Why the E-mail Newsletter Deserves a Second Chance

E-mail’s resurgence has been a powerful and yet subtle one. Many digital ninjas spout e-mail is dead and yet praise the business models of e-mail-dependent companies, like the daily deal ventures (e.g., Groupon, Scoutmob, etc.)

With the focus again back on the digital glue of online communications, e-mail needs to continue to innovate. It also can return to basics for many marketers. One of those ways is the often shunned and regularly disdained e-mail newsletter. I believe semantics have a lot to do with this prejudice.

The idea of newsletters conjures up mountains of text, hours of editing, and generally a painful experience for all involved with the creation. Some of that may be true, but those are the elements of this communication piece that should be abandoned

What I believe should get another look is an e-mail product that doesn’t even have to be called a newsletter. Let’s call it a multi-dimensional e-mail message. These are not promotional e-mails driving traffic to your site or store because of a sale on your widgets or a new white paper designed to build leads. These are e-mails that offer several unique messaging themes in short teases and then get the user on their way (often landing pages, websites, etc.).

Second That Emotion

Nielsen Norman Group’s new research on newsletter usability stated, “The most significant finding from our usability research on email newsletters is that users have emotional reactions to them. This is in strong contrast to research on website usability, where users are usually much more oriented toward functionality.” This is huge and you should be sold on that nugget alone. It also sounds a lot like why social media works, right?

So if your brand wants to connect outside of a pure transactional and marketing context, then that insight makes it worth exploring; how you tap into that is the opportunity and challenge.

Multiple (Brief) Messages and Value Propositions

With e-mail activity taking up almost 50 percent of every hour on smartphones, it’s no surprise that the typical e-mail newsletter consumption mode is skimming. So newsletters don’t have to be that lengthy and boring version that many marketers continue to send (while often punishing themselves and their subscribers in the process) and users often ignore.

Make it brief and tease: Newsletter users spent an average of 51 seconds on each of the newsletters they read from their own inbox, according to Nielsen Norman’s study. That’s a considerably longer amount of time compared to a promotional e-mail. That doesn’t mean you need to hire a copywriter to write “War and Peace.” Include short actionable items that appeal to multiple segments of your audience.

Provide varied messaging: A one-size-fits-all e-mail doesn’t work, especially in this format. So don’t bet the farm that 100 percent of your audience is interested in one topic. This type of e-mail allows you to provide multiple value propositions and types of content, which should mean low response rate, but a very diverse set of click-throughs that can provide valuable insight into what your subscribers find appealing.

Socialize the heck out of it: Content is often e-mail’s enemy, but guess what – its social’s best buddy, and e-mail newsletters should be filled with solid content that should be created with social sharing in mind.

Develop some exclusive content: Yes, you will be repurposing content from other marketing initiatives but including something that can only be found in your e-mail newsletters (multi-dimensional e-mail messages) .

An example of Ted’s Montana Grill’s award-winning e-mail newsletter:


Personality Trumps Best Practices

Give it flavor and identity: Don’t be boring with the newsletter. Give it a unique brand and personality, distinct from other e-mail and marketing communications.

Personalize it: Ideally, subscribers can choose their type of content and frequency, but even without, a personalized e-mail can go beyond Dear First Name. Customized content, either served dynamically or developed based on subscriber behavior, is guaranteed to be more relevant.

The Dunder Mifflin e-mail (below) offends me to the bone as an e-mail marketer. It’s copy-heavy, very few links are offered, and it looks like it was designed by my dad using Microsoft Word. However, I read it every time it comes. Not because of e-mail bells and whistles, but because of my emotional connection to the funny folks from Scranton. Don’t underestimate that potential.


Let’s get back to how to rebrand the e-mail newsletter. Below are a few terms to ponder:

CRM e-mail
Big picture e-mail
Something-for-everyone e-mail
Keep-me-informed e-mail
APB e-mail
Kitchen sink e-mail
Multi-offering communications
Brand enthusiast e-mail
Brand junkie e-mail
Want-it-all e-mail

What resonates with you, and does it matter?

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