For the better part of the past year, I've been obsessed with elevating the profile of the humble email newsletter.
I've thought a lot about what goes into a must-read email newsletter in 2019.
I've studied the best of the best to inform what goes into my own must-read email newsletter, Total Annarchy, which I launched just over a year ago. (You should sign up here, by the way. Because it's free, useful, I believe you'll like it.)
One thing I've discovered in the past year is that email newsletters deserve a big group hug.
Why? Because some call it unsexy. Some mock it as old-school. Some flat-out dismiss it in favor of newer, shinier options.
But as every sharp marketer knows, email newsletters are a key component of any high-performing marketing strategy.
So the question is: How do we make email newsletters work more effectively for our companies, brands, or ourselves?
Answer: By reflecting on, then leveraging, all the attractive characteristics that make newsletters a one-of-a-kind marketing medium.
Dear Email Newsletters: How much do we love you? Let's count the ways.
Loves me #1: Human. An email newsletter is the only place where people—not algorithms—are in control. Yes, Gmail's algorithm does try to throw its weight around in your inbox, bullying you into what to open first. But, for the most part, email remains the place where we opt in to see what we want to see.
Loves me #2: Personal. Most companies today use their email newsletter as a distribution strategy. But the email newsletter is inherently personal: Ultimately, it's a letter from someone to someone. From you to me. So focus not on the news part of the word newsletter, but on the letter.
Loves me #3: Money. Some studies have shown that for every $1 of invested in email, there's the potential for a $38 return. And yes, "potential" as a descriptor is as tall and wide as a California Redwood. Nonetheless, email as a channel generates the highest ROI for marketers.
Loves me #4: Ownership. I love social media as much as any one of you. More, maybe. But we are vulnerable to the whims and vagaries and shifts in the business priorities of social platforms.
(Look up "Facebook apocalypse" if you have no idea what I'm talking about. I'll be here when you get back. So will email.)
You do own your email list and database. You don't pay to access a database owned by someone else as you might on Facebook. You can swap email service providers whenever you want to, and pack all your customers into your carry-on bag when you do—because you own the data.
I just said that last point three different ways. But it can't be restated enough. Which leads to...
Loves me #5: Anarchy, in the sense that no one owns email—unlike, say, Facebook or LinkedIn or YouTube. With email, there is no single corporation or entity standing guard at the gate, charging you whatever they please to allow you to proceed.
It’s like this:
If we want to drive on the social platform's digital roads, their toll booth collectors charge us varying and arbitrary amounts based on how fast we want to drive. Those who pass for free can still drive, technically. But they have to drive in the slow lane where the speed limit is 2 mph.
In theory, you eventually get where you're going. But most of us would give up out of sheer frustration.
Loves me #6: Democratic. Okay—one final comment about the email vs. social media: Businesses pay email providers for the service they sell. In other words, the email business model is cleaner, more straightforward, more transparent.
Loves me #7: Brand. Your email newsletter is a direct connection between you and your customer. Everything about it (voice, visuals, vibe) is all you. And only you. Those who read your post on LinkedIn are on there interacting with LinkedIn. But when they read your words in your newsletter, they are interacting with you.
Loves me #8: Trust. The cornerstone of an email relationship is trust. Subscribers opt in because they trust that you'll deliver something of value. If you break that promise, they'll unsubscribe. You cannot darken their doorstep ever again.
Brutal. But fair.
Love me #9: Reciprocal. We can send letters to our subscribers or customers, and they can hit reply and write back to us. (In most cases: NoReply@, I'm giving you a massive side-eye right now.)
Love me #10: Right where you left it. Ever see a post on a social platform and then try to find it later? I think that person published it Tuesday? Or was it Wednesday? Wait. Maybe it was last week? Email, of course, is always right where you left it. (Waves hello!)
And, finally, this is the most important...
Loves me #11: "Slow-cial media." In the past year, I've spent less and less time on Facebook. Newsletters have become my way of staying connected to the kind of information I used to get in my Facebook feed. My consumption of news has become slower—but that's been good: It gives me time to formulate my own thoughts and feelings without bias from the commenters and likers on social media.
I might ultimately share my thoughts on social media, but the difference is that I am able to first think about how I feel about an issue. I can swim around in the deep pool for a bit, alone, without being splashed by that opinionated guy who decides to cannonball right off the diving board.
The ability to think before speaking is embedded in email. That's almost impossible to experience on social media, especially with hot-button or political posts. Which is why I call email "Slow-cial Media."
Loves me not...
Listen, I'm a realist. Email is imperfect. As much as I can count the ways that email loves me, there are also ways that email loves me not...
In some ways email can be frustrating and disappointing. For one, we send dump trucks full of email. Too much, really.
But that's why you and I are here, to figure out a way to consistently up our game.
So who's in?
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