For most of us, the days when just the thought of receiving a new email brought some semblance of joy are long gone. Now, the average office worker receives 121 emails every. Single. Day.
Considered a novelty when it was first developed, email has become a ubiquitous communications channel that has bound many to their inboxes. For years, though, people have claimed that email is losing its effectiveness as a business tool, especially with the rise of social networking sites. Cue the “email marketing is dead” cries that have been heard since the CompuServe years.
The thing is, email is still an incredibly powerful tool for businesses. A 2018 study found that email marketing has more than a 30x ROI (an increase from 2016), which partially explains why 87% of marketers still use email to nurture their audience.
What is “dying”—and rightfully so—are the days of email marketing past, where generic messages were blasted to thousands of people. Today’s consumers expect a superior customer experience, which starts with putting their needs first in every communication you have with them. And that includes your email newsletters.
If you’re looking to start an email newsletter, or need tips and tricks to instill new life into your existing newsletter, follow these steps to flourish and bring joy back to your customer’s inbox (and don’t forget to download our free checklist on what to review before you hit send on your newsletter).
Step 1: Define Your Purpose
Email newsletters are successful when they provide the most value for the reader, ideally combining unique tips, tricks, and insight with research, trends, and current events.
That means if you plan to create a “newsletter” that provides a bucket list of your new blog posts or some collection of industry articles without anything more than a link, you need to rethink your strategy.
When starting an email newsletter, or if your newsletter is not driving the value you had hoped for, it’s important to (re)explore these foundational questions:
- Who is my brand’s ideal customer?
- Who is my newsletter’s content being written for?
- What struggles do these two individuals face?
- What value can I provide to them?
- How can a newsletter support my business goals?
- Do I have time to send a newsletter on a regular cadence?
By answering each of these questions, you can have a better understanding of whether a newsletter is even relevant for your team, if you need one or more newsletters to meet your needs and provide value for your readers, and if you have the time and resources required to sustain a newsletter.
Step 2: Set Goals
With your purpose documented, it’s time to align your newsletter with your business goal(s) and pick the KPIs you’ll track.
An email newsletter can support any range of business goals, and it’s important to keep your top goals top-of-mind so you can appropriately plan your content and be strategic with any calls to action.
A few areas that newsletters can support include:
- Lead generation: Get in front of prospective customers by creating content that aligns with topics that they are already searching for or invested in. This can include educational content, like how-tos and 101s
- Lead nurturing: Keep your brand top-of-mind for your audience by offering a steady cadence of additional support materials and more targeted content like buyer’s guides, checklists, and webinars or live-streamed Q&As
- Thought leadership: Demonstrate the expertise of your brand and any related executives by featuring expert commentary and insight
- Audience feedback: Enable a feedback loop through your newsletter content by including reader surveys or monitoring the KPIs below
- Brand voice: Showcase your brand’s unique style and voice with your communication, creating a personality for your brand
Depending on the business goals you assign to your newsletter, there are a few KPIs you’ll want to monitor to quickly identify potential issues with your approach. The main email newsletter KPIs you can track include:
- Delivery rate or inbox placement rate
- Open rate (Mailchimp has a great benchmarking guide you should reference)
- Click rate
- Subscriber growth
- Qualitative feedback (survey responses, email replies)
Those are just a few options, and you can explore each of these and more in this post.
Step 3: Pick Your Tools
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel to create your newsletter. There are upward of 300 different providers in the email marketing software space, which poses its own challenge of finding the right tools for you. Don’t worry, though, we’ve asked for help on your behalf.
For core email newsletter creation and distribution, a few options that come recommended from our #ContentChat community include:
The above options can come at varying price points, and we recommend staying light on your budget until you have a full understanding of the functionalities you need. There are plenty of free tools to fill in the gaps that your distribution software (or purchased plan) may not provide—check out this list of content marketing tools to make your life easier, including several design tools, sources for royalty-free photos, and software to proof your content.
Step 4: Craft Your Content
Now your foundation is in place, and you’re ready to start writing your newsletter. Use your purpose and goals to guide content decisions, and remember to focus on value for your audience, not cramming every company buzzword or promotion into the newsletter.
Some best practices to follow when writing an email newsletter include:
- Make your content skimmable: Use bullets, bold font (sparingly), subheads, and different text colors (no more than three) so that your reader can easily browse the newsletter to find the section(s) most relevant to them
- Use (unique) imagery: Include images or gifs in your newsletter when possible, preferably original photos (but stock photos can work in a pinch)
- Include a call to action: Encourage your readers to take action based on your content. Whether that’s to sign up for a webinar on the latest marketing trends, read a great industry article, or simply share their feedback with you, your readers should feel compelled to take some action based on your newsletter. Ideally, this CTA will be tied to one of your previously identified business goals
- Be human, but on brand: If you haven’t, define your brand voice. With that, use your newsletter as an opportunity to be more personal with your audience, but stay true to your brand. If your company is generally more serious in your communications, your email newsletter should be the same way. Don’t try to come across as more fun and embed 50 gifs in your newsletter if that’s not what your readers expect of you
- Combine outside sources with your commentary: The majority of the content you highlight should not be something your company created. Find outside articles, new data, or interesting conversations happening on social media that your readers would be interested in, and explain why that piece matters with some unique commentary from your brand/brand spokesperson
Before you hit send on that newsletter, though, run through our checklist to make sure your content is actually ready to go (there is nothing like the unique displeasure of sending an email to 100+ people with a glaring typo in your subject line).
Step 5: Always be Testing
Once you start publishing your newsletters, establish a benchmark of the KPIs you selected in Step 2 and track them to see whether your newsletter is meeting the needs of your audience. This can be one of the most difficult steps if you have not carved out time to explore your data and try new approaches.
A/B testing is a critical part of this process, where you will send two versions of your newsletter, each with (ideally) just one variable that has been changed. Everything from your subject line, image use/placement, calls to action, and even your font choice can affect your reader’s experience.
Get the full rundown on improving your content marketing performance through A/B testing so you can hit the ground running with even your earliest newsletters.
Newsletters Built to Last
After completing the above steps, you’re off to a solid start of what will be an ongoing journey of optimizing your newsletter. Being so ingrained in the process can create tunnel vision, so continue to ask your readers for their feedback, listen to their needs, and be open to exploring new ways of creating and distributing your newsletter.
One of the best ways to write a newsletter is to also be an avid newsletter reader, and below we’ve highlighted some of the best newsletters for marketing professionals to subscribe to. And if you’re looking for more tips on how to successfully manage an email newsletter, check out the #ContentChat community conversation recap on email newsletters.
- Brafton’s The Content Marketer (click “subscribe” for the form): This is one of the slickest email newsletters you will likely come across—the design is gorgeous, using great graphics as the core design in a grid format, so the content is incredibly easy to skim and find the right resource for you. Sent every Tuesday, The Content Marketer highlights a range of blogs, videos, guides, and more, all focused on helping content marketers perform at their best (think of topics like “What is SEO Writing” and “Turning Conversations into Content”). This newsletter is a great example of delivering high value in as few words as possible.
- Heidi Cohen’s Actionable Marketing Guide Newsletter: Every Monday Heidi shares an array of, well, actionable marketing tips tied to the latest research and best practices in the field. She distills extensive reports and news articles into bite-sized, ready-to-use tips for all things marketing. She also thanks her new subscribers at the end of each newsletter, which is a fun and personal touch.
- Bernie Fussenegger’s B2The7 Bits: Bernie hosts #Digital360Chat every Friday, and every other Wednesday he shares his B2The7 Bits. This newsletter is incredible at encouraging conversations, since he links to Twitter threads with thought-starters like “if social channels go away tomorrow, how important do other platforms like email and websites become?” He also has a Featured Friend each newsletter, highlighting someone who has made a positive impact on him that week.
- Allen Gannett’s newsletter: Allen’s newsletter is unique from the others listed in that he sends two separate emails a week. On Wednesdays, Allen shares productivity and creativity hacks in a very brief note, then on Sundays he shares his “Sunday Brunch” for a more in-depth exploration of the week’s news, innovative or cool new products, and a mix of pop culture. From the first welcome email to each week’s editions, Allen uses a friendly and conversational tone packaged in an incredibly clean email that is easy to skim (he even has a “For Skimmers” section at times).
- Ann Handley’s Total Annarchy: Ann’s newsletter is sent every other Sunday, and it’s packed with writing tips and marketing ideas, plus she connects current events and trends in the business world with larger marketing principles and ideas. Her occasional “Department of Shenanigans” section gives a much-welcomed chuckle for your weekend (or Monday if you save the newsletter to start your work week).
- Erika Heald’s The Content Chat Bulletin: Erika’s newly launched newsletter will keep you in-the-know on the latest trends, research, and case studies in marketing. Sent every other Friday, you’ll hear the latest from the #ContentChat community, learn about upcoming marketing events and webinars, and get expert tips on how to stay responsible with your marketing. Plus, Erika has an adorable french bulldog named Kupo who is sure to make an appearance from time to time.
- Managing Editor’s newsletter: Positioned as a “love letter to all the other marketers out there working at the intersection of brand and publishing,” this newsletter meets that expectation. Each Friday, the newsletter highlights just three to five pieces of high-quality content, recent podcasts, or upcoming events. Each section header is incredibly clever (you’ll find yourself chuckling or at least cracking a smile) and the copy balances brevity with quality so you are only reading things that help you in some way.
- Christopher Penn/Trust Insight’s In the Headlights: Shared every Wednesday, this newsletter rounds up the most interesting news in marketing and data science that you can use immediately. The “Rear View Mirror Data” section delivers relevant stats and takeaways on key topics (like brand use of Facebook), and the Shiny Objects section highlights great content to visit, organized by category. The newsletter also highlights upcoming events both online and in-person across the US, inviting the opportunity to connect with like-minded pros.
- Joe Pulizzi’s The Random Newsletter: Sent every other Thursday, this newsletter is a mix of marketing and writing topics, plus a discussion of news that impacts the larger business landscape. Joe frequently references his family and how events in his personal life helped him discover new tools and tricks, so the newsletter reads more like a letter from a friend than a stranger.
Know of another great newsletter for marketers? Let us know in the comments!