Email Newsletters: a) Not Dead, and b) Powerful.

Everyone I know (with the possible exception of a few members of my extended family who live in rural Ontario)  is overloaded with email. We complain that we get too much, we unsubscribe from seemingly endless lists, and we feel overwhelmed by inboxes that are bursting at the seams.

I'm ruthless about purging my inbox - anything that can be deleted, is. And I may well remove myself from one email list per day, at the rate I unsubscribe myself from things.

But lately, I've found myself having to remind my clients that there's enormous value in an email newsletter, if you do it right. I'm actually a huge fan of well-written and well-executed email newsletters. Here's why:

  1. There's no better way to reach a large group of people quickly & cheaply. If you're collecting addresses through your website (and other means), you're building a highly valuable database of contacts who actually want to hear what you have to say. And much as I love Facebook & Twitter, they don't have the reach, impact and opportunity for personalization that email does.
  2. Email has proven, again and again, to have a much higher response rate than other online message formats.
  3. It can be personalized by auto-inserting your recipient's name (or other details or preferences) into the message - and this tactic has been shown to be extremely effective at increasing retention rates.
  4. There's room for longer text than is allowed on Twitter (or tolerable on Facebook).
  5. You can focus on a single thing or many, depending on your goals.
  6. You can segment your list based on interests, geographic area, or whatever organizing structure makes sense for your community.
  7. Emails can be saved & referenced later. If the content in them is valuable enough, they can be archived, unlike many other social web tools.
  8. People get so much junk in their inboxes that something special can really shine.

I'd like to share a few of my favourite email newsletters with you. Each is noteworthy for different reasons.

Communicatrix excerptCommunicatrix

This monthly missive from Colleen Wainwright is subtitled, "A monthly newsletter about expressing the unique fabulosity that is you." A professional writer, Colleen crafts prose that is engaging, funny and insightful all at once. Each newsletter contains a single article/essay wherein she might explore a theme like public speaking, productivity or motivation; and alongside it, in a narrow little sidebar, she links to websites that she finds useful, engaging, charming or otherwise intriguing, along with pithy and witty explanations as to why they merit inclusion.

All of this may sound banal, and that's kind of the point: Her format is not breaking new ground, but because her writing is so excellent, I read every email from top to bottom. And for me, that's really saying something.

Eugene Choo

Eugene Choo excerptThere's an unassuming, bright blue storefront up on Main Street with a sign that reads, "Welcome home, Eugene Choo." It's a clothing & accessories boutique that features many local designers along with brands that Main Street's hipster hoi polloi adore. I'll confess I rarely shop there, but I stay subscribed to their e-newsletter because I find it charming & I discover interesting, quirky music, events around town, etc. through their monthly updates. Here's a brief sample from their February 2011 installment:

Aren’t you ready for the sun? Don’t you feel it already? When even the slightest break in the clouds can conjure the feeling of warmth on your shoulders. It feels like a time for bright silk blouses, stripes, canvas instead of leather, and dreams of the sock-free days to come.

On that note we recommend… [insert list of art openings, indie pop concerts and film screenings here].

I love that they're retailers but their newsletters are mostly about culture and typically just contain a very short note about new stuff in the store. It speaks to the fact that the owner is active in the local arts scene & makes me want to support their store just so that cool, awesome people can continue living & working in Vancouver.

NTEN newsletter excerptNonprofit Technology Network Member Updates

No link available - subscriptions are a side benefit of membership. Learn more about NTEN here.

This is a monthly newsletter for a group Raised Eyebrow belongs to. It's content-rich, but still manages to be fun. They do a good job of including excerpts from blog posts, and they always begin with a friendly, colloquial intro & include a highlighted "Your conversations" section pointing to their LinkedIn Group - this is a great way of engaging people through social media & letting e-newsletter subscribers know what value they can find by connecting with you through social media, in a "show, don't tell" way.

Adaptive Path newsletter excerptAdaptive Path

These folks are thought leaders in user experience design and they have an excellent e-newsletter. It's quite long, with one long essay republished in its entirety, followed by links to blog highlights & then links to cool stuff they're reading (everybody wants to know what the smart kids are reading).

Upcoming events (a secondary revenue source for them) are highlighted in the sidebar.