Like newspapers, magazines, books and even literacy itself, email's demise has long been predicted. There's always some emerging form of communication--online chat tools, social media or texting--that is heralded as the latest email slayer. And given the spam-stuffed state of most of our inboxes, each new death knell has a ring of truth to it.

However, despite all of its negative press, email remains a remarkably popular form of communication, even among those short-form communication loving millennials. Email also remains a highly popular and effective tool for marketers, particularly those adept at content marketing. That's because, though people will often open a message promising a terrific deal or time-sensitive flash sale, they have a much deeper relationship with content they enjoy and count on.

For marketers, email has a lot of upside: It offers the opportunity for personalization, A/B testing, open rate and click-through tracking, as well as the ability to measure conversion and sharing. In short, there's a lot a marketer can learn about their customers, products and promotional timing simply from effective email marketing strategies.

Email can be used to push customers to take actions that align with your marketing goals (selling products, getting members, etc.) or to pull them back to your website in order to increase engagement and, of course, achieve your marketing objectives. While it may initially be difficult to envision what sort of email-based content marketing will be embraced by your customers (and not swiftly relegated to spam), the good news is that it can often be compiled from content you are already creating for other channels (social media, your company's blog, etc.).

Here are three types of email newsletters, one or more of which is likely to be a terrific addition to your marketing mix:

  1. The headliner: More than likely, you are already following news and information that will be of interest to your customer-base (and likely sharing it via social media). Keep a list of the best stories you've read in the past week, depending your email frequency, and compile them into a regular newsletter of the "most useful," "need to know," "essential" information. Optimally, you'll choose one story or identify a theme in the stories you've compiled and add a bit of commentary why the stories are significant to your audience.

    Note: This format isn't great to drive click through to your site, given that the links are to the work of others. Thus, it is a good idea to include some other call-to-action such as a special offer, discount, or link to a recent piece of research you posted on your site or Facebook page that will encourage site visits. It's also important to keep in mind that simply being a regular, and valuable fixture in a customer's inbox creates a positive association with your brand that will pay off in the long run.

  2. The original storyteller: Perhaps you have a writer on the team or are already generating content for a company blog or other channel (speaking engagements, a publication or organization's site). If so, email offers a terrific way to maximize the reach of this content. Put a few paragraphs in the body of the email with a link to the full content on your site and, voila: Your newsletter almost writes itself.Other sources of original content can come from someone on your team who interacts with your customers every day, via customer service, trouble shooting or sales. Consider having them write a weekly profile, insight, or customer encounter story based on these interactions. Another approach is to invite your customers to create the content, which can be particularly effective if their experiences or insights with your product or services will add value to your larger community of potential customers.
  3. The trusted resource: From landscaper to real estate agent and personal trainer to accountant, many types of businesses lend themselves to this role. Think about how often your job is to educate customers or to help them in their time of need. If you are shaking your head yes, then a natural format for your newsletter is how-to or helpful tips. These can take the form of a recipe or exercise of the day, listicles, long-form articles or even videos. Undoubtedly, you a bank of common questions, concerns or issues your customers face. Delivering insights based upon these to their inbox is not only likely to get them to open the issue (and click to read more on your site), but will consistently reaffirm that they can count on you so that you are top of mind the next time they need your products or services.

And a few bonus tips: As in all aspects of your business, be ethical and treat your customers well. Don't send unsolicited emails; customers should sign up or opt in to your newsletter of their own choice. Thank them for subscribing. Send all of your emails from a "real" account to which readers can respond. Make it easy to unsubscribe (and offer them a chance to tell you why they unsubscribed, or to tailor frequency or subject matter). Don't write too often, but be a regular presence that they come to count on. Make it easy to share the content in your newsletter via social channels and yes, email.

What we really hate about email is finding what should be a wonderful means to communicate valuable inspiration and ideas overflowing with inappropriate offers and irrelevant information. So yes, you can create a must-read email newsletter, just focus on your customers and creating content that delivers.

Published on: Jul 8, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.