On a quest to find the best email newsletters out there, I asked my coworkers about their favorites.
Members of the marketing team at Grasshopper were able to give me a few newsletters they love, but when I asked two of our web developers, they both said “I try to unsubscribe from everything.” One admitted he kept a few promo emails from clothing sites around so he could catch good deals.
Our BI analyst reacted similarly: “I would only read them if the email subject intrigued me, like 20 percent off my favorite perfume,” he joked. But with some prodding he admitted that he’d read any newsletter from Oracle or IBM, because their updates are subjects of interest and important for his career.
I came across a harsh reality (at least for an internet marketer!) -- most people unsubscribe or skip over newsletters.
Now I Bear the Bad News
A disdain for email newsletters shouldn’t be a surprise — MailChimp tracked a bunch of campaigns by industry and offered the stats: None of the industries they tracked had open rates over 48.6% (and that was for religion). And links clicked in those emails? Well, they hover around 3%. Yikes!
What’s the issue with newsletters? They're hit or miss so it’s hard to justify taking the team to read one when there is no guarantee you’ll gain anything. That’s why people are always talking about filtering their emails… and why Gmail actually started filtering emails for us.
But, Wait! Email Works!
So, does this mean startup and small business marketers with email campaigns should give up? NO!
Email marketing works.
Bottom line: If you're giving people what they want, they'll open your emails.
Case in point:Our clickthrough and open rates fall right into the industry average (go easy on us, we’ve just started our newsletter), but when we sent out a customer survey offering prizes, they went up.
If you do email right, your email campaigns will bring traffic to your website. Here’s how many people came to Help Scout’s site from the company’s newsletters:
Take a look at that growth and just imagine all that additional traffic coming to your site.
Searching for Good Email Newsletter Examples
So, sure, people are reading marketing emails, but which ones?
I did what I knew. I took to the streets of Facebook and Twitter to find out who reads which newsletters...and why.
I asked a simple question: Are there any email newsletters you read every time you get them?
Not only did I find out what newsletters people actually DO read, but I found out a lot about what they want:
Deals and promotions (This was the biggest reason people opened emails, by far.)
Relevant industry news for their careers.
Updates on stuff they’d check out anyway.
New ideas for their business or personal life.
Customized content and just plain ole’ great content.
Short emails that are easy to read.
This was pretty fun. I loved hearing about which email newsletters are getting read! Here are 9 newsletters people are actually reading ... with lessons to learn from them:
Example #1 - Quora - Shows Them What They Might Have Missed
Quora is a platform for asking questions and getting answers. “Quora Weekly Digest,” their email newsletter, comes once a week with great questions you might have missed.
Wondering what the most awesome psychological facts are or how Ashton Kutcher prepared for his role as Steve Jobs? The Quora hounds are delivering answers to your inbox.
What you can learn from Quora’s newsletter:
Fascinating and bizarre questions can go a long way.
Show already engaged subscribers what they missed.
Relevancy matters: things like “Ashton Kutcher” in a subject line will increase open rates!
Example #2 - Human Rights Watch - An Industry Leader
Great content and simplicity go far, especially if you’re looking for industry info. Human Rights Watch entices a friend of mine with their image map-- this is a great example of showing their global impact rather than telling about it.
Simple features like GIFs, maps, customized illustrations, and comics could rocket your email marketing high into the sky, too.
What you can learn from Human Rights Watch’s newsletter:
Showing information is better than telling. Images are good.
A great newsletter can propel you towards industry leader status.
Great content + simplicity = success.
Example #3 - Help Scout - A Bangin’, Super Focused Blog Post
We can’t say enough about Help Scout’s minimalist approach to email. They’re focused on customer service, acquisition, and loyalty. Each email only contains a link to ONE blog post with a custom image.
The content is excellent, but Help Scout also minimizes distractions by giving one option for clicking. If you’re going to visit Help Scout’s site, there’s only one way in: through a super focused, and compelling weekly blog post.
What you can learn from Help Scout’s newsletter:
A minimalist, focused approach can do wonders.
Compelling design can complement great content (usable and not far-fetched = great).
A formulaic email that comes once a week works.
Example #4 - The Daily Egg by Crazy Egg - Great Content Delivered
I know I’ve been saying that images can help you out, but if your content is truly awesome, pictures aren’t that important. Crazy Egg has an automatic newsletter that pulls from the blog’s RSS feed. At the end of each week, it emails subscribers the blog posts that went live over the past 5 days.
This email has no fancy html images, but I read it every time it comes to find out what’s been published at The Daily Egg.
What you can learn from Crazy Egg’s newsletter:
If your content is great, you don’t need more than an emailed RSS feed.
Offering two options - daily and weekly - can boost subscribers.
A simple round-up of posts can be effective.
Example #5 - Yelp - Real Life Suggestions
I don’t need to explain why Yelp’s email newsletter is great because this Bostonian does it for me:
What you can learn from Yelp’s newsletter:
Give info that’s relevant to customers’ real lives and that they couldn’t get elsewhere.
Think CAREFULLY (and a little creepily) about who customers are and what they’d need.
Choose a focus. Both anecdotes occurred because of emails focused on one particular topic.
Example #6 - J. Crew, Banana Republic, Gilt, and Other Clothing Sites - Customize Campaigns and Give 'Em Deals
You might turn up your nose and say these e-commerce giants have it easy with consumers chomping at the bit to get a bargain, but you can still learn lessons from their emails. A lot of people I talked to will only open emails if they think they are going to get a deal, promotion, or sale. TAKE NOTE- this strategy works.
These emails aren’t just relying on deals: they’re also laden with high quality images, are super customized (they’re based on what people have purchased in the past), and are pretty gosh darn effective.
What you can learn from clothing and apparel newsletters:
NOTHING beats a promotion or deal (This is the top reason people open emails).
Colorful, enticing images go a long way.
Customizing emails and segmenting your lists based on past behavior can do wonders (Gilt knows exactly how much I want a new hair dryer. When is Santa coming!?)
**Example #7 - **The Moz Top Ten - Diversify and Share Other People’s Stuff
Almost everything Moz does with marketing seems to be spot-on and their email newsletter is no exception. Instead of pushing their agenda with tons of their own posts, the Moz Top Ten pulls a bunch of great posts from around the web and shares them with its audience.
Topics are diverse and posts are informative and pre-vetted. This is a weekly newsletter people are reading.
What you can learn from Moz Top Ten:
Don’t be afraid to share other people’s stuff- it shows you’re invested in something besides yourself.
A simple, routine list gives readers expectations.
Share what you find extremely useful. If your customers would find it useful too, send it their way.
**Example #8 - **Damn, I Wish I'd Thought of That! by Andy Sernovitz – Share Useful Nuggets
Ever see a company do something awesome and say “Damn, I wish I'd thought of that?” We say it all the time. Thankfully Andy Sernovitz puts together awesome word-of-mouth marketing ideas (that we all wish we thought of) and sends them out each week.
The best part of the newsletter is that it gives out ideas for what you can do today instead of offering fancy-pants solutions only Fortune 500 companies can afford.
What You Can Learn from Damn, I Wish I'd Thought of That!:
Little guys are as good as (or maybe better) than Fortune 500 companies at marketing.
Providing easy-to-do, real life solutions beats a fancy newsletter.
Personality and friendlieness go a long, long way.
**Example #9 - Oracle, IBM, Apple, CNET**, and others - Need to Know Info
All the tech people out there might cringe that I grouped these together, but I wanted to demonstrate that people read newsletters that give them the latest industry news and trends. If customers are using your tools and need help, they’ll want more information and a connection to your support docs and staff. They’ll want to know when you have events.
It’s no different from content about how to build a treehouse. If there’s information you need to know to complete a task, isn’t it nice to get in your inbox? If you’re in the tech field, you want info on how to better use your tools.
What You Can Learn From Big Tech Companies:
You’re not a huge tech company and that’s ok.
Give people info they can’t get elsewhere - that’ll hook ‘em.
Tech content isn’t that different from marketing content.
People Actually Read These Things
And there you have it-- email newsletters that people are actually reading.
Your Turn: What email newsletters do you open? What points did I miss? Please share -- I'm always looking for inspiring examples.