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Email newsletters are the bane of many a writers’ existence. A bland conglomeration of corporate news and company picnics, you slave away putting it together, fully aware that it’s a waste of yours and everyone else’s time. Come on; nobody is ever gonna actually read this.

But I promise you, o wanderer: it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, it shouldn’t. Newsletters are a fantastic opportunity to reach out and engage with your customer base; you just have to write the right newsletter. So put aside your assumptions about employee of the year, teambuilding dinners at Applebee’s, and the company kickball tournament.

We’re going through the looking glass.

  1. Do you need a newsletter?

Honestly. Do you?

It’s totally okay if the answer is “no,” and it’s best to figure that out now instead of six months of wasted manhours in.

So it’s important to sit down and figure out what the goals of your email marketing are, and then figure out if this is something an email newsletter can even vaguely contribute to. If your focus is to help people down the funnel, a newsletter isn’t going to help. It’s also not really a lead-generation tool.

A newsletter is there to keep current leads engaged and delight existing customers. If that’s not a focus, a newsletter is not going to be a useful way for anyone to spend their time. Goal alignment helps you make sure you’re doing the work that matters, and not just, I dunno, doing a bunch of stuff.

  1. What kind of newsletter do you want?

Ok. So you’re doing a newsletter. That is literally nowhere near enough information to get to work. Honestly, nobody wants to open up an email full of random company news items. An unfocused company newsletter that sticks product launches next to sales next to corporate retreats is trying to be all things to all people, and is consequently nothing to anybody.

Well, crap.

So focus. You have all kinds of options here. Focus on a specific vertical you want to shore up business with. Focus on a specific aspect of your business or industry. Heck, reprint old Dilbert strips and be that hip, self-aware business that tries not to take itself too seriously and include irreverent takes on office life (if that appeals to your audience, of course). But pick something. Take time and strategize; what is this newsletter for, and how can we make it best accomplish that task?

  1. Helping, not selling.

Your newsletter is not a selling tool.

Repeat it with me. My newsletter is not a selling tool. Breathe in. Breathe out. Good. You alright?

Maybe you have to fight a little with management over this, but it’s true, and any newsletter that becomes a selling tool is a newsletter nobody will read. This isn’t the pennysaver, and nobody likes being sold to. The point of this newsletter is to keep existing leads engaged. Throw in a conversion opportunity, because, I mean, you never know, but honestly, focus on providing valuable content that means something to the people you’re talking to.

Think about it like this. If you keep trying to sell to someone who isn’t ready, they’re just gonna tune you out, man. Nobody likes being hectored. Nobody likes being pushed.

So cut the self-promotional crap unless you actually do have something interesting worth promoting.

  1. Message match.

Deliver what you promise. That may seem obvious, but it apparently isn’t; how often do you sign up for a newsletter only to end up bombarded with sales emails? How often do you expect a company communication is going to be relevant information but ends up being an endless parade of employee outings?

Too. Friggin’. Often.

So be honest. Set the stage for your newsletter with accurate descriptions of the kind of content your going to be delivering – and then actually deliver it. That discourages unsubscribes and makes it more likely you’re delivering relevant content to the the people who do sign up. Who may then turn around and share it.

Because life is beautiful that way.

  1. Get creative.

Don’t be lame, guys. Come on.

You’re sending out great content. You’ve put the effort into being useful. But if you want to be memorable, ya gotta add a little panache. A little punch. A little zang zabam.

Start with your subject lines. Get interesting; you need them to open the email. There’s lots of ways to accomplish this, but by far the most important thing to ask yourself is “would I open an email with this subject line?” and “does the email inside directly follow from that subject line.” Once you’ve got those questions answered, you can go a little nuts.

As far as content goes, be creative as far as your target audience finds appropriate. Obviously an audience of investment bankers probably doesn’t want an email that’s, I dunno, “6 Gifs from Teen Wolf That Perfectly Capture Investment Banking.”

Although maybe? I mean I’d totally read that.

No? Nobody else?

Fine.

  1. Keep it simple, stupid.

Newsletters should be short, to the point, and composed primarily of link opportunities. Don’t stuff the content into the email itself where it’s harder to digest; redirect your readers to your website where, once they’ve finished reading, they have the opportunity to click around and learn more about just who the heck you are. You don’t want them to just chill on your email. You want them to actually visit your website.

And keeping it short helps keep it uncluttered, and gives you more opportunities to catch their interest quickly by displaying multiple stories in quick succession.

And while we’re at it, make sure you aren’t dotting your email newsletters with eight billion calls to action all getting equal space. You need to have a primary CTA that gets attention, and relegate everything else to optional status. Keep your readers focused on the main thing you want them to do. You might not net them, but you have a much better chance for it.