The Newsletter is Dead; Long Live the Newsletter!

by Evan Junker | Aug 10, 2020

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Email newsletters are historically rooted in the new email era of the late 1990s. With more widespread adoption, businesses, faith communities, and organizations began (slowly) migrating their regular printed newsletters to email. These early efforts were little more than electronic regurgitations of the text of a printed newsletter, albeit saving the .32 to .34 cents apiece the hard copy would cost back then.

newsletter

As time evolved, some newsletters did as well. When email clients like AOL and Outlook 97 made rich text and HTML formatting more widely available, newsletters began adding bolded titles, links to web-based resources, and (later on) even pictures. Newsletters became synonymous with “email newsletter” by the mid-2000s, and the hard copy version was sidelined for nearly all businesses and most non-profits.

And that was it. This point, about 15 years ago, is when most organizations stopped innovating with the design, content, strategy, and technology behind their organization’s newsletter. And now many business leaders complain about high unsubscribe rates, low open rates, and being caught in spam filters. Venturing online, they learn that businesses are earning $35-$40 dollars ROI for every one dollar spend on email marketing. They learn that email marketing is the highest-grossing channel when compared to direct mail, social media, SEO, and web-based advertising. They discover that email is the top-performer in both B2C and B2B markets.

So why isn’t their newsletter working? Why are their email campaigns falling flat?

It is because the newsletter (in the model they understand it) is dead. It is the equivalent of calling a horse-drawn carriage a car. They have missed all of the innovations and best practices over the past 15 years, and their customers and clients – as well as the internet in general – is punishing them.

What we know about people and their newsletter habit

Depending on your source, mobile open rates account for between 40% and 46% of all email opens, and an astounding 35% of business professionals now check email on a mobile device (a rapid rise over the past few years.)

Mobile e-mail open statistics

While the statistics will vary by age and industry, among others, the trend continues to show mobile engagement critical. Whether your user is on a commuter train, standing in an elevator, or waiting for their food to be delivered while they flip through social media apps on their phone, chances are increasing that their first engagement with your newsletter will be when it shows up on their smartphone.

Ensuring your newsletter is mobile responsive is the first critical hurdle to pass in engaging with your readers. While this will not guarantee they will open it or find the content relevant, at least they will be able to view it on their preferred medium!

Market Segmentation & Personalization

People on your list are not monolithic. Not only do they have different hopes and dreams, but more importantly, they are motivated by differing factors. They relate to your company differently and are attracted to your organization due to a variety of motivating drivers.

Organizations wishing to connect with their customers must make it a practice of communicating with them on their terms. That means segmenting the list: sharing with parts of your list information they are most likely to find valuable, in a format they are most likely to consume. According to HubSpot’s updated 2020 statistics, marketers who used segmented campaigns noted as much as a 76% increase in revenue. While an email newsletter by itself will not result in this kind of jump, as part of a marketing campaign, it can prove extremely valuable.

Personalizing content – even absent changing core content – still yields profound results. According to Campaign Monitor, emails with personalized subject lines are 26% more likely to be opened. That means simply adding a user’s first name to the subject line could increase your open rates!

Multi-channel

All of us are bombarded every day with information. In this day and age, we get it all around us- social media apps, email, texting and messaging apps, phone calls, radio, tv (and internet-based entertainment apps). The list of channels funneling information into our brains is continually growing.

So why is it that so many people believe that if they send a newsletter to someone via email, that that person will receive it, see it, read it, and engage with it? Let’s face it, even most of the email providers have begun helping our users deal with the onslaught of information by separating incoming mail into regular mail, “bulk” mail, and junk or spam. Chances are your single, one-time email shot will end up in a less-than-desirable category for at least a few members of your audience.

Reaching your users means you need to sustain the effort. Consider dripping the information out over the course of the month via short email bits or social media posts. The compile it in an email format for your newsletter. Then post a link to an online (albeit generic) version of your newsletter on your social media feeds multiple times during a week. Do this in addition to sending your email newsletter. Chances are it will be received by your end-user in at least one channel. You will also find your fears of users screaming, “why are you sending me all of this stuff!” are wildly exaggerated. The fact is many will still not see what you send them, and most will only see it once (or perhaps twice.) At least you will be able to rise above the noise.

Pro Tip: Stay in front of your audience’s awareness. Put out drips of infomation throughout the month. Capture it at the end with a newsletter that combines all of your drips in one place. If someone misses one day of email, they will still see you fruequently, your targets will have multiple shots at seeing your infomraiton, and you will maintain brand awareness on a more regular basis.

Tracking & Retargeting

Technology is one of those things that have left some companies behind. The ability to retarget website visitors, email clickers and social media engagers is not new – it has been around for many years. Yet relatively few companies effectively transform these pieces of data into information that can be deployed.

Successful companies track data at the user-level. They know when a user visits their website (and what pages), where they clicked from, when they engage in their social media feeds and which articles in which newsletter they are interested. These companies ensure that the material these users receive via email is reflective of their interests – which can be derived or extrapolated from the data. While this is part art and part science, companies that implement these tools are more effective at building brand loyalty and increased engagement.

Rarely is this information developed by deploying one technology. Usually, it involves a combination of UTM codes, various user-level tracking tools, combined with analytics and integration tools linking the digital sphere together. This means leaving the comfort of the traditional, ineffective newsletter and entering into a realm in which the newsletter is both informed by other data points and serves to inform other marketing and communications realms through the data that it provides in return.

Tone and Format

Every so often, I run across a newsletter that asks a user to do nothing – not click on a link, not read or learn more about something, not provide feedback, not look at something cool. Nothing. Nada. This not only fails to engage end-users; it also means that the company sending the newsletter has zero opportunity to know what the end-user thinks. Do they like this article? Well, did they click to read the rest of it? We don’t know because it was dumped in the newsletter with no feedback. Be sure to design an engaging newsletter. That allows (like a newspaper) users to scan for what they are interested in and explore it at a deeper level.

Balance information with sales. Newsletters are intended to build brand loyalty, value, and awareness. At most, selling should only be about 10% of any newsletter – even those that are consumer-oriented. Let the newsletter draw the user to your site or social media page, learn more about them, and then you can market sales toward them. Save the newsletter for your brand.

A/B Testing

Organizations that practice A/B testing can continuously improve their open and click-through rates through experimentation. Companies utilizing this practice see email marketing returns that are 37% higher than those of brands that never include A/B tests. Of course, this entails having healthy A/B testing practices in place and someone who knows how to interpret the results, but the value of implementing such a methodology allows organizations to grow their reach and increase their impact beyond that of their competition.

Conclusion

There is no magic panacea to bring an organization’s email newsletter out of the 1990s. One single thing will not make the horse-drawn carriage into a sportscar. But slowly implementing the best practices above will allow a newsletter to become an integral part of how a brand relates to its customers and will help develop that relationship, leading to increased sales, brand loyalty, and brand authority.

In 2019 alone, 293.6 billion emails were sent and received – each day! That number is projected to increase to over 347.3 daily emails by 2022. Standing above the noise and reaching your customer will require sustained efforts on your part. If you need help revamping your newsletter – or want support in developing a marketing plan that will drive your business to success – please connect with us.

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