Once social media took off as a major traffic referral source, it seems publishers stopped innovating and putting resources into owned-and-operated audience development tools. Rather than investing in channels they could fully control, like their email newsletters, they’ve been chasing after audiences across social platforms, struggling with complicated tools like Facebook Articles, high customer acquisition costs, and ever-changing algorithms that erode traffic.
That’s not to say that a social media strategy doesn’t have advantages. But should publishers spend all their efforts investing in walled gardens, creating relationships with audiences they can never really own? Besides, consumer trust in social media is greatly waning thanks to the fake news outbreak. It only makes sense that audiences are now turning back to trusted publishers, but they’re doing it in an interesting way. Rather than visiting the home page of their favorite publishers, they’re subscribing to their email newsletters.
In a recent survey “How Adults Consume and Filter Information Online,” commissioned by PowerInbox and compiled by Mantis Research that polled 1,000 U.S. adults, 60% said they subscribed to an email newsletter. And, 70% of Generation Z email subscribers say they click on advertising within those newsletters if they’re relevant. In fact, CTRs for email newsletters are a little higher than online advertising because millennials and younger generations trust the brands they subscribe to.
As trust in social media continues to decline, some publishers have turned to developing newsletters as their own platforms. Quartz’s Daily Brief and others, for example, are meant to engage consumers with interesting content right in their inboxes, more than lead them back to the publisher’s website. And then there’s upstart theSkimm, aimed at keeping Millennial women (at least 7 million of them) abreast of the day’s news and happenings with bite-sized morsels of entertaining takes.
Even legacy publishers are starting to turn their sights back to their email newsletters because the truth is—email still works. Consumers spend more than five hours a day checking their email, and the channel provides a 122% ROI, outperforming all other marketing channels.
Email newsletters might even be better than a publisher’s homepage because they are editorially curated and easy to personalize. The New York Times, Your Weekly Edition, is curated by editors with the help of machine-learning to provide readers with a personalized selection of news they may have missed. And, when consumers have more opportunity to customize their newsletters based on interest or frequency, they feel a sense of ownership and a stronger bond of trust.
As Jeff Kupietzky, CEO of PowerInbox told me a few months ago when I interviewed him about the future of email monetization: “Email is still the most effective channel for converting customers and reaching an engaged audience. It is one of the few channels where publishers can completely control the frequency and content of the relationship with the end-user. And, I think because of that, people are rediscovering it. So, it never really went away. It just wasn’t invested in and we forgot how great it was amid all the social media noise.”
The trust a reader has in a publisher’s content extends to trusting the publisher’s advertising partners that have been chosen to surround their content. PowerInbox’s study found consumers understand there’s a value exchange for real news and publishers need to monetize their content, be it via subscriptions, popups or display advertising. It’s not a big leap for a consumer, who once paid for a print subscription and later canceled, to understand the publisher still needs to generate revenue.
For a publisher, an email newsletter is an inexpensive, easy to measure monetization and audience development channel. Publishers can track click-throughs and who clicked what, making it easier to segment audiences, A/B test and personalize content. “You always have to A/B test continuously,” says Leora Schachter, VP, Digital Products, Trusted Media Brands, Inc. “We’re always testing ad placement in our newsletters and testing headlines every day. We’re making new lists, looking at new ways to bring people in and testing new opt-in opportunities and optimizing CPL.”
The email newsletter of old—one that is just automatically updated with the latest content published on your site—is a dying breed. As a channel, there’s lots of room for experimentation and innovation. The Hustle, another Millennial-targeted newsletter originally aimed at the tech set, was initially launched to promote HustleCon, a conference for startup founders. In just 4 years, the daily sponsored newsletter has grown to reach over a million subscribers who like snackable, witty news.
Another recent entrant to the over 1-million subscribers club is venture-backed newsletter-as-platform Morning Brew, a quick, quippy daily email newsletter for the Millennial business professional. Averaging 120,000 new subscribers every month with a 45% unique open rate, the publisher hit $3 million in revenue in 2018 from native advertising written in the same voice as the newsletter content.
Email newsletters are great for branded content, native advertising and even classic sponsorships. Also, given the increasing ability to personalize content, whether through targeted lists or machine learning, it’s a given that consumers are more open to targeted (and even retargeted) advertising in email, especially if it’s relevant. This opens the door wide for programmatic to get a lot more sophisticated in this space.
It’s never been a better time to revitalize your email newsletter monetization strategy than now. You’re a trusted brand and email is a trusted medium.
Get more insight into email strategy and monetization at AdMonsters Meetup: Electrifying Email Strategies, July 17, 2019 in New York.