Do your 2018 plans include email newsletters?

2018 plans for the future

It’s that time of year again: that time where marketers and publishers and everyone in between draws up their 2018 plans and predictions. That got us thinking.

Have you ever looked at pictures of how people in the past predicted the future would be?

The predictions tend toward quaint technology paired with futuristic concepts, an amusing mix of the outdated and the out-of-this-world. Take this picture from 1899:

Jean-Marc Côté envisioned a future where machines beam books directly into students’ heads. Or is the machine sucking stuff from their brains and converting it into books? At any rate, it’s weird, a little disturbing, and…maybe not entirely off?

After all, audiobooks are a thing. And if you think about it, beaming information into an audience’s head isn’t far off from what podcasters do. Ultimately, Côté’s picture is a vaguely familiar concept paired with the wrong technology. (In this case, wrong in multiple ways.)

Predictions and plans for digital publishing’s future typically include two things: 1) building better audience relationships, and 2) investing in shiny technology to do so. With publishers turning to direct monetization of their audiences, relationships are definitely important. But what technology is earning publishers the greatest returns?

It’s not a piece of shiny new technology. It’s not a cold contraption zapping brains with content-rays. It’s something a little friendlier: email.

According to recent Publishing Executive research, email is the top revenue-driving technology for publishers. The humble newsletter’s ability to drive revenue is why publishers of all sizes are turning to email to connect with readers and stake their future in the industry.

Do your 2018 plans and predictions include email newsletters? If not, put down your death rays and see how this “technology of the past” is a present for publishers looking to the future.

Email newsletters kick off audience relationships

While publishers duel with the duopoly, a harsh truth remains: building your audience on the platforms is building your business on borrowed land. If Facebook decides that more algorithm changes are in their future, you can assume a loss of reach is in yours.

So why go through the platforms when email allows you to connect directly with your audience? As David Carr wrote in 2014, “With an email, there is a presumption of connection, of something personal, that makes it a good platform for publishers.” It still rings true today. By handing over their email address, your audience extends an invitation to their inbox, which is a self-contained space where you can reach audience members with 1:1 communication.

Best of all? You don’t have to worry about the whims of the algorithm. As long as you maintain your deliverability, your content goes directly to individual readers. When you have a direct link to your audience, you can start working to build relationships with them.

How do you build relationships? By engaging your audience.

Content delivery drives engagement in your email newsletters

Email is the foot in the door, but engaging content is what kicks that door open wide.

By delivering relevant content to the reader, you increase the likelihood of engaging them. That’s why major publishers are increasing their newsletter offerings. Publishers like the New York Times and Washington Post offer dozens of newsletters on everything from politics to parenting, which allows audiences to subscribe to the content that matters to them. It could be a single newsletter, or it could be several.

The more email newsletters a user subscribes to, the more chances you have to reach them with that relevant content. It might seem daunting to add more newsletters to your program, but newsletter automation allows publishers to increase email offerings while decreasing manpower. By freeing up time spent on assembly, you have more time to work on creating the kind of content that readers might actually want beamed into their brain.

Relationships in the inbox move readers down the funnel

Meanwhile, many publisher predictions cast doubt on the future of ad-driven business models.

With more publishers turning to their audience for revenue, keeping that audience engaged is critical for convincing them of your value. If readers don’t know your value, they won’t be convinced to pay for it, no matter what your model is. After all, there’s no one-size-fits-all revenue model. Publishers are turning to everything from ecommerce to events to drive revenue. Whatever your business model is, its success lies with email relationships.

For subscription-based publishers like the Washington Post, the email inbox is an important tool for moving audiences down the funnel towards more revenue. Their 70 newsletters “convert non-regular readers into devoted followers to read more regularly and eventually decide to subscribe to a digital bundle.”

Email drives subscription revenue

Now that readers are more willing to pay for online content than ever, publishers are taking advantage by going behind the paywall. But as more publishers ask for money, it becomes harder to stand out. How do you make sure you’re top-of-mind when readers decide to pay up? With email relationships.

The New York Times found that readers who subscribe to a newsletter are twice as likely to convert to a paid subscription. Over on the west coast, The Seattle Times is seeing email success too:  “Based on subscriber conversions per visit, SeattleTimes.com visits referred by an email newsletter are 25 times more likely to convert than a visit to our site referred by Facebook.”

Email doesn’t just drive subscriptions; it retains them too. Kerry Turner, the director of audience development for Hearst’s Connecticut Media Group, said of email:

“Implementing a robust engagement and acquisition email marketing program has been the single largest contributor to our improved subscriber retention. Creating additional content newsletters is a current goal for the newsroom, as this will continue to be a way to entice more and more readers to build a readership habit with us. When you have a paper delivered to your doorstep each day, it’s a daily habit. Daily content newsletters are much the same concept; the goal is to build the daily readership habit in a digital format.”

Are you building habits with your audience through email newsletters? If not, it’s time to consider strengthening your email program in 2018. Publishers can’t afford to overlook a tool so adept at developing audience relationships, building engagement habits, and driving revenue with content delivery. It’s the next best thing to hooking your audience to a brain machine.

Editor, PostUp PlayBook