Digital Newsletters

Every day, I receive an abundant number of emails from so many different companies that are attempting to better engage their customers through newsletters.  Unfortunately, nearly all of those emails get moved straight to my “trash” folder, and I rarely ever open any of them (although there will be the occasional subject line that actually catches my eye and I will briefly consider looking at it).  If anything, I will only feel a slight annoyance about how inundated my inbox can get — yet I do not even feel enough annoyance to actually take five minutes of my time to unsubscribe from a company’s list serve.  (Does this remind anyone else of the emails you get from clubs that you only signed up for during Freshman year at the activities fair because they had free candy?)  Clearly, when consumers do not care enough to even take the time to unsubscribe, there exists a disconnect between how consumers feel and what these companies’ marketers are trying to accomplish through their use of digital newsletters.

Out of maybe 15 digital newsletters a day, the only ones that I regularly open are TheSkimm and the Buzzfeed Animals newsletters.  So what it is that the marketers of so many of these companies have gotten wrong?  What is it that TheSkimm and Buzzfeed have gotten right, at least for me?
Here are a few key points I think other marketers should keep in mind when they decide to use digital newsletters to reach the attention of consumers:
1).  Focus on being Educational, not Promotional!
Okay, maybe Buzzfeed Animals isn’t exactly educational, per se.  But it is definitely entertaining!  After all, the Buzzfeed Animals email is obviously a great way to make any day better — you receive an email from them a few times a week, and once you open the email, you are able to look at a bunch of adorable animals (don’t believe me?  Just click here or here to see a few cute pictures for yourself ).  That’s all there is to it.  Buzzfeed is not really trying to sell anything through this newsletter, although there certainly exists a certain amount of opportunity for advertisers to place ads for consumers to potentially click on.  Nevertheless, the main purpose of the newsletter is to get people to become more engaged with Buzzfeed overall, and I would say that it has worked rather well.  The newsletter serves to simply make people happier, and the effect of that is such that it helps people have a better perception of Buzzfeed as a whole.  Therefore, the marketers at Buzzfeed have clearly recognized that there is no need to ruin such a great newsletter by explicitly using product promotions or anything like that.  Their long-term, big picture interests are better served by providing valuable educational/entertaining material that does not feel promotional to their consumers.
2).  Keep Newsletter Design Minimalskimm
The design of TheSkimm is one of the reasons I decided to subscribe to it as a daily additional news source.  It uses a basic color scheme of teal and black, and it has plenty of white space.  It also does not try to overwhelm you with a ton of links or pictures or anything else too intense.  Instead, it simply gives you some of the highlights of what has been going on in the news through a few witty and entertaining paragraphs.  The design of the newsletter also makes sharing things from it very simple, as readers can very see how there are just a few icons next to each piece of news you can click on to share via Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram.
I really love watching and keeping up with the news, but there are simply so many things happening nowadays that there always still seems to be important events that manage to slip through my radar the day before.  Therefore,I really wanted to find a newsletter that I could read in the mornings to start my day off right, and TheSkimm has been my favorite one by far.  I love waking up to TheSkimm sitting in my email inbox, and the minimalist design of it is also helpful for opening the newsletter when you are half awake before you have even had your morning coffee.
3).  Have Eye-Catching Subject Lines
As I mentioned earlier in this post, there are times that I will actually open a newsletter because the subject line was particularly eye-catching.  Whether it was funny, amusing, or shocking, some kind of emotional response was all it took for that email to go from instant “trash” to potentially important.  Buzzfeed Animals and TheSkimm are both pretty good at this, but this tip is probably even more important to companies who are having more of a difficult time with improving open rates.  They should try to give extra attention to being witty without coming off as though they are trying too hard — a line that may at first be difficult for them to balance, but I think that their efforts will be rewarded in the end.
Of course, these few tips are definitely only some of the many things companies could do to improve their digital newsletters.  Let me know if you guys have any other favorite newsletters that you read regularly!

7 comments

  1. I really enjoyed this post which brings up a number of great points. I recently did unroll me which is a service that unsubscribes you from all of your unnecessary list serves you’re on. I also find it interesting that one of the only ones you read is TheSkimm because I too suffer from the same problem but they have made it very easy to read news for five minutes in an entertaining and easy to read fashion.

    I used to be in charge of an annoying newsletter for a club at school called Women in Business. We used to send blast emails in times new roman to all of our members about our upcoming events until I found MailChimp which is a beautifully designed, easy to use, newsletter service. Women in Business has been using this format ever since. While the look was nice, the content needed to be more interactive and fun too. We have actually fully modeled our newsletter around how TheSkimm presents itself by having interactive links, funny and relevant articles, as well as getting our point across concisely. Thank you for a great post!

  2. Nice post. I do think you are right that email newsletters are still here for a while, so might as well make them valuable and better.

  3. Nice post. I really find it interesting about the point that we don’t unsubscribe. Although all these emails are clogging up our inbox and it is such a simple task. Maybe just the fact that we know we have the power to unsubscribe is enough to keep us at the annoyed level vs outrage.

  4. Great post and I love how you used two different examples to illustrate your points! I’m also seriously considering signing up for Buzzfeed Animals after clicking on the links you provided. I think the “content-layout-catchy subject” triangle is a great way to summarize what it takes to have a successful newsletter. While each one on its own can help on different occasions, you have to have all three in order to have consistent and recurring user engagemnet.
    I find that I subscribe to the newsletters that I actually read or at least plan/want to read on my BC email, as I check it and engage with it throughout the day. All the other newsletters are on my gmail account, and they are mostly promotional and I usually clean up my inbox from them once or twice a week. However, most of them are from the brands I interact with, so I choose to stay involved, rather than unsubscribe. For all the others, I love Gmail’s built-in Unsubscribe feature that appears on top of the email and let’s you unsubsrcibe from most newsletter with one click.

  5. I really liked this post! I agree with you about the “instant trash” bucket I throw a lot of my newsletters into. I have, however, started to unsubscribe to any newsletter that in the past couple months hasn’t reeled me in with a catching subject line or engaging first picture. I agree with you that the hook really matters but I can imagine how difficult that is for companies to do with each and every newsletter. I think you had a great point of newsletters being educational. I will often stick with a newsletter that has some level of education whether that is blogs or links to articles even if they are ultimately selling me something like clothes.

    I also have had to make newsletters and, like Alexis, use MailChimp. I have seen twice as much engagement with members and it is much more effective in not only getting the word out but making people to listen. If you like the Skimm (I subscribe as well) I would also recommend the Morning Brew (https://www.morningbrewdaily.com/?kid=8EGSE). It is very similar to the Skimm but with business content. I often find great links for articles relevant to this class!

  6. Neat post! I have gotten into a bit of an ethical dilemma recently, as I want to start producing a bi-weekly newsletter for the satire website I manage, but I hate newsletters and quickly unsubscribe to any that I get signed up for. I believe that when done right, newsletters can add a lot to a brand/company’s online presence without requiring too much additional effort, but with the popularity of the newsfeed I’m not sure if a daily newsletter will really stay relevant for much longer. I do like the curatorial aspect of The Skimm, but personally prefer the pseudo-newsletter of what my friends and liked pages on Facebook have been sharing on any given day. Different strokes for different folks!

  7. Great post, I too have an inbox and trash box full of deleted newsletters. I feel that it is tough to appeal to a wide audience with these things. I often will not look at them no matter what, and they could be giving me a million dollars and I would never know so what does that say about me as the consumer? I do think there are probably some people who get value out of these and I know the companies must be getting some value out of it because they keep doing it and sending out these updates. I do think the more creative and condensed an email is, there is a better chance people will give it a look. Nothing worse than opening a busy/generic email. Hopefully some companies take your advice!

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