There's plenty to hate about email. Spam, excessive use of CAPS or exclamation points(!), and reply-all threads to name but a few common peeves. But there's a lot to like about email as well. In an overwhelming digital world, in which an endless supply of dubious information floods every channel, email offers a contained, finite communication channel that is readily verifiable. In fact, newsletters are one of the most effective ways to reach consumers.

It goes without saying the news is one of the most challenging areas of digital information. The internet is awash with news--from recognizable and respected outlets as well as an ever-swelling tide of bot-driven and disreputable sources. Out on the open web, or inside social media platforms, consumers have lost faith in the "news." The inbox is increasingly becoming a safe-space, in which consumers can opt-in to information they actually want to see.

The New York Times is making the most of this trend. This news publisher has bucked the trend of most newspapers by amassing 2.5 million paid subscribers and taking in more than a billion dollars in subscription revenue last year. The Times also boasts 14 million subscribers to its 55 email newsletters and the 166-year old paper recently opened up about its successful newsletter strategy. Here are four takeaways that you can put to work for your business:

Simplify, distil and deliver value: Given the overwhelming amount of information on every possible subject available online, consumers value succinct, summarized info in an email newsletter. The Times recognizes that, while its readers want to stay informed, offering expert-written summaries delivers a lot of value. Whether your business is lawn and garden or accounting, consider collecting useful stories and providing top tip takeaways (while linking to longer pieces for deeper-dives). Everyone is short on time and your expertise not only enables you to sift through information to find the most useful stuff, but also to figure out what is must-know on any given topic.

Offer your unique insights: While The Times does collect information it has delivered in other channels in its newsletters, the publisher ensures that its newsletters offer insights created just for subscribers. The most successful newsletters offer something not readily available elsewhere. For some, this will take the form of expert-driven articles on subjects related to their business and/or reader interests. Big topics can be linked to local initiatives to provide a distinctive spin. However, these offerings can also take the form of lighter fare such as stories or slideshows based upon customer experiences. For a pet store, this might be a collection of pictures from an adoption day while a contractor might highlight the decorating style of some of their clients.   

Strike a tone that's right for the topic: With newsletter subjects ranging from politics and finance to fashion and lifestyle, newsletter editors at The Times are subject matter experts armed with deep audience insights. This allows them to tailor not only the content, but the writing style and voice so that the newsletter has a personality. This is a strategy every business should also put to work. For a financial advisor, this could mean adopting a tone that infers authority and trust, while a community center might want to come off as friendly neighbor.

Make a connection: Because email is a personal channel, it offers an opportunity for intimacy. It provides the means to develop a one-to-one relationship. One of the ways The Times does this is by including a reader callout, asking them to answer a question. This, in turn, becomes the topic of future content, which creates an engagement loop. For a fitness business, asking readers for their favorite on the go snacks or ab workouts would be a natural fit. For a storage or home organizing business, asking about the biggest headaches will yield some lively content and might provide insights in to services to offer as well.

Certainly, The New York Times has the experience and resources to create successful newsletters. But keep in mind that this is hard-won, given that it is excelling in one of the most challenging sectors of the media business. The insights that The Times' newsletter team have collected offer some terrific tips for businesses of all kinds to apply to their newsletter strategy so that they rise to the top of the email inbox and use content to build a better connection with customers.

Published on: Jul 23, 2018
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