Why Newsletters Are The Ideal Tool to Drive Thought Leadership

When telling people I’m now doing newsletters, people often react surprised or laugh.

‘But newsletters are dead!’, they say.

Or sigh: ‘I have such a hard time keeping up with all the information there is already.’

True. Newsletters still have a bit of an image problem. For most people they’re synonymous with spammy content, humble-brags about company achievements, or functional design.

That is… when talking old fashioned newsletters.

But another category of newsletters is gaining momentum: the editorial-focused one, functioning as a separate media platform for both media organizations and companies. They curate relevant, thought-provoking content that helps readers to get smarter in an instant. They inspire, incite new perspectives and engage. They’re like mini-magazines in your inbox, written with a lighthearted, personable tone-of-voice.

Picture from @yulycienta via Unsplash

💌 Some Noteworthy Examples

Some new media companies have sprung up in recent years using the inbox as their main publishing platform and doing extremely well.

There’s The Hustle for Silicon Valley ‘bro’s’, which raised $41M so far and describes itself as:

Your smart, good looking friend that sends you an email each morning with all the tech and business news you need to know for the day.

There’s The Skimm for ‘millennials on-the-go’, which raised $28.4m in 7 rounds and dubs itself:

Makes it easier to live smarter.

Then there’s Finimize, the financial newsletter on a mission to empower its users to become their own financial advisers. Amount of money raised: over £450K. Tagline:

Understand today’s financial news in 3 minutes. Without jargon. For free.

Or Ben Thompson, better known as The Stratechery, a one-man publishing company who proves subscription-based niche publishing can work. He makes over $200,000 a year with his business. Tech and media executives call his newsletter:

“A must-read in Silicon Valley circles.”

These are just a handful of examples. There are plenty of others in the *-notes below.

💌 Media vs. Newsletters

Not only these newbies in medialand are successful at building businesses in the inbox — literally.

Legacy media like The New York Times, the Financial Times and The Washington Post also started investing heavily in the vintage format in recent years.

The FT now has a list of 45 editorially curated newsletters it sends out to readers, some are free, some premium.

Screenshot of the FT’s newsletter homepage

The New York Times passes that number, offering 65 newsletters, including ones with a-typical names like ‘Five Weekly Dishes’, ‘Race Related’, ‘The Week in Good News’ or ‘Wheels’. A total of 14 million people (and counting) subscribe to their newsletters overall.

And since Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post, the established American media brand started offering more newsletters and now exhibits a total of 70+ newsletters to readers — to build their audience and engage with it. They don’t only send out newsletters with traditional subjects. They also use them for much broader purposes. I.e.: there’s a Washington Post-branded weather and commuter alert. And ‘Animalia’, for anything related to the world of animals.

💌 Why are these (new) media companies embracing the ‘cockroach of the internet’?

They use newsletters as a platform to:

➡️ cultivate reader rituals

➡️ nurture existing relationships and loyalty

➡️ showcase analysis and noteworthy content

➡️ turn readers into paid subscribers

➡️ allow reporters to show a little bit more of themselves

💌 Companies Boosting Thought Leadership Via Newsletters

Not only media — new and old — are reaping the benefits from this accessible, low-cost tool, which — as opposed to apps — does not require an upfront, minimum investment of $10,000 or more. Increasingly companies also start to ‘get’ editorially-curated newsletters. They use it as a tool to drive thought leadership, build authority around topics that resonate with them and boost employer brand.

McKinsey establishes itself as a knowledge center via their glitzy designed and thought provoking Five Fifty newsletter. General Electric offers analysis via the GE brief: a weekly email publication filled with relevant links and fun facts. Homerun, a Dutch recruitment software startup, does so with its bi-weekly The Art of Work newsletter: a curated list of articles about the workplace. And Reconsidered, a boutique sustainability consultancy, builds profile and relationships via their a (excellent!) bi-weekly newsletter for ‘people using business as a force for good’.

💌 Why Do These Newsletters Stand Out?

They’re no where near being a showcase of the successes of these companies. Their first and foremost goal is:

👉 Inform and inspire

👉 Build connection with readers, clients and prospects

The result of this un-invasive type of (content) marketing is:

👉 Trust building

👉 Generating brand awareness

👉 Staying on-top-of mind

Following my experience with setting up editorial newsletters at the FD, the Dutch financial daily, and my very own Newspresso, under my new label Newspresso for Business I now help companies boost thought leadership via a curated content strategy — and newsletters in particular. Dutch energy giant Eneco and boutique strategy consultant Thaesis already let me help them to execute this.

So, does your company…

… sit on a mountain of email addresses which it never uses?

… wants to deepen the connection with its audience?

… has all sorts of interesting stuff to showcase but needs help channeling this process?

Maybe we can help each other. Let’s connect 🌀 hi@lizajansen.com

*Other examples include Axios, Inside.com and Morning Brew. Or journalists who, just like Ben Thompson, built a true one-man-show newsletter business, like Next Draft, Strictly VC, The Browser and The Timmerman Report. In the Netherlands there is: Future Affairs and De Bicker, amongst others. If you see any newsletter missing in here: shoot me a message.