “Autoresponder Madness” program preaches about using complex “soap opera sequences” that go on for days or weeks.

These sequences supposedly do a better job of capturing and holding your audience's attention.

Then you have marketers like Ben Settle, who seem to do just fine firing off seeming random emails every day, with no effort at weaving an ongoing storyline into their messages.

Here's where I come down on this:

Both approaches are perfectly valid, and you should use both in different situations.

Standalone emails are *much* easier to put together than an ongoing series—this style is my “bread and butter” approach.

It's more important to email your list consistently than it is to keep them constantly entranced in some complicated drama.

Now when should you use “soap opera” type emails?

The #1 consideration here is the story you plan to tell.

With the right kind of story, you can keep your subscribers perched on the edge of their seat for days…

With the wrong kind, the whole thing can come off as a little silly.

When I'm looking at a story to decide whether it's worthy of a multi-part series, I'll ask myself:

Does this story have enough “meat” to sustain a multi-day series?

You need to have enough drama and detail built into the story to keep it interesting when broken up into chunks.

And the story itself needs to have several natural “breaking points” where the tension is high—cliffhangers, in other words.

For example:

I have an email series I'm planning to write for Simple Programmer at some point.

It's the story of a time when my business partner John got invited out to Microsoft headquarters for an all-day interview—and utterly humiliated himself.

I interviewed John about this one time, and he spent about 20 minutes describing this hilariously excruciating 2-day experience.

A couple of highlights: When he arrived at his hotel room, he realized he'd forgotten to pack any pants.

And he totally drew a blank on the first question of the first interview of the day—he spent the next 30 minutes sweating through his shirt trying to fumble his way to an answer.

So if you have a story that naturally falls into several “acts” like this, and you have enough detail about each part (either because it happened to you, or because you've gathered enough info via research or interviews) then a multi-part series is a great choice.

If not you can still use the story—just keep it to a single email.