Secrets to Creating a Newsletter People Want to Read From Ann Handley


Do me a favor. Go and check your work email inbox.

Then, look to see how many newsletters from individuals or brands you’ve received in the past week (for me it was around 20). After you have that number, look to see how many of those newsletters you’ve actually opened (for me it was 3). Lastly, think about how many of those newsletters you engaged with in some way (replied, shared, etc.), or which ones contained memorable content that you’ve added to your memory bank (for me it was 0).

Yikes! Can you imagine the manpower and dollars that likely went into developing and distributing those email newsletters that are just sitting in your inbox gathering dust? And worse yet, are your subscribers feeling the same way that you do, but about the content that you’re sending out?

In her session at Social Media Marketing World last week, the amazing Ann Handley took the stage, did a little dance and then jumped right in to a story of how she was called out by a subscriber (highlights below), why great email marketing matters, and three important elements for creating a kick-ass newsletter that your subscribers will be dying to read.

So for the next few minutes, I urge you to kick back, relax and learn some lessons in email marketing from the queen of content, Ann Handley.

Email, when it’s done well, is like hot fire. It can burn like nobody’s business. @marketingprofs Click To Tweet

Dear Ann…What Gives?

Below is a brief account (in my words) of an interaction that Ann had with one of her newsletter subscribers last year. The names have not been changed to protect the innocent.

Ben: HI Ann, I am a subscriber to your newsletter. And I just wanted to let you know that last year, I only heard from you four times. What’s the story with that?

Ann: Hi Ben, [insert delightful, personalized statement from Ann]. I’ve been pretty busy this year and four newsletters were pretty much about all that I could manage.

Ben: But Ann, you have an amazing platform. People want to hear from you. What gives?

This interaction with Ben from Amsterdam got Ann thinking. As she shared on stage, this conversation really helped her focus her sights on email.

But you might be asking: why email?

Why Invest in Email Marketing?

Content Marketing Institute and MarketingProfs Content Marketing 2019 reports found that 87% of B2B marketers name email as their top tactic for nurturing their audience while 80% of B2C marketers named it as their top tactic.

That means, there is no arguing that email is an essential piece of the marketing puzzle for both B2B and B2C marketers.

Ann put it beautifully when she said:

Email is the only place where people, not algorithms are in control. @marketingprofs Click To Tweet

3 Elements of a Kick-Ass Newsletter

#1 – Focus Less on the NEWS & More on the LETTER

You do it. I do it. We all do it.

It is our instinct to talk about and write about what’s important to us. What we want to put out into the world, and how we can use tactics like email to distribute our content on the topics that we want to communicate.

But what if instead, we didn’t think about the news we wanted to distribute, but about the letter our audience would like to receive?

#2 – Create Letters People Love to Get

Ann shared an example of a survey that Adobe ran of 1,000 people asking them what they would change about the emails they get from brands.

Overwhelmingly, the audience responded that they wanted less promotion and more information. Ultimately, less about the brand and more about the person receiving the letter.

So, make your newsletter simple. Make it accessible. And make it playful in a way that reaches your audience in a meaningful way.

#3 – Write for a Specific Person But Don’t Fret Over Those Who Aren’t Your Person

Warren Buffett is undoubtedly an extremely intelligent man. He is one of the most successful investors in the world with a net worth of over $82 billion.

Each year (for the past few decades), he also writes letters to the shareholders of his company. These letters provide updates on the state of the business and the key changes over the past year.

What’s most interesting about these letters is that Warren writes them for his sister Doris. He describes his sister as a smart woman who likes to read a lot. By writing these letters as though they are for his sister, Warren can focus more on the stories he’s telling and contents, versus inundating his audience with jargon and hard-to-understand language.

Another lesson we should all keep in mind is that there will inevitably be people that our content is NOT for. Ann recommends focusing on our “Doris” and not on those people who our letters are not intended for.

Bonus: 3 Kick-Ass Newsletters for Marketers

In our quest for knowledge, we all have our tried-and-true resources that we turn to for information. If you’re looking for some great newsletters to add to your weekly reads, be sure to check out the following:

Total Annarchy: Ann practices what she preaches. Her letters are engaging and I look forward to them.  Each time it feels like you’re reading a letter from Ann, just for you.

Think with Google: Google will send data and insights to your inbox every few days in a short, easy-to-digest fashion. When you subscribe, be sure to select the topics that interest you most for a more personalized experience.

In the Headlights: This newsletter from Chris Penn and his team provides up-to-date news on data science, machine learning, AI and predictive analytics.

Obviously, there are lots of great newsletter options available out there for marketers. Which ones are your favorite? And why do you keep reading them week after week or month after month?  





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