In the 1998 movie, “How Stella Got Her Groove Back”, Stella, the 40-something year old protagonist and successful business woman found love (in Winston) and a new outlook while vacationing in sunny Jamaica. She was able to rethink her entire strategy on life and work, coming back with a refreshed perspective. The email newsletter, like Stella, is seeing a revival of sorts and as reporter Max Willens puts it: newsletters are having a moment.
Publishers are once again falling in love with newsletters and rethinking their strategies. They are seeing increased success rates and real opportunities for monetization through their email inventory. On the other hand, there are some abstract parallels that can be drawn from the 90’s movie. Winston encouraged Stella, who was so consumed by her big career, to do some introspection – to question the future and her true passions. Whereas publishers are being forced to rethink their pursuit of scale and to think more about people-based strategies. They are focusing on audience quality and cultivating engaged, passionate audiences as the industry moves away from the cookie to marketing to people. As a result, they are ramping up their investment in growing engaged newsletter audiences, improving design and user experience both on mobile and desktop, integrating new technology that drives it all, and adopting a platform-first strategy.
With people in mind, some publishers are treating email newsletters like the new homepage – more than just extensions of a website, but a powerhouse of its own where the content is self-contained with no need for the reader to click out. Instead of using third-party newsletter providers, publishers with the resources have invested in their own editorial platforms for publishing email templates. Even hiring trends reflect this newfound focus on email. Publishers are recruiting data savvy teams and editors to oversee newsletter-specific content and push alerts, while keeping email best practices top-of-mind.
When subscribers opt-in, they invite brands and publishers into their inboxes because they want the convenience of not having to search for the content they’re interested in. However, readers want that content to be a personalized experience as well. Dedicated audience-development teams that experiment and test audience segments to learn about what readers engage with the most are taking great steps to ensure that the right content is reaching the right person and they’re even using data to discover new product opportunities. For instance, The New York Times, as highlighted in Digiday, launched a new video-streaming recommendation product called “Watching”, based on insights gathered from the newsletter.
In an effort to become more people-centric, The Washington Post developed several different newsletters to appeal to specific segments of its audience. This is part of their overall strategy which involves developing a customer-engagement funnel to pull readers in by sending them the newsletters they want at least once a week. They sweeten the pot more as the reader moves along the funnel, resulting in engagements via social channels, comments or direct emails to reporters. The end goal – visitors become paid digital subscribers, all without a huge dependency on large walled gardens. Digital subscriptions grew 145% as reported in 2016.
Email newsletters are a reliable way to reach consumers across devices and many business goals can be achieved. While monetization has always been of importance to publishers, building relationships with audiences/subscribers and opportunities in product and service sales are just as significant. Even brands are utilizing them in CRM strategies which means the ability to actually track brand loyalists, conversions and attribution.
While some publishers have come a long way with serious strategies in place, others are only scratching the surface, especially as people-based marketing continues to evolve.