Back in 1998/99, I was convinced that email newsletters were the future of business information. I left the trade magazine I was working on, to set up a company to provide the same news to people, but by email newsletter instead. This could get the news out in hours, rather than the usual 4 to 6 weeks.
Within months however, the web took off, and everything changed. Email newsletters were still better than magazines at getting stuff out quickly, but both had instantly been overtaken by information on demand. We pivoted the business to take advantage of this, but that’s another story. Email newsletters now had a different role: pushing information to those who weren’t necessarily looking for it.
Twenty years later, they still fulfil the same role, very effectively. Indeed, I’ve found myself spending as much time this year on an email newsletter (this time for my local community) as I ever did for any business newsletter I ever worked on. And the principles for success haven’t changed.
What I’m still discovering is the role of consistency; readers like a degree of familiarity. They like clarity of design and readability; this is harder than ever in an age of so many different devices. Getting things right on mobile is definitely the key now. And they like – and will act on – simple calls to action.
Most of all though, the newsletter needs to be a ‘must read’. That sounds obvious, but many I’ve received over the years have simply failed to tap my ‘fear of missing out’. If we can’t come up with any information that our readers will really benefit from knowing, maybe we shouldn’t be sending out the newsletter. By that, I mean information that they will be grateful for knowing, not stuff that would benefit us from them being aware of.
Most email newsletter distribution systems now have templates which have been tried and tested to destruction. Use these. Keep the content brief, broken up into small chunks (i.e. scannable) and clear. Our email newsletters can be as effective today at pushing out information as they were 20 years ago, but only if we take on board the simple lessons learned along the way.