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A Complete Guide to Crafting Irresistible Email Newsletters

The email newsletter is one of the most powerful marketing tools there is… if it’s done right.

But many newsletters aren’t. They’re like pesky insects, buzzing inboxes again and again. After a while, they’re straight up annoying. Recipients get tired of swatting them away.

Delete! Unsubscribe! DIE!

The truth is, any newsletter that shows less than a 100% investment in serving readers (no matter how much work went into it) will damage your brand.

  • If you can’t persuade readers to open, you’re just inundating them with lame appeals.
  • If they do open and you don’t follow through with great content, you’ve wasted their time.

Either way, you’ll burn through some serious brand equity.

That’s why we created this handy guide to making email newsletter magic. These 10 best practices will help you captivate audiences, enhance your brand image, and get a solid return on your marketing spend.

10 Best Practices for Crafting Irresistible Email Newsletters

Great newsletters are easy to spot.

They beg to be opened, communicate with purpose and care, and leave readers looking forward to the next installment.

In every respect, a well-crafted newsletter is perfectly in sync with your audiences and brand goals, so let’s take a look at how you can create your own!

1. Have a Purpose

Email newsletters are relatively low cost, and all the cool kids are sending them.

But is there a better way to connect with your readers and distinguish your brand? Does a newsletter make sense for your audience and your business? Are your competitors having success with this format?

In some cases, there may be better ways to engage audiences (one-off teaser emails that link to recent blog posts, for example). Your answers to the above questions should point to the feasibility and value of making recurring newsletters part of your email marketing strategy.

  • Consider your creative resources. Strategy, writing, design, and delivery take time. Audiences will expect to see new issues, which need to be outstanding, on a regular basis. Don’t commit unless you’re ready to go all in.
  • Newsletters should benefit you and them. Email newsletters will serve as regular reminders of your brand. But that can’t be your only goal. Depending on your business sector and service model, your customers and prospects might respond better to a more personal approach.

2. Go Bold and Clever with Subject Lines

Newsletter subject lines serve the same function as any other email subject line. They have to stand out, get noticed, and pique interest. Otherwise, they’ll get lost in a vast sea of emails or consigned to the dustbin.

Think beyond “Brand X January Newsletter” to the topic or theme, and go for a compelling teaser. Use a new subject line every time, and always give your readers an irresistible incentive to open.

Here are 2 specific tips you can use in your subject lines:

1. Frame the benefit in an irresistible way

Be honest: which of the following subject lines would move you to click?

You can promise readers they’ll learn “How to Grow [Their] Business,” or you can get them imagining earning $10,000 for their first webinar.

The latter is more specific—which lends credibility—and the “Yes please” makes the subject line more personal, heartfelt, and direct.

Consider that your checklist for every subject line you write.

2. Make the preview text work for you

If you don’t use every inch of that preview space, you’re missing a golden opportunity to flesh out the idea you’re introducing in the subject line.

These examples show how you can turn the subject line/snippet combo into a lively conversation with the reader. 

Just imagine the “Stop Panicking Now” subject line followed by “Dear [Name]” in the preview text.

The recipient’s reaction? Zero personality, and a 100% chance I’m being sold to. That email would be DOA.

3. Design Simply and Strategically

Your newsletter should be as visually appealing as it is easy to navigate and digest.

Don’t design to the point of distraction. Layout and visual elements should work together to set the right tone and help ensure smooth delivery of the message.

This Runtastic newsletter uses fonts, color blocks, and a single image to distinguish headlines and move readers along:

The overall design is easy to absorb and pleasing to the eye, and it’s consistent with Runtastic’s branding. 

If you want to hit all the right notes with your newsletter design, be sure to add the following to your checklist:

  • Go mobile! In 2015, Gmail had 900 million active users; 75% read their emails on mobile devices. In 2018, who isn’t reading email on a mobile device? Make sure your newsletter is mobile responsive, with just the right balance of text and images. 
  • Choose fonts wisely. Don’t go crazy with font selection. Fonts should perform their function quietly, under the radar. When readers get distracted by the appearance or sheer variety of fonts, they lose interest fast.
  • Avoid the dreaded wall of text. It’s exhausting to look at. Use paragraph breaks and visual cues (subheads, bullets, callouts) to break up the page and move readers along.
  • Tackle design like a pro. Given the custom design tools available to marketers today, it’s easy to create captivating newsletter designs. With the right mix of photos, accents, and branding, you’ll have readers eating out of your hand!

4. Write with a Clear, Compelling Voice

The most successful email newsletters feel authentic and authoritative.

Your readers don’t want dry, generic news dispatches; they want to see a serious effort to engage them. Give your readers the warm, relevant, satisfying content they signed up for.

Take a look at how Quartz speaks to its contacts (and how well):

Note the style and tone of Quartz’s newsletter: sharp, smart, significant, strong. The writing is clear and flawless, and a perfect fit for Quartz’s customer base.

No matter who your readers are, they’ll know a halfhearted effort when they see one. Make sure your writing is thoughtful, fluent, and pitch perfect. Rest assured, your efforts will pay off if you follow these steps:

  • Take time to proofread and edit. Be on the lookout for common mistakes, like using “it’s” and “who’s” as possessives . Dangling modifiers. Misspellings. The damage done by these and other embarrassing errors—not to mention stilted writing that doesn’t flow well—can’t be overstated.
  • Choose topics carefully. Include only hearty, nutrient-rich, organic content your readers will care about or find useful. Each story should be carefully conceived and crafted. If you send processed junk that doesn’t benefit the reader, it will leave a bad taste.
  • Lighten up on the sales pitches. Use newsletters to freely share information, insights, opinion, and advice. A gentle CTA is fine, but don’t make your company or offering the focus. Readers who expect to be engaged and enlightened don’t take kindly to being hustled.

5. Tailor It to Your Audience

Your newsletter shouldn’t be all about your industry or offering; consider what will resonate with your audiences (e.g., life hacks, recreation, workplace dilemmas).

Meet your contacts where they are, mix things up, and make it an enjoyable, valuable read.

Harry’s could devote its newsletter to behind-the-scenes brand stories, which would certainly interest industry analysts and insiders. But the average reader would tune out quickly. Instead, Harry’s offers a well-rounded blend of audience-centric insights, recommendations, and tips.

Like all great newsletters, this one seeks to enlighten and entertain readers in a friendly, respectful way. If you know your readers well and embrace them as fellow travelers, great content will flow naturally.

6. Offer a Unique Take

The email newsletter is the PERFECT place to showcase your brand authority and image.

Don’t just aim to be helpful; relate to your audience as only you can!

Write from your point of view. Share firsthand accounts. Give informed opinions. Inject some personality. Make a lasting impression.

Ideo, an international design firm, develops product innovations that improve lives—starting with Apple’s first manufacturable mouse back in 1980. Even if you didn’t know the company’s rich history, this newsletter would no doubt pique your interest.

“9 Travel Hassles We’re Dying to Redesign.” Translation? Ideo is always looking for ways to make our lives better, and it has the bona fides to do it.

The company is using this newsletter to explain how it would tackle common problems, highlighting its industry-leading experience and insight along the way!

7. Stir Emotion

We tend to remember how people and brands make us feel.

A human interest story can evoke passion and inspire us to act. An insanely funny video can be the highlight of our day.

How many ways can you connect with readers emotionally? Make this your goal for every issue, and your brand will become deeply embedded.

Take a look at how 1973 Ltd, a marketing company, kicks off its newsletter:

1973 Ltd’s newsletter is hardly clinical. Its inspiring stories and timely updates are centered on people and the events that affect them. It’s a feel-good read that  humanizes the brand.

B2B company CB Insights, which provides business intelligence to senior executives and investors, takes a different approach to engaging its 240,000+ contacts.

Irreverent tone? Signing off with “I love you”? Brilliant.

Keep the contacts you want, and lose the few you don’t. This is a confident brand, and its devoted readers appreciate the laugh.

8. Set Expectations at the Start

Right off the bat, your contacts should have a clear picture of what your brand newsletter is all about.

The more transparent you are on the front end, the lower your unsubscribe rate will be!

Take this example from Typeform, which introduces new readers to their newsletter style right off the bat!

You really can’t overload on detail here. Familiarize readers with the content (summaries, screen captures, etc.), and include one (or more!) of the following:

  • Provide social proof. When readers sign up for your newsletter, they become part of a community. You can emphasize this by including the number of current readers and a few of their testimonials.
  • Assure readers they’re in good hands. Put privacy and spam fears to rest. Explain the personal and professional benefits of signing up, and how contacts’ information will and won’t be used.
  • Welcome feedback. Your newsletter should be a two-way street. On the signup page, invite your audience to share their comments and suggestions and help shape the content.

9. Deliver Value Across the Board

This is a bit of an advanced strategy, but depending on your bandwidth, you should consider creating different newsletter versions for different audience segments.

You can even allow readers to self-segment by setting up tags for categories or topics of interest, either when they subscribe or via survey afterward, so you can customize the content and make it more relevant.

Understanding their various preferences will help you serve all contacts well, and custom-curated newsletters can be automatically generated based on contacts’ behavior and input! 

How should you segment your audiences?

You can do it any number of ways, from demographics and professional roles to problem/need and funnel stage—whatever makes sense from a content perspective and offers the greatest potential ROI.

10. Don’t Let a Great Lead-Nurturing Opportunity Slip Away

A clever subject line and a great read go a long way. But your newsletter campaign will hit a brick wall if you don’t entice readers to follow up with or learn more about your brand.

Be sure to use CTAs, invitations to “learn more,” and/or embedded links to feed your sales funnel. 

Online banking company Simple includes a variety of lead-nurturing devices in its newsletter, from “Read More” and “Start My Emergency Fund” to a photo contest on social media.

There’s something here for everyone, at every stage of the funnel, that makes engaging with the brand easy and worthwhile.

Unleash the Power of an Outstanding Email Newsletter

A lame email newsletter campaign is easy to ignore, and a bad one can be a brand killer.

We’ve written about how the Hustle’s daily newsletter earned the brand 100,000+ contacts just five months after its launch.

Stories you won’t find anywhere else—written and packaged expressly for the brand’s millennial audience—have propelled the Hustle to become a go-to resource for business, economic, and technology news.

When it comes to crafting your own newsletters, do as the Hustle does, and you can’t lose:

  • Have a defined strategy.
  • Be VERY picky about what topics you cover.
  • Hit the right chord with writing and design.
  • Execute like a boss.

So, go big or go home. That’s the bottom line!

For good measure, check out these additional resources that will help you really take your newsletters to the next level:

Three Ways to Give Your Emails a Fresh New Look

The Ultimate Guide to Email Copywriting: 11 Tips to Instantly Boost Your Email Results

Automation and Segmentation—The Future of Email Marketing

Kristen Dahlberg

Content Manager at Sendlane
As a member of the Sendlane content marketing team, Kristen focuses on everything from organization to content curation and process improvement. She enjoys variety and the challenge of learning the best way to accomplish each new goal.

Outside of work, Kristen spends as much time as possible at the beach, soaking up the San Diego sunshine!
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