How Do You Like Your Email Marketing?


email marketingI used to subscribe to a lot of email newsletters. I’m forever curious and I like being informed. Problem is I never actually read most of them. They didn’t do anything for me. They’re weren’t useful, they didn’t engage me, they didn’t offer any great value, and, frankly, the content wasn’t that impressive. Don’t send me a giant image about your 20 percent off sale or lump 50 movie times together. THAT’S NOT SEXY!

Of course, I never unsubscribed from any of these newsletters. That takes effort and would be rude. Instead, I’d just delete them as they rolled into my inbox and silently take note of how annoying the company was. Yes, Big Brand, I kept seeing your name appear in my email and I ignored you. And sometimes, I even resented you. Just a bit, though. Then I changed jobs and work emails. Muahaha!

It’s really sad to see people abuse email newsletters or just get purely lazy with them. Because email marketing is still really powerful and a great customer retention tool.

Email newsletters:

  • Promote top of mind and brand recognition
  • Give you a more personal forum than RSS because email is more personal
  • Can take people “behind the scenes” for whatever you’re doing
  • Encourage people to click back to your site
  • Often convert better than RSS

But they only do that if people are opening them and interacting with your content.

I’m in a bit of a sharing mood today, so I don’t really want to spew out all the things that are wrong with most email newsletters or shout out a list of 10 things to include. Instead, I thought I’d focus on two email newsletters that I think get it “right” by providing strong benefits and being smart enough to know what their customers want. It’s possible one is a bit biased, but I’ll let you decide.

outspokenChris Brogan’s Newsletter

I know, I know, you’re tired of hearing about how “right” Chris Brogan is doing things. I get it. But have you read his newsletter? The first time I received Chris’ newsletter it was right after we had met at Affiliate Summit East and it took me two paragraphs to realize it WAS a newsletter and he didn’t just write me a long note. Because that’s how it reads – like a handwritten letter to an old friend. It’s warm and it’s engaging, there’s lots of “our” usage and it makes you feel like he’s having this chat with you over hot chocolate and a warm cookie. And roll your eyes at that all you want, IT WORKS.

I will open Chris’ newsletter the moment it hits my mailbox, because it’s not “marketing” it’s a letter from a friend and a brand that I have a relationship with. And that’s the whole damn point of email marketing – to build a bridge with people. People buy from people they know and these newsletters make you feel like you know Chris, but even more, that he knows you. Trust Agents? Yep, I bought it.

outspokenBruce Clay, Inc’s SEO Newsletter

[Full disclosure: I worked for Bruce Clay for almost three years and wrote the newsletter during a chunk of that time. That said, I haven’t worked there in over a year, I didn’t come up with the tone/format and if I hated the newsletter (or the company), frankly, I’d tell you. I’m a crappy liar.

The Bruce Clay, Inc. newsletter is not warm and fuzzy. You won’t feel any more personally connected to the company no matter how long you’re subscribed. You don’t get any bits of the author.

However, what the newsletter does is associate Bruce Clay, Inc. as a company that knows their stuff, that is good at providing information, and that is helpful without being in your face. And if you’re a service provider with a strong brand behind you, sometimes that’s all you’re trying to do – remind people of your authority. I like the Bruce Clay, Inc. newsletter for very different reasons than Chris Brogan’s newsletter. I don’t want a personal relationship with Bruce Clay, Inc. (um, no offense guys. BFFs for life, really.), I just want the information and they probably recognize that that’s how most of their readers feel. They don’t want to go out to dinner with you. They just want to eat. Their newsletter is about keeping top of mind and building on their expertness. And I think it does a really good job of that.

Yes, both newsletters make it easy to subscribe, unsubscribe and to share, all the tenants of good email marketing, but they also share content in a way that makes you want to read it. Your newsletter should offer a benefit to your readers, the way that they want to receive it. Chris’s audience expects that hand-holdy feeling from him. That’s why they interact with him. People engaging with the Bruce Clay, Inc. brand are probably more after the hard information, because that’s what their about.

Okay, now I have a favor to ask.  Ready?

I want to hear about the email newsletters you like and why you like them, if you’re willing to share. It’s possible I’m trying to get ideas for future Outspoken Hoot and Holler email. That’s like a newsletter, but with more street cred.  Oh, and if you are interested in a What To Do/Not Do post on email marketing, check out an old SEOmoz post from Rebecca.


Your Comments

  • Sarah Bray

    The Communicatrix’s newsletter is sex-ay. But of course, it’s Colleen Wainwright we’re talking about. It’s useful, non-sleazy, and she’s always sharing the best stuff.

  • Danielle LaPorte

    Ditto for @sarah bray. Collen Wainwright, The Communicatrix, is wickedly smart, funny, poetic and USEFUL.

  • Nathalie Lussier

    There are two newsletters I love reading and they are:
    Laura Roeder’s The Dash
    Marie Forleo’s newsletter. They’re both written from the heart, with a little zing that you can’t get from anyone else. :)

  • Lisa Barone

    Thanks for the early recommendations. I’ll be checking them all out! :)

  • Adam Sherk does a pretty good job with their email lists with fashion/food/shopping tips for specific cities. They keep them short and simple, and take a witter approach which can make for an entertaining read. A lot of newspaper and magazines sites put out e-mail newsletters that aren’t much more than repurposed RSS feeds or snapshots of a section front; I like when they give them more personality. But even with a straightforward format e-mail newsletters are still a decent traffic driver for a lot of magazine sites. Interestingly it’s only been in the last couple years that magazines’ RSS subscription figures have started surpassing their newsletter counts.

  • RicNunez

    Chris of course and I’ll recommend you Keith Ferrazzi and Laura Roeder.

  • RicNunez

    Laura already have two votes, so you can see I’m not a liar….

  • Lisa Barone

    Adam: Sweet. Thanks for the recommendation. I’ll definitely have to check that one out.

    Nic: Yes, Team Laura is alive and well. ;)

  • Cory Huff

    Another vote for The Dash. I also like Dave Dee’s newsletter.

  • Mark Mac

    It’s not really a scheduled newsletter but Sonia Simone’s email courses are top notch and they can teach you a lot about how to execute effective email newsletters. You can find them on her blog. :)

  • Jack Leblond

    Another great post Lisa!

    The reason so many of these newsletters failed you is because they were not properly segmented. The e-marketers assumed that everyone on their list wants to get everything they send. Obviously that is NOT true. Sadly, only about 58% of e-marketers do even basic segmentation. That’s like throwing money away. No thanks.

  • Nathan Hangen

    I have too much email. Most newsletters don’t even make it to the 2nd word of the subject. It takes special content for me to open it on a regular basis.

    Chris – is there anything he doesn’t do right?
    Sonia and the whole Copyblogger team – great job
    Chris Guillebeau’s is good as well.

  • Srinivas Rao

    Lisa, you are just rocking with this blog. I think your posts are among the most useful I read every single day. I’m working my way through developing my own newsletter and making it more useful and your post has given me alot to think about.

  • Mark Hinkle

    I am a fan of the Fast Company newsletter aesthetics . I agree with you that Chris Brogan’s style is one of most engaging styles in any of the newsletters I read.

  • goldendog

    There are two types for me personal ones and industry enews. My personal favorite is DSW shoes for to me it is virtual shoe shopping. Don’t always buy will at least peak. Super bonus is they ship to a APO box!

    Which? in the UK does a bang up job, short to the point, good looking and easy to read, under scores their excellent reputation. A++.

    Then there are my industry ones. The one I always read is ProofreadNOW’s enews. Comes once a month perfect timing! Excellent content. I save them. I pass them on. I remember the company.

    The Brief a daily compilation of news from the advertising industry. The quote at the end is worth a open and breeze through to grab the headlines. Now that I am in the UK it comes at lunch.

    The ones I don’t like I unsubscribe. Mostly because of frequency coming way to often or I am not that interested in what they are offering.

  • Ramkarthik

    I have subscribed to many email newsletters of marketers before and do even now. I even once ended up subscribing to a lot of newsletters. It didn’t do any help to me. I never read them and it also took time to delete. So I decided to filter the newsletters that I’m subscribed to.

    Now I subscribe to the ones that provide lot of value and less promotions. And I’m sure many people feel that way. The thing is people don’t want to be sold. They want advice. They need help. And if you are providing them and sending some promos in between, that’s totally fine. In fact, I’d be happy to buy from you. Anyway..

    I’m subscribed to Chris, the other Chris (Chris Guillebeau) and a few more. They are all good. I’ll check out Bruce’s newsletter.

  • rob

    great article Lisa .I agree with you that email marketing is still really powerful and a great customer retention tool.

  • Neil DuPaul

    Hey Lisa, another great article. The only newsletters that engage me regularly are from a shop called moosejaw. Though I’ve never been one to jump on the subscription bandwagon, I like to hunt for my content.

  • Sonia Simone is a killer example of a “real company” that does it exactly right. (Well, ok, they do delve into this tragically misguided weight loss thing around message 6, I’m trying to wipe that from my memory.)

  • Gene Wicker Jr

    I’m in the camp that ignores email newsletters. I made the switch to RSS feeds early on and as entities switched over I gradually unsubscribed from their newsletters. And if an entity only offers information via an email newsletter, I will ignore it. That’s sounds a bit cut-n-dry, but that’s how I manage my info overflow. The one exception is the one from Jakob Nielsen.

  • Robert Phillips

    Lisa actually I am opposed to the concept of newsletters. Although I hardly subscribed few newsletters in various social networking and book marking sites. I get only fancy offers and but, not very informative. After reading your post I thought I must follow your suggestion to subscribe the two newsletters which you mentioned so that, I can be benefited from them Anyway thanks for sharing your views on newsletters.