Decoding newsletters, part three. Make your newsletters shine.

1. A compelling subject line. Use the first words to shine. 

Use the first words to shine. Some newsletters start with an explainer-style headline of their cover story: “How Anthony Fauci Became America’s Doctor” (New Yorker, The Daily). Other formats tease multiple pieces of content with a few words each: for instance, the Vox Sentences newsletter.

2. A tagline to promote your newsletter USP.

What can readers expect from your newsletters? What makes it special, and the right choice to them?

3. Make it easy to scan, easy to read.

Bullet points are not the devil. Used smartly, as do the authors of Vox Sentences and Axios, bullet points help to give a structure to your content and a way for readers to scan the text topic by topic, chunk by chunk, to find out what to read and where to dig deeper.

Talking hyperlinks. The “Vox Sentences” newsletter is half an in-the-newsletter reading experience, half a teaser of articles. Not all the hyperlinks point to as a curated digest made to be relevant, it selects and suggests the next readings with the readers in mind, not with the traffic needs of

Look at how bullet points define the “smart brevity” format of the Axios newsletters. What does “smart” means for Axios? The news is not only delivered in brief paragraphs, but they tag each item (with words written in bold) so to introduce the message: 

  • The big picture 
  • Driving the news
  • Yes, but
  • The bottom line
  • What’s next 
  • Why it matters
  • Other details 
  • Go deeper 

The Axios newsletters consistently use labels, and that makes their “smart brevity” a distinctive format and a brand mark of their newsletters.

4. Mobile-first, but loving all screens. UX matters.

A newsletter is a product. When well-executed, it is a habit-forming product, and one of the most portable. If you want to know if your newsletter works, check it always and primarily on your mobile (and on more smartphone types). Email publishing and email delivery tools: use only those that allow readers to view the newsletters also in the browser. Mobile-first, but fitting all screens. It sounds trivial, yet it is not the most common way to do newsletters.

5. Text matters, visuals too.

For newsletters, it has been a challenge for a long time – and partially it still is – to deal with visuals, especially embedded videos, charts, infographics and sophisticated illustrations. However, it is worth the effort to create original visuals for a newsletter – or to adapt them for a constrained-by-the-platform experience. A stunning photo, a suggestive illustration can make a difference. See this:

6. Author, host, editor. The pen behind the newsletter. A name to know, a face to see, a person to trust.

At the New York Times, they have appointed “hosts” for some of their most popular newsletters. Author, host, editor, whatever the name you give to them, to have one person responsible for the newsletter is not only a way to make you accountable in front of your readers. It is a way to establish a personal relationship with them.

An author name, or even better a portrait and a few lines of bio, sends a message: this newsletter is not a marketing tool, not an automated thing, but a product that our editor crafts for you. A matter of trust, that a public face and an email address you can reach out to send your comments can make deep and long-lasting.

Another brilliant example of a newsletter with a very personal touch is the millennial-oriented “Elevate the Conversation” by The Wall Street Journal.

7. Make readers part of your narrative.

Newsletters can be more than habit-forming products. They can develop a community feeling.See this example, coming from the New York Times´ Coronavirus Briefing newsletter.

At the end of each issue, the newsletter lets one of their readers use their words to tell what they are doing to tackle these challenging times. Day after day, newsletter after newsletter, you feel that you are in this together with many others from the East to the West Coast. You cannot but empathise with them. Sometimes, their short stories of resilience make you feel better. Or even help you make sense of this shared experience.

Other newsletters encourage their readers to come up with suggestions, memories, and details to add up to feature stories. In this example of the Berlin-based newspaper die Tageszeitung, the newsletter asks readers to deliver their personal experience involving the 2015 migrant crisis and how the integration of over 1,5 million people worked in their towns, neighbourhoods and cities.

8. Onboarding.

“Onboarding” is an obsession for content marketers and service designers. How to ensure that the first moments after a conversion keep your new leads? For editorial newsletters, this aspect does not always stay on your top editorial priority.

Once you have subscribed to a newsletter and completed the double opt-in, the newsletter goes straight in its day-by-day delivery. And this is fine. But if your newsletter is new, or the value proposition needs some introduction, consider doing more than a short welcome email. Use some lines of text, or a video or whatever creative format to give readers a taste of what will reach them in their inbox from now on.

9. Mix things up. Take care of the reading experience.

Why not suggest the right music background for reading your newsletter?

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10. The ending is important, like in novels.

The end of your newsletter is an opportunity to do more than just promoting additional content. Too much bad news? Find a heart-warming tiny story to give hope. Too serious? Leave them with something funny. Too newsy? Give some words to remember, some ideas to inspire, some visuals to surprise.

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