This week for MediaPost I wrote about The Newsletter Renaissance. The topic came up with I had a conversation with one of our clients earlier in the week, who told me how they had cut back on the number of newsletters they were sending to their clients. That set me to thinking, and I started to look around in my own inbox to see if some of my favorite newsletters were still showing up. Sure enough, I found a bona fide trend – newsletters are not enjoying their previous popularity.
But they should. They’re a hardworking yet unheralded communications asset. They do more work than their metrics often suggest. Read on to see how.
The Newsletter Renaissance
by Mike May
published in MediaPost’s Email Insider, 11-16-11
Most email marketers I talk to are much more mindful of inbox clutter than ever, and many are taking steps to cull the number of messages they send out to subscribers –- often starting with the least targeted and lowest ROI. The axe seems to fall on the email newsletter pretty frequently. Often sent to “everybody,” the newsletter can qualify as untargeted. And newsletters designed to inform or educate, but not necessarily drive action, often do work as prescribed: they don’t drive action. Judging them by their analytics allows a marketer to draw the conclusion that they don’t work, and can be sacrificed in the name of some inbox breathing room.
The other reason I hear of newsletters falling out of favor is that marketers are relying on Facebook and Twitter to maintain regular contact with their audiences. The time needed to tweet or post a couple times a day is far less than what used to go into writing, formatting, editing, testing and sending the newsletter. Newsletters require more work than quipping into social channels. They’re also less fun and less gratifying as a status update that earns dozens of comments or a tweet that sparks a bantering exchange.
But the added work of newsletters is not wasted, not by a long shot. They are harder to produce because with emails we are building a strategic communications asset, slowly and over time. It doesn’t have the glitz of a sparkling social strategy or the glamour of a glossy magazine ad, but its role in the communications plan should nevertheless be protected. The work it does may not show up in click-through metrics, but its impact on customer contact, message frequency and brand narrative is significant.
Instead of waning usage of the email newsletter, here is why I think newsletters will (or at least should) enjoy a renaissance:
The brand sets the narrative. I’m quick to extol the virtues of social media in brand conversations, and often remind clients that sometimes letting go of a brand’s message and putting it into the hands of customers can turn a tidy ROI. But the message we want our customers to carry out into the world has to start somewhere. Regular newsletters that build on the brand’s story week after week and month after month can do that. Advertisers talk about optimum frequency required for a message to take hold, whether it’s through a 468×60 or a :30 spot. Frequency is not the exclusive domain of advertising. Newsletters allow a message to be repeated, nuanced and updated over time, reminding your customers of the story they’re telling on your behalf, and helping to keep it accurate.
Gravity is higher in the inbox. Most emailers, no matter how experienced, still feel that hint of anxiety every time they’re hitting the “send” button, hoping they’ve double-checked all the links and haven’t missed any embarrassing typos. Mistakes in an email are not only embarrassing; they are also damaging, as they represent a lack of respect to the audience earned and tended over time. Yet tweets like, “Oops, try this link instead” and “Damn iPhone auto-correct!” are de rigueur. I suppose you can claim that social media is just more casual, but to me errors like that look like the guy who left the house with half his collar tucked into his shirt’s neckline. When gravity weighs more heavily in a channel, it means the channel matters more. I’m not saying that it’s necessarily more effective, but customers know when more energy is spent communicating with them. The difference between a well-crafted monthly newsletter, designed to educate, entertain and/or edify them and “Happy Monday! What did everybody do this weekend?” is not lost on them.
Creating newsletters is a productive exercise regimen. One of the most important questions asked regularly in marketing departments across the country is, “So what are we going to put in the newsletter this week?” The newsletter’s insistence on being published on schedule forces a company — every week or month — to take inventory of what it is doing for its customers that is useful or valuable. In this way, the newsletter acts like the weekly staff meeting — the one you don’t want to go to without any meaningful progress to report on. The newsletter spurs activity, and helps make sure your company creates, communicates or otherwise sources something of value for your subscribers. The staff meeting’s thinly veiled purpose is to keep us from slacking off. The newsletter serves the same role, and it’s an important one, particularly given how often we ask our subscribers to do something for us instead.
So cut your newsletters some slack. They do good work, but simply aren’t as good as managing upwards as some of the more self-aggrandizing communications channels.