Director of Web & Interactive Content, Speaker, Host of 'Content Lab' Podcast
July 8th, 2019
"How would you feel about being an author of THE LATEST once a week?"
Whenever I get questions like this from IMPACT VP of Marketing Kathleen Booth, I know she's already made the decision. Yes, of course, I could still say no, but I had better have a great reason for it. Otherwise, I am doing the thing she has "voluntold" me to do.
Up until last fall, I would have rather have written a 8,000-word piece of pillar content than send a single email to a list of 10,000+ people. I don't know what it is, but there is much less anxiety for me around hitting "publish" than me pressing "schedule" or "send."
That said, Kathleen's confidence in me during that late September conversation to go way outside of my comfort zone by working on an email newsletter prompted me to say yes.
Since then, at least once a week, tens of thousands of business leaders, digital marketers, and sales pros have gotten personally written issue of THE LATEST in their inboxes from yours truly.
And in those past 54 issues, I've learned a lot...
1. Getting Personal Is a Good Thing
While there are small variations in between each issue of THE LATEST, they all follow the same basic format:
Personal introduction from the author
Featured articles, hand-selected by the author
Latest shows and podcast episodes
Upcoming digital sales and marketing events
Curated list of articles the author is reading
And on Saturdays, we've got "weekend nonsense"
Initially, I began with very short introductions that were pithy that didn't give much away about me personally and quickly pivoted to the meat of the featured articles:
But over the past eight months, I've become progressively more open and honest emotionally in my introductions:
I guess I thought no one would care about my inner thoughts about life. It's a digital sales and marketing newsletter, right? Who cares about how I'm feeling or what I'm doing?
Initially, I believed the answer to be "no one."
Boy, was I wrong.
Even though the meat and potatoes of the newsletter was (and is) still very much digital sales and marketing-focused, the more vulnerable and, well, totally myself in my introductions I was, the more positive feedback I got directly from our audience.
Here are a couple of my favorite examples:
And this one just... made my day:
These are just a small sample of the notes we've received since last fall, and as we've progressively become more human and ourselves in each of our issues of THE LATEST.
In retrospect, the fact that this human approach works makes total sense — if done correctly and authentically, of course.
Nameless, faceless brand communications are sterile. Can they be effective? Sure. But embracing the human side of your brand is a great way to build a community and forge human connections between you and your audience.
2. Always Be Testing
OK, the title of the article says "surprising lessons," and I'm sure you're thinking to yourself now, "Liz, testing in the world of marketing should be a surprise to absolutely no one."
Yes, this is true.
However, once you launch a newsletter with your framework or structure, it's easy to just... go forth and never make changes. Especially if it's a newsletter like ours where it's not once a month or even once a week — it's a three-times-a-week newsletter. And when you're busy, sometimes you don't want to innovate. You just want the ability to cross something off your to do list.
But, at IMPACT, we've intentionally adopted a mindset in which we are always testing and trying new things with the newsletter. In fact, if we're not seen as trying new things enough, someone will mention it.
Like, "This issue is great, but are you testing anything new recently?"
That's because our goal is to see how can create a better user experience for our subscribers and see better results. Even if we already think we're doing the right thing.
For example, I shared awhile back that we were all blown away by the fact that removing images for featured articles increased the metrics we thought would tank without visuals. It was a great reminder for all of us that often our assumptions about what makes a newsletter "effective" run counter what your users actually will respond positively to.
I can almost guarantee this is true for you and your audience, too. So, hear me when I say this — do not let your personal preferences get in the way of good email newsletter decisions and experiments.
Since we've been doing THE LATEST, we've also tested in-text links vs. buttons for featured articles, subject line variations, different types of positioning for sponsored content, and so much more. And every single time, we've all learned something unexpected.
Although, in some cases, the results are annoyingly inconclusive. Over and over again. Particularly when it comes to subject lines.
Finally, I want to note that, because we've intentionally gone with a more "plain text"-esque look and feel of our newsletter, we've found it to be so much easier for us to experiment and test different things within THE LATEST.
You may want to consider the same.
3. Your Newsletter Should Be a Community Effort
Before I ever start writing any issue of THE LATEST, I send out some version of that message in our dedicated Slack channel for THE LATEST.
Then, when I have a draft ready, I send out another message:
We didn't always do this — soliciting input for content and getting more eyes on the final product for quality assurance — and the ending result was still pretty solid.
But now that we've made these two touch points into our process official, the quality of content we produce within THE LATEST newsletter has drastically improved.
Yes, the issue still remains fundamentally mine, from a storytelling and curation perspective. That said, I don't know about your company, but at IMPACT, things are always changing. So, having that initial input from our team helps me make sure I'm not missing anything, and that I'm able to balance the needs of our business from within the content of the newsletter.
Additionally, let's just say I like having an entire squad of folks watch my back by making sure I haven't made any mistakes in my draft before I hit "schedule."
My takeaways here for you are to include others in your curation process for what gets included in your newsletter, and then take the time to have people proof your work before it goes out.
As someone who write a lot for a living, trust me when I say it doesn't matter how detail-oriented you are normally. There is such a thing as becoming blind to your own mistakes when you look at your own work for too long.
Finally, Always Have a Mindset to Learn
While it is tangentially related to a few of the things I've mentioned above, the one thing I can point to that I categorically believe drives our continued growth and success of THE LATEST is that we're always open to learning.
We never get complacent, and I never approach a draft with a "ho-hum" attitude of just trying to cross a to-do item off of my list.
Most of all, we never, ever say, "But that's how it's always done," in any brainstorming session for THE LATEST.