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Supercharge a newsletter strategy by creating evangelists in these 6 steps

By Justin Eisenband

FTI Consulting

Washington, DC, USA


By Zachary Kempner

FTI Consulting

Washington, DC, USA

A comprehensive newsletter strategy is a critical success factor to driving habitual audience engagement and digital subscription growth. If executed properly, newsletters that are personalised and targeted can increase the value proposition of the digital subscription and effectively build a direct relationship between publishers and consumers.

Newsletters have seen an increase in popularity across digital natives and traditional newspaper publishers alike. In a recent sample of more than 20 metro publishers, FTI found these metro publishers were sending an average of 22 different newsletters. While these newsletters varied by frequency of delivery and subject matter, each was aimed at developing a deeper connection between publisher and consumer.

Many publishers send multiple e-mail newsletters, each with a different frequency and subject matter.
Many publishers send multiple e-mail newsletters, each with a different frequency and subject matter.

So, how can you cut through the clutter and maximise the impact of your newsletter in 2022? There are several approaches we suggest considering.

1. Consider the objective of each newsletter

Newsletters are a powerful tool for engagement, but the objective of a newsletter can be quite different based on the target audience.

For example, if a newsletter is being sent to a non-subscriber, then the goal may be to drive click-through to the Web site where the user may interact with the paywall. However, if a newsletter is being read by a subscriber, the foremost goal is creating value for subscribers, regardless of whether they are reading content on the Web or in their inbox.

That’s why the newsletter experience (including overall design, share of the article included in the e-mail body, and marketing calls to action) should vary based on the user who is being targeted. In addition to the user, a newsletter objective should consider the time of day and frequency at which a newsletter is sent. Morning newsletters, for example, can promote events or upcoming articles that encourage users to return that day.

Ultimately, before launching a newsletter, publishers should consider the objectives, target audience, and key performance goals of that newsletter.

2. Forget “curated” versus “automated” — great newsletters are “crafted”

When it comes to newsletter content, we often hear the question of whether newsletters should be curated (that is, articles selected by someone in the newsroom) or automated (that is, content is automatically selected without human involvement.

The reality is, we haven’t seen evidence of stronger engagement from curation, but we believe there is value in “crafting” newsletters. That is, the best, most engaging newsletters go beyond the standard linking to other content on the Web site. Rather, they are crafted with introductions and well-organised headlines that are specifically written for the newsletter. Crafted newsletters implemented effectively link back to the Web to drive traffic but also provide additional original content surrounding those stories. This content should not replace the value of clicking through to an article but should be complementary and enhance the reader experience.

3. Make evangelists of your current newsletter subscriber base

For most publishers, driving increased newsletter sign-ups has been a key goal to develop more mid-funnel volume. There are a variety of tested ways to try to boost newsletter volume, from aggressive on-site modals and in-line widgets to paid marketing campaigns, and even contests and sweepstakes that can drive e-mail sign-ups. While all of these can work, with varying quality of e-mail addresses, one area where publishers have the opportunity to push harder is to make evangelists of the current newsletter base.

To do this, publishers should consider more prominent messaging within the newsletter around “if someone has forwarded you this e-mail, sign up here.” Such messaging can be placed at the beginning and end of the newsletter. Consider giving readers easy opportunities to share the news, not only through e-mail forwarding but through social links as well. Lastly, promote other newsletters where there is often a subscriber overlap to help drive sign-ups and penetration across multiple newsletters.

4. Personalise and be personal

Allowing for personalisation in newsletters is not an area in which publishers have paid much attention, but it can create a much better user experience. For example, the New York Times has a “For You” newsletter, which allows an individual to pick story recommendations that are relevant for them. Instead of having to sign up for five or 10 different newsletters to get the content an individual wants, they can get a single e-mail with personalised story curation. This improves the value proposition for a newsletter subscriber and makes them less likely to get frustrated with inbox overload.

This personalised model from The New York Times encourages subscribes to choose the content they want to receive in a newsletter.
This personalised model from The New York Times encourages subscribes to choose the content they want to receive in a newsletter.

When it comes to connecting with audiences, publishers can also do a better job of highlighting newsletter writers and humanising the experience. Putting the name and photo of the newsletter writer in a prominent position and allowing for some introduction from the newsletter author can create more of a direct connection to readers, pushing them to come back habitually and engage with that content.

5. Subscriber-only newsletters are a great tool

Introducing subscriber-only newsletters is a great tool to increase the value proposition of a subscription, further differentiating the subscription from the non-paying experience. For example, The New York Times recently announced a series of subscriber-only newsletters from some of its most popular opinion columnists, featuring columns that cannot be found in print or on the Web site.

One idea to potentially take this even further would be to turn newsletters into an opportunity for an off-site paywall. Essentially, when a user subscribes to a newsletter, they would get some of the newsletter archives as well as three to five of the next regularly scheduled newsletters. However, after a set period of time or number of newsletters received, that user would receive only teasers or non-subscriber versions of the newsletter with less content and perhaps more advertising.

The idea is to get a reader to sample the content and develop habitual engagement before creating the point of friction asking them to subscribe. At that point, the value proposition has been demonstrated to the user, and they will be more likely to subscribe.

6. Newsletters should be well worth the investment

Supercharging your newsletter in 2022 will be an investment. However, if you dedicate the proper time and resources, it will pay dividends in terms of your digital subscription revenue. Ultimately, the success of newsletters comes down to understanding your readers and creating an experience that increases their perception of subscription value and willingness to pay.

About the Authors

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