The Difference Between Newsletters and Emails

In my previous article, I asked the question, “Can Copywriters Write Great Newsletters?” I went on to talk about how copywriters online need to be flexible. I wrote about how writers need the skills both to close customer actions and to build relationships.

These two different approaches to writing can be seen clearly in the action-oriented copy of an email promotion and the more personal, informative, and value-driven style of a newsletter.

Promotional emails drive actions. Newsletters add value and build relationships.

At least that’s how I think it should be.

But, in recent months, with every company online using email and newsletters as a “cheap” form of promotion, the differences between emails and newsletters are blurring.

Sites ask visitors to sign up for newsletters and then send them what are, essentially, promotional emails.

Here’s an example. If you go to the Maybelline site, you can sign up through the “NEWSLETTER” link.

Here is the entire text of a recent Maybelline newsletter:

    Dear Fashion and Beauty Trendsetters,

    Before the leaves start turning, get a heads up on the season’s fashion trends by clicking on the Fall issue of The Maybelline Scene now!

    Check out what you’ll fall for this season:

    Fashion Radar — Update your wardrobe now with the top 10 must-haves!

    Beauty Buzz — Make the perfect match… hair color and makeup.

    Cool Hunters — What’s the secret? How do cosmetic companies know what shades are in?

    Scene Talk — How “real” are stars? Tell us now!

    Have a great fall!

To my mind, that’s just a promotional email masquerading as a newsletter. There is no value within the newsletter itself. Its purpose is simply to get readers to click on the various links and arrive at the Maybelline site.

So why do they call it a newsletter? Maybe the difference escapes them. Or maybe you get a higher conversion rate if you invite people to sign up for a “newsletter” rather than for “special offers by email.”

A much more direct and honest approach is taken by the folks at Road Runner Sports.

On their home page, they don’t ask you to sign up for a newsletter. They say…

    Save Money!

    Enter your email here and receive spectacular savings and expert product information.

And one of their recent email promotions opens like this:

    Now’s the time to pick up some new summer running clothes — because they’re on sale! Take 20% off all shorts, tees, singlets, sport bras, any apparel at Road Runner Sports.

In other words, they deliver exactly what they promise.

Does it really matter if promotional emails and newsletters blend into one form? I think it does.

As newsletters become more overtly promotional, with little or no value in themselves, the public will view them simply as virtual junk mail. And when newsletters are seen as being junk mail, it becomes harder for those few companies that really do create genuine online newsletters that offer tremendous value to their readers.

Which companies create great online newsletters? They’re tough to find. But here’s one company that understands that it can sell more products and services in the long term if it offers its prospects and customers valuable knowledge and information now:

    Quicken.com Small Business Newsletter

    July 2000

    Welcome to the July 2000 Newsletter. Our goal is to provide you with useful information on important business issues.

    * Getting Financing for Your Business

    * Analyze the Market Environment

    * Why You Need a Business Plan

    Getting Financing for Your Business

    The perception that many small business owners have is that financing means taking whatever money you can get; the faster and easier you can get it, the better. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t take into account the fact that getting money for your business involves a variety of considerations, financial and nonfinancial, good and bad.

    Read the entire article.

    [And so on…”

(If you know of any other great newsletters that are produced by companies engaged in e-commerce, I’d love to hear about them.)

Newsletters like this present companies with a great opportunity. When you offer your readers real value, they will reciprocate by offering you a slice of their attention.

So it makes sense to keep newsletters separate. It makes sense to earn your readers’ attention. It makes sense to write newsletters with a view to a long-term relationship, not just a short-term action.

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