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Your enewsletters suck. Here’s why

There's a lot to question in our current approach to enewsletters.

Enewsletters have been crafted in the same lousy way for so long that we’ve forgotten just how careless our approach to bettering the user experience has become. Martin Wanless offers a solution.

Often in life we do things without challenging the rationale, or indeed sanity, behind them. We do things because everyone else does them. We do things because we’re sometimes lazy. We do things because we haven’t stopped to think about them.

Now, enewsletters. Let’s be brutally honest. The vast, vast majority of them aren’t actually very good, are they? In fact, they’re pretty horrible. Why? Because they’re a god-awful experience for the reader.

Anyone who’s ever worked in publishing, or indeed content marketing, knows the audience has to come first. We create content for them, not us, putting them at the centre of our universe because we need them to interact with our businesses. We need them to love us.

But when it comes to enewsletters, more often than not, we put ourselves first and blow the rest of them. Not so? This is a channel whose benchmark of success is 25 per cent. In other words, we are satisfied with a 75 per cent failure rate. Surely that tells us all we need to know; yet still we persist.

We. We. We.

I subscribe to a handful of enewsletters. I open some of them. Click on anything? Rarely. Quite frankly I just cannot be bothered  to jump the hurdles.

So, why don’t enewsletters work? Because they’re primarily designed to elicit statistics that massage egos. They are designed so people can boast about click-through rates to their superiors while not giving a toss about the people who’re reading them. If we truly cared about you, the reader, then why would we put hurdles in front of you if you want to read more? Because we need validation. We need to prove we’re doing our job. We need to know what story you like best. We need to get our web traffic up. We. We. We. We. We. Statistics first, reader experience, nowhere.

What we need to do isn’t get our click throughs up. We need to challenge the status quo.

Want to know how to increase your open rates to levels you never thought possible? It’s easy.

Make the reader experience superb. Stress-free. Painless. Seamless. Put the reader’s needs first, not your own.

Do this and I guarantee nothing will happen for the first send.

Maybe not the second either.

But after ten sends your open rates will have increased. Why? Because it’s not always the same 20, 30 or 40 per cent of people who read your enewsletters. What’s your actual readership? The number who have opened one of your newsletters this year? 70 per cent? 80 per cent? Higher? That should be your target, your benchmark. By virtue of the fact these poor people have opened your enewsletter, they’re interested in you. If you’ve let them down by demanding they have to navigate the digital equivalent of Hampton Court Maze to get where they want to go to, that’s not their problem. It’s yours; and it’s up to you to solve it.

Data and marketers: it’s a tumultuous relationship

Being online allows us access to innumerate levels of statistics and data. We can see who’s opened what, when and where. We can see who’s read what, what they did next, and so on and so forth.

But statistics and data enable us to change things at a drop of a hat. ‘This different type of subject line attracted a 2 per cent uplift in open rates last week, so we need to do more of that!’, I’ve heard people exclaim. Whatever you do with analytics, it needs to be proactive, not reactive. And conclusions should be rarely drawn on the basis of one or two sends.

Used intelligently and with a planned, staged review, analytics can be used to achieve great things. However, the vast majority of the time they confuse people; trick them into believing white is black and black is white, and this whole malarky becomes a lot more complex than it actually is.

For the purposes of this post, your website doesn’t exist

But back to the point. How can you increase your open rates by improving the reader experience? Simple. Pretend your website doesn’t exist. Yep, really. It doesn’t exist.

If that was the case, what would you do? You’d have to put the full story in the enewsletter itself. No click-through rates! Correct. They’ve been stabbed through the heart and sacrificed to the God of Positive Reader Experience.

‘But the enewsletter will be too long!’. Stop thinking like a print person. Length of digital products is irrelevant. We’re used to scrolling to find what we want. If we like what we see we’ll keep on scrolling.

Having four, five, six, eight stories fully contained in a enewsletter will equal a far more pleasurable experience for the reader. If you give them the opportunity for further reading that’s great; just don’t make it a pre-requisite.

I’d bet a case a James Squires best that your open rates will increase. It will certainly provide you with more time in front of the reader. And, if you sell ads onto your enewsletters, imagine the potential increase in time in front of potential customers – your commercial team will love you forever.

As a side note: I do appreciate fully the irony that you have most likely reached this point by clicking on our enewsletter, which does absolutely none of this. Yet.

I have been championing this ‘fully contained’ approach to enewsletters within our company for a good couple of years. We have one client who’s on the verge of doing it, and one who’s gone halfway.

So we’ve decided to do it ourselves.

In June, we’ll be launching our brand, spanking new website, and to coincide with that we’re conducting a six-month test of this approach. We’re splitting our databases in half, some of you will receive the current set up, others will receive the fully contained one. We’ll put it to the test, and report back to you later in the year.

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