Do you really want '360 degree' content for your newsletter?

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Newsletters have had something of a renaissance of late. For a few years they were definitely passé as marketing folk played with the shiny new toys of social media. However it seems that you can't now visit a website without the obligatory pop up emerging after 5 seconds entreating you to sign up to X's newsletter.

One of the most vocal cheerleaders for the humble newsletter is David Hieatt, founder of Howie's, Hiut Denim and the Do Lectures. In fact he's so keen on the medium that he's written a book on the subject:  

'DO/OPEN/  How a simple email newsletter can transform your business (and it can).'

I was recently tasked with creating a newsletter for a business, so for my preliminary research I signed up for enough newsletters to clog my inbox, and I also read Hieatt's book.

I'd recommend it. He makes a number of good points, such as the importance of having a distinctive personality, making sure that your content is interesting (sounds obvious but from my personal survey of newsletters over the last few weeks, I can confirm that this is often forgotten), and prioritising engagement over numbers - there is little point sending out thousands of newsletters if none of them are opened and no-one clicks through.

Should you 'view your customer in 360 degrees'?

However - much as I liked a lot of the material in the book, I take issue with two of the key messages. Firstly Hieatt contends that you should 'view your customer in 360 degrees' and engage with the whole person, including content that addresses a whole range of subjects, even if it has no connection to your organisational purpose. Linked to this, Hieatt also proposes that you should actively curate material from a range of other sources - that in effect you become a trusted mediator - pointing your subscribers to a wide range of articles on any topic that your readers are too time poor to find for themselves.

I have a real problem with this. When I sign up to the Hiut Denim newsletter the only 'known' about me is that I have some degree of interest in high quality jeans. I have all kinds of other interests but there is no reason for assuming that my range of interests is similar to any other subscriber. Given this, on what basis do I get emails with ten to twelve items such as: 

  • The World's Most Inspiring New Museums. Architects get a lot more freedom when designing museums. Here's the proof. 
  • Eat The Best Food On The Planet For A Living. What it takes to be a Michelin food inspector.
  • A link to an article on The World's 50 Most Innovative Companies. (For your information the top three companies were Amazon, Google and Uber - all highly innovative in minimising their tax bills in the UK...)

Now I may find some of this stuff interesting - mostly I don't, so - what's the problem? Maybe it's just me, but this endless churning out of random ephemera gives out a message of 'Look at all the hip / cool stuff we know' which ends up being aggravating rather than engaging. One of Hieatt's key points is that people are busy and we need to respect their time, yet the Hiut Denim newsletters seem to assume that I have an hour or so to work my way through their pick n' mix selection on the off chance that something there might interest me.

Creating Relevant Content

If you don't want to follow this route, what's the alternative? For the first edition of the newsletter I've been commissioned to produce, we decided to go with the following structure:

  1. A two sentence introduction.
  2. Image and a link to some tales from a recent trade show we visited - with a profile of some of the interesting people we met.
  3. Image and a link to a Q+A with the Creative Director who is producing our first Lookbook, talking with her about her approach and the way in which she wanted to use the Sheffield connections
  4. A preview of one the Lookbook images which links through to a page where you can order the items shown. 
  5. A brief response to the question of why our clothes are expensive. (Answer - they are premium quality made by men and women who are fairly paid and we have tried our best not to screw up the planet...) This includes a link to a longer piece on the website

And that's it - some nice images, minimal text and links if you want to read more. All the items are directly related to our business but only one is a direct sell, and you can flick through the whole thing in a minute. 

Will it work? It's too early to say but so far opening rates (85%) and click through rate (39%) are well above average for the sector so - fingers crossed we have found a format that our subscribers respond to.

 
David Edwards