Being digital: Does your brand really need a newsletter?

By Jon Bains

August 6, 2013 | 6 min read

If every marketeer who said those words was forced, ‘Clockwork Orange’ style to consume the enormous amount of utter.. err.. noise that they inflict on others then perhaps the world would be a quieter and more coherent place.

Do you really need that newsletter?

We live in a wonderful world of 'big data', 'dynamic content', 'engagement programmes' and 'loyalty schemes'. These are the tools with which you promote yourself (and others) directly. They are part of an arsenal of weapons of mass distraction and they are absolutely key to most brands’ success.

However when you strip away the marketing parlance and those pesky 'big ideas' you are left with a very simple response - was this relevant to me or was it not? In our quest to 'be' digital we need to experience and microscopically examine our own interactions so we can understand and empathise with others. The recurring theme here is 'just because we can, doesn't mean we should'.

We’ll get to full on ‘loyalty’ later but at this juncture we only ask you to do that, which is for most, likely counter-intuitive to your own behavior.

You need to sign up to at least a dozen newsletters from brands/organisations that you have an affinity with. Mix it up a bit, look at communities, brands, retailers, media, relevant celebs, blogs etc – ideally in the same universe as you were in last week when looking at your own specialist subject.

If that isn’t possible because you happened to be hanging out in a community discussing fauvism which may or may not have a retail side (buggered if I know) then widen the scope to look at complementary online properties or as it’s commonly known, ‘stuff’.

At this point, might I suggest that you create a new email address before you do this. Why? Funnily enough, those who are in the same position as you, will be thinking in much the same way as you.

‘If we have your data we can cross and upsell to our hearts content as you have expressed an interest.’

Of course should you have faith in the ethics and rigor of your fellow marketeers and more to the point - the corporations that they represent or believe that realistically, in an enforceable way, 'opt-in' means anything then feel free to skip this step and use your personal email account.

Anyway in order for the experience to be ‘valid’ it has to of your own volition and against your own particular passion areas, where you feel you will get benefit from a deeper engagement with that particular business. Just signing up to all the competitions lists doesn't count. Sorry.

Once you start the sign up process you are going to have to get familiar with the 'spam' settings on whatever your email client is - as many of the newsletters you have just signed up to are going to end up in the bin before you even see them. Ponder this for a moment.

Now assuming you have actually received the mails you need to obsessively read every word, and actually click on every link (again - you really want to have created a separate email address). If you are doing it 'right' then best case it may take you about 5-10 minutes per mail which leads to the very first and probably most relevant question

  • Do you ever spend 5-10 minutes looking at an email?

Now start thinking about the overall communication of each bit of content, starting with the subject line.

  • Why did they have that it? Were you more primed to open one mail over another as a result?
  • Once opened did it appeal? Was it relevant? What assumptions were they making about you? Does it look like it was made for you or for the brand?
  • What do you think would happen if you clicked on a link? Did it make a difference to the next mail? Was it more refined?
  • When did it arrive - was it at an appropriate time so you moved down from awareness to consideration?
  • How did you feel in general about the content patronised or informed? Are they making assumptions about you which are incorrect?
  • Did it make you feel better or worse about the brand?
  • What insight are they gaining from you and your actions? Can you differentiate between a 'meaningless' or 'meaningful' click from the context of the mail?
  • When you clicked did your expectation match your experience?

After you have opened a few on a 'puter, open the same mails on your mobile phone. Do the same exercise.

  • Do you feel any different in the positive or negative? When you click on the links on your phone where did they go to – the same place or somewhere more appropriate?

Once you have absorbed a few, now go back and look at your own emails that you send out and go through exactly the same exercise again.

So now what does 'we need a newsletter' mean now?

Jon Bains is a partner is business futures practice Atmosphere


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