Writing better email newsletters

I’ve been thinking and even writing about email a lot lately. Part of it is because of my job, but the most recent spark of inspiration came from a delightful twitter thread by Hugh Weber about his 11-year old daughter Emerson and her habit of writing letters:

I highly suggest you read the whole thing by clicking on the date link above. Twitter can feel like a cesspool of trolls and anger at times, but at the same time more often than not you can find so much hope and goodness that can literally restore your faith in humanity.

First of all, I loved the whole thread and feel really inspired how Emerson, who’s just 11, can have such a positive impact on the life of so many postal workers at a time when they need it a lot.

Second, I appreciate how open communication inspires others to do the same. It can be applied to many things – your friends, relationships and work. I’m also inspired to apply this to my work. After all, my job involves consulting brands on their email strategy and newsletter campaigns.

I’m the first to admit the digital marketing has many issues with our focus on data and numbers. Always trying to track the metrics, improve the numbers, but at the same time often forgetting what’s the point of email. Communication is a two way street, and when a brand is sending a newsletter it often doesn’t expect or event want replies. Replies usually mean that someone is upset from receiving that email, and wants to unsubscribe.

I think this tweet from the thread was my “Aha” moment. Brands don’t want to be seen as vulnerable, or joke, or share personal details. At the same time each one aspires to have a personal relationship with their customers, to have people care about them and be passionate about them.

Brands are not people, but they can elicit strong emotions and they can definitely make people care. To achieve that we need more of that vulnerability and desire to communicate and listen.

Here’s a practical example. A brand that I follow and care about recently launched a new Spring/Summer 2020 collection and to celebrate that they added a section to one of their emails with a link to a Spotify playlist (also embedded at the bottom of this post), a mixtape inspired by what inspired them to design their new line of clothing.

By itself this playlist is not a new idea, but inspired by Emerson, this is how I’d improve it.

Ask email subscribers to reply with a song that they associate with Summer and what’s the story behind it. Start by picking a couple of the songs already in the playlist and what they mean to a few of the people from the brand. Show vulnerability, joke, share something that you find embarrassing. Lead by example.

When people reply, even if they are few or many, make sure to reply to each one of them, thank them, appreciate them. Make them feel seen.

If they are ok to share this with other, put together a follow up with some of those songs and stories and link to the updated playlist where you’ve added their contribution.

Not every email newsletter can be like this, but there should be a couple every month. And perhaps we shouldn’t focus so much on the open rate or click rate, but the number of replies we get with each newsletter.