Effective E-Mail Newsletters: More Can Be Better

I recently heard a story from a program manager of her debating (fighting) with her web developer about how she wanted to send more focused newsletters while he wanted to send fewer, more broad ones which in turn got me thinking about how e-mail has changed since it first started and what is really effective these days. In the “old” days I would have said he was right, people are overwhelmed with e-mails, reduce their load by giving them less to deal with but now I’d say she’s absolutely right.

These days people are conditioned to quickly scan subject lines in order to weed out spam, see if there is any urgent news or check if Amazon has shipped their order. During this quick skim most people are mentally or even physically flagging their e-mail as important, trash or the dreaded “I’ll deal with it later”. It’s that last category that’s the kiss of death for a newsletter because that “later” never seems to come or if it does it’s usually weeks if not months later. If you can help a user decide if they should read or delete your e-mail that is much more effective then getting put in the “wait for later” category.

A perfect example is two different event newsletters I get. One newsletter sends me a monthly list of all up coming events and any special promotions that may be available. Guess how often I read it? Almost never because when it first lands in my inbox all I see is, “Your Colorado Concert July Update” and mentally I say, “That’s not business, urgent or even personal, I’ll read it later during lunch or when I’m looking to kill some time.” Of course that never happens because other things pile on top of it and by the time I actually do read it months have passed and it’s worthless.

On the other hand the other event newsletter sends me a single e-mail for every event that’s about to go on sale. That may seem like a lot of e-mail, and some weeks it is, but the key is that the subject is usually something like, “Event Update: 6/15 - Flogging Molly - Red Rocks, Tickets On Sale Monday!”. I now have enough information to either delete it right then or mentally flag it as important instead the limbo of “I’ll deal with it later.” Since I deal with it right then I actually end up with less e-mail than the event digest/summary form of the first one.

On a related note, don’t try to force people to your website by keeping your newsletter vague and mysterious. All too often I’ve seen this cute ploy, “Exciting TechEvent Coming to Denver! Click Here to Learn About the Special Guest!”. Give people the information to make their own decision instead of trying to trick them to your site.

Now to geek out I have to say the whole debate reminded of the old CISC vs. RISC CPU design debate.