Email Newsletters: How To Build Reader Relationships
Are your email newsletters stuffed with bland filler?
Even worse, do your newsletters cause readers to scroll by or unsubscribe before your content has a chance to dazzle them?
While your website and blog are the heart of your owned media, your email is the blood system that circulates communications. As your direct line to readers, your email communications must do your marketing’s heavy lifting.
Although many bloggers and marketers use newsletters to showcase recent content, you must provide quality email newsletters to stand out in today’s flooded inboxes.
Lesson: Don’t squander your email newsletter opportunity.
Don’t take my word for it!
Recently Spin Sucks’ Gini Dietrich and Convince and Convert’s Jay Baer started regular email newsletters. If these two marketing megastars think email newsletters are worth their time, you should pay attention.
Baer jumps on marketing trends in their infancy. He just sent his first weekly email newsletter. Published on Sundays, Baer’s email communication is short and free of distractions.
Objective: To engage readers and build longer-term relationships.
Baer’s first email highlighted a piece about his dentist’s Facebook page. Baer’s point: If my local Bloomington dentist is on Facebook, you should be too.
Gini Dietrich of Spin Sucks introduced a monthly newsletter in April 2017.
Dietrich writes her newsletter. It includes:
- Slack Community Spotlights. Gives a shout out to community members by name. Take note: Dietrich is a whiz at paying-it-forward with her audience. She did this with her #FF Twitter Interviews.
- Spin Sucks Hot Topics: Features the top Spin Sucks articles of the month.
- Spin Sucks FOMO: Calls out upcoming Spin Sucks events.
Spin Sucks Email Newsletter
Email newsletters defined
Unlike functional emails (like customer service) and transactional emails (purchase confirmations and related correspondence), email newsletters are pure content.
The goal of email newsletters is to pull readers, prospects, influencers, end-users, customers and others into your content and to guide them along the purchase journey. They support every level of the purchase funnel by building relationships with your audience over time.
Email newsletters warm names into qualified sales leads by:
- Building reader relationships. Remember your goal is to open your communications channel. To this end, be generous with your mentions of influencers, employees and readers.
- Establishing you as a go-to resource (aka: thought leader). Provide information around 1 to 3 core topics.
- Creating on-ramps to your other content (aka: interconnected content) and products. Guide readers to quality content that supports your thought leadership and sales. But avoid being overtly promotional. Hubspot recommends a 90% useful content and 10% promotional content ratio.
Don’t underestimate your content’s value to your readers. As head of marketing for The Economist’s online division, I argued with executives over this. Some viewed our email newsletters as lowly repurposed content reprinted from the magazine. Yet readers loved and opened our newsletters creating advertising revenues.
Depending on your firm’s use and integration of marketing technology, your email newsletters should allow personalized and dynamic content that’s relevant to your readers’ interests.
3 Must-read weekly mail newsletters
While I graze on a wide variety of marketing and business content, my 3 must-read weekly email newsletters are:
Scott Monty hand curates his newsletter using Flipboard. I was surprised to discover he didn’t outsource this time consuming function. Monty builds his content based on his own weekly content consumption. Monty covers a broader array of topics than most digital marketing letters.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Monty, he’s a digital savvy big brand expert. He did ground breaking work as Ford’s Chief Digital Officer.
Sample of the Full Monty Newsletter
Monty uses Patron to encourage readers to donate to his newsletter. (Editor’s note: Understand there’s a cost to every newsletter. It includes the creator’s time and technology costs for email distribution.)
How The Full Monty Promotes Its Business – Email Newsletter Example
Christopher S. Penn is one extremely smart man. As Vice President of Technology at ShiftCommunications, Penn understands data and technology.
Penn’s newsletter is similar in strategy to his Twitter approach. On Twitter, Penn (@CSPenn) tweets #the5. These are the 5 key things Penn thinks are worth sharing.
Near the top of his newsletter, Penn always has a fun unsubscribe button that he changes every week. Why force readers to search for the unsubscribe button when Penn makes them so much fun you want to see the next one?
Penn includes other non-marketing topics he thinks his readers might like. As a metrics geek, I’m sure readers click on these links.
If you’re seeking to promote your own products or content, take a page from Penn’s newsletter. He includes various promotions for his books and products.
Rae Hoffman is a long time search and affiliate expert. If there’s a way to build traffic, Hoffman knows it.
Hoffman includes a friendly note at the top of her newsletter spotlighting the big news of the week. In the meat of her letter, she ranks the week’s search changes by level. She links to relevant articles and documents her affiliate status.
Hoffman’s newsletter is a plain text email with links. (Note: For personal reason’s Sugarrae Sound Bites is going to a bi-weekly.)
3 Core email newsletter traits
These email newsletters have the following 3 traits in common:
- Provide quality curation on specific topics. Include additional commentary where necessary and links to the original documents.
- Send during the weekend. (Okay, Monty’s arrives on Monday.) They’re focused on getting you to pay attention and read.
- Clearly define promotion from content. Scott Monty uses Patron to generate revenue and spotlights his speaking gigs and company. Penn has ads for his classes and books as well as noting his upcoming speaking gigs. Hoffman uses affiliate links.
5 Reasons some email newsletters work and others don’t
Email newsletters are a fill-in-the-blanks writing exercise. The best email newsletters show the creator’s personality and work.
1. Have a consistent human voice
This means a letter written by the person behind your brand. Your goal: Get readers to want to click when they see your newsletter in their inbox. Talk to them like a good friend or colleague. Record your message and transcribe if necessary.
It took me years to find my email newsletter voice. At first I was reticent to write in a more personal voice; it felt less professional. But the more personal letters resonate with my readers.
I tell about a recent event or personal story and relate it to marketing with actionable marketing take-aways. I consider these to be my trademark.
2. Offer extra value to readers
I’m not talking about promotion. Rather additional content or spotlight key facts they need. You can spotlight your best content for the period.
3. Set your email design
Have a consistent email structure. This doesn’t mean your email content must be boring. Rather make your content format familiar so readers can hop to the sections they want to see. Use your content skills to draw readers into your newsletter and facilitate content consumption. Include images.
4. Publish on a consistent schedule
Think like a publisher to build reader expectations. You want your newsletter to be part of their weekly content diet.
5. Provide easy content on-ramps
Give readers enough information to determine if they want to click through to your other content. Don’t make them think; just act! Where appropriate add links and buttons. Continually test which elements yield the best results to achieve your goals.
Bonus: Optimize email newsletters for mobile experiences
42% of readers will delete your email immediately if it doesn’t display well on a smartphone. (Blue Hornet)
Email newsletters conclusion
To maximize the value of your email addresses create a regularly published email newsletter that provides real value to your readers. By helping readers, you’ll deepen relationships with them that will ultimately lead to sales.
Consider your email newsletters an integral element of your content marketing offering.
Use them to provide another way to reach the audience of people interested in your content.
Continually test your email performance against other options. (Think series of A/B tests to find the best performing option.)
If Jay Baer, Gini Dietrich and I think email newsletters are important, don’t you think you should give them a try? It took Moz over 6 months to prove the value of their Whiteboard Fridays with Rand Fishkin.
What content can you offer your audience on a regular basis that they will want to read every time?
To make it easier, consider your email newsletter as a work in progress.
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