No Bullsh*t Advice From Email Experts
The email newsletter still has a place in your email marketing strategy. Does yours check all of these boxes? Find out how to serve up a newsletter your subscribers will find irresistible.
This month, we asked email marketing experts from Campaign Monitor, AWeber, eFocus Marketing, Mailninja, Email On Acid, & Email Uplers to share their thoughts on what it takes to create a newsletter your readers will LOVE as well as standout in a cluttered inbox.
Here’s what they had to say…
Gain A Deeper Understanding of Your Subscribers
Newsletters are a fantastic use of time when it comes to maintaining and nurturing an ongoing conversation with your subscribers. But as much as a newsletter serves as an opportunity for subscribers to become familiar with your brand, it’s also an ideal method for gaining a deeper understanding of your subscribers. What do they care about? What are their pain points? What are their primary needs and interests?
Familiarizing yourself with your subscribers and understanding how you can break through a cluttered inbox and deliver the content they’re eager to consume is how you’ll ultimately increase conversions, turning subscribers into loyal customers.
Segmentation and personalization are two great strategies to start with. Ask your subscribers about their preferences and what they’d like to gain from this relationship. Allow them to set preferences based on their interests and pain points—from there, subscribers can be grouped into specific segments.
Here, Campaign Monitor customer and digital publisher Digioh uncovers detailed information about their subscribers simply through their preference center.
Once you have your segments in place, you can then take it to the next level with highly personalized messages. Dynamic content can be set based on demographics, preferences, or email data, and is a great way to take a personalized message and make them even more targeted.
Digioh utilizes their subscriber demographics and interests when creating every newsletter, inserting specific ad spots dynamically. They know, for example, someone who came to their event last year is more likely to attend again next year, so they’ll remind them of the event schedule, while offering a coupon to those that haven’t attended yet.
Hey! Look at This Cool Newsletter!
Every #emailgeek worth their salt knows the drill: Relevance is essential to email marketing success. But delivering on that priority can be a bit trickier for newsletters than other campaign categories.
Zapier, one of our customers at Iterable, has taken a cue from the “year in review” campaigns that have gained in popularity in recent years. Their newsletter highlights unique subscriber-level insights recapping product usage over the previous month, gamification elements that unlock deeper insights, and useful product updates. Every newsletter contains fully personalized, one-to-one content, unique to the recipient.
We talked with Zapier about this strategy at last year’s Iterable Activate conference, and that video is still available on demand. The session also touches on 99Designs’ strategy to customize content by country and language, and even touches on the history of the newsletter.
Another big challenge email marketers face when it comes to newsletters is limited content. However, not all content has to be original, and curated content remains a big trend.
If the goal of your newsletter is simply to generate engagement, boost sentiment, and keep your brand top of mind, links to useful articles from non-competing sources is a terrific strategy that also limits strain on busy content teams. Phrasee, Action Rocket and Really Good Emails all use this approach to deliver top thought leadership to folks in the email marketing space.
Build Trust & Understanding
Fantastic newsletters are chock full of addictive content and drive the reader to one clear call to action. But fostering deeper relationships with subscribers means going the extra mile. You have to build trust and understanding with your readers.
Think about a strong relationship in your life. You probably don’t talk *at them*, right? Good relationships are built on solid two-way communication, and email marketing should be the same way. Ask your readers questions. Include a sentiment widget to get immediate feedback. Encourage them to reply to your emails and tell you what they want. In fact, we rebranded our weekly newsletter based on feedback from our readers and saw amazing results.
Ask your subscribers to share their interests, too. You can use automation and segmentation to deliver personalized content depending on what your subscribers share about themselves. Maybe you’re a health coach and want to send recipes to people who are interested in nutrition and workout videos to those who like fitness. By sending them content that better fits their needs, you’re demonstrating understanding and building trust.
Finally, tap into the power of storytelling. Yes, sometimes opening up can be a little uncomfortable. You don’t need to spill your guts, but authenticity and vulnerability lead to more connection and memorability. Share your personal story and see how it affects engagement.
Use Rich Media, Interactivity & 3D Imagery to Captivate Your Subscribers
Of course, relevance is the key to creating newsletters that will be loved by your subscribers. When it comes to email design, you can add several features that can take the newsletters a step ahead.
- Rich media that includes visual elements like GIFs, cinemagraphs, and videos is certainly a great way to woo your subscribers. Whether you are from the ecommerce industry, travel industry, or telecommunications industry, you can include an attractive animation that can entice the prospect to purchase from you.
- Interactive emails with click-based animation will help your email campaigns to stand out and drive better engagement.
See how GoDaddy has incorporated interactivity to enhance the performance of their emails.
- Include 3D imagery to impart a modern touch to your emails. Lyft has done a great job at amalgamating animation with 3D imagery to draw attention of their subscribers.
Here’s an example of an email by Saks Fifth Avenue in which they have added a beautiful cinemagraphic effect.
What Do Your Subscribers Want & Need?
Building a long-term relationship with subscribers is vital, and newsletters play an important role in that content strategy, alongside automated campaigns such as loyalty programs, reminders and post-purchase follow ups.
By their very nature, newsletters are informative and help to educate, inspire and nurture your subscribers so you’re not always selling to them; this is an important part of creating an engaged, loyal audience.
To create a newsletter that subscribers want, you have to understand what it is that they want and need from you – do they want an industry round up of content collated from other sources, or find out about your new content? Do they want style tips and inspiration to help them feel better, live better, perform better etc.?
Having a look at the type of keywords your audience are looking for on search engines and which of your blogs they are most engaged with can help here.
Once you know what type of non-sales content will be best suited to your audience, you have to consider your contact strategy. Overall you should have a 6-12 month content and offer plan within your business (what offers are running or content is produced, when and what emails you need to send out to support this within the business).
You can see how a newsletter will fit in to your plans; for B2B business, the frequency is often a lot higher than B2C – a B2B strategy is a much longer burn generally, with more nurturing and authority building required (very suited to a newsletter style format of communication) whereas B2C will have a much higher propensity to send sales emails, with newsletters only required sporadically – once a month for example.
Sitepoint does a good job of collating their informational content into a round-up allowing people to easily access and choose from their latest resources.
Prototypr bring together a wealth of different resources in one email in clearly dedfined sections, making it easy to skim to the parts you’re interested in.
In this email, pogo opt to deliver all of the blog style content right there in the email rather than linking out to read the full article. They also make it clear that this is one of a series of emails which helps to set expectations of what’s coming next and keep subscribers looking out for the next installment.
Leverage Data To Deliver Thoughtful Content
I categorize newsletter quality in two ways:
- Relevant information using topics that are driven to you based on recent data points or interactions.
- A hodgepodge of information that’s more important to the organization than to the users. The information is outside brand equity and the readers’ interests.
I subscribe to a lot of newsletters and leverage several online applications. It’s extremely clear which organizations campaigns are based on relevant topics in subject areas that are core to their business. They’ve thought about what readers are interested in and what they need to see. From my perspective, about 30% of the campaigns leverage data points from my responses to their surveys, interactions within the application or my personal behaviors.
You can tell how good a newsletter is by the thought the creators put into the content and not deviating from the organization’s brand. That’s the challenge: to include material that connects to your users and is central to your brand equity. That keeps your readers tied in a close relationship with you.
Your Subscribers Are Telling You Something. Are You Listening?
Email Thought Leader
One of the easiest ways and best things to do is understand WHO your subscribers are. Don’t think for the customer..look at their “Digital Body Language.” The days of batch-and-blast email sends are over.
Anyone using a marketing automation platform has a series of considerations to think about to ensure they are sending the right messages to the right people, while avoiding spam traps and damage to company reputation.
What do I mean about all this “Digital Body Language” of your subscribers?
Digital body language refers to every interaction and gesture a user makes on a website or app, ranging from how fast and at which angles they move their mouse, where they click, hover, and scroll; to device rotations, the rate at which they tap, where they pinch, and more.
Just as someone shouting in a shop is evidence of a poor customer experience in-store – and someone smiling a good one – certain digital body language denotes the equivalent online.
We’ve known for a while that engagement is a critical factor in deliverability. Traditionally, marketers have measured their engagement by looking only at opens and clickthroughs, so it’s not a huge leap to consider that ISPs look at these, too.
So if you know that ISP’s are looking at engagement and you have the ability to see it as well, why not take advantage of it. It’s so simple—how are subscribers engaging, or not engaging, with your emails. But by tracking not just spam complaint rates but also open rates and clickthrough rates over time and by campaign, you can gauge when your emails are losing relevancy for your audience.
See if people are clicking AND converting to your website for information by combining your activity metrics of email and website. Ensuring that your content is relevant to subscribers and is in line with their expectations is the easiest and most effective way to minimize issues and keep subscribers happy with the content and not leaving you.
Granted, continually tracking engagement and tweaking content is more difficult than the “set it and forget it” mindset of some email marketers, but it pays off, not just in improved deliverability but in improved response as well.
By looking at signals such as whether a person has visited the website, requested a phone call or information, downloaded materials or attended a webinar, marketers can make better decisions about how best to market to these individuals and what e-mail offers to make.
Then there is value. One of the biggest misconceptions of marketing is that it’s all about getting your leads to buy something.
Essentially, they’re selling rather than marketing. Instead of bombarding your audience, start thinking of ways you can attract your audience to your business without pushing the hard sell.
To be successful you need to provide value and offer a solution. Using that digital body language you can send them interesting things to read vs. forcing them to buy or playing games or learning new tricks.
Also, don’t forget your calls-to-action. Are you looking to boost your blog subscription list? Are you looking for your recipient to forward your email newsletter to a friend? Subscribe to your blog?
Well you totally missed the mark if you forgot to include a call-to-action (CTA) in your email newsletter.
Personalization & Design
Personalization is the first area to look at and I’m not referring to using merge tags to embed first names (although that’s a good first step). I mean personalizing your content around your subscribers, or rather segments of your subscribers.
For me, personalization is more about relevancy. Create content that is written and designed for the person you’re sending the message to. Ask: why should they care, why would they like this email?
The second area to look at is the overall design and layout of the content. Usually, less is more. Don’t get bogged down on complex structures or throwing a bunch of content in there. Simple layouts (sometimes one column), short-form copy, fewer products and images, and less calls-to-action is the best approach. Less is absolutely more.
Big long ‘newsletters’ are dead, short relevant emails is the way to go.
More No Bullsh*t Advice From Email Experts Coming Soon
Stay tuned, we’ll be posting more No Bullshit Advice soon. Read our last installment, Holiday Email Marketing, Are You Ready? or catch up on the entire series here: No Bullsh*t Advice From Email Experts.
And as always, feel free to share your thoughts with us on Twitter.
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