Call us old-fashioned, but we think email newsletters are a fantastic tool. We use them in a few different ways:
1- Cultivation. If you are launching something new, it is awfully handy to have potential customers—or even better, actual fans—in place before you launch. When we test positioning of a new product, we ask those who arrive at a landing page to sign up for an email newsletter. Then we tell them the story of the path to launch and make them part of our client’s “team.”
2- Product. The project that started it all at Spark No. 9 was one in which the email newsletter was the product itself. Email newsletters that are a vehicle for monetization—sponsored content like The Skimm, for example—are a pretty cheap way to start a business.
3- Retention. Retention is probably the most common use of email newsletters. Most retention newsletters are a bit sell-y. We prefer the kind that is closer to a “product”—a newsletter that gives the reader a reason to open whether they are ready to make a purchase or not.
If you are considering a newsletter for your business, be strategic. And read on for more ideas.
In this Newsletters for Nerds prez, editors from VOX Media and The Huffington Post share strategies for using news events to build an email newsletter audience. While it’s easy to dismiss this as “just for content companies,” the tactic is pretty transferable to other industries: an event that generates a need for information—a change in regulation, a breakthrough innovation, a cataclysmic earnings miss—can be a catalyst for signing up to learn more.
Do's and Don'ts—Ok, Just Don'ts
It is always instructive to study success. But it is often equally useful to examine utter failure, like these examples of what not to do in email marketing. Oh, one other thing: spelling and grammar actually matter here. Consult your Strunk & White (& Kalman).
Maybe we are newsletter-obsessed, but we have lots of faves in each of the categories we mentioned above. A smattering:
Cultivation. Amazon challenger Jet.com had a genius cultivation strategy: refer others to Jet not just out of the goodness of your heart but for shares in the startup (now owned by Walmart). Click to see how much one dude spent to make sure he got the top prize of 100,000 shares.
Product. When the email is the entire product, it usually is monetized via a paid subscription (Stratechery) or sponsorship (The Exponential View). We are partial to many of the Quartz email newsletters in this category.
Retention. BUY MORE! COME BACK! Retention emails are hard to do well, and a lot of brands fall back on discounts and special offers to drive open rates. Exceptions are emails that are a joy to behold (Everlane, for example) or emails that provide useful info about a passion (John Scheeper's Kitchen Garden Seeds, although it's time for a redesign).
Email? You Have Got to Be Kidding Me.
Still not buying the email newsletter hype? Read this.