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It’s Time to Reimagine Email Newsletters for the 1:1 Economy

Email newsletters have a bad rap, but there’s a massive opportunity to change this age-old perception. It starts by completely redefining what a newsletter is and rethinking how this common communication that fills all of our inboxes daily can become a source of tangible, mutual value for both consumers and brands.

As a consumer, can you recall the last really good newsletter you received, or any for that matter? We all receive countless newsletters daily from brands we have bought products from, media publications and streaming entertainment we subscribe to, credit card companies we use, airlines we fly, car dealerships and the list goes on. 

You’re probably struggling to remember an email newsletter that stuck out or provided you with any tangible value. As a marketer, the newsletters you’re sending to your customers and subscribers are too often being received the same way. The best-case scenario is they earn cursory attention because you offered up a flash discount or sale.

Sadly for many email marketers working hard to churn out a regular cadence of newsletters, the emails sent often go directly into the promotions tab to be bulk deleted — or worst of all, land on the cutting room floor as customers prune their email subscriptions due to marketing fatigue.

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As we move into 2022 and companies resolve to improve their marketing in the new year, they should include a strategy to evolve and get their newsletters right. This isn’t about jumping onto any number of marketing trend fads that are laid out at the end of every year. It starts simply by flipping the concept of a traditional newsletter completely on its head. 

By nature, newsletters are generally about the sender  — and naturally so. Think about how much easier it is to provide people with standardized and canned content about the ins and outs of what’s happening in your company, organization, community, family, etc. It’s not so easy to feed people information that is about them, especially when you lack that information to begin with.

With shifting consumer preferences for communication in our new and permanent 1:1 economy, email marketing and newsletter teams can no longer fall back on this excuse. Today, by leveraging data and automation, there’s a significant opportunity for brands to make newsletters primarily about the recipient and provide tangible value beyond a sales promotion.

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A modern newsletter isn’t just about pushing the same ineffective and self-centered content through digital channels and calling it a day.

Here are three key strategies required to bridge the gap and take email newsletters from mundane to must-have in 2022 and beyond.

Focus on Meaningful Personalization That Provides Tangible Value

One of the biggest — and most overused — marketing buzzwords from the past several years is “personalization”. It was something our team heard over and over again this year at the Email Insider Summit. 

It’s not that personalization is a bad word, but it’s come to mean everything and nothing at the same time. We’ve all seen what “personalization” looks like in its laziest form: a templated email with the greeting as the single personalized element “Hey, ______!” “We have a discount for you (and a million other people)…act now!”

A modern newsletter should deliver personalization that goes beyond the table stakes of superficial and obvious information like a customer’s name, the day of the week, or the weather outside.

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A series of generic information wrapped around a promotion or discount may garner short-term sales, but these newsletters will do little to boost long-term engagement, loyalty, and customer lifetime value.

Meaningful personalization requires using granular data based on a customer’s individual behavior and profile to tell them something that they don’t already know. It’s about providing data visually (e.g. loyalty points, most popular spend categories on your credit card, most purchased beverage, most listened to music or read articles) and then making a recommendation or suggestion for what that individual can do, redeem, or purchase next based on his or her individual need versus peddling whatever the company has on the back of the truck to sell. 

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Deliver Dynamic Content

Like personalization, “dynamic content” is another buzzword amongst email marketers. Nothing will compel consumers to hit the “unsubscribe” button faster than receiving “new” content that was also sent a month ago that they acted upon yet are receiving again. 

If an email from your aunt that’s CC’d to every single member of your extended family implores you to RSVP and book your hotel for next year’s reunion or the grandparent’s 50th wedding anniversary, yet you did so months ago, that piece of information, while technically innocuous, is pointless to you individually.   

As a brand, if you send such pointless content often and blatantly enough, you risk losing the attention, engagement and loyalty of your customers and subscribers. Dynamic content must learn, evolve and respond to behaviors and signals on a granular level and individual level to remain targeted and relevant. 

Until recently, dynamic content was often used interchangeably with “real-time” (i.e. content that changes and is rendered at the moment of open). Today, marketers are facing new challenges for real-time content delivery tied to changes in data privacy – especially with Apple’s Mail Privacy Protection policy. 

For many marketers, this means leaning even more into making sure that each subsequent email newsletter takes into account all customer activity and behaviors since the last one to ensure the content and recommendations are optimized within the guardrails of privacy.

Making It All Happen Through Content Automation

Meaningful personalization and dynamic content sound great, but how does this all happen in reality?

Content automation.

But what does this actually mean? Sounds like another buzzword. 

Simply put, in the context of email newsletters, it’s leveraging the power of artificial intelligence to provide customers and subscribers with information to guide and recommend next best actions based on profile and behavior at an individual level. With each cycle, the AI enriches all the available data and automatically optimizes content for each customer.

Email marketing/newsletter teams are increasingly challenged to do more with less. Budgets that flow from the CMO down the marketing organization are increasingly under scrutiny. Small teams are under pressure to get content out the door, yet with all of the established expectations surrounding “personalization”. 

Through a combination of AI and automation, companies can develop newsletters with true 1:1 engagement at scale, and free up resources and time to focus on higher-level marketing strategies. 

If your aunt had the ability to press a button and generate an email that was truly personalized to every single person (e.g. remove the reunion RSVP line to everyone who had already done so), that would be magical. And think about it — she is retired and has nothing but time (however, still doesn’t manually do it because it’s too tedious). 

So, if you’re a marketer with extremely limited time, content automation is the only way to produce newsletters with meaningful personalization and dynamic content that gets smarter every time. Using AI and rules-based logic can enable a marketing team with limited resources to punch above its weight, providing the next optimized message in a sequence targeted to each individual.

The start of a new year always offers the chance to reflect on existing practices and identify opportunities for improvement. For marketing teams, a stagnant or underperforming newsletter could be a massive lost opportunity. With the right tools and strategies, an email newsletter can serve as an important driver for revenue and brand awareness.

[To share your insights with us, please write to sghosh@martechseries.com]

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