It’s marketing 101 for associations to send out a daily, weekly, or monthly email newsletter directed at their members. Traditionally, these newsletters were strictly professional, updating readers on the industry or sender organization with a list of links. But the media landscape is evolving. Many newsletters have shifted towards more “voice-friendly” formats. Especially with the meteoric rise of platforms like Substack and Medium, audiences are beginning to crave personality-driven content.
Even The Wall Street Journal revamped its newsletter strategy in 2018, moving from 126 newsletters to 40 audience-driven emails. Cory Schouten, WSJ’s senior newsletter editor, told Nieman Lab, “One of the things we’re aiming for is to establish a sense of whimsy around what we do, which might sound silly coming from The Wall Street Journal.” The goal was to create an interactive audience experience.
So — is it time for your association to refresh its newsletter?
As a marketing agency, we understand that it can be costly to make strategic brand updates. However, you have to consider the role a newsletter plays in your larger marketing strategy. For many associations, newsletters and social media are the only consistent communication they have with members. And as Michael Hickey of Associations Now pointed out, “Things can change quickly, and suddenly your organization’s plan for success doesn’t look as relevant as it used to.” If your newsletter begins to feel outdated, members will begin to question the value they are receiving.
The first step is to define the why of your newsletter. Is it simply to inform readers? Is it to position your association as a thought leader? Do you want to challenge your reader’s current way of thinking? Do you want to inspire a specific action?
Once you know these answers, every other decision should be rooted in the why of your content. Now, we can talk about how to make your newsletter stand out.
Here are a few strategies we recommend:
Organizations like to toss around the buzz phrase “Know your audience.” But few actually do. If you can’t explain the wants and needs of your association’s members, it’s going to be very difficult to curate a newsletter that they will engage with. This is why we recommend audience personas.
Like Mark Devito wrote in a recent agency blog post, “Whether you’re looking to increase membership, drive revenue, or connect with external stakeholders, personas build the foundation of your marketing strategy. Think of them like a movie script. Of course things can change, but the script informs action and provides a baseline to work from.”
In Columbia University’s Tow Center for Digital Journalism report, Elisabeth Goodridge, editor for newsletters and messaging at The New York Times, says an effective email newsletter comes down to achieving the right balance of content in a personality-driven voice. Goodridge believes this must be presented in a conversational and clear tone, delivered in engaging formats and features, and based on previous subscriber habits.
The third piece of advice is key. Do your readers prefer chunks of text or bulleted lists? Are they more likely to read an essay from an industry expert or an email with interesting design elements? If you are unsure, consider running an A/B test and analyze your subscribers’ preferences. If you don’t have access to email marketing analytics, a simple social media poll can do the trick or a form can be sent through a platform like Survey Monkey.
One of the biggest challenges associations need to address is if the newsletter should continue coming from the organization. It may sound odd at first, but to reflect your community’s voice, someone needs to communicate in a digestible and narrative style. This could come in the form of an industry influencer or person of leadership within your organization.
If you don’t think a singular person is the right approach, consider the Morning Brew, which has a very defined style and tone delivered in every email.
As we mentioned above, an important step in The Wall Street Journal’s restructured newsletter strategy was sending less emails. Associations relying on automated newsletters may end up sacrificing quality for their members. Newsletters don’t necessarily need to be sent every day. Consider the emotional toll your members are currently feeling from a challenging news cycle filled with COVID-19, racial inequality, economic instability, and the upcoming election. You certainly don’t want to overwhelm them by adding a frequent newsletter that might be more readable in smaller doses.
A lot of newsletters have found success moving away from traditional formats and embraced the era of brand personality. Maybe it’s time for your association to do the same. Wondering where to start? Reach out to our team of experts for more information on building your newsletter, marketing strategy, and how we can take your mission-driven organization beyond expectations. And get more content like this one by subscribing to our agency newsletter. Don’t worry, we respect your inbox!