Email marketing may not be regarded as the flashiest of marketing channels nor at the cutting edge of technology, so it’s no surprise that sometimes it gets overlooked.
While social media and its ecosystem of influencers, dance trends, and memes often feels like the place where the most important conversations with consumers take place — it’s worth remembering that with email you have a direct line of communication with a consumer who’s already engaged with your brand. That is marketing gold dust!
So this makes email newsletters an extremely valuable tool, giving your brand a means of regularly reaching out to your consumers to give updates, promote new offers, or just immerse them in the world of your brand, your mission, or your company culture. It can be an essential channel to drive engagement, build customer loyalty, reduce churn, or even reactivate lapsed customers.
That’s why virtually every brand uses email newsletters.
But getting them right is not easy. We all know what it’s like to receive unwanted mail in our inbox — how easy it is to click “mark as read” on an email you have no interest in reading — and this is often for the newsletters we signed up for with the best of intentions.
So what does it take to create an effective email newsletter — one that gives recipients a warm glow as it lands in their inbox, that actually gets opened, read, and encourages readers to continue engaging with your brand? Let’s discuss.
10 Tips for Creating an Effective Email Newsletter
First things first, your email newsletter probably won’t give anybody a warm glow when it lands in their inbox, no matter how great it is. But there are tried and tested ways of ensuring your newsletter works for your brand, keeping you top-of-mind with engaged audiences.
These 10 tips cover everything from the design of your newsletter to the people you’re sending it to — and with them, you’ll hopefully be able to get your newsletter working harder for your brand.
1. Decide on a single function for your newsletter and focus on that
Newsletters can be lots of different things to different people. They can be a means of releasing updates about your product, a place for blog posts, a channel for promotional messages, or a tool to share company news.
However, If you don’t decide in advance what the focus of your newsletter will be, you risk having one that tries to be all things to all people — and ultimately fails at everything. To avoid this, it’s really important to decide in advance what the function of your newsletter is and focus on that.
If your brand offers a broad range of diverse products and services, rather than lumping everything together in one random briefing it would be much more effective to build multiple newsletters — so readers are always receiving content that is focused on the things they care about most.
This is something New York magazine successfully adopted, moving from a standard “daily digest” to more than a dozen “regular newsletters of various frequencies, formats, and purposes”.
2. Segment your audiences
This tip goes hand in hand with the previous point. Trying to hit everyone with the same message just won’t be as effective as newsletters that are carefully targeted to different audience types.
By segmenting your database and grouping together subscribers based on their location, buying habits, or any number of other characteristics — you’ll ensure that your content feels relevant to the reader. Even if you choose to have just one main newsletter, you can always tweak it to fit the needs of different segments within your subscriber list.
For example, if you have an offer that’s only available in one region or a new service that might only be interesting to your most loyal customers, send it to the subscribers it applies to.
3. Make things personal (but don’t get creepy!)
It’s only natural that we respond to things better when we feel they’re made just for us, rather than churned from a production line. Email newsletters are no different. If you’re able to use personalization, it’s an easy way of bumping up your open rates and driving engagement. Just by adding the recipient's name in the subject line, you can increase your open rates by up to 26%!
Personalization doesn’t have to stop there, but be careful not to creep your readers out. Depending on the limitations of your email marketing platform, you could potentially tailor any section of your email newsletter to any aspect of your customer — as long as you consensually hold that data on your CRM platform.
For example, if a customer holds a premium membership that entitles them to special treatment, it certainly won’t hurt to let them know you haven’t forgotten this and remind them how special and valued they are to your brand.
4. Your subject line deserves attention
It’s not the best of practices, but people do judge books by their covers and emails by their subject lines. This puts the onus on you to offer your subscribers a compelling reason to open and read on. The subject line is probably the most important element of any email newsletter — and no matter how good your content is, people still need to be convinced to read it in the first place.
When it comes to subject lines, you’ve got just a few words to grab the reader’s attention. Make sure to put your most important keywords at the start (in case they’re cut off on mobile devices) and get creative.
Are there any hacks? Sure! We already know that personalization can increase open rates by 26%, but adding emojis can shift the needle a few more percentage points in the right direction, too. Despite this, ultimately it all comes down to creating a simple, compelling title that encourages readers to open.
5. A/B testing is essential for improving your KPIs
Every subscriber list is different — how the recipients of one newsletter respond to different types of subject lines may be completely different to the recipients of another. You can easily find a whole collection of quick hacks to improve your KPIs online — but you’ll never truly know whether they’re working for you unless you use A/B testing.
A/B testing (sometimes called split testing) is when two different versions of an email are sent out and their performance is compared against each other. You might want to try two different subject lines to see which one gets the most opens or use two different CTAs (Calls-to-action) to see which ones drive the most users to your website.
Depending on your email marketing platform, you should be able to tailor the parameters of each test to fit your needs. These parameters can include the percentage of your list who’re subject to the test and the time limit. Once the test is over, the option with the most opens or clicks is selected and sent to the remainder of your list, and now you have valuable insights to work with for your next campaign.
One important rule for A/B testing is to always ensure that there is only one thing being tested at a time. This way your results will give you reliable insights into the preferences of your subscribers.
6. Drive engagement through a strong CTA
Whatever the purpose of your email newsletter is, you probably want to direct readers on to more content elsewhere on the web — whether that’s on your website and online store, your Instagram account, or YouTube channel.
To get your CTA right, you’re going to need to use some power words. These are goal-oriented verbs that drive the reader from passively consuming your content to actively engaging. They’re also very transparent, giving your readers a clear idea of what’s going to happen once they click.
It’s worth creating your own list of relevant power words that you can deploy at the end of your email newsletters. Remember, you can always use A/B testing to find the words that work best with your subscribers.
7. Design for mobile and prioritize accessibility
Your email newsletter design is really important for a whole range of reasons, and while it needs to fit into the overall look and feel of your brand, it’s important to keep function at the front of your mind.
A clear, simple layout allows readers to quickly find the content they’re looking for, while calls-to-action need to be bold and easy to find so that those readers that want to engage further can do so without any barriers placed in their way.
It’s also important to think about accessibility so that all of your subscribers are able to read your newsletter. Make sure that the text size is large enough to be legible and that the colors used across the design ensure an appropriate amount of contrast. If you have images, make sure to use alt text.
Finally, it really pays to design for mobile. 75% of people use their phones to check emails, so making sure your newsletter looks good on mobile devices is essential. But by keeping things simple, bold, and easy to read as suggested above, you’ll have already done most of the work to make your newsletter phone friendly.
8. Set the right expectations when users subscribe
As discussed, having a clear idea of what the function of your newsletter is helps keep things focused and ensures your subscribers are always getting relevant information that’s going to drive engagement.
However, it’s just as important to be clear and transparent with potential subscribers about the type of content they can expect. Not only is this going to help your open rate and hopefully limit the number of unsubscriptions, but it’s a great way of promoting your newsletter and encouraging relevant users to join up!
Again, New York magazine does a great job here, offering a quick synopsis of the type of content subscribers can expect, the frequency and send-date as well as the option to take a look at an example to see if it’s the kind of newsletter that you’re looking for.
9. Your newsletter should be more than just a selling tool
Remember that your newsletter is a direct line of communication with someone who is already engaged with the brand. Of course, it should have links that direct readers to purchase from you, and when you do have a genuine offer to promote, you should definitely be letting your subscribers know.
However, it’s unlikely that consumers sign up for newsletters just to be sold to constantly. Instead, consider that your subscribers' interests overlap with your brand and that they’ve subscribed to receive a range of content from you that explores those interests. For example, a fashion retailer could offer news on fashion trends rather than just promoting their latest product range.
Ultimately, your newsletter is a great place to really work on your brand associations — whether that means showing off your expertise, trustworthiness, environmental credentials, or the high-quality of your services.
10. Research other newsletters
As a final point, always remember to scout out what other brands are doing with their newsletters, and don’t be afraid to use a good idea when you see one.
Nearly every brand has a newsletter, so there are lots of examples out there. Make sure to look at examples from across a range of different industries too — there’s always the chance you’ll stumble across a great idea that could be adapted to your vertical.
Email marketing isn’t easy. But getting it right can yield huge benefits for your brand and business. And though it can be tricky, there’s no use in overcomplicating things.
Ultimately all of the 10 tips above can be distilled into one golden rule: Always think about the reader’s experience. By putting them at the heart of your newsletter’s design, you’re setting yourself up to build a dedicated list of engaged subscribers, out of whom you might just foster some of your most loyal customers.
Still want to know more about email marketing? Read our recent post on how to use email to build your brand identity.