Spread the News: Effective Email Newsletters

  • by April 28, 2009
Email newsletters serve as a relevant form of communication in nearly every industry. With such a range, it's a bit tricky to name best practices for all. That said, we've compiled some creative and strategic considerations for using email newsletters effectively, including examples from successful brands across a number of verticals.

Strategic Considerations:

• Determine the appropriate sending frequency for your newsletters. This is dictated by your subscribers' expectations. For retailers, the general trend is toward monthly newsletters, but more frequent sending makes sense for some. Daily Candy sends (as you'd hope!) a daily news story, Ticketmaster sends weekly updates on ticket sales and specials, and the Seattle Public Library sends monthly events updates.



• Choose whether to require a separate opt-in for newsletter subscribers. Many retailers send their newsletters to everyone who signs up for their promotional messages. Depending on how niche your newsletter content is, it may make more sense to have a separate opt-in process for newsletter subscribers. For example, Barnes & Noble offers newsletters about various book genres, and subscribers visit a profile center to choose which they'd like to receive.

• Include the relevant, informative content that subscribers want from something called "a newsletter." People who take the time to read newsletters expect to be rewarded with valuable information. Include content such as news about your company, upcoming events, special offers that subscribers might not already know about, and links to videos, interactive tools or other exciting site features.

Incorporate relevant interactive content, such as polls, hot topics being discussed on your forum or social networking sites and links to join your social networks. Encourage interactivity by giving a nod to community participants who create value, as Backcountry does in calling out its top contributors.

Add navigation, table of contents and calls to action. Including your site navigation in your newsletter not only carries consistent branding across your Web page and email channels, but also creates opportunities for subscribers to return to your site. A table of contents, especially if you have a long newsletter, can grab the interest of readers who might not scroll down to a bottom story as well as give them a quick way to navigate.

Including CTAs in the form of buttons and text links is the best way to see returns on your newsletters. Draw subscribers to interact with your brand in a way that adds value to their experience with the newsletter.

• Optimize opportunities for dynamic content. When possible and relevant, include dynamic content in your newsletters. This can serve as a resource to subscribers in the form of account information, as in the case of United Airlines and Filter, which each include modules containing subscriber info. Segmenting by location is also a great way to make sure that the right information reaches the right eyes. Williams Sonoma does this in its local events newsletter.

Creative Considerations:

• Keep consistent. Because newsletters often come less frequently than promotional messaging, it's important to unify them with consistent creative. Keeping certain elements consistent with your Web site and promotional messaging also makes your email program feel more cohesive.

REI's March and REI's April Newsletters demonstrate a consistency of layout and branding that reinforces their connection even as the imagery makes each seem fresh. While this UrbanOutfitters newsletter is specifically dedicated to blog content, UO maintains its brand logo and usual navigation up top, making the email seem more familiar.

• Consider your audience when determining newsletter length. If you send a B2B newsletter or if a large portion of your audience is likely to view your newsletter on a mobile device, it may make sense to send long newsletters that include entire articles in the email itself. Clicking through to content is not (yet) easy on mobile devices. If your subscribers look forward to your newsletter as an info-packed resource, such as may be the case with MyFonts and Artkrush, it might also make sense to include entire articles in the email.

Most retail brands, as well as companies in other industries, send shorter newsletters including content snippets that link to hosted content on their site. Examples include People, BabyCenter and MyRegence. This keeps emails unintimidating and readable. It also allows subscribers to access just the info snippets that interest them most without sifting through a lengthy message.

• Find the balance between text and imagery that makes sense. For B2B communications and some particularly information-packed newsletters, it may make sense to keep the content fairly text-heavy, with minimal imagery.

Other newsletters, such as TicketsWest events update, the Betty Crocker newsletter and the Kodak gallery email rely strongly on their imagery and need less text.

For most retail newsletters, a nearly equal balance between text and imagery keeps the newsletter from appearing intimidating (with too much text) or fluffy (with too little content). Backcountry, REI and Smithsonian each offer good examples of balanced text and imagery.

• Decide how to refer to your newsletter. Some retail brands find that avoiding the word "newsletter" in their subject lines earns them more attention from subscribers who shy away from long messages. Others find that the consistency of including the word "news" or "newsletter" pays off.

Some examples include Equifax's subject line, "Your April Equifax Newsletter," the BabyCenter "Baby Bulletin" subject lines calling out content (i.e. "What your post-baby body is really like"), and AbeBooks's subject lines leveraging newsletter names such as "The Avid Reader" and "The Avid Collector."

To Conclude:

With email newsletters serving as vehicles for such diverse information for widespread brands, the most important take-away is that each strategic and creative piece deserves careful consideration of your subscribers' needs and expectations. You have great news to share! Make sure your newsletter does it justice.

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