Nobody loves email marketing more than I do. But even I admit that within the grand taxonomy of consumer touch-points email newsletters hold a sorry position. Creating a newsletter can be formulaic and that can lead to a predictable outcome.
They’re the long-winded busybodies who never get invited to the cool parties. Porcelain-skinned print campaigns turn up their perky, sans-serif noses at newsletters’ frumpy templates and canned copy. Super Bowl spots kick sand in newsletters’ bespectacled faces.
Yet, these boxy messengers of mediocrity move product and build loyalty. Marketing people are aware of this—they’ve proven it with charts and everything. You need an newsletter and you know it.
Before rolling up your sleeves, cranking up the REO Speedwagon, and cooking up some long-form creation-wizard-based love, please review the following six bromides from a recent how-to article phoned in by a reigning email-marketing magnate.
After each, I’ll explain how to do the exact opposite so that you can avoid polluting the ecosystem with mediocre newsletters.
6 rules to ignore when creating a newsletter
1. Share expertise
Wrong—share ignorance. Consider the old Zen adage “the more I know, the less I know.” It means the more expertise we have, the more we’re dazzled by just how little we currently understand.
They won’t fault you for it—but they just might love you for it. As long as the topic you’re “ignorant” about is something they didn’t even know they were ignorant about until reading your enlightening newsletter.
2. Tell a success story
Wrong—tell a failure story. It humanizes your company and demonstrates your high standards. Example: a legendary 1960’s ad for the Volkswagen Beetle showed just the car, with “Lemon” in bold type. The copy explained, “The chrome strip on the glove compartment was blemished and needs to be replaced.”
While other car companies waxed self-congratulatory about success, Volkswagen cornered the market talking about failure. You can do the same with your newsletters—simply master the art of strategic self-criticism. It never fails.
3. Conduct a relevant interview
Wrong—conduct a gloriously irrelevant interview. Approaching a topic head-on can be a headache—especially if it’s been done to death. Try a sideways approach. What can your design firm glean from interviewing a homeless man? How might a chat with a priest spice up your women’s fashion newsletter? Why would a software developer pick a farmer’s brain about emptying grain bins into semi trailers?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I’m willing to read your newsletter to find out!
4. Take an in-depth look at a product or service you offer
Wrong—take an in-depth look at a product or service you refuse to offer. As the visionaries of 37Signals (now Basecamp) say in Getting Real (sort of a Thomas Paine’s Common Sense for the digital generation), “do less than your competitors in order to beat them.”
Embrace l’esprit du moment by poking satirical fun at the superfluous features common to your industry. Waving the simplicity banner while it’s still in vogue is smart—and your next newsletter is a smart place to wave it.
5. Springboard off of current events
Wrong—springboard off of that which is timeless. Your readers are suffering from information overload—spare them the latest trope on gas prices, politics and the Kardashians. Realize that the guys reading your scrap metal newsletter probably don’t give a rat’s ass that it’s Halloween.
And while you’re at it, throw away the springboard. Relying on convoluted conversation-starters is a milquetoast way to win friends and influence people—both in life and in newsletters.
6. Ask your readers
Wrong—listen to your readers. In the words of Louis Armstrong, “if you have to ask what jazz is, you’ll never know.” Same wisdom applies to knowing the hearts of your readers. Get in sync with customers’ needs by observing their riffs in natural online habitats built around your company. Replace pre-fab surveys with improvised forums. The intuition you gain will free you up to follow the inspiration of the moment and hit the high notes needed to create authentic brand loyalty.
This matters. Readers can sense when you’re just going through the motions. That can’t be good for your brand, regardless of what the stats say.
So ask yourself: Am I excited about my newsletter? Does it express my voice and vision? Did I have fun creating it? If you have to ignore an army of email experts’ advice (including mine) to get to where you can answer “yes” to those questions, so be it. That’s called employing the virtues of newsletter disobedience. Make creating a newsletter fun again and not that “monthly chore” you dread.