Monthly newsletters can connect with existing customers, attract new customers, and enhance your brand's perception.
Why it's a good idea
Running a monthly newsletter is pretty standard, but many leave a lot to be desired. The best monthly newsletters run like a standalone content product, typically with an editorial aspect, not just a sales flyer.
When done well, newsletters can provide the following benefits:
- Increase the trust and authority of your brand.
- Keep you in the forefront of the mind.
- Keep readers engaged in your topic or niche.
- Give customers something to share with others who might become customers.
- Give you a marketable asset by which to nurture leads.
There are three primary characteristics of great commercial newsletters.
Personal, not corporate
- A real human wrote this thing. You should even put his/her name in the email and reply-to address (and encourage replies/mention replies in issues).
- Great example: Nest sends an email that shows how much energy everyone saves by using it.
- Highlight stories from the community.
- A roundup of top [niche] articles
- Discussion of broader trends or issues in the niche
- Surface any good recent blog content
Growing the List
There are three primary ways that newsletters grow:
- Existing customers – Ask users to join during checkout.
- Blog/Content Opt-Ins – Popups and in-content opt-ins work fine. You can also create lead magnets to push paid advertising to build the list.
- Referrals from readers – Some of the best examples have viral referral programs that incorporate some mixture of rewards and free products. The Hustle is an excellent example of this.
Segmentation is Crucial
Since you’ll have a mixture of recipients, segmentation is crucial. Non-customers can be delivered CTAs to sign up for the service or purchase the product. Existing customers can receive referral program nags or discounts for additional purchases or other opportunities for expansion revenue.
Built to be Forwarded
Many users tend to be philosophically activated, which means that there is potential for a certain amount of ego reinforcement. By tailoring some of the email’s tone/content, you can appeal to this and encourage them to share with others: both people who share their opinion and those who do not.
A heavy-handed approach could utilize normative statements for sections/content headings:
Seriously, you should be using Duck Duck Go instead of Google.
How to convince your partner that camping is essential.
You can likely be more subtle, but still, plainly establish opinions.
Metrics to Consider
When standing up a monthly newsletter program, you’ll want to keep an eye on these metrics:
- List growth
- Open rates
- Click-to-open rates
For comparison, here are some industry benchmarks:
- Average open rate: 17.8%
- Average click-through rate: 2.6%
- Average click-to-open rate: 14.3%
- Average unsubscribe rate: 0.1%
- Average bounce rate: 0.7%
- 63% of emails are opened on mobile devices
Recommendation: Rely on a tried and true format that helps remove friction from the production process and sets expectations for customers. The goal is to provide something useful and interesting, and not overly promotional.
The litmus test is: Would someone who isn’t a customer want to read this?
- Introduction (and re-state who we are, what this email is, why we’re sending it) (approx 100-150 words)
- The lead theme, along with a question. (approx 300-1000 words)
- Can you guess how many identity theft cases happen every year in the USA? Read on to find out.
- A brand building statistic showing scale, trust, and authority.
- This month [brand] did [xyz thing] that shows the community, strength in numbers, and impact.
- Answers to reader questions from previous issues.
- Five must-read articles (with a bit of commentary) on what happened this month. (Link to 1 or 2 internal blog posts, if applicable)
- Answer the lead question. Ask to forward the email to a friend, or to share the quote (pre-linked) on Twitter, etc.
- Referral Program Nag (for existing customers)
Pattern Breaks = Easy Reading
Similar to visual design, the copy needs a hierarchy to facilitate the reading experience. When everything looks the same, it’s hard to scan the relevant information. In an email context, where most people have a short attention span, the pattern breaks become critical for retention.
Seek to use images and headlines to break up content.
Open Loops Increase The Activation Rate
In copywriting, open loops are the equivalent of cliffhangers in a Netflix Series. They trigger curiosity and the desire to seek out the missing information, which can be great for activation.
Try using a single, solitary open loop at the beginning that fits in with the overall theme of the month.
Risks and Spam
Email can be a problematic marketing channel due to opaque spam rules at major email service providers.
Every sender has a “sender reputation.” This composite metric (or set of metrics) is the result of algorithmic analysis on previous campaigns.
Broadly, bad campaign metrics (low open rate, low click rate, high unsubscribe or spam reports) lower your sender reputation and will result in emails being filtered into spam folders or not delivered at all.
Gmail, for example, recently began lowering sender reputation on senders who continue to send to recipients who have not opened emails in 180 days. You can attend to this risk by having good list hygiene.
A vital component of a list hygiene routine is to remove recipients who have not opened any of several previous emails. Ideally, you would wash this group into a re-activation campaign: send an email asking if they’d like to continue to receive messages in the future or be removed permanently. Some subset of these users will not be accurately tracked and still engaged, but largely they will be inactive and uninterested. The latter hurts sender reputation, as email service providers can see open activity that otherwise avoids tracking.
Another primary signal is unsubscribe and spam report ratios. You should make unsubscribing simple and obvious. You should make sure that you honor these requests quickly and thoroughly.
Tech and Tools
You should be able to A/b test headlines for future optimization.
Get a gmail avatar to show up, creating a Google account, and uploading a profile picture. This helps stand out in the inbox.
An email testing platform: Email on Acid for testing emails before they go out. Alt service is litmus.
Consider having a landing page for signups/referrals/shares/etc. to sell the newsletter and get an opt-in.
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I'm a developer, marketer, and writer based in Appleton, Wisconsin.