Ugh! Not Another Newsletter!


What sort of email do you prefer to read? An email from a friend or a corporate newsletter? Thought so.

Here’s the real problem with the typical email newsletter: people don’t really want to read them. This may sound strange coming from someone who writes and sends email newsletters for a living, but it’s true!

Having said that, written and presented the right way, you can have people actually looking forward to receiving your email.

The secret to getting people to open and read your email update, newsletter, whatever you want to call it, comes down to a few things:

1) The way you write it
Many companies believe they have to communicate in ‘corporate speak’ – you know, where they talk about ‘solutions’ and ‘paradigms’ and ‘best practice’. These words just shout out ‘boring’ and are a swift turn off to most people (apart from those people who like to talk about paradigms, solutions and best practice, of course). The absolute opposite is the case. The more you are able to write like you speak, the more your readers will thank you. It’s important to inject your own personality into your writing, so that people who know you will say ‘yes, that’s him’. Journalists have long been aware of this and that’s why most newspapers are written so they can be read by a 12 year old.

2) What you write about
Your job – as an expert in your field – is to educate your email readers about your field – in general terms perhaps make them aware of the pitfalls you can help them avoid or explain the problems your product or service addresses.

If you are going to write about current topics in the news, make sure you have something to add. If you’re a financial adviser and you’re giving exactly the same advice as every other financial adviser, that doesn’t really add anything. Someone could read the paper and get this info. Make sure you have your own take (and of course the more controversial the better!).

It’s always good to write about happy customers. If people can relate to a real story about a real person who benefited from what you did for them, this strikes a chord, particularly if they identify with that person. Again another take from the world of newspapers – people like human interest stories.

3) What it looks like
People can tell a corporate newsletter as soon as they see it – set out in the corporate colours, boxed in etc., a series of images and boxes with short bits of text in them. Unfortunately many popular email marketing systems make a great play of the huge variety of different templates they have. The problem is that 99.9% of them suck.

The more an email update looks like a simple personal email, the more likely it is to be opened and read. We generally advise our clients to go with a clean look and minimal branding – perhaps a small logo at the top right or even the logo down at the bottom. We also advise kicking off with a personal message ahead of any listing of more formal ‘news stories’.

4) Is it for me? Personalise, personalise
When you get an email from a business, you pretty much know the only reason it says ‘Hi David’ is because they’ve inserted the ‘fname’ field at the top. Despite this, personalised emails still get opened more. Personalisation also applies to sending from a real person, not from ‘’, and signing off as a real person – open rates are higher. And finally if you have a database of people who you can group into different types of people with different interests, consider sending slightly different emails to these groups, skewed to their interests.

5) What you put in the subject line
Your subject line can’t be bland – it needs to explain a little about what you’re covering in the email. Seems like common sense, but there are still plenty of emails going out with the uninformative ‘February Newsletter’ in the subject line.

6) Test, test, test
It’s all very well listening to a marketing person (like me) talk about what works and what doesn’t work, the only way to prove what works is to test it. If you have a large enough list (ideally 1,000+), why not try some split testing (sometimes referred to as A/B testing)? Split your database into two and send slightly different emails to each. It’s important to only have one difference between them in order to get a useful result. Also make sure you send them both at the same time to eliminate timing as a differentiating factor.

* It’s interesting to see that quite a few high open rate subject lines as reported by Mailchimp here strike me as being pretty boring, but I’m also assuming many of these newsletters are going out internally or to external partners, where reading them is a prerequisite.

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