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InContext / An inside look at the business of digital content

Email newsletters connect with core audiences

April 27, 2017 | By Ron Miller—Independent Technology Journalist @ron_miller

In a time when the email channel is becoming increasingly clogged, you would think email newsletters would take a back seat to other forms of audience interaction. But just the opposite seems to be happening as media outlets see the newsletter as a way to communicate directly with their core audiences. Email newsletters are popular and proliferating.

Perhaps this trend is being driven by the success of newsletters like The Daily Skimm, an email-only news briefing delivered every morning with a colloquial tone that treats the news with a sense of humor and gives you what you need to know in an entertaining fashion. Regardless, every major media outlet seems to offer a variety of newsletters. These are often segmented into subjects like finance, politics and sports, full of links and information, and designed to provide the core audience with details tuned specifically for them.

A little something for everyone

Newsletters remain popular because they deliver value to both the audience and the producer. The audience gets the information they want delivered straight to their in-boxes, often tailored to their specific interests.

The publisher gets something valuable as well. While interacting with people who clearly like your media outlet and the content you produce, you also get to own the information about your readers, says digital strategist, Jacqueline Boltik.

“For newsletter producers, having an email newsletter is smart because it’s the only way to really own your audience online. Ultimately Facebook owns your Facebook fans, Twitter owns your Twitter followers. Building your digital base anywhere other than email is like building a house on rented land,” she said.

She says beyond owning your audience data, there are many other reasons to offer a newsletter. These include driving traffic, monetization, and the ability to leverage your email data to strengthen your digital strategy on other channels.

Building connections to your audience

While the data certainly has value, a newsletter is much more than simply a data collection exercise. It’s also about building a strong connection between your audience and your publication, and in some cases to your journalists or other content creators.

“The best newsletters feel personal. Even though email is one to many, it feels one to one. In general, the more you can make your newsletter feel like it’s from a person while still fitting in with your brand, the better your newsletter will be received by readers,” Boltik said.

Quartz publishes a newsletter called the Daily Brief that it sees as a key way to interact directly with some of its most avid readers. “For audience engagement, it’s immensely valuable. Daily Brief subscribers are among Quartz’s most fervent and dedicated readers, and they’re also what advertisers consider to be a “premium” audience. About half are senior leaders at their companies,” Mia Mabanta, Quartz’s executive director of product and brand marketing explained.

Beyond that, Andrew Golis, general manager of Vox Media’s news brand says that newsletters provide a way to understand the news from a trusted source in a world where social media is bombarding us with stories. “We’re all more and more overwhelmed. As consumers, newsletters allow us to connect to a curator and analyst we trust. We get a finishable wrap-up of what’s important to pay attention to and why.”

The value proposition

You would think that driving traffic back to the site would be another primary goal, but publications don’t necessarily see it that way. Email newsletters build and maintain brand loyalty with core audiences—which is valuable in the long term. If they drive traffic, that’s a bonus, but it’s often not the objective.

In fact, Quartz includes links to other sites besides their own says Mabanta. “We explicitly don’t use the email as a way to drive traffic back to our site. It’s meant to be a self-contained experience. The user can click through if she wants to dive deeper, but she doesn’t have to. And oftentimes that link doesn’t lead her to QZ.com,” Mabanta said.

Vox’s Golis feels the same way. “We don’t approach newsletters as traffic drivers. Instead, they are distributed media experiences valuable in and of themselves. We love them because they give our loyal audiences a way to establish a permanent relationship with Vox. They also give our journalists the opportunity to build that connection and a set of stories and insights with a consistent community over time,” he said.

A valuable proposition

That engaged core audience also draws in sponsors and advertisers, who are willing to pay a premium to get the attention of a known quantity, and because you own your email data, you should have a good sense of who that audience is. “Better leveraging email data is a significant opportunity for many companies and as combining data sources becomes more flexible, digital advertising is going to become much more efficient and effective,” Boltik explained.

You can get those sponsors or premium advertisers on board to directly monetize your newsletters. Or you can simply use them as a way to stay connected with your most ardent readers. Whatever the strategy, newsletters remain a valuable way to understand and interact directly with your core audience. And that, in the era of distributed content, is a valuable connection indeed.

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