If you’re like most people, you probably subscribe to at least a few email newsletters each week. There are some email newsletters that you read on the regular, some that you never open and even a few you’ve opted out of completely.
Email newsletters are so ubiquitous that it’s easy to dismiss them. But they remain a go-to medium for online marketers interested in reaching and holding a conversation with groups of people with specific interests.
That isn’t likely to change anytime soon. Email newsletters are everywhere because email is everywhere. According to Statista, there will be an estimated 4.3 billion global email users by 2023. Email newsletters aren’t going anywhere.
The rise of artificial intelligence promises a new era of targeted, highly personal email newsletters. For example, at rasa.io, a platform that is using machine learning to build smarter email newsletters, AI is used to track and learn what content performs best with specific readers. Each time a user sends out a rasa.io email newsletter, the platform generates a unique newsletter for each subscriber. That kind of personalized email newsletter is nearly impossible to create manually. Leveraging AI allows customization with one click.
But how did we get here? Let’s trace the evolution of the newsletter, from its information sharing past to the rise of email inbox spam.
A History of Modern Newsletters
Long before email, newsletters arose as a way for groups to share information and news on a specific shared interest, whether it be politics or woodworking or trade. One of the first recorded instances of a newsletter was in 1538, pre-dating even newspapers as a source for local news. In 17th Century England, newsletters delivered news from the New World, including tales of local folks who journeyed overseas to colonies in America. Many early newsletters eventually evolved into newspapers. The first continuously published newspaper in America was named The Boston News-Letter. John Campbell, postmaster of Boston, debuted the publication in 1704. It was published weekly until 1776.
After the Industrial Revolution, the newsletter returned as a way for employers to share industry-specific news and trends. By the 1950s, newsletters of all kinds had emerged, from newsletters offering investment advice and business forecasting to ones catering to fishermen and fashionistas.
Enter the late 1980s, the birth of the personal computer and electronic mail, what we would come to know as email. Desktop publishing software made it easier than ever to create and send email newsletters.
It wasn’t long before early computer users started using the term “spam” to refer to the non-personalized messages that started flooding inboxes. The term was borrowed from a 1970s-era Monty Python sketch involving a restaurant and a table of boisterous vikings. The vikings repeat the word “spam” over and over in loud sing-song, drowning out the conversations of the other customers.
In the 1990s, early email newsletters evolved into electronic newsletters or e-newsletters, which people could subscribe to and view online, usually on a website. Website operators introduced advertising and affiliate links to capitalize on growing web traffic, measuring things like views and click-throughs.
The first iPhone debuted in 2007, ushering in the age of mobile and upending the e-newsletter model. Mobile users found it easier and more convenient to access and view newsletter content from their email inboxes. In addition, many websites weren’t formatted for mobile, making it difficult to view content on the go.
Today, email newsletters remain one of the more effective ways to reach an increasingly mobile audience. Consumers are also more aware of (and annoyed by) spam email. The result?
Welcome to the age of personalization, where data analytics and artificial intelligence allow email newsletters to be more targeted than ever before. Much like their predecessors, the effectiveness of an email newsletter has more to do with its content—and how useful and engaging it is—than its overall reach.
What Do Email Newsletters Look Like Today?
There are three basic types of modern email newsletters. They include:
- Internal email newsletters. This type of newsletter is a form of internal communication, allowing you to share specific information with company departments, teams or employees. Internal newsletters are perfect for sharing policy changes, shout-outs, milestones and opportunities, as well as human-interest stories highlighting employees.
- External email newsletters. External newsletters are sent to your target audience and work to connect you with your audience. The content can include offers, news and tips, and curated content you think your audience would find interesting. External newsletters are an effective way to boost brand awareness and grow a strong customer base. We here at rasa.io send out a newsletter with tips and advice on how to use our tools, as well as interesting articles and research about online marketing
- Hybrid internal/external email newsletter. Hybrid email newsletters are distributed both internally and externally. They include information that relates to employees and your audience (i.e., customers, supporters, subscribers). This type of newsletter is popular among nonprofit organizations. Use them to share information on upcoming events and initiatives, product updates and stories showing how others benefit from your work.
Getting Personal: The Future of Email Newsletters
Email newsletters (and email marketing, in general) is everywhere these days. That has made some important things clear. For one, people increasingly view marketing emails as spam. In 2020, the remote, “one-size-fits-all” marketing email is a big red flag. If you aren’t sharing something of value with the reader, your emails will be dismissed.
Here are four trends we see shaping the future of email newsletter marketing.
- Personalization is prime. Successful newsletters -- whether industry pubs, brand campaigns or news updates -- are tailored to meet the needs of the audience. Yes, it’s a good idea to make sure that your emails address subscribers by name. But truly personalized newsletters provide tailored content as well. The best newsletters serve up useful articles, videos and other content, not just self-promotion.
Want to learn more about what your audience is interested in? Include topics on your email sign up page to home in on the kind of content new subscribers want. It may result in slightly fewer signups, but the result will be a far more engaged audience overall.
- Data-driven campaigns are the new norm. Artificial intelligence and cloud-based technologies have made automated email marketing campaigns the norm. Increasingly, content marketers are able to track the performance of certain pieces of content and leverage that data to further tailor the types of content shared. The result? Campaigns that cost less, deliver more insight faster, and deliver more privacy than other online marketing tools, for example, web cookies.
- Emails are getting more interactive. Interactive features like video, animated GIFs, interactive calls to action and even instant messaging within the email itself are adding an entertainment aspect to email that is transforming content marketing as we know it. Imagine a world where people look forward to receiving email from a brand because they know they’ll enjoy the experience.
- Mobile is king. It’s never been more crucial to make sure all of your brand content can be viewed on all mobile devices. Test out simple, text-based emails for mobile viewing, and avoid long blocks of text or image-laden emails. They’re difficult to access and read on mobile devices.
Newsletters continue to evolve, but one fact remains the same: people value information that meets their needs. At rasa.io, platform users are encouraged to utilize their email newsletter as a tool for sharing information and building long-term relationships. (The company is quick to point out that its core purpose is to “Better inform the world,” an ethos it tries to pass on to customers.)
Brands with bad email newsletters are like terrible party guests: all they do is talk about themselves, what they do and what they have to sell you. Reading a good email newsletter, on the other hand, is like having a conversation with an old friend. You walk away having learned something new or (at the very least) with a smile.
Home in on what people value and people will notice, whether that’s over newsprint or email.
Jared Loftus is the Chief Revenue Officer at rasa.io, an email newsletter tool that uses AI to personalize and automate high-performing newsletters.