Everybody, Chill. Newsletters Aren’t Dead

Many marketers think newsletters are dead, but I disagree.

The decline of newsletters has been greatly exaggerated (likely by a marketer…sigh), and also, misrepresented.

They’re not dead, per se. What they are is evolving. Evolving to accommodate the rapidly changing way people consume digital content. The one-size-fits-all news dump that contains a smorgasbord of news about your business and is sent to everyone on your subscriber list is definitely gone.

RIP, smorgasbord.

Now, newsletters are thoughtfully segmented, education-driven emails with reader-focused content. The goods one anyway, and I’ll share a few examples in a moment.

But first, let’s unpack my description a bit, starting with this: it’s not called a newsletter anymore.

It’s called a [insert a creative/strategic name that shows value here]

Everyone has a “newsletter” these days. No joke, even my dry cleaner sends one. The word is overused, meaningless and uninspiring. If you want people to sign up for it, you’ve gotta call it something else, something that defines the content and suggests value.

For example, “Garden Like a Pro,” while imperfect, is still way more enticing than, “The Steve’s Nursery Newsletter,” right? (I’m too lazy to come up with a perfect title right now.) The former also establishes clearer expectations for content. It suggests that I’ll get tips for making my lawn greener, warding off pests, etc. The latter title, however, means nothing and the uncertainty makes me wary. I don’t want to fork over my email address just to get flooded with promotional offers and irrelevant news.

Bonus: For a more in-depth explanation of naming your newsletter properly, read this.

It’s segmented

Speaking of relevance, successful newsletters today are conscious of their audience, and the content is tailored accordingly. This means certain people receive certain information, and not everyone receives the same thing. Or they receive it at different times (for example, it’s usually better to email CEOs early in the morning because they’re typically in and out of meetings all day).

Unsurprisingly, newsletters were originally designed to be easy…for marketers. Just dump all the news in one place, send it out to everyone on your list, and violà, it’s done. Nowadays, however, this doesn’t fly. People are inundated with content—emails, tweets, text messages, Facebook posts, pop-up ads, TV commercials—so naturally, they’ve become especially selective about the content they consume.

To combat this challenge, newsletters must contain information that’s relevant to readers, which means you gotta send different things to different people, even if it means sending out multiple newsletters.

Ah, segmentation. Fun, like a root canal.

Nobody likes segmenting lists, but it’s worth it. According to MailChimp, segmented emails get 14% more opens than non-segmented emails and, get this: segmented emails also get 64% (!) more clicks.

So, does segmentation create more work for newsletter senders? Yep. But is it worth it? Again, yep. Dem’s da breaks.

You need to just, like, hush about yourself for a second 

Sorry not sorry for being blunt, but this is important. Newsletters that tank usually do so because the content is all about the company, not the customer. Buy me, check me out, follow me, they say. To which most people reply, nah, I’m good.

The best newsletters keep self-promotion to a minimum, and instead, share educational or entertainment content that is valuable to readers.

Give people ideas, inspiration, motivation, etc. For example, say you own a local shoe boutique. You could share in your newsletter an article about how to wear a certain style, e.g., heels with jeans, or discuss recent celebrity looks you love (include pictures). Your fashion-inclined subscribers will appreciate the insight, and when they need shoes, you’ll be the first name that comes to mind.

They’re not for selling

It’s probably apparent by now, but newsletters are not direct sales tools. They’re not really even for starting conversations with customers. Newsletters are for sharing information, establishing credibility, and raising awareness of a brand. These components heavily influence purchasing intent, but the actual sale happens elsewhere.

So…DON’T TRY TO SELL STUFF IN YOUR NEWSLETTER.

I know this sounds hard. You’re a business, you gotta sell stuff. I get it. But a newsletter is for building leads over time, not hard-selling strangers.

OK, now that I made a big stink about that, I’m going to back peddle a wee bit.

There are times when it is OK to promote yourself in a newsletter…

Wait, what? Let me explain.

If something is really newsworthy—e.g., you’re hosting a really big event or webinar, or you’re launching a new product and it’s really exciting (like actually really exciting)—then include it. But don’t promote often and tread lightly when you do.

Give your newsletter a voice

People like to read things written by people, not companies. Make your newsletter sound human, or at least like your brand. Give it style, personality, a point of view. Make it something people can’t read anywhere else because it’s unique. If a reader feels like he or she is communicating with a person, he or she is more likely to have an emotional (read: connected and engaged) response.

Newsletters that work

Ok, now let’s put all of the above together and let it marinate by examining a few newsletters that work (and prove that their kind are far from dead).

theSkimm

I’ll start with my favorite first. theSkimm is a daily digest of news with a voice, style, and valuable information. Its voice is smart but conversational, which makes the content easy to digest. The clean, cohesive design, extra white space and font hierarchy also make this an easy read. theSkimm also makes me laugh out loud (note: entertainment value), so even if I have news fatigue, I cruise through this newsletter for the one-liners.

P.S. The share links directly under each story are genius.

Daily Skimm Shine bright shine far

Brain Food

Brain Food is a newsletter sent by Farnam Street, a blog dedicated to the, “pursuit of worldly wisdom.” The newsletter, like the blog, shares articles on everything from science, philosophy, education, literature and more. Some of the reads take a minute, so it makes sense that this newsletter arrives on Sunday. I can curl up on the couch with a mug of tea, a cozy blanket and read away.

Also, I want to call your attention to something that is important, but isn’t in the actual newsletter. It’s this page on Farnam Street’s website that explains, in great detail, what you can expect from the newsletter, and it’s a great example of how to establish expectations. As I mentioned earlier, defining expectations of content helps sell subscriptions and prevent unsubscribes.

The Legend of Genghis Khan

La Lettre d’Ines

I don’t speak French and I still read La Lettre d’Ines. Ok, I mostly just look at the pictures…and Google Translate just turns it into something that’s English-ish. But really, this newsletter has so much personality, and when I read it, I feel like the sender, Ines de la Fressange, and I, are besties having a one-on-one convo. She’s like that friend that always finds the cutest stuff, knows the best restaurants and likes brands you’ve never heard of (she’s a French model and fashion designer, after all), and reading this newsletter is like listening to her tell you about the greatest little thing she picked up the other day.

Now, you might balk and say, “But she’s selling things!” To which I say: yeeeeeah, kinda, but no. But heck, if you are going to sell things in a newsletter, consider employing Ines’ strategy. She doesn’t include prices, and she uses a blog-like narrative to explain how she found the products, why she likes them, and what they mean to her. My point: it doesn’t feel like a sales pitch, it feels like a blog.

[View the English(ish) version here]

Si tu as le temps

Austin Kleon

It’s informal, not buttoned up. It’s cleanly designed and easy to read, and not overly promotional. The call-to-action for his book comes way at the end, after he’s given away a bunch of free content. It’s personal, conversational and not business-y.

austin-kleon-newsletter-example

Whew! I was a bit long winded today. I get pretty excited about newsletters. I hope this info helps. Thoughts? Questions? Leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

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