Newsletter landscape in 2018

What newsletters are, why they matter, and what’s the state of the art newsletter in 2018? This article is introduction to longer series, emerging as a result of my recent interest in newsletters and content marketing. Designing newsletter marketing tool required understanding the inner workings of newsletters and publishing industry. It will be easier to reason about the future in next articles.

Big picture

Newsletters are just newsletters and everybody seems to just explore some tiny e-mail marketing tips increasing open rate from 0.1% to 0.15%. Newsletters became default and I do not even feel like I should explain what newsletters are and why they matter.

They matter because text is basic infrastructure for our communication. The share of video and images is increasing, but they are still complementary to text. Text has some intrinsic value that will never get dimnished by video, sound or image.

  • Text is surprisingly non-linear. It means you can skim paragraphs, you can read few lines at the time and play with alignment of the text to convey your message even better (think mindmapping and so on).
  • Text provides the most precise meaning. Of course sad movie will be more triggering than a paragraph of sad story, but text is more direct.

Furthermore, there are some traits that change over time, that are matter of opinion. And opinions are getting worse for text in favour of video or image. But hey, what’s the data? As of 2018, most of Google search happens through text and we communicate with text when speaking and writing. Text is the king.

It is important to say it, because newsletter is subscription for text and it makes newsletters as relevant as Hulu or Netflix in video world in terms of content consumption and revenue.

This has profound implications for content-based businesses. In fact, if you run one, this is the reason why you send newsletter. You simply have to, and your pop-up modal with e-mail field has to be insanely well designed. But is this the only option?

Channels

As of 2018, the channels are following:

  • E-mail
  • Push notifications
  • Messaging apps (think newsletters on Messenger: Pushletter.net)
  • SMS
  • In-app newsletters, notifications
  • Traditional mail

I would like to see more even channels coming, but that is the topic for another article.

KPIs for newsletters in channels

Newsletter lifecycle

In my opinion there are few key stages in each newsletter, no matter what channel you are using. These are the key points you are usually focusing on when designing a newsletter:

  • Subscription acquisition — the process of getting a subscriber. As of 2018, it seems that most of websites are using some pop-up window or splash screen and secondary channel like sidebar or subpage with subscribe form. The creativity is endless. Some brands are subscribing while registering user. Some channels allow to more sublime conversion, for example via Messenger Code.
  • Delivery and Conversion — the more interesting and personalized content, the better, the proverb says. This step defines two main KPIs for newsletters: Click-Through Rate (CTR) and Open Rate. In my opinion, they can be merged into one, non-measurable: how much do we stand out from the noise of other newsletters in inbox? These areas are the most data-driven.
  • Silent time — even more important than Delivery is the time when you remain silent. There are loads of tips when to send newsletters and therefore: when to avoid them. There are two basic types of scheduling newsletters: event-based (sending newsletters when something happens) or scheduled (sending each Tuesday, bi-weekly etc). Recommendations change per demographics and target market.
  • Automation — automated = cheaper = better. The automation is especially developed in e-mail marketing.
  • Churn— the point is to extend the LTV (Lifetime Value; here: number of clicks) as much as possible. In other words, to decrease churn rate. Fatigue prevention is crucial. Churn rate is separate category, because you can try to reduce it without changes in aforementioned categories: you can make unsubscribing terribly painful.

The art of newsletter business is improving these areas.

It is the right time to disrupt newsletters and text subscriptions in any form. Thanks for reading this introduction. In next article, I would like to outline what are the next frontiers for delivering great content.