There’s a curious email renaissance underway and if you’re a digital marketer it’s time to pay attention.
Our starting point is to challenge a not-so-secret agenda. The tech industry has long fed off the business community’s general ill-will towards email. Feeling our discontent, business decided email must be killed and we, the army of IT heroes, will find a way to slaughter the foe. Onwards!
Initially, tech-heads thought the trouble was overflowing inboxes and storage-space shortages. Well, it’s trouble no more. We’ve fixed those problems. Cheap cloud storage and powerful search tools mean we never have to delete or sort email, and can dedicate our time to the real work at hand.
The other problem troubling tech-types on this deadly mission was a belief that email was too clunky. Inelegant. Hard to scan quickly.
The solution, back in the day, was called RSS or “really simple syndication”. This technology was a geek’s delight, yet it completely mystified the rest of the universe. In case you’re in the mystified camp, one of the most popular expressions of RSS became Google Reader, a free service that essentially replicated the email inbox in the browser.
The user experience went something like this:
Step 1: Discover a blog or website that makes your day
Step 2: Look for the little orange RSS icon and click
Step 3: Stuff around in your RSS reader to make sure this new content feed is added to your stream
Step 4: Remember to keep visiting your RSS reader in the browser to see what’s new
Step 5: For the really advanced – repeat!
Suffice it to say, this was all too hard. I confess I persisted for years because I’m a news junkie and I wanted a better solution than tediously clicking through a long list of browser bookmarks every day.
But for everyone else? RSS-wha? Email.
While the noisy bloggerati and tech crowd kept talking about RSS, real-time notifications and other worthy technical pursuits, email grew up thanks to HTML (or “hyper text markup language”). Images, links and videos made email a media-rich publishing environment that ultimately drowned out RSS in a sea of cat memes and conference-call dial-in notifications.
Then there’s the simple fact you can’t have a desk job without email. So all things considered, let’s work on the assumption that the grand mission to kill email failed.
Brave new world
We’re going back to basics and loving email like a long-lost friend. Take TinyLetter, a startup acquired by MailChimp that’s getting some attention at the moment. It’s a free, simple tool for self-publishers and creative types who want a very personal way to connect with their audience, or perhaps tell a long story one bite-sized chunk at a time. Think of it like the global hit podcast Serial for email.
Then there’s another staple diet in content marketing: the business newsletter. Now, before you say anything – yes, we’re drowning in a sea of newsletters.
I tried solving this problem using Unroll.me, a service that stands between your inbox and The World. Its claim to fame is a simple way of unsubscribing from all those non-essential newsletters. Except what it really does is store these emails in a form of digital purgatory, only letting through the newsletters you’ve chosen. Then it forces you to read all your chosen newsletters within a single daily email from Unroll.me.
Sounds simple, but it didn’t work for me. Give me my newsletters as they come, or not at all. Instead, I’ve been on something of a personal email quest. I’m scanning every incoming newsletter or email service on the fly. If it’s junk or boring, I hit the unsubscribe button and hey, guess what? Unsubscribing is easy. The plan is steadily to de-clutter my email stream, and so far it’s working. I’m spiking the junk and rediscovering the newsletters I want.
Nail that newsletter
This leads me to my final point. If, at last, we’re actively embracing email and the newsletter as our digital marketing cornerstone, how do we get it right?
Think about the newsletters you actually read. What does it take for you to notice and open a newsletter on a regular basis?
Here are my top 10 tips to give your newsletter a fighting chance:
- Send it from a real person, not your company name
- Set an appointment with the reader, and keep it
- Publish real stories, not manufactured corporate news
- Use strong, well-chosen images
- Deliver value within the body of the email – find the balance between too much and too little
- Design matters – use a simple, modern template that’s scan-friendly
- Headlines matter – are they both creative and search-engine friendly?
- Don’t forget the hook – tell me something I don’t know
- Tone of voice – big companies are full of real people, so act that way
- Develop a newsletter strategy – how will you measure outcomes?