What makes a newsletter worth reading—lessons from top newsletter writers   « Zoho Blog 1 mes ago

Masooma Memon is a pizza-loving freelance content writer covering productivity, UX design, and digital marketing. She crafts research-backed blog posts and articles for small businesses and app companies who aim to employ quality content to educate and engage with their audience. You can read her freelance work on her website, Ink & Copy.

Expert Diaries from Zoho Campaigns connects avid email marketers to the experts in this space, and help them learn some best practices and tips. Our aim is to connect email geeks and form a community that learns email marketing from one another.


Did you know that 99% of consumers check their inbox daily? But do they read your newsletter? While you can’t force your recipients to engage with your emails, what you can certainly do is write a newsletter that warrants attention.

To help you out, I’ve analyzed newsletter writing tips from the pros in the field. Hopefully you’ll note what differentiates their newsletters from the mediocre ones and what you can learn from them to improve your emails.

Let’s dive in.

1. Use storytelling as your crutch.  

Telling a story is like painting a wall with multi-colored imagery. No matter how beautiful your idea is, it doesn’t stand a chance if you convey it with a palette of plain words — no story, no metaphors, no analogies. This is why your newsletter needs storytelling.

All the best newsletters have a strong foundation of stories, which makes them memorable and worth the read. Here’s a snippet from a Really Good Emails newsletter that tells a story about a small scene in a French movie and links it with the content they want their readers to read:

 

Here’s a breakdown of what RGE did and how you can employ storytelling in your newsletter:

  • Introduce a hook — in this case the attention-grabbing opening line about astronomers going to the moon. Ask a question or dive straight into the story. The plan is to write that ONE line that makes the reader wonder and decide to continue reading.

  • Tell the story or anecdote — the purest form of story where it gains momentum. Notice how RGE digs into the meat of the matter, sharing the iconic part from the movie. You’ve got to be quick here since this is an email and, as AWeber found from analyzing 1,000 emails, mostly an average of 434 words are welcomed by readers.

  • Reflect by connecting the dots between your story and content. This email does so by saying, “but here’s the thing…” and links the small but significant part of the French movie with the small touches that determine an email’s health.

2. Focus on nurturing relationships.  

While researching this blog, I came across the tweet from John Bonini, Databox’s Director of Marketing:

I found his point the perfect tip to add to this post on how to write a much-appreciated newsletter. You see, too many of us are focused on sales when it’s all about growing a friendship. People are more likely to buy from friends than strangers. So don’t be a stranger. Be a friend. How?

Let’s dissect Bernadette Jiwa’s newsletterThe Story of Telling to understand how to make friends over emails and write line after intriguing line:

  • Share a personal habit or interest like Bernadette does by sharing her love for poster design.

  • Don’t focus on yourself only. Note how the sender uses pronouns, “our” and “we” such as in the line “just as we master one medium.” This stirs feelings of togetherness.

  • Talk about a point that interests both you and your audience. Sharing mutual topics of interest helps you hold your readers’ attention better than only talking about their or your interests.

3. Breathe life into your words.  

Storytelling is powerful. But supplement it with lively writing and you’ll end up serving your readers the main course. Not just the side dish. Good writing breathes life into your email content. A brilliant example of this is Ann Handley’s Total Anarchy newsletter.

Handley’s writing makes you feel like she’s sitting beside you on a bench, munching peanuts, and whispering stories in your ears. That’s how powerful her writing is. Don’t believe me?

Let’s take a look at one of her emails:

There’s conversation and beauty in her writing right off the bat. Hint: look at that “Sunday morning” — a phrase that can spark feelings of nostalgia and warmth in the reader as they reflect on what the idea of “Sunday morning” means to them.

Then there’s the little incident that happened with her. But it’s not in plain, boring English. It’s in vivid language — “the gal was feisty,” “unsuspecting motorist would smash her to smithereens,” “maybe the size of a Hot Pocket,” “massive turtle. As big around as a pizza,” “like a pizza-sized club sandwich.”

Notice all that? This is description that’s painting a clear picture in the reader’s mind, helping Ann connect with her recipient.

So how can you replicate such writing? Here are a few tips:

  • Tickle the senses by using descriptive words to explain what you see, hear, and share in your message such as “massive turtle.”

  • Use analogies to compare things and draw a better picture in your reader’s mind like “a pizza-sized club sandwich.”

  • Sketch out emotions. Melissa was worried and Ann had to decide in a heartbeat are both examples of striking readers’ emotional chords.

4. Write with one person in mind.  

There’s another point that Handley focuses on, and it’s the letter writing part of newsletters. She emphasizes, “Think about the word ‘newsletter.’ I don’t focus on the news. I focus on the letter.”

Of course you write a letter to only one person, which brings us to another point — write with one person in mind. The message that you tuck into your email’s body needs to be universal enough for your recipients to resonate with it. But it needs to be written with a specific person in mind.

It’s similar to how Warren Buffett writes his annual letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway with his sisters in mind. He shared with CNBC, “It’s ‘Dear Doris and Bertie’ at the start and then I take that off at the end… I pretend that they’ve been away for a year and I’m reporting to them on their investment.”

The benefits of such an approach are multiple. Your voice becomes more human and your message turns out to be more accessible since it’s in plain language, minus the industry jargon.

Let’s study a section of Buffett’s annual letter:

Note and follow the following pointers:

  • The abbreviation is first written in full so that the reader is not confused. Lesson learned: don’t use technical language

  • Format what needs attention such as “losses” and “profits” being italic in this letter. You can bold the text too

  • Add numbers in number format “$4.0 billion” instead of four billion to make the text readable. Plus, write short paragraphs

  • Use simple, easy to understand language. You and I can both understand this letter even without a business background

Check out Dennis Shiao’s Content Corner newsletter to see this tip live in an email:

Dennis mentions numbers in numerical format, emphasizes points in a bold font, doesn’t use technical language, and sticks with simple, easy to understand words with short paragraphs.

5. Be human. Be conversational and engage with your readers. 

There’s one thing that is common among all these newsletters — the human-centric approach. And the means to this end is the conversational approach in putting together the emails.

In the beginning of this article, we talked about growing a relationship instead of selling to your email list. This point adds to it. Showing your human side makes you more real, which sparks conversations and grows relationships.

The case in point here is Find A Way Media’s newsletter, The Beat:

In this email newsletter, the author, Chris Gillespie, gets chatting straightaway like two best friends meeting each other after not being able to sit together in class.

Let’s see what Chris does to be more human and what you can do too:

  • Be conversational. Chris’s choice of words, “let me be real” is great to this end.

  • Be vulnerable or show your human side. Chris, for instance, shares his writing flaws. This is great for telling his readers that he isn’t pure genius (which he is anyways) but someone like them.

  • Ask for feedback and engage. “Maybe you’ll find it useful?” and “But you’ll let me know” are Chris’s way of engaging his readers, encouraging them to chat with him.

Plus, here’s a golden tip from Chris himself: “If you write out of a genuine impulse to share, it will be human as a lovely and indivisible side-effect, no matter the industry.”

Key takeaways  

Writing a newsletter that gets your audience’s attention is challenging. That’s the bitter truth. Sticking with the ideas that we’ve discussed can help though. To recap, you need to tap into storytelling, focus on striking conversations instead of selling, write vividly, write with one person in mind, and be as human as you can be. Don’t forget that your message needs to be universal, but also specific enough to be relatable.

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