The world of email newsletters has undergone some pretty substantial changes in the past couple of years, reaching subscription and revenue levels marketers didn’t think were initially possible. The Morning by The New York Times, for example, now has 17MM subscribers , and Morning Brew, crafted in a college dining hall, has reached $20MM in revenue as of 2020 . These are not exceptions: Since the start of the pandemic, publishers’ email newsletters have experienced a 53% increase in open rates . This newfound acceptance of newsletters, in turn, is a rich opportunity for branded content creators who can navigate the changed landscape. It’s also a content marketer’s dream for ad placement, giving brands a unique opportunity to connect with highly engaged readers.
So what exactly is driving this change and making newsletters so effective again?
We typically categorize newsletters into two buckets: useful or entertaining. The most successful newsletters have a distinct personality, a recognizable voice, and sometimes even a wittiness that makes them enjoyable to read while distinguishing them from competitors. But the utility must be there, too. A voice and tone that match the newsletter, therefore, is what content marketers must strive for in any newsletter ad placements.
A common best practice is to deliver the newsletter with a regular cadence. This allows subscribers to build it into their daily routines. Audience anticipation of and appetite for the newsletter relies on the presumption that the content is targeted and can be consumed quickly.
Another key to enewsletter marketing success: use direct, conversational language that’s free of jargon and formality. Readers crave news and commentary that can be digested and interpreted easily. For instance, the subscription page for The Morning Brew (my favorite newsletter), says, “Become smarter in just five minutes…get the daily email that makes reading the news actually enjoyable.”  They recognize the appeal of simplicity and reflect that in their editorial tone.
These audience-friendly approaches allow many newsletters to tackle sophisticated subjects. “Newsletters are having a cultural moment right now…newsletters feel intimate and direct and can explain complex topics in a conversational way,” says Adam Pasick, Editorial Director of Newsletters at The New York Times. . The right tone can pull readers into complicated, or even divisive, topics without making them feel talked down to—offering a friendly explanation to which they can nod along.
Critical to achieving this, though, is the note of personality that many newsletters have adopted. Morning Brew, to my mind, takes on the tone of a quick, casual conversation about the latest happenings across various industries. TheSkimm, on the other hand, writes to their 7MM subscribers as if they’re a best friend giving you a much-needed update before facing the world (each newsletter is sent out before 6:00am, 5 days a week).
This personal tone creates a compelling environment for premium advertisements by allowing marketers to place brands or messages before readers at a time of heightened engagement (as users have intentionally opted-in to receive the communication) in a trusted environment. The advertisements can be clever and maintain a subtle tone without relying on heavy-handed tactics, which are often needed for standard sites. The simplicity of the experience without the pressure to click here to learn more may contribute to the impressive subscription rates. According to industry benchmarks, publisher newsletters earn an open rate of 22%.  In general, email is 40 times more effective at acquiring new customers than Facebook or Twitter.  Readers are primed for learning when reading a newsletter—and brands are seeing paramount success through this channel.
So, what can content marketers learn from the changes across the enewsletter landscape?
1. Have a clearly defined personality that is consistent with your brand voice
2. Invoke a long scroll but keep the content simple
3. Don’t require click-through. Caring about CTR has become a relic of yesteryear because the goal now is to deliver a newsletter that relays all the information without needing to click a link and navigate elsewhere
Isabel Tibbetts is the associate of strategy and marketing for Foundry 360. Her role supports the marketing and sales teams with responsibilities spanning across various verticals. Prior to Foundry 360, Isabel worked as a strategist at PHD, a division of Omnicom Media Group, gaining industry-wide experience in the field of media planning and buying.